top of page

Poverty is Yin Development is Yang

As the world celebrates the traditional Chinese Mooncake Festival today, I thought of applying popular Chinese principles that date back to its Confucian origin of looking at social phenomena. These principles of Yin and Yang describe our state of life, especially since the Pandemic. We refer to conditions of poverty of the many vis-a-vis conditions of development of a few.

The yin-yang concept originates from the ancient Chinese philosophy that refers to opposite but interconnected forces to achieve a synthesis and a balance. The Yin and Yang are both complementary yet contradictory. Their existence aims to achieve a balance and “maintain the universe’s harmony and influence everything within it.” The opposites merge or reconcile peacefully to make a logical sense of everything that happens in the world. But another Chinese philosopher, Mao Ze Dong, developed another way with the law of contradictions where the revolutionary struggle of opposites results in a synthesis for change to emerge and a new positive condition arises.

The Yin is the opposing force - the dark, black, and weak. Conversely, the Yang is the positive force that means light, activity, and strength. However, I detect and will have to discount the sexist meanings traditionally attached to the Yin for femininity and the Yang for masculinity. And rightly so because in ancient Eastern philosophy, mainly Chinese, the patriarchal culture until today persists as a continuing challenge where men generally take prominence over women at work and in the home.

How can I apply these twin concepts to our lives? For example, in my weekly duty as a columnist for Bicol Mail, I have often been asked why, as a TBM volunteer, I write primarily about poor people and their impoverished state. Poverty as a state of life in society is the most compelling reason why, as volunteers, we need to work for change.

When I talk about poor people, I talk about development as well. They go together, as in Yin and Yang. One is a negative state and process; the other is positive. Being poor is a state of weakness, where the powerless come from less and less deprived of life. Mahatma Gandhi succinctly says, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” The World Bank Organization equates poverty with hunger and deprivation. To live life, therefore, with a purpose to help make development or positive change happen is the ultimate goal of any TBM volunteer.

Poverty refers to a person’s insufficient financial condition to sustain their family’s vital needs or essential requirements for a minimum standard of living. Development forces come in to initiate and instigate change. The state of poverty, now more widespread and persistent among many Filipino families, is the YING happening today in the Philippines. While the poverty rate has decreased over the past 25 years, the decline has been slower than in other ASEAN countries.

Development is the call to action to end poverty. It is the YANG for a government to lift its poor people from the bondage of poverty to earn enough money to eat, have access to education, get adequate shelter, wear needed clothes, and protection from social and political violence. Development is a positive process that forces people to work towards economic well-being and quality of life according to the targeted goals and objectives. It is a condition to propel the development of people experiencing poverty, especially in their level and quality of life. But for genuine development to wield positive results, it should raise the level and quality of life, not just the number of projects and plans.

The UNDP’s Human Development Index used the “capability approach” of Indian philosopher and economist Amartha Sen to measure development against poverty, like freedom of economic, social, and family actions. The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum developed her “abilities approach” to focus on gender and women empowerment to ensure a change in poverty.

In China last week, riding a high-speed train from Guangzhou to Nanning, then from Beijing to Tianjin, amazed me no end. The quality and speed of a vehicle amidst the daily traffic of people and goods in a country may also be a YANG, maybe a good measure of development and change.

Transportation, like modern trains and bridges, is part of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2023-2028, which aims to achieve development and change for the country. The Bicol Regional Development Plan (RDP) 2023-2028 draws its region-specific development goals and strategies from it. Recently, the government launched its Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) with a target fund of P500 billion for “identified infrastructure projects.”

Will this change the level or quality of life of people experiencing poverty? Is this a YIN or YANG for the country?


bottom of page