| 2018-09-14 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

This character often refers to a river or a canal. Since mountains and rivers are quite common in a country, the word shan he or jiang shan (mountains and rivers) usually represent a country or a state. Sometimes, Chinese use the proverb da hao he shan (beautiful rivers and mountains) to describe their beloved motherland. In addition, he frequently appears in Chinese literature or paintings as a symbol of vitality, because rivers run ceaselessly.

hé hǎi bù zé xì liú

He refers to rivers and hai is the sea. Bu ze means not to choose while xi liu refers to small streams. The proverb, taken literally, means that rivers and seas do not choose streams. Nowadays it is used as a piece of advice that one should be tolerant and gracious towards others, including those who one disagrees with. Tolerance and an open mind are highly valued as noble characteristics in Chinese culture.
The proverb originated from Jian Zhu Ke Shu, a petition to Ying Zheng (259-210 BCE), the King of the State of Qin, written by Li Si (c. 284-208 BCE), a well-known Legalist writer and politician. In 237 BCE, a clique at the Qin court urged King Zheng to expel all foreigners from the state to prevent espionage. As a native of Chu and a guest officer in the Qin, Li was a target of the policy. Therefore, he wrote this petition to the king and explained the benefits of foreigners to Qin. Li referenced Mount Tai (a mountain of historical and cultural significance in the east of China), which accepted every piece of soil or sand, thus ranking as the first of the Five Great Mountains of China. Likewise, rivers and seas welcomed every stream to flow into them, no matter how small it was, so the waters could run deep. Li wanted to persuade King Zheng through the metaphor of Mount Tai and rivers that, if a person had a tolerant attitude toward others and listened to different voices, he could achieve great things. King Zheng finally accepted Li’s advice and withdrew his order.
Twenty years later, King Zheng conquered the other states and became the creator of the first unified Chinese empire, the Qin Dynasty. Li served as his prime minister.


(edited by REN GUANHONG)