"Governing a Big Country Is as Delicate as Frying a Small Fish"

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China I Updated: 2021-12-13

"Governing a Big Country Is as Delicate as Frying a Small Fish"* 

March 19, 2013 

When I meet foreign leaders, one question they often ask in amazement is this: How can one govern such a large country as China? Indeed, it is not easy to govern a country with 1.3 billion people. Just getting to know the situation there can be a really difficult task. As I often say, it takes a good deal of effort to know China, and just visiting a place or two is not really enough. China has 9.6 million square kilometers of land, 56 ethnic groups and a total of 1.3 billion people. Thus, when trying to learn about China, one needs to guard against drawing conclusions based on partial information. 

An ancient Chinese proverb says, "Prime ministers must have served as local officials, and great generals must have risen from the ranks."1 Our mechanism for selecting officials in China also requires work experience at local levels. For instance, I once worked in a rural area as a Party secretary at a production brigade. Later I served in various posts at county, municipal, provincial and central levels. Extensive experience gained from working at local levels can help officials develop a sound attitude towards the people, know what the country is really like and what the people really need, be better versed in various jobs and professions, and become more competent and effective for meeting future requirements for good work performance. 

There is a tremendous amount of work to do in meeting the people's daily needs, ensuring the smooth running of society and the normal functioning of the state apparatus, and building and managing the governing party. As the people have given me this job, I must always keep them in the highest place in my heart, bearing in mind their deep trust and the heavy responsibilities they have placed on me. In such a big, populous and complicated country as ours, we the leaders must have an in-depth knowledge of the national conditions, and learn what the people think and what they want. We must act self-consciously and with the utmost care "as if we were treading on thin ice or standing on the edge of an abyss."2 We must cultivate an attitude of "governing a big country is as delicate as frying a small fish,"3 never slackening our efforts or being negligent in the slightest, and always devoting ourselves to work and the public interest. The people are where we draw our strength. As long as we stand with our people through thick and thin, there will be no difficulty that cannot be overcome and no task that cannot be accomplished. 

As for my workload, you can well imagine that working in such a job can hardly leave me any free time. There are so many things crying out to be done. Of course, I try to prioritize my work. "Many hands make light work." We have within the central leadership an effective mechanism featuring both division of labor and coordination. So we go about our respective duties while working in concert to get the job done properly. 

Though very busy, most of the time I manage to "snatch a little leisure here and there."4 Whenever I have time, I spend it with my family. 

I have quite a few hobbies, and my most favorite one is reading, which has become my way of life. I am also a sports fan. I like swimming and hiking, and when I was young I enjoyed playing football and volleyball. I wish to congratulate Brazil for hosting the FIFA World Cup again. What makes sports competitions, especially football matches, fascinating is their unpredictability. During the last World Cup we had Paul the Octopus. I wonder if there will be another octopus next year to predict match results. The Brazilian team has the home-ground advantage, and I wish them good luck. 

* Part of the answers to a joint interview by the press of the BRICS countries.


1 Han Fei Zi. Han Fei (c. 280-233 BC) was the major representative of the Legalist school in the late Warring States Period. His works were collected in the book Han Fei Zi

2 The Book of Songs (Shi Jing)

3 Lao Zi (Dao De Jing)

4  Li She: Written on the Wall of the Monks' Quarters in Helin Temple. Li She (dates unknown) was a poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

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