In China, the idea of the Middle Way or Golden Mean is central to both the Confucianists and Daoists. The idea is simple. Everything has extremes at both ends. The Golden Mean is the natural balance, equilibrium and harmony between these extremes. At this harmonious point goodness and beauty are achieved. The Confucianists elaborated the idea in one of their classics The Doctrine of Mean. For the Doaists, the saying that ‘reversal is the movement of Dao’ means when anything comes to its extreme, a reversal to the other extreme takes place.
Middle way conveys a dynamic concept of harmonious integration of opposites rather than a compromise between them as often understood in the West. One may therefore say that the Middle Kingdom, the traditional term for China, actually calls for a country maintaining an integrated lifestyle by balancing the extremes, rather than, as is often understood, a hegemonic undertone of a country that considers itself to be at the centre of the world.
The Chinese believe that all things in the universe contain competing tendencies that must be balanced, opposite elements constitute an integrated whole. The philosophy embraces two opposing but interdependent ideas: holism and paradox.
Holism means that all things are interconnected and interdependent so that looking at things in isolation does not make sense and that one cannot understand a phenomenon in isolation. Therefore, the idea of the self versus the other as interdependent is natural in traditional Chinese self-perception, meaning that the Chinese tend to see themselves as part of a group.
The embrace of paradoxes is an integral component of the middle way philosophy of yingyang. The Chinese see opposites containing within themselves the seed of the other, yet forming a dynamic unity. This world view captures the Chinese view of a paradox as an interdependent unity constituting a whole. In Daoism neither opposite can exist without the other. ‘The extreme of yin is yang and the extreme of yang is yin’. The combination of yin and yang is the way of nature and the seed of change. It signifies how Chinese philosophy seeks to avoid simple polarizing of contradictions. Each force contains the seed of its opposition and together they form an integrated whole. The Chinese take a dialectical approach that retains basic elements of opposing perspectives rather than polarizing contradictions as in Western thought.