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Yin and Yang

The concept of “yin-yang” in Chinese philosophy is used to describe how opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interact, giving rising to each other in turn. The basic idea is that opposites only exist in relation to each other.

Taken literally, 阴, the Chinese character for “yin”, means a place on the north slope of a mountain or on the south bank of a river, while its antonym 阳, the Chinese character for “yang”, means a place on the south slope of mountain or on the north bank of a river. Examples are found in such Chinese place names as Luoyang and Huayin: the former lying on the nouth of Luoshui River while the latter on the north of Mt. Hua. As China lies on the northern hemisphere, of the globe, sunlight was assumed to come from the south, and so would shine on the south face of a mountain or the north face of a river valley – the “yang” side, leaving the opposite, “yin” side shadowy. Just as light cannot exist without shadow and north only makes sense in relation to south, yin and yang are interdependent.

Taijitu Symbol embodies the theory of Yin and Yang, the black side known as the Yin side and the white as the Yang side.
Yin and yang theory is typically embodied by the Taijitu symbol. It is a circle comprising two complementary tadpole or fish-like parts: the black side known as the Yin side and the white as the Yang side. Yin and Yang combine to form a single reality – the circle. In the Yang side lies the seed of Yin (represented by the black dot) and vice versa. Yin and Yang are involved in a cyclical evolutionary process. Yang grows while Yin shrinks, but at the height of Yang, Yin emerges. Then Yin grows until reaching its height when Yang reappears. The up-moving Yang blends into the downward-moving Yin. The process is to repeat itself perpetually.

The meaning of Yin and Yang is not restricted to light and shade, but is widely analogized to all phenomena. Yin would be dark, passive, downward, slow, soft, wet, cold, contracting, weak, etc., and accordingly, Yang would be bright, active, upward, fast, hot, dry, expanding, strong, etc. Yin would be associated with water, earth, the moon, nighttime, femininity, hostility, death, etc., and Yang with fire, heaven, the sun, daytime, masculinity, peace, life, etc.

Given their rich associations, the concepts of Yin and Yang, coupled with the theory of wuxing (the Five Elements), provided the intellectual framework for much of Chinese philosophy and scientific thinking, especially in fields like biology, medicine, and martial arts. For example, illness was seen in Chinese traditional medical theories to have resulted from a disturbance in the yin-yang balance caused by heat or cold, emotions, or other influences.


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