Xi Jinping
Original publication: chinastory.cn

Water Droplets Drilling Through Rock (1990)

From the essay collection Up and Out of Poverty (2016). [1]

Upon settling in the countryside, I saw firsthand the power of dripping water drilling through rock. That image, which captured the spirit of persistence, has stayed with me all these years. It has become a well-worn source for contemplating life and movement.

Rock and water are two opposing elements that are used to symbolize dogged stubbornness and gentle fluidity. Yet despite being “gentle,” water will drill through “solid” rock over time.

As a metaphor for people, this is the embodiment of a certain moral character: it is the willingness to rise to fight each time one falls and the courage to sacrifice oneself. A single drop of water is small and insubstantial. It will die a cruel “death” in any battle with a rock. Yet in that brief moment of “sacrifice,” even though it cannot see its own value and achievement, it is embodied within the countless drops of water that have already fallen, and the triumph of finally drilling through the rock. From the perspective of history or development of an economically disadvantaged area, we should not seek personal success and fame. Instead, we should strive to make steady progress one small step at a time and be willing to lay the groundwork for overall success. When everyone doing our work models themselves on a droplet that is ready to sacrifice for the greater good, we need not worry that our work is not important enough to make lasting change!

As a metaphor for things, dripping water is a demonstration of dialectical principles that use softness to overcome hardness, and the weak to control the strong. I believe in the invaluable spirit of that drop of water, which bravely goes into the breach with no thought of retreat. Those of us who are involved in economic development will inevitably encounter complications in our work. We can either rise to the challenge or flinch and run away. It all depends on whether we have the courage to adhere to philosophical materialism. If we allow ourselves to be filled with trepidation, the kind of fear that comes from standing at the edge of an abyss or treading on thin ice, we will lack the courage to do anything. We will accomplish nothing. Nevertheless, courage alone is not enough.

When dripping water takes aim at a rock, each droplet zeroes in on the same target and stays the course until its mission is complete. The drops of water fall day after day, year after year. This is the magic that enables dripping water to drill through rock! How can it be that our economic development work is any different? Just look at areas where the economy is lagging. Historical, environmental, and geographical factors have all played a part in holding back development. There are no shortcuts. Nothing can change overnight. Instead, we need to focus on the long haul by turning quantitative changes into qualitative changes. We need to be the dripping water that drills through rock. When talking about reform and opening up, we cannot assume that help will be coming from left and right, nor can we afford to wait until conditions are perfect enough to ensure success. Instead of building palaces in the air, we need to square our shoulders and get down to work. When talking about economic development, we cannot simply race to build high-rises and open up big factories, nor can we focus on dramatic results at the expense of necessary infrastructure. Otherwise, success will be elusive, and opportunities will be easily missed.

Instead of daydreaming about overly ambitious or flashy projects, we need to have a firm footing in reality as we take concrete steps to reach long-term goals. Instead of “setting three fires” in the hope they will succeed, we need to work steadily and make solid progress. Our work calls for the tenacity to keep chipping away. Working by fits and starts will not get us anywhere.

When I describe my awe upon seeing the power of droplets drilling through rock, I am praising those who have the willingness to rise each time one falls, and the moral character to sacrifice for overall success. I am expressing my admiration for those who develop a solid plan and then have the tenacity to see it through to the end.

  1. For comparison, to understand the historical context, consider George H. W. Bush’s commencement address from 1988. [web]