From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Power of Five—Introduction

One year ago on Round and Square (20 June 2012)—Fieldnotes From History: Provincial Elections (c)
Two years ago on Round and Square (20 June 2011)—Endings: Never in Anger
[a] Yinyang (five-phase) cosmology RF
This is the start of a new approach on Round and Square. We will (of course) continue with long, reflective, burrowing essays (about a thousand words per segment) on almost every hidden corner of our social, historical, and cultural lives. Don't even think that we are going to abandon our practice of overthinking everything.

Now, though, we are going to start punctuating that prolixity with some more "punchy" segments that will, in their very brevity, dig into the subterranean implications of their very concatenation
[b] Yinyang (eight trigrams) RF


Yes, that is precisely what I mean. By the very brevity of these lists of five (which I will present on all sorts of topics) you will get a chance to argue, reflect, be annoyed, and learn something each day about how Chinese cosmology lumps all sorts of things together into "fives" and almost magically makes them into wholes. This may sound crazy, but there is conceptual power beneath all of them 'thar lumps of ideas. 

Let's try out an example to start. 

It works something like this: one-two-three-four-five...totality. You list five things, and they resemble (really, become) another thing. In early Chinese cosmology, the five directions were east, south, center, west, and north. Combined, they were direction. The five colors were green, red, yellow, white, and black. Combined, they were color. It goes on-and-on, with hundreds, arguably even thousands, of combinations. 

Get it?

Nope? Not yet?
[c] Five RF

As I suspected, this concept takes a little bit of time to register. Don't despair, though. It took me more than a decade to get what I like to think of as an intuitive feel for it. It's called yin-yang, five-phase (陰陽五行) cosmology, and it is at the heart of just about every idea that graced the noggins of Chinese intellectuals for two thousand years. The following posts are the clearest introductions to the concept that I have ever read. Yes, that is giving myself a great deal of credit, but many historians of China just can't seem to explain it very well. It's not perfect, but you'll see a little bit of what will be going on in these posts (click on the links below).

If you are intrigued by this idea of explicating a concept in five little moves, you owe it to yourself to read on. Take your time. Be patient.

You didn't read them, did you? I suspected as much.

If you skipped this fairly formidable reading load, you will probably not "get" it the way you should. Still, let me move on and use the power of "five-listing" to give you just a little glimpse into how it goes (this is the remedial course). 

The idea is this, if you remember from several paragraphs above:

         [1] List five things
         [2] Make them represent be the totality
         [3] Those five things represent are the totality 

[d] Inevitable kitten pose RF

Make sense?

O.k., even if it doesn't (yet), I'll guarantee you this. Once I actually start posting lists of five (movies, fast foods, Tour de France champions, Olympic venues, and pop stars), you'll have an opinion. You bet you will. Then maybe you'll go back to the links above* and come to understand that, for the last 2,500 years or so, Chinese thinkers have been grouping fives and expressing totality
*My apologies to those of you who have really already read the links.

And we "[post-] moderns" can, too. 

If you really think about these posts, and perhaps search either of the following two key phrases (see below), you will learn something so deep, so abiding, and so lasting...that you will understand the world in new ways. You will be forever changed. This is deep conceptualization...but only if you get it right. 

Search the following items, in English or Chinese:

The rest will be in the individual posts. And, boy, do I want some comments. In the entire history of this blog (almost a thousand posts, and with readers in 130 countries), almost no one comments. Maybe this will get y'all adding a comment or two. Please. 

Add your own "five-lists."

And let's get some discussion going.
[e] Not exactly...(five is right, though RF


  1. Yeah ok, you got me - I'll start commenting on your lists. It'll be like the good ol' days of arguing over who the top 5 NBA players in history.

  2. Thanks, Jack (you have actually commented fairly frequently, too). The one key is that it will be a different kind of "argument." It won't be "the five best," but rather "the five NBA players" (together, they ARE the NBA). It's all about the cosmology. I start tomorrow (midnight) with The Five Movies, but now you've gotten me thinking about the NBA. This will be fun.

  3. Fascinating concept, and since I feel your frustration on the lack of comments on blog posts, I'll try to remember to comment here rather than on FB.

  4. I think this will be fun, Pam. It's funny, though, that the two people who have commented are among the few who are great with commentary (I actually prefer FB, because it gets a more "timely" audience. Still, there is something about blog entries that gets people...not commenting. It couldn't be History...could it?


  6. In Mongolia, there are... you guessed it... The Five Herd Animals. Sometimes referred to as The Five Precious Things. (Tavan Erdene)

    There are also the Three Erdene (the Jewels of Buddha's Teaching) and the Nine Erdene (Precious Stones and Metals)... which you dig up and practice at Erdenet. (-d/-t = locative)

  7. (of course you also herd the five animals there, or at least eat them).

  8. This is great stuff. I love the Five Snouts. Classic.