Carry or Overturn the Boat / Make or Break
Water can carry a boat, but can also overturn it. Here, water is compared to the people, while the boat is compared to the ruler. The phrase, “carry or overturn the boat,” reveals the importance of popular support: people are the critical force that decides the future of a regime and a country. This is consistent with such political doctrines as “the people are the foundation of the state,” and “it is necessary to follow the mandate of heaven and comply with people’s wishes.” Since ancient times, this term has served as a warning to the ruler, reminding him of the need to respect local conditions and popular will, to govern the country for the people, and to anticipate dangers in times of security.
The ruler is the boat and the people are the water. Water can carry the boat but can also overturn it. This is the very truth. (Xunzi)