By / 04-14-2020 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)
This character can be both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it refers collectively to food or meals. As a verb, it means to eat.


mín yǐ shí wéi tiān
This idiom basically means “to the people, food is Heaven,” that is to say, the people take food as their first priority.
According to the Records of the Grand Historian, during the Chu-Han War (fought between two contending powers following the collapse of the Qin Dynasty), the Han leader Liu Bang was trapped in Chenggao (today’s Northwest Part of Xingyang City, Henan Province) by the Chu leader Xiang Yu, and Liu wanted to give up. 
At that time, Liu’s counselor Li Shiqi said to him: “The king takes the people as the first priority, while the people take food as the first priority. For the common people, food is paramount.” He then advised Liu to dispatch troops to attack Aocang, the city that held Chu’s granary. Liu took the advice, and the war was reversed with Liu’s victory.
The importance of food has run throughout the history of Chinese civilization. Every dynasty in ancient China has highly valued agricultural production. The Tang Dynasty serves as a typical example, a period in which agriculture boomed. The Emperor Taizong, who ruled from 598 to 649, believed that “the king is like the boat and people are like the water; the water that bears the boat is the same that swallows it up.” To him, the first priority of national governance was to resolve the food issues of the common people. He then came up with reforms in agriculture and successfully implemented the Juntian System, which was all about equal land distribution. These steps improved efficiency in production and ultimately ensured social prosperity. 
There is an old Chinese saying that “with food at home, one will not panic in the face of disaster.” Even when experiencing harsh conditions, Chinese people stress the importance of good food. Most families spend considerable time on cooking each day. Today, the Central Government pays high attention to food security. During the 17 years from 2004 to 2020, the No. 1 Central Document each year has always been themed on issues related to “agriculture, rural areas and farmers.” For China, such a populous country, the importance of food security can not be overemphasized.
edited by BAI LE