The Yin Yang Symbol, Its Meaning, Origins and History

When we think of the Far Eastern cultures and the symbolism associated with them, one of the first symbols that come to mind is surely the Yin Yang.

Being an integral part of Chinese philosophy, Yin Yang symbol is considered as the representation of the dual nature of things like good and evil, bright and dark, positive and negative. In this post, we will take a closer look at the history and background of the Yin Yang symbol and examine meaning and symbolism behind it.

Yin Yang Symbol: Meaning and Symbolism

With is white and black halves in full contrast with each other, the Yin Yang symbol represents the good and evil, the light and the darkness in the world.

It shows how forces such as good and evil, which are apparently opposites, are actually deeply intertwined and interconnected with and complementary to each other while also being independent entities in the natural world.

The duality of Yin Yang can be symbolized by many different pairings such as fire and water, light and dark, good and evil, expanding and contracting etc.

The duality of Yin Yang was always a central concept for the Chinese philosophy, science, and medicine. Also, in Chinese martial arts, practitioners trained to achieve the balance of Yin and Yang to be successful.

In general, the Yin Yang symbol is used to represent the simultaneous unity and duality of nature and everything on earth.

In the symbol, we see a balance between the two opposites, dark and light, with a little of each present in the other.

The History of Yin and Yang Concept

Although it plays an important part for Chinese philosophy, it is not exactly known when the Yin and Yang theory emerged. That being said, texts from early times show that it has been around since the 3rd century BCE and could have emerged several centuries before that.

The concept of Yin and Yang was firstly introduced by the Chinese School of Naturalists/School of Yin Yang which studied cosmology and philosophy.

The Yin Yang was firstly used by Zou Yan, a cosmologist, and renowned philosopher and academic in ancient China.

Zou Yan theorized that life went through 5 different phases; fire, water, metal, wood, and earth and these phases always changed depending on if they are in a Yin or Yang state.

It is believed that Yin and Yang were first created from the chaos that emerged when the universe was born.

Some people believe that the achievement of the balance between Yin and Yang allowed the creation and birth of the first human being.

On the other hand, some people believe that the first Chinese gods were born from Yin and Yang.

Both Taoism and Confucianism follow the principles of Yin Yang, with Taoism focusing on Yin and Confucianism focusing on Yang.

At the same time, Taoists focus more on reclusion and seclusion, while Confucianists believe that engaging in life is more important.

General Aspects of Yin and Yang 

Yin is associated with concealment and negativity as well as sinister and treacherous aspects of things. On the other hand, Yang is associated with positive, active, bright, sunny and relieving aspects of things.

The point here is that the good and the bad can live together and coincide as one, as long as there is a balance struck between the two. It is said that the compound meaning of Yin Yang is “opposites,” which makes perfect sense, especially based on the visual representation of the symbol itself.

Basic Concepts that Define Yin and Yang

There are several principles of Yin and Yang which work towards its overall definition. Here are the 5 basic aspects defining what the Yin and Yang concept is.

Ying and Yang are not absolute

The first principle suggests that nothing is completely Yin or Yang, or in other words, nothing is 100% dark or light.

Yin and Yang contain the starting point for each other. Both Yin and Yang depend on the definition of the opposite to be true and complete. The day turning into night and the night turning into day is the perfect example for this.

Yin and Yang are not static

The second principle suggests that neither Yin nor Yang is static. They change over time and are in constant flux.

Yin and Yang can both enlarge and diminish in size in relation to the other. For example, as the seasons change, nights become longer and shorter.

There are several phrases that might be used to illustrate this constantly fluxing duality such as “disasters turn out to be blessings,” “tragedy turns to comedy,” and “illness is the doorway to health.”

Yin and Yang is a whole

Neither Yin nor Yang can exist or can be complete without the other. When an aspect of one increases or decreases, the other one will be affected in the opposite manner.

Yin and Yang may have an imbalance

The relation of Yin and Yang can be askew and imbalances can be observed between the two.

These imbalances include a deficiency or excess of Yin or Yang. Whether it is an excess or deficiency, too much skew is not considered good.

For an example in relation to Chinese medicine, too much Yang can lead to a fever and too much Yin can lead to an accumulation of fluids. Each side needs to be balanced with the other for good health.

This concept of imbalance is also underlined in the world of martial arts, with many martial arts teachers emphasizing the need for balance to master these arts.

There are also several sub-aspects of both Yin and Yang. These can be associated with specific states of Yin and Yang. For example, Yin is considered warm while Yang is considered to be burning hot.

We took a detailed look into the Yin Yang symbol, its meaning, origins and history in this post. Share it on social media if you liked it, please. Many thanks!