Yin And Yang
The "yin and yang symbol" (taijitu).
Yin and yang
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese ??
Simplified Chinese ??
Literal meaning dark-bright, negative-positive
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet âm d??ng
Ch? Nôm ??
Korean name
Hangul ??
Hanja ??
Japanese name
Kanji ??
Hiragana ????, ????, ?????

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang (?? y?nyáng, lit. "dark-bright", "negative-positive") describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many tangible dualities (such as light and dark, fire and water, expanding and contracting) are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality symbolized by yin and yang. This duality lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary guideline of traditional Chinese medicine,[1] and a central principle of different forms of Chinese martial arts and exercise, such as baguazhang, taijiquan (t'ai chi), and qigong (Chi Kung), as well as appearing in the pages of the I Ching.

Duality is found in many belief systems, but Yin and Yang are parts of a Oneness that is also equated with the Tao. The term 'dualistic-monism' or dialectical monism has been coined in an attempt to express this fruitful paradox of simultaneous unity/duality. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.[2] Everything has both yin and yang aspects (for instance, shadow cannot exist without light). Either of the two major aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular object, depending on the criterion of the observation. The yin yang (i.e. taijitu symbol) shows a balance between two opposites with a portion of the opposite element in each section.

In Taoist metaphysics, distinctions between good and bad, along with other dichotomous moral judgments, are perceptual, not real; so, the duality of yin and yang is an indivisible whole. In the ethics of Confucianism on the other hand, most notably in the philosophy of Dong Zhongshu (c. 2nd century BC), a moral dimension is attached to the idea of yin and yang.[3]

Linguistic aspects

The Chinese terms y?n ? or ? "shady side" and yáng ? or ? "sunny side" are linguistically analyzable in terms of Chinese characters, pronunciations and etymology, meanings, topography, and loanwords.


The Traditional Chinese characters ? and ? for the words y?n and yáng are both classified as radical-phonetic characters, combining the semantically significant "mound; hill" radical ? or ? with the phonetic indicators y?n ? and yáng ?. The first phonetic y?n ? "cloudy" ideographically combines j?n ? "now; present" and yún ? "cloud", denoting the "? presence of ? clouds".[4] The second phonetic yáng ? "bright" originally pictured ? the "sun" with ? "rays coming down".[5] This phonetic is expanded with the "sun" radical into yáng ? "rising sun; sunshine". The "mound; hill" radical ?full forms semantically specify y?n ? "shady/dark side of a hill" and yáng ? "sunny/light side of a hill".

The Simplified Chinese characters ? and ? for y?n and yáng combine the same "hill" radical ? with the non-phonetic yuè ? "moon" and ? "sun", graphically denoting "shady side of a hill" and "sunny side of a hill". Compare the Classical Chinese names (which contain tài ? "great") for these two heavenly bodies: Tàiy?n ?? "moon" and Tàiyáng ?? "sun".

Pronunciations and etymologies

The Modern Standard Chinese pronunciation of ? or ? is usually level first tone y?n "shady; cloudy" or sometimes falling fourth tone yìn "to shelter; shade", and ? or ? "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 rime dictionary and later rime tables, which was subsequently used to reconstruct Old Chinese phonology from rimes 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 y?n ? and yáng ?:

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

Yin < *??m compares with Burmese ?umC "overcast; cloudy", Adi muk-jum "shade", and Lepcha so'y?m "shade"; and is probably cognate with Chinese àn < *???m? ? "dim; gloomy" and q?n < *kh?m ? "blanket"

Yang < *la? compares with Lepcha a-ló? "reflecting light", Burmese la?B "be bright" and ?-la?B "light", and Tai pla?A1 "bright"; and is perhaps cognate with Chinese ch?ng < *k-hla? ? "prosperous; bright" (cf. Proto-Viet-Mong hla?B "bright"), and b?ng < *bra?? ? "bright".


Yin and yang are semantically complex words.

A reliable Chinese-English dictionary gives the following translation equivalents.[11]

Yin ? or ? 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 (11)in intaglio Stative verb (1) overcast (2) sinister; treacherous

Yang ? or ? 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 ?? or ?? means "yin and yang; opposites; ancient Chinese astronomy; occult arts; astrologer; geomancer; etc.".

The sinologist Rolf Stein etymologically translates Chinese yin ? "shady side (of a mountain)" and yang ? "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).[12]


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 ??, which is south of Mount Heng ?? in Hunan province, and to the "north bank of a river" in Luoyang ??, which is located north of the Luo River ?? in Henan.

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


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

The Oxford English Dictionary defines:

yin (j?n) Also Yin, Yn. [Chinese y?n 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 (jæ?) 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,[13] 1850 for yin-yang,[14] and 1959 for yang-yin.[15]

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 ?? (lit. "foreign silver") "silver coin/dollar", but not even the most comprehensive dictionaries (e.g., the Hanyu Da Cidian) enter yangyin *??. While yang and yin can occur together in context,[16]yangyin is not synonymous with yinyang. The linguistic term "irreversible binomial" refers to a collocation of two words A-B that cannot normally be reversed as B-A, for example, English cat and mouse (not *mouse and cat) and friend or foe (not *foe or friend). 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 ?? "heaven and earth" and nannü ?? "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".[17]


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."[18] He then discusses Zou Yan (??; 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."[19]


In Daoist philosophy, dark and light, yin and yang, arrive in the Tao Te Ching at chapter 42.[20]  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[] to postulate the notion of a race with only men or only women; this race would disappear in a single generation. Yet, men and women 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.[21] 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:[22]

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

Symbolism and importance

Yin is the black side with the white dot in it, and yang is the white side with the black dot in it. 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 nighttime.

Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and active; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.[23]

The Yin-Yang symbol, having no "officially standardized" rendition, has been the basis of much artistic variation, most of it "frivolous" (that is, "merely" artistic, with no philosophical/mystical meaning, e.g., tattoos).[]

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.[24] If yin and yang become unbalanced, one of the qualities is considered deficient or has vacuity.

I Ching

In the I Ching, originally a divination manual of the Western Zhou period (c. 1000-750 BC),[25] 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.


The principle of yin and yang is represented in Taoism 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.[26][27][28]


Taijiquan (Chinese: ???), 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.

-- Wu Jianquan, The International Magazine of T'ai Chi Ch'uan[29]

See also



  1. ^ Porkert (1974). The Theoretical Foundations of Chinese Medicine. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-16058-7. 
  2. ^ Georges Ohsawa (1931) The Unique Principle, link from Google Books
  3. ^ Taylor Latener, Rodney Leon (2005). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Confucianism, Vol. 2. New York: Rosen Publishing Group. p. 869. ISBN 978-0-8239-4079-0. 
  4. ^ Bernhard Karlgren, Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese, Paul Geunthner, 1923, p. 104.
  5. ^ Wenlin, version 4.1.1, 2012, n.p.
  6. ^ Bernhard Karlgren, Grammata Serica Recensa, Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 1957, 173, 188.
  7. ^ Li, Fang-Kuei, "Studies on Archaic Chinese", translated by Gilbert L. Mattos, Monumenta Serica 31, 1974:219-287.
  8. ^ William H. Baxter, A Handbook of Old Chinese Phonology, Mouton de Gruyter ,1992.
  9. ^ Schuessler, Axel, ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese, University of Hawaii Press, 2007, 558, 572.
  10. ^ Baxter & Sagart (2014), pp. 326-378.
  11. ^ John DeFrancis, ed., ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary, University of Hawaii Press, 2003, 1147, 1108.
  12. ^ Rolf Stein (2010), Rolf Stein's Tibetica Antiqua: With Additional Materials, Brill, p. 63.
  13. ^ Arnoldus Montanus, Atlas Chinensis: Being a relation of remarkable passages in two embassies from the East-India Company of the United Provinces to the Vice-Roy Singlamong, General Taising Lipovi, and Konchi, Emperor, Thomas Johnson, tr. by J. Ogilby, 1671, 549: "The Chineses by these Strokes .. declare .. how much each Form or Sign receives from the two fore-mention'd Beginnings of Yn or Yang."
  14. ^ William Jones Boone, "Defense of an Essay on the proper renderings of the words Elohim and ???? into the Chinese Language," Chinese Repository XIX, 1850, 375: "... when in the Yih King (or Book of Diagrams) we read of the Great Extreme, it means that the Great Extreme is in the midst of the active-passive primordial substance (Yin-yáng); and that it is not exterior to, or separate from the Yin-yáng."
  15. ^ Carl Jung, "Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self", in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, tr. by R. F. C. Hull, Volume 9, Part 2, p. 58" "[The vision of "Ascension of Isaiah"] might easily be a description of a genuine yang-yin relationship, a picture that comes closer to the actual truth than the privatio boni. Moreover, it does not damage monotheism in any way, since it unites the opposites just and yang and yin are united in Tao (which the Jesuits quite logically translated as "God")."
  16. ^ For instance, the Huainanzi says" "Now, the lumber is not so important as the forest; the forest is not so important as the rain; the rain is not so important as yin and yang; yin and yang are not so important as harmony; and harmony is not so important as the Way. (12, ????,????,?????,?????,????; tr. Major et al. 2010, 442).
  17. ^ Roger T. Ames, "Yin and Yang", in Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, ed. by Antonio S. Cua, Routledge, 2002, 847.
  18. ^ Needham, Joseph; Science and Civilization in China Vol.2: History of Scientific Thought; Cambridge University Press; 1956
  19. ^ Needham, Joseph; Science and Civilization in China Vol.2: History of Scientific Thought; Cambridge University Press; 1956
  20. ^ Muller, Charles. "Daode Jing". Retrieved . 
  21. ^ Robin R. Wang "Yinyang (Yin-yang)". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  22. ^ Nyoiti Sakurazawa & William Dufty (1965) You Are All Sanpaku, page 33
  23. ^ Osgood, Charles E. "From Yang and Yin to and or but." Language 49.2 (1973): 380-412 . JSTOR
  24. ^ Li CL. A brief outline of Chinese medical history with particular reference to acupuncture. Perspect Biol Med. 1974 Autumn;18(1):132-43.
  25. ^ The text of the I Ching has its origins in a Western Zhou divination text called the Changes of Zhou (?? Zh?u yì). Various modern scholars suggest dates ranging between the 10th and 4th centuries BC for the assembly of the text in approximately its current form. Nylan, Michael (2001), The Five "Confucian" Classics (2001), p. 228.
  26. ^ Giovanni Monastra: "The "Yin-Yang" among the Insignia of the Roman Empire?," "Sophia," Vol. 6, No. 2 (2000)
  27. ^ "Late Roman Shield Patterns - Magister Peditum". www.ne.jp. 
  28. ^ Helmut Nickel: "The Dragon and the Pearl," Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 26 (1991), p. 146, Fn. 5
  29. ^ Woolidge, Doug (June 1997). "T'AI CHI The International Magazine of T'ai Chi Ch'uan Vol. 21 No. 3". Wayfarer Publications. ISSN 0730-1049. 

Works cited

  • Baxter, William H.; Sagart, Laurent (2014). Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-994537-5. 

External links

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