The black and white symbol of Yin-Yang has been a basis of Chinese philosophy for thousands of years. But what does it really mean? Robin Wang, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University and the recipient of the 2011 Daum Professorship, has taken up the challenge to find out. And by discovering the secrets of Yin-Yang, she expects to gain greater insight into China itself.
Wang grew up in China, and graduated from Peking University before coming to the U.S. She studied at the University of Notre Dame. After earning an M.A., she went to the University of Wales, Cardiff, in the United Kingdom to earn her Ph.D.
In 1999, Wang became a full-time professor at LMU. Today, she teaches philosophy courses and is the head of the Asian Pacific Studies program.
Her mission is to provide insight into Chinese thought and culture, which she sees as particularly important in today’s world. Through her work in Chinese philosophy and Asian Pacific Studies, she strives to build bridges between China and the U.S.
It is for this work that Dr. Wang was awarded the Bellarmine College Daum Professorship last spring. The Daum Professorship, started in 2008 by Father Michael Eng, was created to recognize and encourage professors who excel in both scholarship and teaching. The professorship includes a $10,000 research grant and a reduced course load for the year. This professorship has enabled Wang to finish her study of Yin-Yang.
“It’s tremendous, it’s very helpful. Right now I’m working from eight to seven, nonstop. It’s through this Daum Professorship that I am able to really concentrate on this work,” she said.
Wang’s comprehensive study of Yin-Yang is particularly important, because it embodies the very essence of Chinese philosophy. “They don’t have this dualistic view to think about the world. They do not like Descartes’ idea, ‘I think therefore I am.’ They didn’t see the mind and body separation; they always see things in interconnection. That’s a uniqueness of Chinese thought,” she said.
According to Wang, understanding Yin-Yang is integral to understanding China. “This idea penetrates all aspects of Chinese culture,” she said.
In fact, it underlies everything. As she taught her students of Chinese thought and Chinese literature, she realized its importance. “Yin-Yang is the core,” she said.
While Yin-Yang is a popular symbol, its true significance is frequently misunderstood, a situation Wang hopes to remedy.
“I’m bilingual and trained in both traditions, so I’m in the best position to give a comprehensive account of this, to clarify some assumptions and misunderstandings, and bring understanding to a new level,” she said.
This is good news not only for the field of Chinese philosophy, but also for her students.
“I always see the importance of teaching and I always bring my research into the classroom,” she said. She even created a new class, “Yin-Yang Theory in Practice,” to present and discuss her research with her students.
Her passion for the subject is infectious, and she is proud to have her work recognized by the Daum Professorship. “I feel honored, I feel humbled, I feel very grateful,” she said.
And as she continues her work, she keeps asking herself the same question: “How can I make a contribution to understand Chinese thought and culture?