The Mandarin Meaning Of Yin Yang

Philosophy of two opposites

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Yin Yang is a philosophical concept of balance. The symbol associated with this concept is described by Elizabeth Reninger in her article The Yin-Yang Symbol:

The image consists of a circle divided into two teardrop-shaped halves - one white and the other black. Within each half is contained a smaller circle of the opposite color.

The Chinese characters for yin and yang

The Chinese characters for Yin Yang are 陰陽 / 阴阳 and they are pronounced yīn yáng.

The first character 陰 / 阴 (yīn) means: overcast weather; feminine; moon; cloudy; negative electrical charge; shady.

The second character 陽 / 阳 (yáng) means: positive electrical charge; sun.

The simplified characters 阴阳 clearly show the moon/sun symbolism, since they can be deconstructed to their elements 月 (moon) and 日 (sun). The element阝 is a variant of the radical 阜 which means "abundant". So Yin Yang could represent the contrast between the full moon and the full sun.

The meaning and significance of yin and yang

It should be noted that these two opposites are viewed as complementary. To a modern observer coming from a Western background, it's easy to think that yang sounds "better" than yin. The sun is obviously more powerful than the moon, light is better than darkness and so on. This misses the point. The idea behind the symbol of yin and yang is that they interact and that both are necessary for a healthy whole.

It's also meant to represent the idea that extreme yin and extreme yang are unhealthy and unbalanced. The small black dot in the white shows this, as does the white dot in the black. 100% yang is very dangerous, as is complete yin. This can be seen in taijiquan, which is a martial art partly based on this principle.

Here is Elizabeth Reninger explaining the meaning of the Yin Yang symbol:

The curves and circles of the Yin-Yang symbol imply a kaleidoscope-like movement. This implied movement represents the ways in which Yin and Yang are mutually-arising, interdependent, and continuously transforming, one into the other. One could not exist without the other, for each contains the essence of the other. Night becomes day, and day becomes night. Birth becomes death, and death becomes birth (think: composting). Friends become enemies, and enemies become friends. Such is the nature - Taoism teaches - of everything in the relative world.

Read more about Taoism and Yin Yang…