How do you deal with a much larger and more powerful neighbor that stands in your shadow? Many small states scattered around China faced this problem during the turbulent times when Laozi was alive; and many small countries throughout the world find themselves in exactly the same situation today.
Laozi’s solution to this problem is a model of pragmatism. Rather than resist or surrender, a small state should be humble and build up close relationships with its neighbor in order to boost mutual understanding and forge common areas of interest with it.
To ensure a win-win situation, Laozi advises large countries to treat smaller ones in exactly the same way by showing them due respect and working to find opportunities for strengthening mutual trust and cooperation.
As frustrating as this process may be at times, maintaining peaceful co-existence is the only way to prevent people from both countries from suffering the horrors of war.
A large state is like a low plain where all the rivers meet;
A place where everything comes together;
It is the female of the world.
The female always overcomes the male with tranquility;
In her tranquility, she lies in a lower place.
A large state wins the allegiance of a small state,
By lying in a lower place than the small state.
A small state wins the support of a large state,
By lying in a low place than the large state.
A large state can win the allegiance of a small state by lying in a lower place than it;
And a small state can win the support of a large state by lying in a lower place than it.
Large states want to bring small states into their orbit,
Small states want to enjoy the embrace of large states.
Thus both sides get what they want.
A large state should learn to lie in a lower place.