Sydney's 2010 New year's Eve Celebrations: Awakening Which 'Spirit'? (2010+)

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Introduction +



This document, which takes the form of an exchange of email communications, concerns the display of the Tao (also known as the yin yang symbol) on the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of the Awaken the Spirit celebrations on New Year's Eve 2010 - and the fact that, while the Tao is a  symbol of the 'unity' as the event's organisers argued, it primarily represents an ancient Chinese religion and its view of the unity of (ie the lack of real distinction between) good and evil.

This hopefully was not the designer's intention.


Email sent 1/1/10

Ms Clover Moore, MP
Lord Mayor of Sydney

The 'Spirit' of Sydney's 2009 New Year's Eve Celebrations:
Endorsing the Tiananmen Square Massacre?

I should like to draw to your attention the fact that the Taoist symbol that was the centre of Harbour Bridge displays on New Year's Eve 2009 (see attached photo) has dubious implications that have nothing to do with what most Australians would understand as 'unity' - the meaning the event's organisers placed on it.

A media release from the Sydney New Year's Eve 09 team suggested that:

An estimated 1.5 million people dressed in a touch of blue celebrated, as the global symbol of unity Yin and Yang beamed from the Sydney Harbour Bridge at Midnight to Awaken the Spirit for 2010


“Once again, Sydney has delivered a world class soulful, sexy and sophisticated event that celebrated Sydney’s great spirit of life and helped to Awaken the Spirit for 2010!” said Sydney New Year’s Eve Creative Director Rhoda Roberts.

Yin and Yang represents unity and Sydney New Year’s Eve is one of the world’s greatest gatherings, it’s a gift to the 1.5 million friends, families and visitors from around the world who unite to celebrate the New Year with awe-inspiring fireworks and Bridge Effect designs synchronised to a powerful music soundtrack.”

One must wonder what 'spirit' the organisers of this event were seeking to awaken, as the Taoist 'yin and yang' symbol that they displayed principally represents an ancient Chinese religion, and does not just imply a motherhood value such as 'unity'.

The Tao is seen to reflect a 'balance of opposites', and this applies not only in the natural world but also to human morality. No fundamental distinction is made between good and evil - as: (a) each is viewed as the other half of the other; and (b) things that seem evil can produce good (and visa versa). This is quite different to the clear distinctions between good and evil that have characterised Western traditions. Though there have been other major religious traditions in China (especially Confucianism), they seem to share Taoism's lack of any real distinction between good and evil - and this leads to:

  • respect for, and a willingness to work with, all elements of society (including organised crime);
  • the perceived need to do evil, behind a facade of personal indifference (eg see comments on Thick Face and Black Heart);
  • the end being seen to justify the means. Thus the Tiananmen Square massacre, for example, can be seen as a necessary evil on the grounds that the dissidents who favoured democracy rather than elite rule.were perceived (by the elite) not to know what would be good for the community as a whole.

The central precept of Taoism (ie that 'the Tao (truth / way) that can be known is not the true Tao') is a statement which rejects the rationality that has been the preferred basis for seeking truth and problem solving in Western societies and results in practices which are quite different to those which are the foundation of Australian society (see East Asia in Competing Civilizations). For example,

  • government by man is preferred to a rule of law;
  • representative democracy (which ideally reaches conclusions through rational debate about policies) is not favoured;
  • ethics are particularist rather than universal - ie people have obligations only towards those with whom they have a relationship;
  • thought control by authorities to promote unity can be seen to be desirable - and necessary because of the lack of any concept of objective 'truth'.

Are such unstated implications of the Tao the 'spirit' that the Sydney New Year's Eve 09 organizers is hoping to awaken?

Australia faces many challenges in coming to grips with China's way of doing things (eg see China as the Future of the World, and Creating a New International 'Confucian' Economic and Political Order?). The Taoist symbol on Sydney's Harbour Bridge at the close of 2009 is a reminder of that challenge, but probably not a pointer to an appropriate response.

John Craig

Response and Reply

Response received 26 February 2010

Dear Mr Craig

New Year's Eve Bridge Effect

I refer to your email about the 2009 Sydney New Year’s Eve bridge effect. I apologise for the delay in responding.

The bridge effect comprised a number of creative design elements, including a ring of flames, a series of blue rings that progressively transformed into a blue moon, and finally the yin and yang symbol.

The City prides itself on providing an inclusive event for all to enjoy, and used the yin and yang symbol to evoke the concept of unity, which is the popular perception of the symbol – one of harmony and balance. It was not used as a representation of any form of political or religious statement. Unity was at the centre of the 2009 Awaken the Spirit theme, and was chosen to bring people together on a magical night.

The colour blue was chosen to reflect Sydney’s spirit as well as our stunning harbour and summer sky. It also responded to the rare occurrence of a ’blue moon’ on the night.

Yours sincerely

Clover Moore MP
Lord Mayor of Sydney

Email reply of 27/2/10

Ms Clover Moore,
Lord Mayor,

More on: The 'Spirit' of Sydney's 2010 New Year's Eve Celebrations

I noted your comments in response to my earlier email (copy attached) on the use of the Tao (sometimes called the 'yin and yang' symbol) on the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of the latest New Year's Eve celebration. You noted that this was merely one of several creative design elements - and was used on the assumption that it would evoke the concept of unity.

However, as a good friend of Chinese extraction noted: "Do they really not know what it means?".

Not everyone is ignorant of the spiritual significance of the Tao - and the peoples of East Asia in particular will be well aware of its real meaning. As the Sydney New Year's Eve celebrations were broadcast around the world, the Taoist symbol will have sent a message to large numbers of people which, you suggest, is not what the creative designers of that display intended.

Might I respectfully suggest that there is a need to now do something to correct the mistaken impression that will have been created across East Asia by the designers' naivety.

John Craig