This term means to cherish life and cherish the people. The ancient Chinese believed that the beauty of the natural world lies in its enabling all living creatures to perpetuate themselves, and the universal sentiment of human beings is to cherish life and abhor death. Therefore those who govern must make special efforts to cherish people’s lives. For example, they must not readily resort to the death penalty or start wars; they should eliminate things which harm the people and enable people to lead settled lives. The “virtue of cherishing life” is one which those who govern ought to have, and it is also a principle which they should strictly abide by. This concept is consistent with the ideas of “cherishing the people” and that “the greatest good is to cherish others,” but it goes a step further. It offers a philosophy of life as a foundation for governance; it is the basic concept explaining why people should be empathetic and accommodating to others; it is also often cited as the starting point for the humanist theories of Chinese medicine.
The greatest good in the world is to enable all living things to perpetuate themselves. (The Book of Changes)
It is better to spare an unruly person than to kill an innocent one by mistake. This virtue of cherishing life will set the people’s hearts at ease; hence they will no longer break the law. (The Book of History)
I hear that heaven and earth display goodness to all living things by cherishing life, and kings display goodness to all people through their benevolence. (The History of the Later Han Dynasty)