Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture

Guest Author: Robin R. Wang

Yinyang concept is at once utterly simple and wildly complicated. The book Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture traces the historical development and diversified manifestations of yinyang, drawing together the different uses and models of yinyang, starting from its origins in early classical texts to lay out the ways in which yinyang functioned as the warp and woof of Chinese thought and culture. The goal is to give a more nuanced, synchronic account of the richness meanings and applications of yinyang, from logical reasoning to aesthetic understanding, from divination to medicine, from the art of fengshui to the art of sex. Westerners tend to assume the Chinese mind runs like a Swiss clock that goes tick/tock…when in fact it yins and yangs.

Yet yinyang is not simply or just about balance or harmony but far beyond those common assumptions. One of the most important functions of yinyang is a matrix to describe, guide, and structure concrete phenomena. The yinyang matrix is a way of linking and classifying particular phenomena or all things and leading to actions. It functions analogous to scientific accounts, although extending more broadly to encompass ethics, politics, health and well-being. It arranges human knowledge into a simple, integrated, and flexible pattern, which can be applied to an extremely wide range of phenomena. For example, “mother” is a predicate for a woman who has given birth or has a child. If one were to follow deductive logic, one could go by this: all mothers have a child; Mary is a mother, therefore, Mary has a child. According to the yinyang matrix, mother belongs to the category of yin, things with giving and nurturing functions, and thus can be grouped with earth, moon, and water. Anything perceived as yin or nurturing fits into this image of giving and nurturing. Mary is a mother, therefore, she has the yin properties of x, y, and z.

Yinyang matrix is also flexible and complex in its application on different levels and with different scopes. Two things can be in the same group of yin or yang in one sense, however, in different on another level; for example, the sun and ginger belong to the same group of yang because they both have properties of being hot and warm. Snow and watermelon belong to the group of yin because they have properties of being cool. However, because sun and snow belong in a group in heaven, and ginger and watermelon belong to the group in earth.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Prof. Robin R. Wang is Daum Professor in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of Asian Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University. She got her MA in Philosophy at University of Notre Dame,  USA, and Peking University, China before  received her Ph.D. in Philosophy, University of Wales, Cardiff. She is the editor of Chinese Philosophy in an Era of Globalization, (SUNY Press, 2004) and Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period to the Song Dynasty (Hackett, 2003).  She has published many articles and essays and regularly given presentations in North America, Europe, and Asia. She has also been a consultant for the media, law firms, museums, K-12 educators, and health care professionals, and was a credited Cultural Consultant for the movie Karate Kid, 2010.

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