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Chinese Traditional Culture (Part 3) - Catastrophe and Renaissance
The principle of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements is at the core of traditional Chinese culture. In ancient China, this divinely-imparted thinking influenced all disciplines. Such thinking was reflected in every aspect of society and everyday life, from science to the military, from building to traveling, from worshiping to farming, and even from birth to marriage, and even death.
The principle of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements covered everything in this world. Taking the human body as an example, a human body has five major internal organs, that is, heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys, which correspond to fire, wood, earth, metal, and water in the Five Elements, respectively.
In Chinese traditional medicine, treating the illnesses of these five internal organs is based on the principle of mutual generation and mutual inhibition that exists among the Five Elements. Additionally, the energy channels and collaterals are classified according to Yin-Yang and the Five Elements, and Chinese traditional doctors adjust patients’ bodies based on mutual generation and mutual inhibition. The Five Elements also correspond well to human body fluids, the six Fu (i.e., the six hollow organs), the five sensory organs, and the four limbs. When prescribing medication, Chinese traditional doctors choose herbal medicine based on their properties as understood vis a vis the Five Elements, and some illnesses even needed to be treated at appropriate times or shichens [one shichen is two hours and there are twelve shichens in one day]. Matching the shichens and the Five Elements is not randomly done; it was preset, that is, it was set by the heavens.
Confucianism’s compassion, loyalty, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness also correspond to the Five Elements. In ancient times, China was called the Divine Land, and it was a nation of etiquette and morality, which many felt proud of. Many know that in Chinese traditional astronomy, the planets Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Saturn correspond to the Five Elements. As far as China’s geography is concerned, there are five big mountains; the colors of the land in China also correlate well with the geographic locations and directions represented by the Five Elements: the south has red soil, the north black soil, the east bluish soil, the west white soil, and the middle yellow soil.
In the following, I will explain the most basic elements that constitute a country, and then match these basic elements with the Five Elements. I found they are very suitable.
People, army, government, laws and regulations, culture and morality correspond to earth, metal, water, wood, and fire, respectively. Based on the principle of mutual generation, earth generates metal, so army comes from people. Metal generates water, so in the history of mankind, a government’s establishment is closely related to the army. Once a government is established, it will enact the nation’s governing policies, laws and regulations, which are all essential strategies for the ruling of the country; this is water generating wood. These laws, regulations, and policies will form a culture consistent with them, and even have far-reaching impact on social norms. Culture and morality correspondingly influence people; this is wood generating fire, and fire generating earth. People’s simple and compassionate character conforms to the nature of earth.
Army is of the nature of metal, which is needless to describe. Although the government is high on the top, people are the most important, the country’s ruling is second, and the emperor the least. As far as the emperor and the government are concerned, they all should have the character of nourishing and going down into the people, so they are matched with water. Laws and regulations are of the nature of wood, as wood is smooth and expansive; in the meantime, good laws should the function of production and creation. Culture, entertainment, morality, education, and folk customs all have the characteristics of being active and going up, so they belong to fire.
In the above mentioned order of the Five Elements, each reinforces the element next to it, and counteracts the element second away from it. In this way, a balance is reached through mutual generation and mutual inhibition.
The principle of mutual generation and mutual inhibition can be applied to everything in the universe; it has connected and correlated life, universe, time-space, and nature. Let’s use the government, laws, and people to illustrate the relationships of mutual inhibition. The more power a government (an emperor) has, the more totalitarian the country will become, and more laws and stipulations will be enacted. The government enacts the laws and regulations to restrict people; so the more the laws in number and the more powerful the laws are, the more severely people will get hurt. In this way, it is impossible to make the country rich and people strong. The inhibiting role of laws and regulations on people is visible, while people’s restrictions on the government are invisible and often manifest as a kind of demand on the government. The manifestation of this demand is also relatively hidden; but it is most powerful. Because of this, it is always emphasized that the people’s will cannot be denied. People originally should exert quite a level of restriction on the government. If people are weak in this role, and may temporarily be unable to do anything to the government, but this situation will not last very long. When people in dire situations are forced to rebel, they will ultimately inhibit the government and put an end to it. Therefore, in ancient times, the emperors all needed to listen to the people voices and modify laws accordingly, so as to achieve a smooth relationship between the top and the bottom, and thus great harmony in the whole nation.
In Chinese traditional culture, harmony manifested not only from people’s personal cultivation, but also from the the rule of the country. Harmony means that the mutual generation and mutual inhibition of Yin-Yang and the Five Elements are in a natural state. Harmony is a reflection of achieving a certain realm. It is the natural, interactive state that the people, society, nature, and universe tend toward. When the social atmosphere is pure, when people are steady and honest, when the government (the emperor or king) quietly rules the country and does not interfere with people’s lives, when the policies, laws, rewards, and punishments are clearly followed, when the army is willing to defend the nation, the country is well-governed and in great harmony.
Ancient Chinese people stressed ruling a country through non-action. What does “non-action” mean? It does not mean that the emperor is doing nothing; it instead means that the emperor is at peace and concerned with his people. When the emperor’s rule is righteous, the whole nation will be in harmony.