Yin and Yang


Mark Cartwright
published on 16 May 2018
Available in other languages: Bosnian, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish
Yin and Yang (by Dan Carter, CC BY-NC-SA)
Yin and Yang
Dan Carter (CC BY-NC-SA)

The principle of Yin and Yang from Chinese philosophy is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. Examples of Yin-Yang opposite forces are female-male, dark-light, and old-young. The pairs of equal opposites both attract and complement each other. The Yin and Yang principle dates from the 3rd century BCE or even earlier.

Yin and Yang is a fundamental concept in Chinese philosophy, medicine, and culture in general. As the Yin and Yang black and white circle 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.

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The Origin of Yin & Yang

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 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 are Examples of Yin?

Yin is:

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  • feminine/the female force/feminine energy
  • 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 are Examples of Yang?

Yang is:

  • masculine/the male force/masculine energy
  • 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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Yin-Yang In Chinese 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.

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Editorial Review This article has been reviewed by our editorial team before publication to ensure accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards in accordance with our editorial policy.
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About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a full-time writer, researcher, historian, and editor. Special interests include art, architecture, and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the WHE Publishing Director.


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Questions & Answers

Is Yin positive or negative?

In Chinese philosophy, yin is not explicitly negative but some of its manifestations have been interpreted as such. For example, yin is dark (to yang's light), cold (to yang's warm), and poor (to yang's rich)

Is Yin black or white?

In the Yin and Yang principle of Chinese philosophy, Yin is black.

Does Yin and Yang mean balance?

Yin and Yang mean balance since the two opposing forces are complimentary and attracted to each other. Too much of Yin or Yang brings imbalance.

Is Yin masculine or feminine?

In the Yin and Yang principle of Chinese philosophy, Yin is feminine, female force, and female energy.

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Cite This Work

APA Style

Cartwright, M. (2018, May 16). Yin and Yang. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.worldhistory.org/Yin_and_Yang/

Chicago Style

Cartwright, Mark. "Yin and Yang." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified May 16, 2018. https://www.worldhistory.org/Yin_and_Yang/.

MLA Style

Cartwright, Mark. "Yin and Yang." World History Encyclopedia. World History Encyclopedia, 16 May 2018. Web. 23 May 2024.