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Yang and Yin

This article is excerpted from Western Civilization with Chinese Comparisons, by John G. Blair and Jerusha McCormack (2003), Fudan University Press.

Etymologically yang and yin are as intimately connected as the two sides of a hill: yin associated with the shady side, yang the sunny side. Gradually there emerged a complex scheme to make sense of all existing things by one or the other of these two principles of movement through correlated opposites. Here is one traditional listing, from documents found in 1973 in Mawangdui tombs from the 3rd century BCE:

yang yin
Heaven Earth
Summer Winter
Spring Autumn
Day Night
Big States Small States
Action Inaction
Stretching Contracting
Ruler Minister
Above Below
Man Woman
Elder Brother Younger Brother
Father Child
Getting on in the world Being stuck where one is
Taking a wife Having a funeral
Noble Base
Guest Host
Controlling others Being controlled by others
Speech Silence
Giving Receiving
Soldiers Laborers

[source: A.C. Graham, Yin-Yang and the Nature of Correlative Thinking (Singapore: Institute of East Asian Philosophies, 1986),27-28.]

Clearly such lists could be extended indefinitely. Chinese correlative associations constitute a a total system in which everything that might come up in the Chinese world will find a place. Western knowledge aspires to “universality,” as exemplified in “natural laws” which apply everywhere and to all peoples, or the belief in one God who is present everywhere at all times. WCwCC(Western Civilization with Chinese Comparisons) calls the Chinese approach “total” in because it is all-inclusive within the world governed by Chinese culture: nothing can happen that is not susceptible to be included in the system.

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