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In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin yang ([yin – ] [yang - ] Korean: eum-yang; Vietnamese: Âm Dương; often referred to in the west as yin and yang) is used to describe how seemingly disjunct or opposing forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, giving rise to each other in turn. The concept lies at the heart of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary guideline of traditional Chinese medicine, and a central principle of different forms of Chinese martial arts and exercise, such as baguazhang, taijiquan, and qigong. Many natural dualities — e.g. dark and light, female and male, low and high — are viewed in Chinese thought as manifestations of yin and yang. "Yin means dark and cold, while Yang means bright and hot. The idea of Yin-Yang originated from the ancient Chinese philosophy of Fu Xi (伏羲)."

According to the philosophy, yin and yang are complementary opposites within a greater whole. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, which constantly interact, never existing in absolute stasis. Compare wuji. Yin and yang is symbolized by various forms of the Taijitu. It is commonly believed (especially in the West) that yin and yang correspond to "good" and "evil"; however, this was not an aspect included in ancient forms of the philosophy. The idea of yin and yang having a "moral" aspect was originated by the Confucian school (most notably Dong Zhongshu) around the second century BCE.

The nature of yin–yang

Yin and yang are thought to arise together from an initial quiescence or emptiness (wuji, sometimes symbolized by an empty circle), and to continue moving in tandem 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–yang, thus, always has the following characteristic: yin and yang describe opposing qualities in phenomena. For instance, winter is yin to summer's yang over the course of a year, and femininity is yin to masculinity's yang in human relationships.

It is impossible to talk about yin or yang without some reference to the opposite: yin–yang are rooted together. Since yin and yang are created together in a single movement, they are bound together as parts of a mutual whole. A race with only men or only women would disappear in a single generation; but 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. 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.

"Yang" and "Yin" in place names

Many places in China, such as Luoyangmarker, contain the word "Yang", and a few, such as Huayinmarker, the word "yin". This is a very old way to assign place names. "Yang" means that a place is on the south slope of a mountain or on the north side of a river - for example, Luoyang is on the north side of the Luo River. "Yin" means that a place is on the north slope of a mountain or on the south side of a river - for example, Huayin is on the north slope of Mount Huamarker.

Symbolism and its significance

The relationship between yin and yang is often described in terms of sunlight playing over a mountain and in the 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 usually characterized as slow, soft, insubstantial, diffuse, cold, wet, and tranquil. It is generally associated with the feminine, birth and generation, and with the night. Yang, by contrast, is characterized as fast, hard, solid, dry, focused, hot, and aggressive. It is associated with masculinity and daytime.Osgood, Charles E. "From Yang and Yin to and or but." Language 49.2 (1973): 380–412 . JSTOR. 16 Nov. 2008 />.

I Ching

In the I Ching, yin yang are represented by broken and solid lines: yang is solid ( ) and yin is broken ( ). These are then combined into trigrams, which are more yang or more yin 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 that trigram, and in hexagrams the upper trigram is considered yang with respect to the lower trigram, allowing complex depictions of interrelations.


Classic taoist Taijitu

The principle of yin and yang is represented in Taoism by the Taijitu (literally "diagram of the supreme ultimate") diagram. The term is commonly used to mean the simple 'divided circle' form, but may refer to any of several schematic diagrams representing these principles. Similar symbols have also appeared in other cultures, such as in Celtic art and Roman shield markings.


Taijiquan, a form of martial art, is often described as the principles of yin and yang applied to the human body. Wu Jianquan, a famous Chinese martial arts teacher, described Taijiquan as follows:

Religious and Philosphical

The yin-yang symbol and concept of the Zhou period reach into family and gender relations. Yin is female and yang is male. They fit together as two parts of a whole.

Yin-Yang in popular culture

  • Walt Disney's Original T.V. Series Yin-Yang-Yo!'s two main characters' names are based on a pink rabbit named Yin and a blue rabbit named Yang.

  • "Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man)" is a track on Love and Rockets' 1986 album Express.

See also


  2. Giovanni Monastra: " The "Yin–Yang" among the Insignia of the Roman Empire?", Sophia, Vol. 6, No. 2 (2000)
  3. Late Roman Shield Patterns. Notitia Dignitatum: Magister Peditum
  4. Helmut Nickel: "The Dragon and the Pearl", Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 26 (1991), p. 146, Fn. 5

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