Whisper of the Yin and Yang Fish, Lulu Wang’s speech op TedX Maastricht2015 (Due to Lulu’s flu, she couldn’t go to Maastricht to give the speech)


Chinese call this Yin and Yang Symbol the Yin and Yang Fish. Why? Have you ever had a heavy rain in your hometown? If yes, you may have noticed that after your street was flooded due to a heavy rain for a few days, you can go and fish on your own street. Fish babies are everywhere in the world, even in our very house, I suppose. If there is bit water, the fish babies would come to alive. We can almost say that fish never really dies. Fish symbolizes eternity. In the Yin and Yang Symbol hides the wisdom that helped the Chinese civilization, just like fish, survive the sharp jaws of time. One essential aspect of the wisdom is balance.

Balance and Eternity

More than two thousand years ago there was in China a great Taoist philosopher called Zhuangzi. When his beloved wife died, he laughed and made music by drumming at his cooking pan. When asked why, he said that he was celebrating a transition. His wife didn’t really die. She only changed her form of existence, just like the four seasons. When spring dies, winter gets born, a sign that the nature as a whole is still alive. Immortality wouldn’t be complete if it only consists of life. Death has an equal share of eternity as life.

Balance and Wholeness

By regarding death as another form of existence, Chinese is freed from the fear of death. However, Chinese as individuals die too, just as Westerners. How can they be freed from the fear of death? If we see a living person as the white part of the Fish and a dead body as the black part, what else do we see? We see the whole Fish. It stands for the whole country of China. No civil war, no invasion, no plague, no earthquake, no flood, no nuclear weapon, nothing can erase every single soul of a country from the world atlas. As long as two persons manage to survive – preferably a man and a woman, life goes on. Immortality can only be reached if we look beyond individuals and see the collectivity of which individuals are part of – that Chinese are collective-minded has deeper reasons than that they think together we are stronger.

Balance and Modesty

People in the west often wonder why the Chinese communities abroad are so invisible. As new comers in the west, the Chinese have to cope with assimilation problems and endure hardships, but they never grudge, nor get themselves in trouble with their hosting country. Just like fish babies, they become invisible when the circumstances get harsh. As soon as they see a chance, they show up and earn a living again. However, they take care that they never get too visible and they are at every moment ready to resume their invisibility. Because the Yin and Yang Fish whispers to them that the best proportion in life is 50% black and 50% white. The world population consists 50% of men and 50% of women. A day consists half of the day and half of the night. Therefore the visibility of overseas Chinese in their hosting country should be 50%. By being modest, not only the Chinese in their homeland but also in foreign countries succeed to survive and even flourish. No wonder that there are 1.3 billion Chinese inside and about 50 million people of Chinese origin outside China.

Balance and Half Efficiency

I have lived twelve year in the beautiful Dutch city of Maastricht. About two thousand years ago the Roman soldiers stationed in this Dutch city could receive within a week a letter from their parents back in their hometown. At that time there was no plane, no train, no car, no telegram or Wi-Fi. How efficient should the Romans be to realize the post at that speed? From this we can see that the Roman Empire was extremely powerful and well-organized, but even though it couldn’t escape the fate of decay. How does the Yin and Yang Fish explain this short lived luck? If we regard the white part of the Yin and Yang Fish as success and the black part as failure, what else do we see? The whole Fish. That is life at its best. In order to live a longer life, we should be half success and half flop. If we want an extra portion of success, we have to pay for it with our early decay.

Balance and Peace

When we look at China’s thousands of years of history, we see that Chinese invented lots of methods and machineries to increase their productivity, but they didn’t show an incessant urge to develop new technologies for a faster and bigger production. They were quickly satisfied with what they made and what they had. Due to their contentedness, they didn’t have to exhaust their natural resources to get more and more, bigger and bigger, better and better, nor did they have to go abroad to exhaust the natural resources of foreign countries for more and more, bigger and bigger, better and better. So they didn’t have to destroy their own nature, nor did they have to make enemies with foreign countries by exploiting the people and exhausting the nature there. In this way they didn’t have to get involved in ongoing wars with foreign countries that refused to get exploited. As we know, no matter how powerful a country is, if it non-stop tries to conquer foreign countries, it shall sooner or later get itself in conflict with others, which shall finally lead to its decay.

Balance and Survival

Why does the Yin and Yang Fish teach us to be satisfied with half efficiency? Is high efficiency not desirable? The point is, the faster and the more we produce and possess, the greedier we get. Greed ruins our natural resources and those of foreign countries. Greed seduces us to repress the people of our own country and that of foreign countries. Greed consumes our energy without charging it. We become weaker and weaker. Before we know, we are taken over by a stronger country. Chinese followed the advice of the Yin and Yang Fish and their civilization has escaped the sharp jaws of time. If China shall go on following this advice of their ancestors, I can’t tell, since I am not a fortune teller.

Half alive and half dead, half arrogant and half humble, half success and half flop, half efficient and half worthless, this balance may not lead to a mega success and a superpower, but it leads to a long life. Laozi, the forefather of Taoism, says, our real happiness is to live long and to see. To see what? To see how superpowers come and go, how mega successes kiss the sky and smash to the ground, while we, thanks to our long life, just sit there and enjoy the show on the stage of the human history.


Most of us have heard of this famous question: Do you want to be right or happy? The question the Yin and Yang Fish whispers to us is: do you want to be very efficient or very alive? No superstar, superman or superpower can be both. No fish can swim out of the circle of the Yin and Yang Balance, which can only be reached by being half white and half black.

©Lulu Wang
The Hague, the Netherlands
23 September 2015

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Foto: Lulu met Jos Netto en Mohamad Garrout, twee prachtige muzici

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New York Times interviewed, 9-th April 2014, Lulu Wang:Why in Dutch?


By William Grimes

1. Why did you go to the effort of learning Dutch, and writing in Dutch, when you already knew English, and the number of English-speaking readers is much larger than the Dutch audience? Was this just a series of small accidents? That is, you were invited to teach in Maastricht, then you wrote a small article in Dutch, then the newspaper asked you to write more, then you decided you wanted to write fiction.

Lulu: I wanted to go to an English-speaking country badly, but I did not have a chance. When I got a contract to teach at a college in Maatricht, the Netherlands, I planned to start a study for the PH.D degree in the Great Britain after a year saving money by working in Maatricht.

Shortly after my arrival in Maatricht I fell in love with the Dutch language because of a Dutch author Annie M. G. Schmidt. I thought that the Dutch language was as beautiful as she wrote. That was why I decided to stay in this country to learn to write in this language.

Now, after 26 years, I do not know if that was a good decision. First of all, the Dutch language is not used widely in the world. Because of its limited number of writers and readers, Dutch could and can not evolve so quickly as English, French, German and other world-languages. Secondly, this country is rather small and commercial-minded, culture does not have a broad basis of support as in some bigger countries, which are interested in much more aspects than in commerce. Thirdly, the Netherlands, unlike some bigger countries, does not have the tradition that many foreign writers use this language to enrich it. The attitude of the Dutch literary critique for foreign writers who experiment full of love and passion with this language is not always open-minded, which does not stimulate foreign writers to contribute to enriching the language.

This is what I discovered years after I started learning this language and writing in it. Nevertherless, I do not regret writing in Dutch. If there is only one writer left in the world to write in Dutch, I will be that one. I love the Netherlands and her language because they have become part of me.

Second: Are there things you can say in Dutch that you cannot say in Mandarin? That is, are there any advantages to writing in Dutch, does it free you in any way?

Lulu: Compared with the China that I knew, the Netherlands is a free and open-minded country. This gives me much space to write and to grow as a open-minded person. I am grateful for it. Lots of things that would make me shy to express in Chinese, I can write in Dutch. Yes, Dutch made me free in many aspects.

Finally, do you in any sense regard yourself as a Dutch writer? If circumstances were different, would you prefer to be writing in mandarin?

Lulu:Yes, I regard myself as a Dutch writer. I wrote from my 22 years of age in Chinese and won a Chinese prise for prose when I was 24 years old. Now I write again in Chinese. I love writing in Chinese too. I write in both languages.

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