Yin and yang is a complex relational concept in Chinese culture that has developed over thousands of years.
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.
Yin is a symbol of earth, femaleness, darkness, passivity, and absorption. It is present in even numbers, in valleys and streams, and is represented by the tiger, the colour orange, and a broken line.
Yang is conceived of as heaven, maleness, light, activity, and penetration. It is present in odd numbers, in mountains, and is represented by the dragon, the colour azure, and an unbroken line.
The two are both said to proceed from the Great Ultimate (taiji), their interplay on one another (as one increases the other decreases) being a description of the actual process of the universe and all that is in it.
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.
The concept of Yin and Yang and the idea of complementary forces became popular with the work of the Chinese school of Yinyang which studied philosophy and cosmology in the 3rd century BC. 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.
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.
The significance of yinyang through the centuries has permeated every aspect of Chinese thought, influencing astrology, divination, medicine, art, and government. The concept entered Japan in early times as in-yō. A government bureau existed in Japan as early as 675 AD to advise the government on divination and on control of the calendar according to in-yō principles, but it later fell into disuse. In-yō notions permeated every level of Japanese society and persist even into modern times, as evident in the widespread belief in lucky and unlucky days and directions and in consideration of the zodiac signs when arranging marriages.
The yin-yang symbol (also known as the Tai Chi symbol) consists of a circle divided into two halves by a curved line. One half of the circle is black, typically representing the yin side; the other is white, for the yang side. A dot of each color is situated near the center of the other’s half. The two halves are thus intertwining across a spiral-like curve that splits the whole into semicircles, and the small dots represent the idea that both sides carry the seed of the other.
The white dot in the black area and the black dot in the white area connote coexistence and unity of opposites to form a whole. The curvy line signifies that there are no absolute separations between the two opposites. The yin-yang symbol, then, embodies both sides: duality, paradox, unity in diversity, change, and harmony.
The principles of yin and yang are an important part of Huangdi Neijing or Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine. Written about 2,000 years ago, it is the earliest Chinese medical book. It is believed that to be healthy, one needs to balance the yin and yang forces within one’s own body.
The term yin-yang is first found in English in the 1850s, and it spread in the 20th century especially thanks to interest in Eastern philosophy, non-Western medicine, and martial arts.
Unicode 1.0 approved the yin-yang symbol for computers in 1993 and added it to its Emoji 1.0 set in 2015. Like other religious and astrological emoji such the om symbol, the yin-yang emoji appears as white on a
purple square ☯.
T’ai chi ch’uan or Taijiquan, a form of martial art, is often described as the principles of yin and yang applied to the human body and an animal body.