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The Study of Changes

The study of changes is another important subject discussed in Chinese philosophy.

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The idea of unchangeability arose along with the formation of the theory of the Mandate of Heaven. The people of the Shang Dynasty (c. early 17th century-llth century BC) held that the Mandate of Heaven was unchangeable and that everything depended on the steady Mandate of Heaven. On the eve of the collapse of the Shang Dynasty, the tyrant King Zhou was still certain that the Mandate of Heaven was unchangeable and that his rule over the state would not be forfeited and terminated.

The idea of changeability of things (nature and human activity) arose around the time that the Shang Dynasty ended and the Zhou Dynasty began. During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods it developed into a fairly complete and systematic theory, which became an important ideological basis of the study of changes (or the study of dualism, or the opposites) for the following generations.

Two books from that period illustrate this:

Firstly, The Book o/ I lislory, in which various important historical events of the Shang Dynasty and the early Zhou Dynasty were recorded. Among them are contained many discussions of the changeability of both the Mandate of Heaven and the government. For instance, Heaven is always searching for a suitable sovereign for the state. At first, the Xia were selected, but descendents of the early kings of the Xia Dynasty abused their power and maltreated the people, instead of working for the benefits of the people. As a result, Heaven dismissed the Xia and ordered that the Shang replace them as rulers of the state. "For centuries, King Tang and the succeeding kings of Shang worked hard to make their country strong and prosperous Through diligence and frugality and so their regimes survived. Eventually, however, the last kings of the Dynasty began to seek sensual pleasures. The last king of the dynasty, king Zhou, committed all manner of evil and the Dynasty was overturned by Heaven in favor of the Zhou. The Duke of Zhou demanded of the nobles of Zhou that they learn from the honorable and brilliant kings of Xia and Shang, and remember the fatuous and incompetent kings who had lost the trust of Heaven and the people. The conquered Shang tried to take advantage of the faults of the new Zhou regime to overthrow the Zhou, saying that this was the "evil imposed upon the state of Zhou by Heaven. "Those holding the reins of the Zhou government were well aware that if the Zhou did not overcome their mistakes, their regime would collapse and they would be reduced to slaves. This was the idea of changeability of the Mandate of Heaven summed up by the statesmen of the early Zhou from their political practices.

Second, The Book of Changes (I Ching) which appeared at the time of the transition from the Shang Dynasty to the Zhou. The book uses arrangements of eight "trigrams "(three solid and/or broken lines forming patterns which represent Heaven, Earth, thunder, wind, water, fire, mountain and lake) through which natural and social Changes can be foretold.

In the book, many opposing categories are recorded, such as auspicious and inauspicious, good luck and ill luck, big and small, entry and exit, incoming and outgoing, forward and backward, up and down, taking and giving, life and death, internal and external, safety and danger, profit and toss. These opposing categories mean the whole world is replete with contradictions. And the world is composed of contradictions that interchange and interact. Some- thing big is sure to come after something small has gone; a plain may rise to become a hillside; present time is a continuation of the past. There is nothing at all that is unchangeable and steady for ever in the world. Everything has its own contradiction(s). Every thing Changes from its own contradiction(s). This outlook on the world may be regarded as the early beginning of the study of dualism, or opposites (dialectics).

During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, people deepened their understanding of the ideas of change and of opposites. A series of works expressing this understanding appeared. With the appearance of Sun Zi's Arl of War, The Analects, The Book of Lao Zi, The Book of Mo Zi and Explanatory Noles of Changes, the study of Changes in Chinese philosophy was promoted to a new height of its development.

The main substance of the study of Changes was as follows:

First, the concept of motion and change. Ancient Chinese philosophers gained an understanding of this concept only after they had observed a great deal of natural and social phenomena. That is to say, they discovered and inferred the generality of the motion and Changes of things from the observation of the individuality of the movement and Changes of things. For instance, Lao Zi, as an official historian, saw many Changes of things in society such as "no ruler of a state can be in office forever and no positions for rulers and subjects without changes. "He also observed such natural phenomena as "highland Changes to be valley and valley Changes to be high hill. "From these observations, he saw that nothing in the world is unchangeable. He said: "A hurricane never lasts a whole morning, nor a rainstorm all day. Who is it that makes the wind and rain? It is Heaven and Earth. And if Heaven and Earth cannot blow and pour for long, how much less in his utterance should man? "Using this instance he wants to ex- plain that both nature and human society are moving on and changing ceaselessly. Confucius, observing the rotation of the four seasons, and the growth and decline of everything, came to know that the world moves on just like a running river. His disciples recorded: "The Master standing by a stream, said, 'It passes on just like this, ceaselessly day or night. "

This conception of the motion and Changes of things was further developed in the Explanatory Notes of Changes. The sun, the moon, and the constellations, the four seasons and hot and cold weather, ancient and modern times, and thoughts and ideas are all in a state of motion and change. The same is true of etiquette and penal code and the laws. Nothing in the world is unchangeable. Things change when they reach the extreme. Change will promote development and development will bring about creation. Infinite development is a process full of vitality and a multitude of variations.

That things are always in motion and change is agreed upon by most ancient and modern thinkers. But opinions differ in the relationship between motion and motionlessness, mainly because there exist two kinds of one-sided view about this question.

The scholars of the metaphysical school of the Wei Dynasty (220-265) and the Jin (265-420) exaggerated the functions of stillness, holding that the thing-in-itself (noumenon) is always motionless. Motionlessness is absolute. Motion comes from motionlessness. All the things in motion will ultimately return to the static state of the thing-in-itself. Taoists held a similar outlook. Chinese Buddhism, however, exaggerated the functions of motion, denying the distinction between motion and motionlessless, regarding all things and phenomena in the world as constantly changing and in an endless cycle of life and death.

A comprehensive conception of motion and motionlessness was not proposed until the Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. For example, Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073) of the Song Dynasty conceived the doctrine of the reciprocity of motion and motionlessness. Zhang Zai (1020-1077) likened motion and motionlessness to the opening and shutting of a door, expounding the unity of opposites -- motion and motionlessness from being of daily life. He proposed such ideas as "motion in motionlessness "and "motionlessness being in the course of motion, "confirming the relativity of motionlessness, and "ceaseless motion "as the absoluteness of motion. Wang Fuzhi (1619-1692), a thinker of the Ming and Qing dynasties, also opposed the ideas of motionlessness without motion or motion without motionlessness. He considered that "motionlessness involves motion, and motion involves motionlessness, "regarding motion and motionlessness as two states of existence of things in motion and change.

It is necessary to point out here that different views still remained as to the relationship between matter and motion. Many Taoist and Buddhist scholars separated matter from motion, believing motion could exist independent of matter. This had been argued repeatedly since the Han Dynasty by those who advocated that primary elements (or vitality) formed Heaven and Earth. They believed that things were in constant motion and change and the material qi (vitality) that constituted everything was also in constant motion and change. They pointed out that in the world, there was no motion without matter, nor there was matter without motion.

Secondly, "opposites "are the source of the motion and change of everything. This is the nucleus of the study of changes, and its most brilliant aspect. The Book of Changes was probably the first book to conceive the idea of opposites. It held that the cause of motion and change lay in opposites, or the interaction of opposites. However this idea was expressed Through the form of divination. The question had not been discussed with a genuine philosophic point of view until the appearance of such books as The Book of Lao Zi, Sun Zi's Art of War, and the Explanatory Notes of Changes.Lao Zi systematically expounded the interdependent relation ship between the two opposites of things. He enumerated a number of things in the category of opposites such as beauty and ugliness, difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, some thing and nothing, profit and loss, hard and soft, strong and weak, happiness and misfortune, wise and foolish, smart and stupid, big and small, fife and death, win and lose, offense and defense, advance and retreat, fight and heavy, honor and disgrace, and motion and motionlessness. If one of the two opposites does not exist, the other will also disappear. The interaction and interdependence of the two opposites are the cause of change and development of things.

The idea of “opposites” conceived by Lao Zi is further devel oped by ,fun Zi~r Ar/of /Dtr. A weakness of I, ao Zi's thesis is that, for him, the change or shift of opposites is unconditional. There fore, people cannot predict the prospects of the development of things. Meanwhile, in dealing with the theory that "the weak originates from the strong, "a theory of interchanges of opposites, the description in ,fun Zi's Ar! of War is more profound than that of l,ao Zi, because the former has pointed out the precondition of changes. Without certain conditions, the weak will remain weak, and cannot overcome the strong. Of all conditions, man is the most important. For Sun Zi, this means the full performance of the commander's subjective initiative and the soldiers' discipline and valor.

It is said that Sun Zi went to the State of Wu to persuade the king to follow his art of war. The king inquired of him how an army should be commanded. Sun Zi immediately gave him a demonstration by ordering the royal palace maids to form a parade. He divided them into two columns, led by two of the king's favorite concubines. Each time Sun beat a drum to give out his orders, all the women burst into laughter. He then ordered that the two leaders be beheaded. This startled the king and he asked that the women not be executed, but Sun said: "On the battlefield, the orders of the king will not necessarily be accepted by his generals. "He then killed the two leaders and assigned two others in their place. Now, when he gave his orders, all the women performed properly and acted as one. Sun told the king that this sort of army could be sent to brave all dangers. The king of Wu then appointed Sun as his commanding general.

The Explanatory Notes of Changes further points out that the reason why two opposites of a thing can interact each other and promote the change and development of a thing lies in the opposing property or nature of opposites. Change and development are the logical outcome of the "interaction "and "friction "of the two opposing forces. The author of the Explanatory Notes of Changes holds that the interaction and inter-friction of Yin and Yang, hard and soft, motion and motionlessness gave rise to Heaven and Earth, the sun and moon, the four seasons, night and Changes of things is not outside the things themselves, but lies in the internal interaction and inter-friction of the opposing forces within.

If the study of opposites had reached a peak before the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), a new upsurge reappeared during the Song and Ming dynasties when science and technology had further developed. The philosophers of this period inherited and developed previous understanding of opposites, while also absorbing and remodeling the dialectical way of thought in Buddhism, thus making new contributions to the "study of opposites. "

"Opposites, "as a philosophical thesis, was first proposed by Wang Anshi of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and Zhu Xi of the Southern Song (1127-1279). This is a new summarization of various previous categories of opposites. Zhu Xi expressed the idea clearly, saying that everything in the world has its opposite, everything contains its own opposite, and each part of the two opposites has its own opposite. Zhu Xi combined his ideas, akin to the essence of dialectics, with the ideas of the Northern Song philosophers Shao Yong and Zhang Zai that "one is divided into two "and "one thing can be halved. "From here, he continued, saying that the study of opposites and "one is divided into two "are one and the same. "One is halved, and the half can again be halved, and so on Through to infinity. "He considered that "one is divided into two "is the general law of the motion and change of things.

Thinkers of the Song and Ming also made new findings in their study of the innate causes of motion and change. For instance, applying their natural science knowledge to the study, Zhang Zai and other thinkers proposed that "motion comes within itself, "and "the cause of motion is internal. "The internal cause of motion is the imbalance in the development of the opposites of things and the interaction that this produces.

For Zhang, the opposing nature of opposites conceived by earlier philosophers is the imbalance in the development of the "two extremes. "It is not only things in different categories which have such opposing extremes; so do things of the same category. Even so is in the case of a thing. For instance, man has two similar hands, but one is

Thirdly, there must be one aspect of the two opposites which plays the leading rote. As early as more than 2000 years ago, Chinese thinkers already understood this truth from their daily life. The nature of opposites was abstracted with one aspect as the weak (Yin, or female) and the other as the strong (Yang, or male).

The school of Lao Zi stressed the principal role of the weak aspect, holding that the nature and change of a whole thing are determined by it. They proposed a dialectical ideology based on the importance of the weak and female.

Through farming practice, Lao Zi observed that a seedling,though weak at first, could grow up tall and strong. However, when it had become tall and strong, it would begin to approach its death. He held that the best way to deal with life was to place oneself in a weak position, so as to avoid the transformation from weak to strong and eventually to death. Therefore, he believed that if you want to remain whole, be twisted; to become straight, let yourself be bent; to become full, be hollow; and be tattered, that you may be renewed. Those that have little will receive plenty. For this purpose, he urged people to learn the quality of water. Water appears soft and yielding. But it can attack everything harder and stronger than itself, because it can yield to the situation as it flows. Therefore, "nothing under Heaven can fight it. "This is the essence of Lao Zi's principle of "the weak overcoming the strong. "

Contradicting the school of Lao Zi, the school of the Explanatory Notes of Changes emphasized the role of the strong, believing that "just as the universe evolves on in its own way without failure, a superior man (or a man of virtue) must strive constantly to make himself strong and capable as the Way of Man requires. "Their dialectic ideology emphasized man's constant endeavors to make himself strong and capable.

The Explanatory Noles of Changes chiefly studies how to keep the strong aspect constantly playing the leading role without being replaced by the weak aspect. However, although the strong aspect is dominant, its action must be moderate in the whole process of motion. Any exertion beyond a certain limit will bring about a result contrary to its aims. Therefore, by absorbing part of Lao Zi's thinking, the book advocates that tile strong aspect should play the leading role, supplemented by the weak aspect. If necessary, the strong aspect may be even placed in a secondary position to achieve its aim for the eventual "full development of the Tao. "

So far as the weak aspect is concerned, the book holds that if the weak aspect plays the leading role over the strong aspect, the results will be bad. The book compares the weak to the category of "earth "or the female (Yin) nature. These can play their due role only when they are attached to the strong aspect or play their subdued part in contrast to it. For example, during the reign of the tyrant King Zhou, darkness overwhelmed the whole state. King Wen of Zhou was imprisoned and subjected to great suffering. King Wen, however, had a great store of inner strength and virtue, while externally employing the way of the weak, and finally over came the disaster. When a sovereign was fatuous and incompetent,decent and honorable ministers were sure to suffer. Ji Zi was reduced from being a minister to a slave by his lord, the tyrant King Zhou of Shang, and was put in prison. He protected himself from harm by pretending to be mad and hiding his wisdom and ability. Though he suffered great psychological trauma, his rectitude, decency and integrity remained unshaken. This shows that under certain conditions, one may turn danger into security by yielding in the right way.

The two different dialectic ideologies of Lao Zi and the Notes are two different approaches to knowing and dealing with things, both of which reflect a certain aspect of objective dialectics.

Through the ages all Confucian scholars have favored the Notes because it demonstrated such ideas as superior and inferior, nobility and baseness and high and Low positions Through the concept of the weak being subordinated to the strong, which corresponded more closely to the social reality of the time. This was especially true of Dong Zhongshu (179-104 BC), a philosopher of the Western Han (206 BC-25 AD), who applied this idea to the demonstration of the "Three Cardinal Guides "* of feudal society.

Dong Zhongshu identified rulers, fathers and husbands as Yang, while subjects, sons and wives were Yin. Yang was superior while Yin was inferior. It was because these concepts had long been dominant among thinkers, the functions of the interchange of the strong and the weak aspects, which the Notes tried to avoid, were thus covered up.

As to Lao Zi's idea of "the weak overcoming the strong, "although it denies the value of man's activity, its objective dialectical aspect has still not been properly researched, and a need for its deep implications and truth to be further developed still remains.

The primary feature of the study of Changes is for practical use. It is not an armchair philosophic theory. As a way of thinking, it is intended to be used for avoiding one-sided views, and upholding an overall point of view. This is the "setting it forth from one end to the other "that Confucius spoke of. Other dialectic methodology approaches suggested by many other thinkers to deal with such opposites as safety and danger, joy and sorrow, obscurity and insinuation, feeling and reason, knowledge and practice constituted the main substance of the study of changes.

It can also be applied to social activities, including politics, military affairs, economy and culture. Through centuries of practice and evolution, people have come to realize that it is imperative to learn and use the Chinese knowledge of Changes if one wants to achieve success in one's career. Many scholars and military strategists abroad have also come to this conclusion, and have earnestly studied Sun Zi~r Arl of War. This is a practical way of studying the ancient Chinese learning of opposites. Sun Zi's Art of War is the classic of the "learning of opposites "to be applied to military science and human activities. Its expositions of subjective and objective conditions, the relationship between politics and economy, the union of analysis and synthesis, the need to carefully examine oneself as well as one's enemy and to develop one's strong points and attack the enemy's weak points have made the book an encyclopedia of the learning of opposites with its undying theoretical vitality.

More about Chinese Philosophy

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    The study of changes is another important subject discussed in Chinese philosophy.

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