Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang

The principle of Yin and Yang is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, for example, female-male, dark-light and old-young. The pairs of equal opposites attract and complement each other. The principle dates from the 3rd century BCE or even earlier and is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy and culture in general.

As the Yin and Yang symbol illustrates, each side has at its core an element of the other (represented by the small dots). Neither pole is superior to the other and, as an increase in one brings a corresponding decrease in the other, a correct balance between the two poles must be reached in order to achieve harmony.


The concept of Yin and Yang became popular with the work of the Chinese school of Yinyang which studied philosophy and cosmology in the 3rd century BCE. The principal proponent of the theory was the cosmologist Zou Yan (or Tsou Yen) who believed that life went through five phases (wuxing) - fire, water, metal, wood, earth - which continuously interchanged according to the principle of Yin and Yang.

What is Yin?

Yin is:

  • feminine
  • black
  • dark
  • north
  • water (transformation)
  • passive
  • moon (weakness and the goddess Changxi)
  • earth
  • cold
  • old
  • even numbers
  • valleys
  • poor
  • soft
  • and provides spirit to all things.

Yin reaches it's height of influence with the winter solstice. Yin may also be represented by the tiger, the colour orange and a broken line in the trigrams of the I Ching (or Book of Changes).

What is Yang?

Yang is:

  • masculine
  • white
  • light
  • south
  • fire (creativity)
  • active
  • sun (strength and the god Xihe)
  • heaven
  • warm
  • young
  • odd numbers
  • mountains
  • rich
  • hard
  • and provides form to all things.

Yang reaches it's height of influence with the summer solstice. Yang may also be represented by the dragon, the colour blue and a solid line trigram.

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In Mythology & Religion

In Chinese mythology yin & yang were born from chaos when the universe was first created.

In Chinese mythology, Yin and Yang were born from chaos when the universe was first created and they are believed to exist in harmony at the centre of the Earth. During the creation, their achievement of balance in the cosmic egg allowed for the birth of Pangu (or P'an ku), the first human. In addition, the first gods Fuxi, Nuwa and Shennong were born from Yin and Yang. In Chinese religion, the Taoists favour Yin whilst Confucianists favour Yang in keeping with the prime focus of their respective philosophies. The Taoists emphasize reclusion whilst Confucianists believe in the importance of engagement in life.

As expressed in the I Ching, the ever-changing relationship between the two poles is responsible for the constant flux of the universe and life in general. When there is too great an imbalance between Yin and Yang, catastrophes can occur such as floods, droughts and plagues.

Taoism: The History Behind the Yin and the Yang

The yin and yang symbol is one of the most popular within Taoism. The two halves signify wholeness and are looked at as the starting point for change. The symbol represents balance and the idea that the two sides are, in essence, chasing each other to seek a new balance with each other.

The word yin, in the Chinese culture, is meant as the shady side while the yang is seen as the sunny side. It is believed in the Taoism culture that there are several examples of the yin and yang throughout elements of our life. For example many refer to night as yin and day as yang. And other reference of females as yin and male as yang is another popular grouping.

While many westerners refer to the symbol as the yin yang symbol, people who follow Taoism refer to it is the Taijitu. The symbol is found in many other cultures but over the years has come to be the symbol most people identify with Taoism.

The yin and yang are two essential and interdependent energies of life. Even though they are considered polar opposites, both elements understand that they cannot function without the other. Their opposites complement each other and allow there to be functionality. The Taoism culture believes that all opposites, thoughts, views, opinions, interpretations, and phenomena are developed from a common source. Taoists believe that life contains good and evil elements – how we choose to respond to these energies determines the quality of life you will carry out. The good and bad transform each other as the process of existence continues.

These principles of opposites compliment have been around for 2,500 years. Early on Taoism demonstrated the existence of equal proportions for life on earth. These natural manifestations of the yin and yang principle are important to healing concepts and survival. And throughout the course of history the symbol, a circle and not a square, has been relevant in every walk of life, course of action and step within nature. The tool is used to distinguish life’s priorities and make difficult decisions.

The yin and yang symbol represents the faith and principles behind Taoism. Just like a country has a flag and a company has a logo, the yin and yang symbol represents the Taoists and their beliefs and way of life.

A Subtle and Cosmic Duality

Yin and yang elements come in pairs—such as the moon and the sun, female and male, dark and bright, cold and hot, passive and active, and so on—but note that yin and yang are not static or mutually exclusive terms. While the world is composed of many different, sometimes opposing, forces, these can coexist and even complement each other. Sometimes, forces opposite in nature even rely on one another to exist. The nature of yin-yang lies in the interchange and interplay of the two components. The alternation of day and night is just such an example: there cannot be a shadow without light.

The balance of yin and yang is important. If yin is stronger, yang will be weaker, and vice versa. Yin and yang can interchange under certain conditions so that they are usually not yin and yang alone. In other words, yin elements can contain certain parts of yang, and yang can have some components of yin. This balance of yin and yang is perceived to exist in everything.

Philosophical Concept

The concept of Yinyang (yin-yang) has been shared by different schools of Chinese philosophy throughout history, though it was interpreted and applied by them in different ways. The term is used in three general contexts: to describe the relationships existing within and between the body and mind, nature and man, and nature and all existence to speak of the jiao (interaction) between the waxing and waning of the cosmic and human realms and to explain the process of harmonization which ensures a constant, dynamic balance of all things. In none of these conceptions can yin be considered metaphysically separated and distinct from yang (or vice versa), nor is one thought to be superior to or more valuable than the other. Yin and yang are equally important, unlike the dualism of good and evil. Neither can exist without the other.

Yin in its highest form is freezing while yang in its highest form is boiling. The chilliness comes from heaven while the warmness comes from the earth. The interaction of these two establishes he (harmony), so it gives birth to things. Perhaps this is the law of everything yet there is no form being seen. (Zhuangzi, (莊子 Chuang-tzu) Chapter 21).

The concept of yin-yang exists in Confucianism, and is prominent in Daoism. Though the words yin and yang only appear once in the Dao De Jing, the book is full of examples and clarifications of the concept of mutual arising. The Taoist treatise Huai-nan-tzu (Book of “Master Huai-nan”) describes how the one “Primordial Breath” (yüan ch'i) split into the light ethereal Yang breath, which formed Heaven and the heavier, cruder Yin breath, which formed Earth. The interactions of Yin and Yang then produced the Ten Thousand Beings.

Yin and yang can be used to describe seasonal changes and directions, or the cycle of a day, with yang as full noon, changing to yin at sunset, becoming full yin at midnight, and changing to yang again at sunrise. South and summer are full yang west and autumn are yang turning to yin north and winter are full yin, and east and spring are yin turning to yang.

Yin and yang can also be seen as a process of transformation which describes the changes between the phases of a cycle. For example, cold water (yin) can be boiled and eventually turn into steam (yang).


These Chinese terms yīn 陰 "black side" and yáng 陽 "white side" are linguistically analyzable in terms of Chinese characters, pronunciations and etymology, meanings, topography, and loanwords.

Characters Edit

The Chinese characters 陰 and 陽 for the words yīn and yáng are both classified as Phono-semantic characters, combining the semantic component "mound hill" radical 阝 (graphical variant of 阜 ) with the phonetic components jīn 今 (and the added semantic component yún 云 "pictographic: cloud") and yáng 昜 . In the latter, yáng 昜 "bright" features 日 "sun" + 示 + 彡 "The rays of the sun".

Pronunciations and etymologies Edit

Sinologist has discovered that White is representing "Yin" and Black is representing "Yang" in the Shang Dynasty, those changes of reversed up side down were conducted from the late warring states period.

The Modern Standard Chinese pronunciation of 陰 is usually the level first tone yīn "shady cloudy" or sometimes the falling fourth tone yìn "to shelter shade" while 陽 "sunny" is always pronounced with rising second tone yáng.

Sinologists and historical linguists have reconstructed Middle Chinese pronunciations from data in the (7th century CE) Qieyun rhyme dictionary and later rhyme tables, which was subsequently used to reconstruct Old Chinese phonology from rhymes in the (11th-7th centuries BCE) Shijing and phonological components of Chinese characters. Reconstructions of Old Chinese have illuminated the etymology of modern Chinese words.

Compare these Middle Chinese and Old Chinese (with asterisk) reconstructions of yīn 陰 and yáng 陽 :

  • ˑiəm < *ˑiəm and iang < *diang (Bernhard Karlgren) [7]
  • *ʔjəm and *raŋ (Li Fang-Kuei) [8]
  • ʔ(r)jum and *ljang (William H. Baxter) [9]
  • ʔjəm < *ʔəm and jiaŋ < *laŋ (Axel Schuessler) [10]
  • 'im < *qrum and yang < *laŋ (William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart) [11]

Schuessler gives probable Sino-Tibetan etymologies for both Chinese words.

Yin < *ʔəm compares with Burmese ʔum C "overcast cloudy", Adi muk-jum "shade", and Lepcha so'yǔm "shade" and is probably cognate with Chinese àn < *ʔə̂mʔ 黯 "dim gloomy" and qīn < *khəm 衾 "blanket".

Yang < *laŋ compares with Lepcha a-lóŋ "reflecting light", Burmese laŋ B "be bright" and ə-laŋ B "light" and is perhaps cognate with Chinese chāng < *k-hlaŋ 昌 "prosperous bright" (compare areal words like Tai plaŋ A1 "bright" & Proto-Viet-Muong hlaŋ B ). To this word-family, Unger (Hao-ku, 1986:34) also includes 炳 bǐng < *pl(j)aŋʔ "bright" however Schuessler reconstructs 炳 bǐng's Old Chinese pronunciation as *braŋʔ and includes it in an Austroasiatic word family, besides 亮 liàng < *raŋhshuǎng < *sraŋʔ "twilight (of dawn)" míng < mraŋ 明 "bright, become light, enlighten" owing to "the different OC initial consonant which seems to have no recognizable OC morphological function". [12]

Meanings Edit

Yin and yang are semantically complex words.

John DeFrancis's Chinese-English dictionary gives the following translation equivalents. [13]

Yin 陰 Noun ① [philosophy] negative/passive/female principle in nature ② Surname Bound morpheme ① the moon ② shaded orientation ③ covert concealed hidden ④ ⑦ negative ⑧ north side of a hill ⑨ south bank of a river ⑩ reverse side of a stele ⑪in intaglio Stative verb ① overcast

Yang 陽 Bound morpheme ① [Chinese philosophy] positive/active/male principle in nature ② the sun ④ in relief ⑤ open overt ⑥ belonging to this world ⑦ [linguistics] masculine ⑧ south side of a hill ⑨ north bank of a river

The compound yinyang 陰陽 means "yin and yang opposites ancient Chinese astronomy occult arts astrologer geomancer etc.".

The sinologist Rolf Stein etymologically translates Chinese yin 陰 "shady side (of a mountain)" and yang 陽 "sunny side (of a mountain)" with the uncommon English geographic terms ubac "shady side of a mountain" and adret "sunny side of a mountain" (which are of French origin). [14]

Toponymy Edit

Many Chinese place names or toponyms contain the word yang "sunny side" and a few contain yin "shady side". In China, as elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, sunlight comes predominantly from the south, and thus the south face of a mountain or the north bank of a river will receive more direct sunlight than the opposite side.

Yang refers to the "south side of a hill" in Hengyang 衡陽 , which is south of Mount Heng 衡山 in Hunan province, and to the "north bank of a river" in Luoyang 洛陽 , which is located north of the Luo River 洛河 in Henan.

Similarly, yin refers to "north side of a hill" in Huayin 華陰 , which is north of Mount Hua 華山 in Shaanxi province.

In Japan, the characters are used in western Honshu to delineate the north-side San'in region 山陰 from the south-side San'yō region 山陽 , separated by the Chūgoku Mountains 中国山地 .

Loanwords Edit

English yin, yang, and yin-yang are familiar loanwords of Chinese origin.

yin (jɪn) Also Yin, Yn. [Chinese yīn shade, feminine the moon.]

a. In Chinese philosophy, the feminine or negative principle (characterized by dark, wetness, cold, passivity, disintegration, etc.) of the two opposing cosmic forces into which creative energy divides and whose fusion in physical matter brings the phenomenal world into being. Also attrib. or as adj., and transf. Cf. yang.

b. Comb., as yin-yang, the combination or fusion of the two cosmic forces freq. attrib., esp. as yin-yang symbol, a circle divided by an S-shaped line into a dark and a light segment, representing respectively yin and yang, each containing a 'seed' of the other.

yang (jæŋ) Also Yang. [Chinese yáng yang, sun, positive, male genitals.]

a. In Chinese philosophy, the masculine or positive principle (characterized by light, warmth, dryness, activity, etc.) of the two opposing cosmic forces into which creative energy divides and whose fusion in physical matter brings the phenomenal world into being. Also attrib. or as adj. Cf. yin.

b. Comb.: yang-yin = yin-yang s.v. yin b.

For the earliest recorded "yin and yang" usages, the OED cites 1671 for yin and yang, [15] 1850 for yin-yang, [16] and 1959 for yang-yin. [17]

In English, yang-yin (like ying-yang) occasionally occurs as a mistake or typographical error for the Chinese loanword yin-yang— yet they are not equivalents. Chinese does have some yangyin collocations, such as 洋銀 (lit. "foreign silver") "silver coin/dollar", but not even the most comprehensive dictionaries (e.g., the Hanyu Da Cidian) enter yangyin * 陽陰 . While yang and yin can occur together in context, [18] yangyin is not synonymous with yinyang. The linguistic term "irreversible binomial" refers to a collocation of two words A-B that cannot be idiomatically reversed as B-A, for example, English cat and mouse (not *mouse and cat) and friend or foe (not *foe or friend). [19]

Similarly, the usual pattern among Chinese binomial compounds is for positive A and negative B, where the A word is dominant or privileged over B, for example, tiandi 天地 "heaven and earth" and nannü 男女 "men and women". Yinyang meaning "dark and light female and male moon and sun", however, is an exception. Scholars have proposed various explanations for why yinyang violates this pattern, including "linguistic convenience" (it is easier to say yinyang than yangyin), the idea that "proto-Chinese society was matriarchal", or perhaps, since yinyang first became prominent during the late Warring States period, this term was "purposely directed at challenging persistent cultural assumptions". [19]

Needham discusses Yin and Yang together with Five Elements as part of the School of Naturalists. He says that it would be proper to begin with Yin and Yang before Five Elements because the former: "lay, as it were, at a deeper level in Nature, and were the most ultimate principles of which the ancient Chinese could conceive. But it so happens that we know a good deal more about the historical origin of the Five-Element theory than about that of the Yin and the Yang, and it will therefore be more convenient to deal with it first." [20] He then discusses Zou Yan ( 鄒衍 305 – 240 BC) who is most associated with these theories. Although Yin and Yang are not mentioned in any of the surviving documents of Zou Yan, his school was known as the Yin Yang Jia (Yin and Yang School) Needham concludes "There can be very little doubt that the philosophical use of the terms began about the beginning of the -4th century, and that the passages in older texts which mention this use are interpolations made later than that time." [20]

Chinese gender roles Edit

In spite of being used in a modern context to justify egalitarianism under the notion of both yin and yang being "necessary", in practise the concept of yin and yang has led to justification for China's patriarchal history. [21] Particularly under Confucianism, yang (as the sun principle) is considered superior to "yin" (the dark principle), hence men are afforded rulership positions whereas women are not unless, under some remarkable circumstances, they possess sufficient yang.

In Daoist philosophy, dark and light, yin and yang, arrive in the Tao Te Ching at chapter 42. [22] It becomes sensible from an initial quiescence or emptiness (wuji, sometimes symbolized by an empty circle), and continues moving until quiescence is reached again. For instance, dropping a stone in a calm pool of water will simultaneously raise waves and lower troughs between them, and this alternation of high and low points in the water will radiate outward until the movement dissipates and the pool is calm once more. Yin and yang thus are always opposite and equal qualities. Further, whenever one quality reaches its peak, it will naturally begin to transform into the opposite quality: for example, grain that reaches its full height in summer (fully yang) will produce seeds and die back in winter (fully yin) in an endless cycle.

It is impossible to talk about yin or yang without some reference to the opposite, since yin and yang are bound together as parts of a mutual whole (for example, there cannot be the bottom of the foot without the top). A way to illustrate this idea is [ citation needed ] to postulate the notion of a race with only women or only men this race would disappear in a single generation. Yet, women and men together create new generations that allow the race they mutually create (and mutually come from) to survive. The interaction of the two gives birth to things, like manhood. [23] Yin and yang transform each other: like an undertow in the ocean, every advance is complemented by a retreat, and every rise transforms into a fall. Thus, a seed will sprout from the earth and grow upwards towards the sky—an intrinsically yang movement. Then, when it reaches its full potential height, it will fall. Also, the growth of the top seeks light, while roots grow in darkness.

Certain catchphrases have been used to express yin and yang complementarity: [24]

  • The bigger the front, the bigger the back.
  • Illness is the doorway to health.
  • Tragedy turns to comedy.
  • Disasters turn out to be blessings.

Yin representing the white and Yang representing black in the Chinese culture legitimacy in Shang Dynasty. [25] For Yin and Yang representing white and black respectively. This symbol is from the sundial shadow changes within a year. In this case. Yang will be end at Winter Solstice , Yin will be end at Summer Solstice. In the Shang dynasty culture, original the position of Yin and Yang is reversed up side down.

Yin is the black side, and yang is the white side. The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and a valley. Yin (literally the 'shady place' or 'north slope') is the dark area occluded by the mountain's bulk, while yang (literally the "sunny place' or "south slope") is the brightly lit portion. As the sun moves across the sky, yin and yang gradually trade places with each other, revealing what was obscured and obscuring what was revealed.

Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, and night time.

Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and active and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime. [26]

Yin and yang also applies to the human body. In traditional Chinese medicine good health is directly related to the balance between yin and yang qualities within oneself. [27] If yin and yang become unbalanced, one of the qualities is considered deficient or has vacuity.

I Ching Edit

In the I Ching, originally a divination manual of the Western Zhou period (c. 1000–750 BC) based on Chinese Astronomy, [28] yin and yang are represented by broken and solid lines: yin is broken ( ⚋ ) and yang is solid ( ⚊ ). These are then combined into trigrams, which are more yang (e.g. ☱) or more yin (e.g. ☵) depending on the number of broken and solid lines (e.g., ☰ is heavily yang, while ☷ is heavily yin), and trigrams are combined into hexagrams (e.g. ䷕ and ䷟ ). The relative positions and numbers of yin and yang lines within the trigrams determines the meaning of a trigram, and in hexagrams the upper trigram is considered yang with respect to the lower trigram, yin, which allows for complex depictions of interrelations.

Taijitu Edit

The principle of yin and yang is represented by the Taijitu (literally "Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate"). The term is commonly used to mean the simple "divided circle" form, but may refer to any of several schematic diagrams representing these principles, such as the swastika, common to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Similar symbols have also appeared in other cultures, such as in Celtic art and Roman shield markings. [29] [30] [31]

In this symbol the two tear drops swirl to represent the conversion of yin to yang and yang to yin. This is seen when a ball is thrown into the air with a yang velocity then converts to a yin velocity to fall back to earth. The two tear drops are opposite in direction to each other to show that as one increases the other decreases. The dot of the opposite field in the tear drop shows that there is always yin within yang and always yang within yin. [32]

T'ai chi ch'uan Edit

T'ai chi ch'uan or Taijiquan ( 太極拳 ), a form of martial art, is often described as the principles of yin and yang applied to the human body and an animal body. Wu Jianquan, a famous Chinese martial arts teacher, described Taijiquan as follows:

Various people have offered different explanations for the name Taijiquan. Some have said: – 'In terms of self-cultivation, one must train from a state of movement towards a state of stillness. Taiji comes about through the balance of yin and yang. In terms of the art of attack and defense then, in the context of the changes of full and empty, one is constantly internally latent, to not outwardly expressive, as if the yin and yang of Taiji have not yet divided apart.' Others say: 'Every movement of Taijiquan is based on circles, just like the shape of a Taijitu. Therefore, it is called Taijiquan.

Yin and Yang in everyday life

In fact, Yin and Yang are in everything, and most things are a little bit of both. An eggshell is Yang, but the egg inside is Yin. Wheat in the field is Yang, but once it is harvested, it becomes Yin. One can turn into the other, and the best things in life lie at the confluence of the two.

The concept of Yin and Yang is at the heart of Chinese medicine. Have you ever wondered, for example, why Chinese people drink so much hot water? It is about balancing out the body’s Yin and Yang. See, the balance of the two is the most important aspect. The two forces are opposing but complementary.

Chinese food, also, is incomplete without an understanding of Yin and Yang. Yang foods are those which are spicy or sweet. Like the warmth that Yang imbues, Yang foods are often those in warm colors like red and orange. Yin foods are those which are salty or bitter. They are cool in color, and are typically grown in water. Examples include tofu and soy sauce.

Everyone knows plain tofu is not the most appetizing dish. But pair it with some chili peppers, a la the Mapo style, and it’s a favorite in Chinese restaurants worldwide. Though on the whole, some dishes are more one than the other, elements of both Yin and Yang should be present within.

5. The Yinyang Symbol

There is no a clear and definite way to determine the exact date of origin or the person who created the popular yinyang symbol. No one has ever claimed specific ownership of this popular image. However, there is a rich textual and visual history leading to its creation. Inspired by a primeval vision of cosmic harmony, Chinese thinkers have sought to codify this order in various intellectual constructions. Whether to formulate this underlying pattern through words and concepts or numbers and visual images has been debated since the Han dynasty. The question first surfaced in the interpretation of the Yijing. The Yijing is constructed around sixty-four hexagrams (gua), each of which is made of six parallel broken or unbroken line segments (yao). Each of the sixty-four hexagrams has a unique designation its image (xiang) refers to a particular natural object and conveys the meaning of human events and activities. The Yijing thus has generated a special way to decipher the universe. It mainly incorporates three elements: xiang (images), shu (numbers), and li (meanings). They act as the mediators between heavenly cosmic phenomena and earthly human everyday life. From the Han dynasty through the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912 CE), there was a consistent tension between two schools of thought: the school of xiangshu (images and numbers) and the school of yili (meanings and reasoning). At issue between them is how best to interpret the classics, particularly the Yijing. The question often was posed as: “Am I interpreting the six classics or are the six classics interpreting me?”

For the school of Xiangshu the way to interpret the classics is to produce a figurative and numerological representation of the universe through xiang (images) and shu (numbers). It held that xiangshu are indispensable structures expressing the Way of heaven, earth and human being. Thus the school of Xiangshu takes the position that “I interpret the classics” by means of the images and numbers. The emphasis is on the appreciation of classics. The school of Yili, on the other hand, focuses on an exploration of the meanings of the classics on the basis of one’s own reconstruction. In other word, the school of Yili treats all classics as supporting evidence for their own ideas and theories. The emphasis is more on idiosyncratic new theories rather than the explanation of the classics. In what follows, our inquiry focuses on the legacy of the Xiangshu school.

The most common effort of the Xiangshu school was to draw tu (diagrams). Generations of intellectuals labored on the formulation and creation of numerous tu. Tu often delineate structure, place, and numbers through black and white lines. They are not aesthetic objects but rather serve as a means of articulating the fundamental patterns that govern phenomena in the universe. Tu are universes in microcosm and demonstrate obedience to definite norms or rules. During the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE), the Daoist monk Chen Tuan (906-989 CE) made an important contribution to this tradition by drawing a few tu in order to elucidate the Yijing. Though none of his tu were directly passed down, he is considered the forerunner of the school of tushu (diagrams and writings). It is said that he left behind three tu since his death, attempting to discover these tu has become a popular scholarly pursuit. After Chen Tuan, three trends in making tu emerged, exemplified by the work of three Neo-Confucian thinkers: the Hetu (Diagram of River) and Luoshu (Chart of Luo) ascribed to Liu Mu (1011-1064 CE), the Xiantian tu (Diagram of Preceding Heaven) credited to Shao Yong (1011-1077 CE), and the Taijitu (Diagram of the Great Ultimate) attributed to Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073 CE). These three trends eventually led to the creation of the first yinyang symbol by Zhao Huiqian (1351-1395 CE), entitled Tiandi Zhiran Hetu (Heaven and Earth’s Natural Diagram of the River) and pictured above at the head of this entry.

What Are Yin and Yang in Chinese Medicine?

Update: Due to the popularity of this post, we have written a much more in-depth article about Yin-Yang and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The concepts of Yin and Yang are important intellectual aspects of chinese philosophy and chinese culture and they form the foundation for understanding traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The earliest reference to Yin and Yang is approximately 700 centuries bce in an ancient text called I Ching or the book of changes. According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation, Yin and Yang theory — considered the most fundamental concept in TCM — drives the understanding of health and wellness among practitioners of this ancient system of health care. The theory informs how diagnoses are made, and underpins the physiology, pathology and treatment of illness. It is an important part of the study of TCM.

The qualities of Yin and Yang

Thousands of years ago, ancient scholars observed two phases of constant cyclical change, and of balance and harmony. They described it this way: Yin changes into Yang, and Yang changes back into Yin. A few general qualities of Yin and Yang help illustrate the concept.

Yin: Cool, rest, moist, earth, dark

Yang: Warm, active, dry, sky, bright

Yin and Yang represent opposite but complementary qualities. Notice how Yin has a component of Yang, and Yang has a component of Yin. This is represented by the small dots in a Yin-Yang symbol Yin is black, but is represented with also having a white dot. Similarly, Yang is white, but is shown with a black dot. The TCM World Foundation describes it further:

"Like Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc², the Yin-Yang symbol describes something very elemental and incredibly complex. What Yin-Yang points to and represents is so vast it encompasses everything in the Universe."

Each object, person or phenomenon you encounter in the world is itself and also its contrary, according to TCM. In other words, everything in the universe encompasses opposing forces at the same time. This concept lies at the heart of TCM philosophy.

The four aspects of Yin and Yang

To more fully comprehend the concepts of Yin and Yang, it helps to explore how the two relate to and play off each other. These dynamics are considered the four aspects of Yin and Yang. They are:

  1. The opposition of Yin and Yang
  2. The interdependence of Yin and Yang
  3. The mutual consumption of Yin and Yang
  4. The inter-transformation of Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang cannot exist without each other — they are inseparable. Yet they are also constantly consuming, or becoming, one another, just as day becomes night and vice versa. Think about it this way also: the way night and day blend into each is seamless. Together day and night make a whole.

The correspondences of Yin and Yang

To further explore the concepts of Yin and Yang in TCM, consider some of the pairs, or correspondences, that represent each side of these two universal energies :


At some point in your life, you have surely heard about yin and yang, which is nothing but a dynamic symbol that shows the continuous interaction of two energies and their equilibrium. On that basis, we want to tell you about the history and meaning of this symbol.

First of all, we can say that yin and yang is a principle of Chinese philosophy, where yin and yang are two opposing energies that need and complement each other. The existence of one depends on the existence of the other. The yin and yang is a symbol of harmony due to the balance produced by the interaction of the two energies.

Ancient Chinese history is full of legends, miracles and mysteries that have inspired human civilization to this day. There are many factors involved, some more important than others. A remarkable symbol, which became an important emblem in the whole world, is the Taoist symbol of yin and yang. There is no doubt that it is widely recognized outside China as a carrier of inner philosophical, historical and deeply spiritual meanings.

The Tao is a primitive force that is produced by all the natural forces of the sky and the whole universe. Tao is a way of life, not a God or a religion. The principles of the Tao were first enunciated by symbols and words by the ancient philosophers of China, about 5000 years ago. It’s a way of balancing life.

The history and meaning of yin and yang begins with one of the first philosophers of the Tao, Lao Tzu. He was an official of the Royal Treasury or Library of the Zhou Dynasty and that helped him to become a renowned scholar. In fact, it was Lao Tzu who exemplified this philosophy of yin and yang, so he wrote: “Everything has both yin and yang within it and from its ascending and descending alternation, new life is born.”

The yin yang are two concepts of Taoism, which exposes the duality of everything that exists in the universe. The yang is a luminous, positive energy that appears in an intense way, in contrast, the yin is a passive, negative light. Each object or situation is related to these two dualities and Feng Shui is in charge of finding balance to achieve well-being and fortune.

When one of the two energies reaches its maximum expression, it initiates the transformation into its opposite, this is what the two dots in the symbol represent. At its best expression, yang contains the seed of yin, and yin contains the seed of yang.

In short, the history and meaning of yin and yang begins because Taoism is basically composed of positive or negative energy. The two spheres within the symbol represent the idea that each of the forces reaches its extreme point and an opposite feeling manifests within itself.

So, what is yin and yang? They're two concepts that, together, represent the need for balance, opposite forces, and change. And which is yin and which is yang? Yin (the black section of the symbol) represents shadows, feminine energy, and generally the more mysterious side of things. Yang (the white section of the symbol) represents the sun, masculine energy, and things that are more out in the open. Neither is more powerful than the other, and both are needed in equal amounts for harmony to exist.

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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

Watch the video: Το δικό σου ζώδιο είναι Yin ή Yang; Τι σημαίνει αυτό για σένα; (January 2022).