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Yin, Yang and Political System

By Wahaha (cross posted from anti-cnn)

If you check the definition of 阴阳 in Wikipedia, you will see the following :

“In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin yang (simplified Chinese: 阴阳; traditional Chinese: 陰陽; pinyin: yīnyáng) is normally referred to in the West as “yin and yang” and is used to describe how polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn.”

And “Yin yang are complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole, as part of a dynamic system.”

Is this the way how Chinese understand 阴阳 ? I beg to differ.

Westers consider 阴阳 as TWO opposite forces and can not be compromised, as you can see the words “polar” and “contrary” are used to describe 阴阳. I don’t think that is the way how chinese interpret 阴阳, Chinese consider 阴阳 as complementary to each other as you can see from the circular symbol of 阴阳, or ONE subject with two sides.

If we apply western understanding to human society, it is either 0 vs 1, right vs wrong, authoritarian vs democracy. If we apply chinese understanding to human society, there is no clear right or wrong, and most importantly, it means that IF YOU WANT THE GOOD PART, YOU MUST ACCEPT THE BAD PART, as they are complementary to each other, they are together, you simply cant separate them.

For example, if you own an apartment, you want to sell it and buy a new house, which one do you want, good housing market or bad housing market ? The answer is : bad housing market, because the house price is usually more expensive than apartment. So to get cheaper price for new house, you have to accept that your apartment will not be sold at the price you like. These two deals come together.

What I was amazed is that If we apply the Chinese understanding to our human society, especially the political system, lot of things become so obvious,


First the authoritarian system:

The Yang part is obvious (though west media refuses to accept it) : having a look of industrial process of Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia and now China). In my opinion, in such system, IF government’s priority is improving people’s lives, such system allows government to make plan scientifically and carry out the plans with little distraction, which is usually good for the country and vast majority of people.

The Ying part, COMING WITH THE YANG PART, is that (1) once government have great power, there is no guarantee that the government will work for people, even now Chinese government has worked for people for 30 years, that still doesn’t guarantee that in the future, it will work for people. (2) In my opinion, as government manages everything, it suppresses innovations, Bill Gates would not be Bill Gates, Michael Jackson would not be Michael Jackson, if they were in China. (3) The issue of legitimacy.


Now the democracy, I will consider “democracy, human right and freedom” as one theory to see its Yin and Yang.

The Yang part is very clear, once you see the Ying part of authoritarian system. Let me talk about the Ying part, as I don’t think any westerners ever seriously think of it :

(1)The coexistence of absolute democracy and absolute human right is a paradox.

Democracy, simply speaking, is major rule, minority must respect the decisions of majority. Human right means that minority don’t have to be submissive to majority. They contradict to each other. So for them to coexist, there must be compromises, that is almost impossible unless the people are worry-free and government is rich. If there is no compromise, government will fail to “deliver”.

So this paradox explain to phenomena : one, democracy usually carry out much better in developed countries than in developing country; two, democracy (and human right) doesn’t deliver.

Therefore ABSOLUTE democracy and ABSOLUTE human right are NOT universal, as they need certain condition to coexist.

(2)We, human being are the most intelligent livings on earth, but the understanding of democracy and human right oversimplify human society, it basically describe human society with only 3 variables : people, government and power. That is ridiculous, you cant even clearly describe a society of chimpanzees with only 3 variables.

The big problem for this is that it completely dismisses the difference among people : the rich vs the poor, the hard working people vs lazy bones, the good citizens and criminals, etc. With such understanding, “Power to the people” is utterly misleading.

If we divide power into 4 categories : Controlling nature resource, controlling capital, controlling information, controlling individuals ; and we divide people into the following categories : government, the rich, the media and journalists, the hard working people, the criminals, the parasites who want to live on others.

I don’t think I have to say much, you can see that with the oversimplified understanding, the slogan “Power to the people” is in the vicinity of nonsense.

(3)Absolute democracy and absolute human right are against science.

In a country with limited resources, scientific management is crucial. But, science is in the hands of very few people, otherwise most people would becomes scientists. So absolute democracy almost surely will prevent government making plan scientifically; even government does make plans scientifically, the principle of human right will prevent the plans carried out as planed.

The most significant example is that almost all the democratic countries are in debt, and this is after 2 decades of development. Were the policy-makes in democratic countries more stupid than those in China ? obviously not

In India, people complain that government has no long term plans, Are Indian more stupid than Chinese ? I don’t think so. Nearly 10% of NASA engineers are Indians, and their success in US is obvious. But when every “activist” has a say on planning, scientifically planning is impossible.

(4) Absolute freedom is against humanity.

In a society, usually, the more help a group of people need, the less power they have; the less help a group of people need, the more power they have.

Absolute freedom, in real world, means that people can get as much as they want, with their power. The result is terrible, as it means that the more you need help, the later you will get help, and the the people who need help most are the last ones who get help.


At the end, let me repeat my major point : there is no perfect understanding of human being, there is no perfect political system, we have to admit it. For each theory, for each system, we MUST ACCEPT ITS FLAWS to move forward.



  1. June 19th, 2011 at 14:20 | #1

    Freedom is fragile, freedom must be lived and practiced. It is nothing when treated as a religion or faith, instead of an actual way of life that need to be practiced, tried, and experimented. It’s not surprising that the founding fathers of the U.S. believed that Constitutional democracy was but a grand experiment.

    As George Washington noted,

    The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty . . is finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People.

    Vigilance – not some kind of inherent superiority – is the essence of a democratic gov’t. Thus James Madison noted,

    I believe that there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation’s.

    Wahaha’s observation of the ying and yang approach to democracy focuses on a fundamental appreciation of the perpetual journey to seek balance and justice as the final goal of all good governance.

    As Patrick Henry noted,

    No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES.

    In summary, democracy is not an end to the human experience. It is at best a conviction to be experimented, practiced, and demonstrated and validated, not a value or ideology or religion to be preached and imposed.

    To that end, I like this quote from William Allen White

    Democracy is an experiment, and the right of the majority to rule is no more inherent than the right of the minority to rule; and unless the majority represents sane, righteous, unselfish public sentiment, it has no inherent right.

    Or quote from George Weigel

    Democracy is always an unfinished experiment, testing the capacity of each generation to live freedom nobly.

    Or quote from Carl Becker

    [M]y chief purpose in writing it was to inject a small question mark after the assumption (more common then perhaps than now, but still often enough made) that there attaches to American institutions in general, and to the American form of government in particular, some sacred and sacrosanct quality of the changeless Absolute. I wished only to suggest, very mildly (and there is perhaps still some point in doing so), that American “democracy” was, and is, an experiment: originally an experiment in the sense that it was then relatively a new thing in the world; still an experiment in the sense that the profound economic changes of the last century are straining to the breaking point all political institutions derived from an earlier age. But for the matter of that, what is any human institution, what has it ever been, what can it ever be, but an experiment? An experimental device in humanity’s great adventure in search of the good life ?

  2. wwww1234
    June 19th, 2011 at 19:47 | #2

    Every utility has trade offs (disadvantage). It is in a continuum we must pick the balance point. Inside China, all camps are for equality, freedom and fraternity. Generally, the right is defined as more pro-freedom, which in reality often translates into economic-freedom to be more freely unequal. True libertarians never envision a world without significant natural constraints, be it physical like arable land, water right, energy, band width; or sociological like tolerance( against toxic speech, bias and prejudice etc), attention span(against corporate media propaganda).
    All these have to be modulated by people in public service with sufficient knowledge in its particular fields, rather than by simple universal instant preference.

  3. June 19th, 2011 at 23:48 | #3

    I am glad you guys made this treatment on what ultimately ‘democracy’ means. Allen – by clearly putting forth what the American founding fathers thought of it, I am disheartened at how those ideas are perversed in American society today.

    If what Xun Zi said is true, that ones external behavior is a reflection of ones inner self, then American society is doomed within, with the same dogma and ideological zealotry she displays towards other countries.

  4. xian
    June 20th, 2011 at 04:50 | #4

    Agreed, Western ideologues propagate and cling onto their beliefs like religion. You can tell by how indignant they get when someone disagrees, as though their beliefs are naturally justified.

    However, I don’t think anyone is advocating “absolute” anything. All the talk about democracy and human rights is merely a modern manifestation of an age old political strategy: leveraging moral norms to your advantage and your competitor’s disadvantage. In our times, it is a paradigm populated by Western ideals. Their guilt-tripping is not out of genuine concern for Chinese people, and even if it was, it is largely misguided.

    Given this, my thought process is one not so much of balance, but priority. There are plenty of things that are more important than freedom or equality. National strength, unity, wealth, satisfaction among other things far supersede any kind of moral luxury. Westerners already live in wealth and comfort and take these things for granted, perhaps for them moral outrage is a priority as they are no longer concerned with the necessities. It is no coincidence that developing nations prioritize different things. If we were to turn the table on the US, have them play the underdog with a per capita GDP of $3,000, their priorities will flip as well.

    I’m sure many Chinese understand what I’m saying. But how many people express this publicly? To argue by convoluting definitions, shifting blame, pointing out hypocrisy, selective comparison etc. is to play by their rules and not even know it. For a small country the reputation factor might be important. China is not a small country. China is by sheer population the loudest voice on the planet. China is a paradigm-shifting country.

    Ergo, there is no shame in saying that some censorship is necessarily to keep a stable society. That some protectionism is needed to foster growing assets. That hard rule is required to keep 1.3 billion people moving forward. That silencing some dissidents is needed to maintain political stability. That one-party government is flexible enough to handle more problems. That it presents a uniform front and not endless infighting. And so on.

    Remember: it only makes you look bad if you’re playing within their moral framework. Exist outside of it, and resist their angry attempts to bring you back into it.

  5. wwww.1234
    June 20th, 2011 at 05:41 | #5

    well said and thank you. I wish more people could see through that as well as you had.

  6. raventhorn2000
    June 20th, 2011 at 06:22 | #6

    Ideals are easy to theorize, but difficult to implement, and easily corruptable by reality.

    But more easily an idea can be corrupted by reality, more unrealistic it was to start with, because it could not account for realistic/practical situations.

    1 weakness of the Founding Father’s beliefs was that they anticipated the possibility of a mob-tocracy, but they could not come up with a realistically good solution to counter the problem of a “lemming majority dictatorship”.

    They could only hope that the majority would overtime realize its mistakes and change its mindset.

    The problem with a “democracy” is that a majority may be very popular indeed, but a majority would never really admit any of its mistakes. It’s simply too difficult.

    The Founding Fathers themselves proved otherwise, that a small group of influential leaders is indeed all that’s required to change the mindset of a population, if approached in a pragmatic fashion (ie. compromising on difficult issues such as slavery, in order to form a new system).

    If it was up to the “democracy”, US might have elected George Washington to become King, there would be no common currency of US dollar, and the Confederacy would have broken up into multiple nations.

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