Yin and yang

The "taichi symbol" ( taijitu).
Yin and yang
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaning dark-bright, negative-positive
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet âm dương
Chữ Nôm 陰陽
Korean name
Hanja 陰陽
Japanese name
Kanji 陰陽
Hiragana いんよう, おんよう, おんみょう

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang ( yīnyáng, lit. "bright-dark", "positive-negative") describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many tangible dualities (such as light and dark, fire and water, expanding and contracting) are thought of as physical manifestations of the duality symbolized by yin and yang. This duality lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy, as well as being a primary guideline of traditional Chinese medicine, [1] and a central principle of different forms of Chinese martial arts and exercise, such as baguazhang, taijiquan (t'ai chi), and qigong (Chi Kung), as well as appearing in the pages of the I Ching.

Duality is found in many belief systems, but Yin and Yang are parts of a Oneness that is also equated with the Tao. The term 'dualistic-monism' or dialectical monism has been coined in an attempt to express this fruitful paradox of simultaneous unity/duality. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary (rather than opposing) forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. [2] Everything has both yin and yang aspects (for instance, shadow cannot exist without light). Either of the two major aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular object, depending on the criterion of the observation. The yin yang (i.e. taijitu symbol) shows a balance between two opposites with a portion of the opposite element in each section.

In Taoist metaphysics, distinctions between good and bad, along with other dichotomous moral judgments, are perceptual, not real; so, the duality of yin and yang is an indivisible whole. In the ethics of Confucianism on the other hand, most notably in the philosophy of Dong Zhongshu (c. 2nd century BC), a moral dimension is attached to the idea of yin and yang. [3]

Linguistic aspects

The Chinese terms ying 陰 or 阴 "shady side" and yang 陽 or 阳 "sunny side" are linguistically analyzable in terms of Chinese characters, pronunciations and etymology, meanings, topography, and loanwords.


The Traditional Chinese characters and for the words yīn and yáng are both classified as radical-phonetic characters, combining the semantically significant "mound; hill" radical or with the phonetic indicators ying and yang . The first phonetic yīn "cloudy" ideographically combines jīn "now; present" and yún "cloud", denoting the "今 presence of 云 clouds". [4] The second phonetic yáng "bright" originally pictured the "sun" with "rays coming down". [5] This phonetic is expanded with the "sun" radical into yáng 暘 "rising sun; sunshine". The "mound; hill" radical 阝full forms semantically specify yīn 陰 "shady/dark side of a hill" and yáng 陽 "sunny/light side of a hill".

The Simplified Chinese characters and for yīn and yáng combine the same "hill" radical 阝 with the non-phonetic yuè "moon" and "sun", graphically denoting "shady side of a hill" and "sunny side of a hill". Compare the Classical Chinese names (which contain tài "great") for these two heavenly bodies: Tàiyīn 太陰 "moon" and Tàiyáng 太陽 "sun".

Pronunciations and etymologies

The Modern Standard Chinese pronunciation of 陰 or 阴 is usually level first tone yīn "shady; cloudy" or sometimes falling fourth tone yìn "to shelter; shade", and 陽 or 阳 "sunny" is always pronounced with rising second tone yáng.

Sinologists and historical linguists have reconstructed Middle Chinese pronunciations from data in the (7th century CE) Qieyun rime dictionary and later rime tables, which was subsequently used to reconstruct Old Chinese phonology from rimes in the (11th-7th centuries BCE) Shijing and phonological components of Chinese characters. Reconstructions of Old Chinese have illuminated the etymology of modern Chinese words.

Compare these Middle Chinese and Old Chinese (with asterisk) reconstructions of yīn 陰 and yáng 陽:

Schuessler gives probable Sino-Tibetan etymologies for both Chinese words.

Yin < *ʔəm compares with Burmese ʔumC "overcast; cloudy", Adi muk-jum "shade", and Lepcha so'yǔm "shade"; and is probably cognate with Chinese àn < *ʔə̂mʔ "dim; gloomy" and qīn < *khəm "blanket"

Yang < *laŋ compares with Lepcha a-lóŋ "reflecting light", Burmese laŋB "be bright" and ə-laŋB "light", and Tai plaŋA1 "bright"; and is perhaps cognate with Chinese chāng < *k-hlaŋ "prosperous; bright" (cf. Proto- Viet-Mong hlaŋB "bright"), and bǐng < *braŋʔ "bright".


Yin and yang are semantically complex words.

A reliable Chinese-English dictionary gives the following translation equivalents. [11]

Yin 陰 or 阴 Noun ① [philosophy] negative/passive/female principle in nature ② Surname Bound morpheme ① the moon ② shaded orientation ③ covert; concealed; hidden ④ ⑦ negative ⑧ north side of a hill ⑨ south bank of a river ⑩ reverse side of a stele ⑪in intaglio Stative verb ① overcast ② sinister; treacherous

Yang 陽 or 阳 Bound morpheme ① [Chinese philosophy] positive/active/male principle in nature ②the sun ④ in relief ⑤ open; overt ⑥ belonging to this world ⑦ [linguistics] masculine ⑧ south side of a hill ⑨ north bank of a river

The compound yinyang 陰陽 or 阴阳 means "yin and yang; opposites; ancient Chinese astronomy; occult arts; astrologer; geomancer; etc.".

The sinologist Rolf Stein etymologically translates Chinese yin 陰 "shady side (of a mountain)" and yang 陽 "sunny side (of a mountain)" with the uncommon English geographic terms ubac "shady side of a mountain" and adret "sunny side of a mountain" (which are of French origin). [12]


Many Chinese place names or toponyms contain the word yang "sunny side" and a few contain yin "shady side". In China, as elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, sunlight comes predominantly from the south, and thus the south face of a mountain or the north bank of a river will receive more direct sunlight than the opposite side.

Yang refers to the "south side of a hill" in Hengyang 衡陽, which is south of Mount Heng 衡山 in Hunan province, and to the "north bank of a river" in Luoyang 洛陽, which is located north of the Luo River 洛河 in Henan.

Similarly, yin refers to "north side of a hill" in Huayin 華陰, which is north of Mount Hua 華山 in Shaanxi province.


English yin, yang, and yin-yang are familiar loanwords of Chinese origin.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines:

yin (jɪn) Also Yin, Yn. [Chinese yīn shade, feminine; the moon.]

a. In Chinese philosophy, the feminine or negative principle (characterized by dark, wetness, cold, passivity, disintegration, etc.) of the two opposing cosmic forces into which creative energy divides and whose fusion in physical matter brings the phenomenal world into being. Also attrib. or as adj., and transf. Cf. yang.

b. Comb., as yin-yang, the combination or fusion of the two cosmic forces; freq. attrib., esp. as yin-yang symbol, a circle divided by an S-shaped line into a dark and a light segment, representing respectively yin and yang, each containing a 'seed' of the other.

yang (jæŋ) Also Yang. [Chinese yáng yang, sun, positive, male genitals.]

a. In Chinese philosophy, the masculine or positive principle (characterized by light, warmth, dryness, activity, etc.) of the two opposing cosmic forces into which creative energy divides and whose fusion in physical matter brings the phenomenal world into being. Also attrib. or as adj. Cf. yin.

b. Comb.: yang-yin = yin-yang s.v. yin b.

For the earliest recorded "yin and yang" usages, the OED cites 1671 for yin and yang, [13] 1850 for yin-yang, [14] and 1959 for yang-yin. [15]

In English, yang-yin (like ying-yang) occasionally occurs as a mistake or typographical error for the Chinese loanword yin-yang— yet they are not equivalents. Chinese does have some yangyin collocations, such as 洋銀 (lit. "foreign silver") "silver coin/dollar", but not even the most comprehensive dictionaries (e.g., the Hanyu Da Cidian) enter yangyin *陽陰. While yang and yin can occur together in context, [16] yangyin is not synonymous with yinyang. The linguistic term " irreversible binomial" refers to a collocation of two words A-B that cannot normally be reversed as B-A, for example, English cat and mouse (not *mouse and cat) and friend or foe (not *foe or friend). Similarly, the usual pattern among Chinese binomial compounds is for positive A and negative B, where the A word is dominant or privileged over B, for example, tiandi 天地 "heaven and earth" and nannü 男女 "men and women". Yinyang meaning "dark and light; female and male; moon and sun", however, is an exception. Scholars have proposed various explanations for why yinyang violates this pattern, including "linguistic convenience" (it is easier to say yinyang than yangyin), the idea that "proto-Chinese society was matriarchal", or perhaps, since yinyang first became prominent during the late Warring States period, this term was "purposely directed at challenging persistent cultural assumptions". [17]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Jin en jang
asturianu: Yin y Yang
azərbaycanca: İn və Yan
Bân-lâm-gú: Im-iông
беларуская: Інь і ян
български: Ин-ян
brezhoneg: Yin ha yang
català: Yin i Yang
čeština: Jin a jang
Deutsch: Yin und Yang
Ελληνικά: Γιν-Γιανγκ
español: Yin y yang
Esperanto: Jino kaj Jango
euskara: Yin eta yang
فارسی: یین و یانگ
français: Yin et yang
Gaeilge: Yin agus yang
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Yîm-yòng
한국어: 음양
Հայերեն: Ին և յան
hrvatski: Jin i jang
Bahasa Indonesia: Yin dan Yang
italiano: Yin e yang
עברית: יין-יאנג
Basa Jawa: Yin lan Yang
қазақша: Инь-Ян
Кыргызча: Ин жана Ян
Latina: Yin et yang
latviešu: Jiņ un jan
Lëtzebuergesch: Yin a Yang
lietuvių: In ir Jang
magyar: Jin-jang
македонски: Јин и јанг
മലയാളം: യിൻ യാങ്
Bahasa Melayu: Yin dan yang
Nederlands: Yin en yang
日本語: 陰陽
norsk nynorsk: Yin og yang
occitan: Yin e Yang
polski: Yin i yang
português: Yin Yang
română: Yin și Yang
русский: Инь и ян
shqip: Yin-Yang
Simple English: Yin and yang
slovenčina: Jin a jang
slovenščina: Jin in jang
српски / srpski: Јин и јанг
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Jin i jang
svenska: Yin och yang
Tagalog: Yin at yang
Türkçe: Yin ile yang
українська: Інь і ян
Tiếng Việt: Âm dương
粵語: 陰陽
中文: 阴阳