1. What makes a great state is its being (like) a low-lying, down-flowing (stream);—it becomes the centre to which tend (all the small states) under heaven.
2. (To illustrate from) the case of all females:—the female always overcomes the male by her stillness. Stillness may be considered (a sort of) abasement.
3. Thus it is that a great state, by condescending to small states, gains them for itself; and that small states, by abasing themselves to a great state, win it over to them. In the one case the abasement leads to gaining adherents, in the other case to procuring favour.
4. The great state only wishes to unite men together and nourish them; a small state only wishes to be received by, and to serve, the other. Each gets what it desires, but the great state must learn to abase itself.
謙德, 'The Attribute of Humility;'—a favourite theme with Lǎozǐ; and the illustration of it from low-lying stream to which smaller streams flow is also a favourite subject with him. The language can hardly but recall the words of a greater than Lǎozǐ:—'He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.'