In Cheng’s King of Chess, the theme of yin and yang is very prevalent in the characters’ attitudes and actions. The narrator and Wang Yisheng are two very different people when they first meet each other, yet they are drawn to each other in the need to balance themselves out.
After the Cultural Revolution, many changes take place which heavily influence both the narrator and Wang Yisheng’s lives. The narrator loses his family, and worries about getting enough food and shelter—yet he receives ample help from his friends and ends up getting a job so he could get paid and eat. The narrator has no other hobbies or special interests, yet seems lonely and is looking for a friend. Wang is a foil to the narrator because while he has lived in poverty his whole life and is obsessed with food and chess, he doesn’t need anything else to keep him happy. The narrator, in the beginning, understands why they call him “Chess Fool”: because he doesn’t care about anything except chess and is too socially awkward to be accepted anywhere.
As time goes on, and Wang and the narrator become friends, they both realize that you can have all of your basic necessities yet still crave more from life. In this case Wang just wants someone to play chess with, yet secretly feels the need of companionship, and the narrator realizes that he has his basic needs taken care of, and that they also include having the support system of friends—not just on a basic level as he experienced help from them when he was orphaned, but on an emotional level. In this way the two characters begin their journey very differently but come to the same conclusions, reaching spiritual fulfillment at the end of the novel.
This kind of attitude reflects some of the culture in China because of the strong Daoism themes in this story. Daoism plays an important role in both of the character’s development throughout the story. Wang learns compassion and humility, qualities he lacked before his experiences. Both characters in the end balance each other out, which is one of the main ideas of Daoism: spiritual, physical and emotional balance, or yin and yang. This is a contrast to the Western world, because it tends to be that people keep wanting things even when basic necessities have been taken care of, and don’ts see the value in a simple life.