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The idea of “unity of opposites”

on Thu 29 Jun 2017, 16:21
Opposition and Fellowship: I Ching’s (Yi Jing) dialectical views on the functionality of conflict By Jianglong Wang
Western Washington University

One of the unique features characterizing Yi Jing as a much-cherished Chinese classic is the conceptualization of “yin” and “yang” in the universe. As a pair of overarching concepts representing the forces in eternal opposition, “yin” and “yang” are not only the binary components of the diagram of Tai Ji, the representation of the supreme ultimate universe, but also the ever-present elements in all things, including animals and people.

When Yi Jing’s author conceptualized the notions of yin and yang, he suggested, at the same time, the existence of contradiction in all things, as yin and yang are complete opposites interacting within all things in the universe. Because of the permanency and constancy of the movement of all things, the interactivity between yin and yang is therefore constant and endless. With constant and endless movements between the opposite forces of yin and yang, the occurrence of conflict is thus ever lasting and frequent.

From Yi Jing’s point of view, all things are in constant movement and, therefore, a given status of any thing at any moment in time and space represents solely and only a transitory form of the thing itself.

While discussing the identity and struggle of the elements contained in a given contradiction, Mao (1965b) purported:

"It is so with all opposites; in given conditions, on the one hand they are opposed to each other, and on the other they are interconnected, interpenetrating, inter-permeating, and interdependent, and this character is described as identity. … How then can they be identical? Because each is the condition for the other’s existence"

In Yi Jing’s view, because of the “loss and gain” of yin and yang in competition, all things, therefore, appear either yin or yang at a particular time in space with yin containing the seed of yang, and yang, the seed of yin. The existence of opposition and fellowship in humans is perhaps a good example for illustrating that permanency in either opposition or fellowship is virtually non-existent in human history. What seems to be the opposition at present may be transformed into fellowship in the not too distant future since opposition carries within it the seed of fellowship. The reverse is also quite true for today’s fellowship may one day be transformed into opposition as fellowship contains within the seed of opposition.

Hence, dialectically, although all matters have their opposites, at a particular time in a given space, only one aspect of a matter is shown with the other hidden or being latent. Opposition becomes visible at a particular time and space only because fellowship is hidden and latent.

Viewing the world in such a way at least informs us of the interconnectedness of all things. Winning and losing, success and failure, birth and death, order and chaos, new and old, positive and negative, for instance, are all interconnected due to the forever competition of yin and yang in all things. Thus, in Yi Jing’s view, the only absolute in the universe is change because the two opposites in any given matter develop in competition and transform into each other via the function of conflict.
Only by taking this dialectical viewpoint, can a person observe both the positive and negative sides, the apparent and latent, the visible and invisible aspects of a matter in a given space and time. Only by viewing the world dialectically, as the author of Yi Jing asserted, can it be possible for individuals to understand the transformation of opposites in all things, and the functionality of conflict in such a continuous process of transformation in the universe.
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