zhì dà guó ruò pēng xiǎo xiān 治大国若烹小鲜
Governing a Big Country Is Like Cooking Small Fish.
Governing a big country is like cooking small fish. This is a fundamental principle of state governance based on the concept of “non-action” advocated by Laozi. When cooking small fish, one needs to mix various kinds of ingredients, carefully control time of cooking and degree of heating, so that every small fish is equally tasty. One should not stir the fish too much in cooking so that they will not fall apart into small pieces. Similarly, as a big country has a vast territory, a large population, and wide differences among regions and social groups, those who govern the land must be meticulous and thoughtful and take all factors into consideration, so that their policies and measures benefit everyone. Once fundamental policies for governance are adopted, those who govern should not intervene excessively in social activities.
Governing a big country is like cooking small fish. When the country is ruled by Dao, demons can neither disrupt it nor harm the people. Even sages acting in Dao principles will not bring harm to people either. Free from harms by demons and sages, people stand to gain all benefits. (Laozi)