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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gender Equality through Yin/yang Philosophy in China

Peng Qinxuan PhD Researcher SIM

My name is Peng Qinxuan, I came from Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, Utrecht University. I work with Prof. Jenny Goldschmidt on the research of human rights protection for the migrant women workers as domestic helpers in China, in which both elements of gender issue and Chinese culture fascinates me. That is why I wrote this piece of article on promoting gender equality in China using Yin-yang philosophy with which the discourse that Chinese people are familiar. I feel very honored to be able to present my ideas amongst so many brilliant minds, which I think is also a great opportunity to learn from you.

The structure of the presentation goes like this: The first section is a brief explanation of the concept of Yin-yang, including where does it come from and how widely is it applied in every aspects of Chinese culture. The second section is an introduction of the concept of gender and what are the general principles of modern-day gender equality. The third part is to apply yin-yang philosophy to match the principle of gender equality in order to make it accessible under the Chinese context. Finally, the floor is open for questions, discussions and suggestions.

First, the origin of yin and yang concept came from the ancient Chinese classics dated from 11c BC when Wenwang, the ruler of Zhou Dynasty hosted an activity among scholars to codify the their ancestors’ wisdom and their observation of the law of change. (It can be compared to the 5c, when the ruler of Roman Empire Justinianus presided the Roman law codification, only a lot earlier.) Given the enormously wide and deep application and incorporation in Chinese lunar calendar, agriculture schedule, astronomy observation, architecture, traditional Chinese medicine, regimen, martial art, music, traditional Chinese calligraphy, and other philosophical schools including Confucianism(Yang-oriented) and Taosim(Yin-oriented). I intend to view yin-yang as a philosophy that integrated epistemology, way of thinking, value system and aesthetic apperception.

So what is yin-yang? In I-Ching, Hsi Tzu passage, it says a yin and a yang interact with each other, that is the natural law of everything. Yin and yang can be widely interpreted into two opposing nature of things, which are exactly the elements that promote things to change and evolve under yin-yang interaction. But it is necessary to know that neither yin nor yang, as an intrinsic nature of thing, has its own virtues(see PPT). And the imbalance of yin-yang coordination can cause inauspicious effect. Here is the misconception of yin-yang philosophy starts when there is an overall worship of Yang in the society, people tend to praise Yang and suppress Yin. This is wrong because only yin or only yang cannot help to evaluate anything; either of them is help to describe things. It is the way how they interact and balance that helps us to evaluate and predict whether it is a promising development or not. For example, a weakness in either yin or yang may cause imbalance, which is inauspicious. (Further explain with PPT diagrams that yin and yang has their own virtues.)

Now you may wonder what does the most ancient wisdom yin-yang philosophy has to do with the most modern concept of gender equality? Can the self-contained eastern rooted philosophy echo the global trend? My answer is yes. Let’s first examine the gender theory. Gender is a social institution that determines responsibilities, allocation of resources, opportunities, and deciding power according to one’s biological sex. To put it simply, gender is the social interpretation of one’s sex. To eliminate the prejudices and discrimination arise from gender stereotypes, gender equality has long been on the agenda of scholars and policy-makers alike. Through generations of debates and efforts, there are at least a number of consensus arrived concerning gender equality under the UN documents since the gender mainstreaming dissemination, the question remains how to get these consensus reach each local-based community and make them truly understand and accept the notion and principles of gender equality as a global strategy.


Applied yin-yang philosophy, then it is much easier to comprehend the above-mentioned ideas: 1. Yin-yang philosophy refers to yin and yang, especially the interaction between them, so is gender. 2. The essence of yin-yang philosophy lies in change, so is the gender. Neither of them are set in stone, they are open to modification and dynamism of outside world, they are prepared to change along new situations. 3. Each “diagram” is composed of yin and yang composition, seldom is there yin-solely or yang-solely diagram, which suggests an ancient perspective of intersectionality that in a diagram or a situation, we cannot only pay attention to a single line of yin or yang, they are complicated composition of different elements. So is gender. 4. Yin and yang interaction makes change, positive and harmonious co-existence and interaction makes auspicious change. Weakness in either side would be inauspicious even harm the society. Accordingly, disadvantage in either men or women would harm the society, too. Only harmonious men and women relations and cooperation benefits humankind.


Actually, the more I explore the gender theory and the yin-yang philosophy, the more common grounds I found between them. But since time is limited, I will leave it there and I conclude that yin-yang philosophy exist and thrive for a reason: it is an open system that evolves with time and change. Applied to gender equality principle, it helps with the modernization of the yin-yang philosophy and maintains its vitality. Vice versa, by using the local-grown yin-yang philosophy that Chinese people are familiar with can help us better grasp the essence of gender equality and incorporate it into our policy-making and daily practice. The vitality of a culture lies in its openness and its willingness to adapt to new situation, and the only way to preserve and thrive our culture is not retaining it to ourselves inwardly, but opening it to modernization and internationalization.


Guest Post By  Peng Qinxuan ( Peng Qinxuan is a PhD Candidate at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM)) (Speaking notes for the Seminar on “Relying on culture to protect human rights: the combat against HIV/AIDS and the stigma associated with it”)

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