Tuesday, November 16, 2010

和实生物,同则不继 Harmony is Fecund, Sameness is Barren

Shi Bo 史伯

The Chinese traditional idea of harmony means unity in diversity. This idea was fully elaborated by Shi Bo, a thinker lived in the Western Zhou dynasty in a conversation he had with Duke Huan of the state of Zheng to explain the reason for the decline of Zhou dynasty. This was recorded in the classical book Discourses of States, a collection of historical narratives probably compiled around fourth century BC.
Shi Bo’s idea of harmony, which is extensively studied by China today in their effort to create a harmonious society, underscores the fertility of the kind of harmony that maximizes difference.
Below is the advice given by Shi Bo to Duke Huan:

While harmony is fecund, sameness is barren. Things accommodating each other on equal terms are called blending together in harmony, and in so doing they are able to flourish and grow, and other things are drawn to them. But when same is added to same, once it is used up, there is no more.
Hence, the Former Kings blended earth with metal, wood, fire, and water to make their products. They thereby harmonised the five flavours to satisfy their palate, strengthened the four limbs to protect the body, attuned the six musical notes to please the ear, integrated their seven orifices (senses) to nourish their hearts and minds, coordinated the eight (various) sectors of the body to complete their persons, established the nine main visceral meridians to situate their pure potency, instituted the ten official ranks to organise and evaluate the bureaucracy. This has resulted in having thousand grades of things, producing tens of thousands of ways of doing things, operating billion events, managing tens of billions of financial matters, collecting thousands of billions of tax revenues, working on numerous actions. Therefore the King possesses vast area of land for his subjects to produce food, and collects tax revenue to pay the court officials their remunerations. And harmony and pleasure prevailed to make them as one. To be like this is to attain the utmost in harmony.
In all of this, the Former Kings took their consorts from other clans, required as tribute those products that distinguished each region, and selected ministers and counsellors who would express a variety of opinions on issues, and made every effort to bring things into harmony. There is no music in a single note, no decoration in a single item, no relish in a single taste, no comparison with single thing.
Now the King of Zhou does not accept diversity of ideas, and instead adopts autocratic leadership style that favours telling people what to do. This has led the heaven to deprive him of his intellectual ability (to understand the meaning of harmony). And he still thinks that Zhou will not decay. How is it possible?

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