- Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture by Robin R. Wang
Robin Wang’s latest book, Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture, is an indispensable contribution to Chinese studies. Wang highlights the diverse uses of yinyang throughout two thousand years of Chinese cultural development in order to deepen the complexity of the concept for the Western reader and to bring it to life as a full-fledged thinking paradigm. She argues that yinyang “serves as a horizon for much of Chinese thought and culture … in the sense that although the terms are invoked in particular contexts for concrete purposes, they imply a deeper cultural background and a paradigm for thinking about change and effective action” (p. 5).
Wang utilizes three methodological approaches to develop the yinyang thinking paradigm. The first approach is descriptive and historical in that it draws from texts familiar to a Western audience, such as the Yijing and Daodejing, as well as those less familiar, such as the Guiguzi, Heguanzi, Wenzi, and Zhouyi cantong qi, in order to illustrate how widely utilized the concept of yinyang is in Chinese culture and also to demonstrate that while many of these uses are different, there is an underlying structural unity across the diverse array. The second approach is philosophical in that it works to develop yinyang as a conceptual thinking paradigm. To accomplish this, Wang explores the function of yinyang in the fields of Chinese cosmology, epistemology, ethics, medicine, and visual interpretation. The third approach is pragmatic in that Wang emphasizes the practical and strategic functions of yinyang that overlap with the conceptual elements in ethical, medicinal, and interpretive practices.
The order of the chapters proceeds through five areas of Chinese thought and culture. Chapter 2 focuses on the cosmological functions of yinyang and articulates the notions of the Dao 道 (the way), qi 氣 (vital force or energy), yi 易 (changes), and taiji 太極 (the great ultimate). In chapter 3, Wang explores the logic of yinyang through an examination of how yinyang and lei 類 (kinds) parse the world and relate elements of the natural and social orders. Various strategies (shu 術) of yinyang are the topic of chapter 4. Here Wang examines how yinyang can be used efficaciously to integrate “being, thinking, and doing” (p. 20). Chapter 5 focuses on the embodied dimensions of yinyang and is a study of the yinyang structure that informs medical understanding and practices of bodily self-cultivation (xiushen 修身). Wang emphasizes the importance of the rhythm, balance, and transformation of yinyang for health in traditional Chinese medicine. Chapter 6 is structured around the notion of [End Page 656] xiangshu 象數 (images and numbers) and serves as the conclusion to the project. It culminates in an explication of the “visual thinking” and the “analogical reasoning” found at the heart of the yinyang thinking paradigm and the practice of reading yinyang visual symbolization.
From the project’s ambitious aims and Wang’s exemplary scholarship emerges a must-read for anyone interested in Chinese philosophy.
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