Japanese Yin Yang

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I believe it is impossible to fully understand Chinese attitudes and behavior without comprehensive knowledge of the ancient yin-yang principle in Chinese culture. The terms yin and yang are generally known around the world as relating to such opposites as hot-cold, sweet-sour, male-female, and positive-negative. But this view is incomplete.      The concept of yin and yang is, in fact, an explanation of the nature of the cosmos; of the behavior of all organic and inorganic material in the universe, as well as the invisible energy that infuses the cosmos down to the level of quantum physics.      The yin-yang concept incorporates the creation and extinction of all things in an unending cycle. It refers to the power that infuses all things in the cosmos and dictates that there must be—or should be—harmony between the positive and negative, the dark and the light, the active and the inactive, etc.      Several of the most basic elements of Chinese culture, including personal and business etiquette, are manifestations of the yin-yang principle, particularly the Chinese characteristic of thinking “in circles” in contrast to the “straight-line” thinking that prevails in the West.      Looking just below the surface of Chinese behavior reveals that the yin-yang principle applies to all relationships between males and females, between seniors and juniors, between the government and the private sector, in fact, to virtually all relationships and all activities—including the food they eat and the order in which the dishes are consumed, and all of their traditional medical and therapeutic practices.      Chinese scholars and philosophers have been aware of and writing about the yin-yang principle—which could be defined as the interplay between opposites—since around 1,400 B.C. But long before this they had become acutely aware that the yin-yang relationships between things and people are not fixed, that they are in a constant state of flux, that they wax and wane in inverse proportions—between the hot and cold, the strong and the weak, the young and the old.      The personal and business etiquette of the Chinese is based on trying to keep all of the yin-yang relationships in harmony—which does not mean or infer equality in the relationships; only that the relationships are on a level that is acceptable, or bearable, to the parties concerned.     This view of human relations is not fair in the Western sense, but it is realistic in the sense that in nature equality is an absolute that can exist only in relative terms and for short periods of time.      Chinese culture is now evolving in the direction of Western cultures. The Chinese in the more industrialized areas of the country are giving preference to people-oriented standards that are making their society less formalistic, less ritualistic and less homogenous—and certainly more human.      But in most areas of Chinese life, from the personal to the professional, the yin-yang principle is at play on some level, and it is generally necessary to understand what that means in terms of all relationships—especially business.      This is especially true for Americans and other Westerners who are programmed to view things as linear, and have poor vision—if any—of all of the things that are above, below and on the sides of that straight line.      In dealing successfully with the Chinese it is always vital to view the relationship—or proposed relationship—from a holistic viewpoint; being aware of and often taking into account these subtle and sometimes invisible elements.     Americans in particular typically regard this approach as somewhat irrational at best and obstructionist at worst, and begrudge taking the time necessary to deal with it. But investing the extra time generally cannot be avoided.       It is best to acknowledge the yin-yang principle upfront, and call it like it is in negotiations—emphasizing the positive and acknowledging the negative in order to achieve an acceptable agreement. Copyright © 2009 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente ______________________________________ Boyé Lafayette De Mente is a graduate of Jōchi University in Tokyo and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona. He is the author of more than 50 books on the business practices, cultures and languages of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico. For a list and synopses of his books go to: www.boyedemente.com .

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