By Qin Sun Stubis
(reprinted from The Santa Monica Star)
The world map hasn’t changed much since I was a child, especially the large bodies of blue water separating the land. Growing up in communist China, I learned that our world was divided: The Eastern and Western hemispheres existed opposite each other, not just physically but in their ideologies and life-styles, too–like the two halves of the ancient Chinese “yin-yang” symbol, separate and different, but somehow intertwined into a single whole.
It was hard to imagine then that one day I’d see the world as one, facilitated by modern transportation and new information technology that didn’t exist at the time.
The first attempts to unite the two halves were difficult. Striving to reach the other side of a boundless ocean, our ancestors once rode ferocious waves, weathered deadly storms and fought alien ailments. When they left home, they never knew if they could make it back again. Still, they went beyond the horizon, explored the world, and made new discoveries.
In comparison, our lives are much more pampered. These days, no matter where we happen to be, the entire world is right at our fingertips and within our living-room walls. Whether we want to learn about customs on the other side of the earth, see exotic cultural artifacts, hear an American pop star, or “virtually” scale the Great Wall of China, there’s plenty to explore without ever putting our feet onto foreign soil.
Our fascination with other countries and peoples has also grown. Besides eating exotic foods and adorning ourselves and our homes with objects from faraway lands, we also love to use foreign place names, words, and terms to spice up our conversations, so much so that most languages nowadays contain imported words. Japan, for instance, boasts a very large collection of English words in its vocabulary. China, too, has an increasingly foreign lexicon penetrating her ancient hieroglyphic heritage. A highly fashionable Chinese word in the last decade, for example, has been “酷”- “cool” – a word that looks like Chinese but is actually a phonetic equivalent of the sound “cool,” taken from English, something totally unthinkable during the isolated communist years.
Opposites attract, according to the old Chinese philosophers. East and West, two hemispheres lying across from each other, have inevitably embraced. Ancient Chinese wisdom also says that when opposites are united, they are stronger: Each gives the other what it has not, which reflects the fundamental principle of yin and yang, a way to balance energies and create harmony.
I can’t help but think of our world map as a giant yin-yang symbol, with the energy generated by all the countries and the wisdom of their peoples as swirls of dark and light colors. The more we integrate and understand each other, the more harmonious our world will be. If the ancient yin-yang concept still contains any truth, our world is working her way toward a state of ultimate harmony and unity.
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Qin Stubis is a regular columnist in The Santa Monica Star. She lives in Bethesda, MD.