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Yin and yang - theory and application

On this page

  1. About
  2. History
  3. Theory
  4. Explanation video
  5. In the Forbidden City
  6. In the compass
  7. In tai chi and feng shui
  8. In flags

1. About

Yin and Yang Symbol

The Yin-Yang symbol is one of the most famous recognisable black and white symbols in the world and the most important concept in Chinese philosophy. The Yin-Yang symbol presents duality, the universe which we live in and is an ancient theory of Chinese philosophy.

The theory of Yin and Yang is thought to be attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Zou Yan, during the Hundred Schools of Thought era in Chinese history.

Yin and Yang should be in a state of balance. However, the balance of yin is based on the balance of yang and visa-versa. When one is more and the other less, imbalance causes dis-harmony.

Within each part, the other exists and grows to dominate. For example, the small dots represent the emerging grow of the opposite; white dot grows to form all white in the black part, whilst vice versa, the black dot grows to dominate the white part. The symbol looks static but it's in a constant state of change. The yin and yang symbol is often used by martial arts schools.

Yin and yang originate from ancient Chinese Daoism (Taoism), where it is believed the oneness created duality, yin and yang and the Dao is the way back to oneness. The Dao is akin to the Holy Spirit in western religious terms.

The Chinese characters for Yin Yang are 陰陽 / 阴 阳. They are pronounced yīn yáng. The first character 陰 / 阴 (yīn) means feminine, shade , moon, etc. The second character 陽 / 阳 (yáng) means masculine, direct sun, sun, etc.

2. History

The history of Yin and Yang dates back thousands of years, centuries BCE, and is clouded in an ancient culture, which has survived time, religion, politics and war. It was first written down in the transcendental text of the I Ching (Book of Changes), which dates back to the Western Zhou period (1000-750 BC) in ancient China.

It was from there that the theories of Qi movement within nature originated: the theory of Yin and Yang. This theory represents the duality of our universe: water, fire, descending, rising, contraction and expansion etc, where Yin and Yang are in a constant state of dynamic transformation, interplay and balance. It is a philosophical concept in constant flux, therefore it is never fixed, but in a state of continuous mutual change, consumption and support.

3. Yin and Yang theory

Yin and Yang is rooted in Nature. It's not something that is simply made-up. It comes from observing the world around us, for example day and night. If we fight against these natural laws, we end up deficient and suffer from dis-ease. For example, night-time is the time of yin. This is when we should be our most inactive and should sleep and rest. If you have an irregular lifestyle and stay up late and continue to work long hours, it will make us more deficient and will damage yin and blood making up weak and ill.

Nature of Yin

The concept of yin is inactive, passive, night time, the moon, female, dark side of the mountain, a black hole in space. Within the human body, the principle of Yin relates to blood and bodily fluids such as tears, semen, cervical mucus.

Nature of Yang

The Nature of Yang is active, movement, energy, day time, the sun, the sunlit side of the mountain, light in space. Within the human body it is warmth, energy (qi).

The summer solstice marks the highest point of Yang in the year, whilst the winter solstice marks the highest point of Yin in the year.


Black, which represents north and winter, should be at the top, whilst white, which represents sun and south, should be at the bottom. The two inner dots should be horizontal. As the Emperor faced south, then the sun rises on the left hand side.

This would explain why the left hand side is yang and the right hand side is yin. This would place the sun on the front of the body of the Emperor's body. The Emperor's subjects would face the Emperor and therefore faced north, with the sun (yang on their backs and yin on their front), the same as acupuncture meridian theory.

4. Yin and yang video

Watch this Ted Ed video which explains how yin and yang can be seen in everyday life:

5. Yin and yang and the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China faces south whilst lower subordinates enter facing north. We can see that the Emperor faced heaven in order to receive their mandate, from the sun, the father of life and heaven. We often think of heaven as the planets and the stars when in actual face, it is the sun. The Emperor's subjects faced earth and were largely made up of farmers, who literally faced earth whilst attending their crops and had their backs to the sun.

6. Yin and Yang and the compass

The compass was invented in China during the Han Dynasty between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD. The magnetic compass was not at first used for navigation, but for geomancy and divination so people could read and better understand the Book of Changes.

In the West, we view the compass from heaven in 2D. The Chinese however, viewed it from earth, in 3D, from the point within the middle of the compass, known as the earth point. This is a more accurate way of viewing the compass as we are permanently situated on earth.

As the sun rises in the west the Chinese Emperor faces the sun waiting for instruction. The left side of the Emperor would feel the sun's warm first, so the left side is Yang, whilst the Emperor's right side would be in the shade, so the right side is Yin. This theory is still used in acupuncture today, with the left side of the body Yang and the right side Yin.

7. The use of yin and yang in tai chi & feng shui

Both tai chi and feng shui relate to the flow of qi (energy) and not necessarily to yin and yang as yin and yang are types of energy. However, there are now different yin and yang types of tai chi practised in the West that promote balance and harmony within the body.

8. Yin and Yang in flags

The South Korean flag uses the yin and yang symbol in their flag, with the people facing south, so they would see the sun rise, opposite to the classical Chinese emperor and South Korea is a republic.