Tuesday, October 6, 2009

二元对立与对立互补 Binary Opposites and Complementary Opposites


It is hard for Westerners to imagine a compromise between the black and the white which they often use metaphorically to frame issues and analyze problems. Such thought patterns are typically called binary opposites as opposed to the Chinese concept of yin-yang complementary opposites.
The western concept of binary opposites says that people think in terms of opposites. All things are identified in part by what they are not (the sky is dark but not bright). There are countless binary opposites, such as beginning/end, tall/short, masculine/feminine, presence/absence, and speech/writing. In addition to being dichotomies, these pairs are also hierarchies. We think of a beginning as more important than an end, presence as better than absence, soul/mind as more important than body, speech as more important than writing.
For the Chinese, while Yin and Yang are opposites, both of which could not exist without the other. The idea is that everywhere in nature opposites must coexist harmoniously, that is, the opposites complement each other, because each gives existence and meaning to the other. Wherever there is light there will be dark, where there is up there must be down, where there is winter, so shall be summer. This is naturally reflected in the Chinese language such phrases as ‘up and down, left and right, hot and cold’, etc. A balance of opposites creates the best situation for harmony and calm.
It is essential to understand that the nature of such forces in yin-yang thought is not an antagonistic or opposite relationship. It is also not a ‘dualism’, an assertion that the world is comprised of forces that are intrinsically separate and hostile, like ‘truth and falsehood’, or ‘good and evil’. In ancient China, yin and yang were always understood as existing in harmonious balance, this is reflected in the saying, ‘yang is contained in yin and yin is contained in yang.’

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