Harmony in a World of Contradictions
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By Peter Kien-hong Yu

Harmony in a World of Contradictions

Apr. 25, 2017  |     |  0 comments

The origin and etymology of contradiction in the West can be dated back to the 14th century. In ancient China, it was Han Fei, also known as Han Fei Zi, who first coined this abstract term in Chinese as mao dun.


Han Fei, an influential Chinese political philosopher, was born in 280 BC and died in 233 BC. His allegory of a spear (mao) against a shield is well-known: A man from the state of Chu put a spear and a shield on sale. He bragged about his sharp spear and boasted about his impenetrable shield. An onlooker posed a tough question: What would happen if the spear is used to pierce or to prod at the shield? The man was unable to give a persuasive answer and suddenly realized that it is impossible or contradictory for the strongest shield to coexist with a spear that finds nothing impenetrable.


Indeed, we live in a world of contradictions. On one hand, depending on what constitutes your perception of reality, the world that developed after God or Buddha becomes dialectical in the context of Buddha and the worshipper. On the other hand, our world becomes dialectical only after the Big Bang. It could be mother nature and Adam or the struggles among three kingdoms, A, B, and C. At a nodal point, one of them will eventually become the winner.

On the whole, there is no doubt that the Chinese mind and heart prefer to emphasize harmony. This has been a tradition. Confucius speaks of the Middle Way. Facing a dilemma, a person would choose not to go to extremes. A person would (firmly) stick to at least 1 percent of what he or she treasures, while trying to accommodate 99 percent of the counterpart, assuming both of them are at odds. If both sides do the same, harmony can be said as being reinforced.

Especially after the Third Plenum of the 11th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the late 1970s, we see the following phenomena. First, Beijing continues to respect multilateralism, which is a bottom-up arrangement and which gives small and medium powers in the international society at least a voice that they would not otherwise have; while Washington, especially during the George W. Bush administration, shows a trend of top-down unilateralism, if not Texan cowboy swaggering as well, in the conduct of national security affairs and American foreign policy.

Second, Chinese people are peace-loving at the macro-level. They have been constantly reminded to be defensive, whenever they write the Chinese character, 國 (guo), which could be translated as nation, country, or state. The radicals tell it all: 口,戈,口,and 一. The first radical symbolizes four walls, constituting the Middle Kingdom or simply China. Another example, having a history of more than 700 years, is the si he yuan (quadrangle), which is a classical architectural style of residential housing in Beijing dating from the Ming Dynasty. 

Inside the walls, we first see 戈, which refers to a defensive weapon called dagger-axes. Rulers since ancient days are concerned about 口, which symbolizes a mouth to be fed. Hence, the fourth radical, 一, refers to a farming tool. With this tool, crops can be harvested and people can eat. It should be noted that the Chinese character 和 (he) has similar references. The left radical refers to the rice shoots or seedlings of cereal crops, and the right, the mouth of a human being. When we have both, harmony can supposedly be maintained and sustained. 

Misunderstanding is still a stumbling block. Hence, exchanges between both sides of the Taiwan Strait should and must continue.

In the 21st or 22nd century, if each adult can own, say, five houses and five cars, the world will be much more harmonious. Can this scenario surface at least in one place? Yes, if the world population can be reduced, and if 24 Earthlings succeed in living in Mars in 2024 or 2030, with plenty of supplies for a long period of time. In other words, at least among them, we can see a plethora or regime of harmony. 

Third, speaking of the social relations between both sides of the Taiwan Strait, one may notice that each Chinese mainland citizen, young and old, can sing or at least has heard one song, which is composed or produced by a Taiwan composer or singer. This has been amply demonstrated in the Shanghai-based “don’t give up and don’t give in” entertainment programs like Ma Ma Mi Ya (Super Diva).

Fourth, mainland Chinese television series related to the struggles between the CPC and the Nationalist Party of China/Kuomintang (KMT) before October 1, 1949, used to discredit Chiang Kai-shek and his followers for not fighting hard enough against Imperial Japanese troops, who occupied part of mainland China from September 1931 to the end of World War II. However, especially after March 2005 when Beijing started to emphasize that “liangan tongshu yige Zhongguo” (both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to the same country), we began to see many heroic battles which were fought by the ruling party of the Republic of China during World War II, if not earlier.

Fifth, again after March 2005, Chinese mainland universities, such as Peking University, East China Normal University, and Xiamen University began to proudly mention their schools’ history before the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). For example, on May 3, 1912, we began to see the adoption of the present name of Peking University. The PRC government did not change it, even after October 1, 1949. Before mid-1912, it was called the Imperial University of Peking.

Sixth, in February 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with KMT Honorary Chairman Lien Chan in Beijing, and mentioned “liangan yijiaqing” (both sides of the Taiwan Strait share the same kinship). After seeing the March 2014 Sunflower Student Rally in Taipei, Beijing began to plan a new “guomin daiyu” (citizen treatment program) to invite young people from Taiwan to work, live, and have hospital care on the Chinese mainland. In other words, they will eventually be treated the same way as their counterparts on the mainland.

However, several problems remain to be solved. Misunderstanding is still a stumbling block. Hence, exchanges between both sides of the Taiwan Strait should and must continue. One of the misunderstandings is that there is no grass-roots democracy on the mainland. I once saw the following five words which were issued by the consultative council of a Shanghai university: Don’t let Democracy be Fantasy. The council members welcome people who have their meals at on-campus canteens to offer their remarks, comments, etc. about the food service. In this connection, students are being reminded of their rights on-campus.

Misreading other people’s minds is another problem. By accommodating 99 percent of what a counterpart or B treasures, a concession has actually made by A. However, the counterpart may misread it as a form of weakness and, as a next step, continue to take advantage of A.

Misinformation or disinformation should be surmounted with the onslaught of the Internet, and even an academic publication like the Shangdong-based Journal of the Party School of Shengli Oilfield has published an article entitled “The Influence of Network Political Rumors on the University Students and Countermeasure for Them.”1 Mechanisms should be established so as to straighten these out.

Mistrust still lingers in the minds of many politicians. As of today, Beijing leaders will continue to promote the peaceful reunification of China, while leaders in Taiwan may feel that is not in their interests or that the time is not yet ripe.

In a nutshell, progress has been made on the Chinese mainland. On March 4, 2017, Xi Jinping for the first time said at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that intellectuals should be treasured. Indeed, intellectuals can play a positive and vital role in reconciling contradictions in the politically-divided country called China.




1. Vol. 29, No.5 (2016), pp.116-120. In the No. 361 (March 2016) issue of National Defense, which is published by Beijing-based PLA Academy of Military Sciences, page 87 said that some people portrayed the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as a “ruoshi qunti” (vulnerable or disadvantaged group). In old days, information usually does not travel fast. The May 4th movement started on May 4, 1919 in Beijing. However, it was not until the early morning of May 6 that a Fudan University professor, Shao Lizi, instructed his student to ring the university bell so as to mobilize the students. On May 7, Shanghai students began to support the Beijing students. See Shanghai Archives, No.5 (2016), pp. 42-43. It is important to know who fired the first shot. The same archive on page 49 said the Third Field Army of Chinese PLA on May 12, 1949 fired the first shot at Baoshan District, Shanghai, and after 16 days liberated that international city.

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