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As the most enduring and influential Taoist symbol, the yin and yang (or simply yin-yang) is recognized almost anywhere in the world. Still, as is true with many ancient symbols, its integration with popular culture has caused confusion over the real meaning behind the concept of yin and yang.
In this article, we will revisit what ancient Chinese philosophy really teaches about yin and yang.
History of the Yin-Yang Symbol
The philosophy behind the yin-yang symbol is no less than 3,500 years old, and was first introduced during the ninth century, in a text entitled ‘I Ching’ or ‘Book of Changes.’ The text talks about cosmic duality and the importance of achieving balance between two halves in order to create a perfect whole.
However, it wasn’t until the Song Dynasty era when the concept of yin and yang was illustrated and symbolized using a diagram called taijitu or ‘the taichi symbol.’ The striking imagery of a perfect circle divided into two halves by a curved line was first introduced by a philosopher named Zhou Dunyi, and has evolved into what is now commonly referred to as the yin-yang symbol.
Half of the circle is black, representing the yin side, and the other is white, symbolizing the yang side. Both halves are intertwined in an endless spiral, as if either side is always chasing the other. Notably, there is always a white dot on the black side, and a black dot on the white side of this diagram. This is to illustrate that there’s always a little bit of yin in every yang, and vice versa.
So, what does yin and yang represent?
Yin Yang Meaning and Symbolism
As you may notice, yin and yang represent opposing ideas and forces. Elements of yin and yang come in opposing pairs that complement each other, and the nature of yin-yang lies with the interplay of these polar opposites.
Yin (the black side) is usually associated with the following:
Yang (the white side) is related to the following:
Ancient Taoist philosophy believes peace and abundance can only take place when there is balance and harmony between yin and yang.
Here are some characteristics of yin-yang.
- Neither one is absolute – As illustrated by the single black dot on the yang side and the single white dot on the yin side, nothing is ever completely yin or completely yang. For instance, the symbol tells us to always expect some warmth in the cold, some light in the dark, and some right in every wrong.
- It’s not static – There’s a reason the yin-yang circle is not divided by a straight line. The curved spiral divide shows movement and a dynamic flow of energies, much like the way day doesn’t turn into night but gradually flows into it. The cyclical nature represents the never-ending, continuous motion of life as it eternally moves forward.
- Yin and yang cannot exist without the other – Two halves make a whole and duality is crucial to achieving equilibrium.
- Yin and yang are present in all things – Be it in terms of love, career, or life in general, opposing forces must be balanced the right way in order to achieve harmony.
“Yin and yang, male and female, strong and weak, rigid and tender, heaven and earth, light and darkness, thunder and lightning, cold and warmth, good and evil…the interplay of opposite principles constitutes the universe.” – Confucius
Modern-Day Use of Yin-Yang in Art and Jewelry
Yin-yang is a beautiful and symmetrical design for use in jewelry. While it’s typically black and white, it can be any dark color paired with a lighter color.
The design is popular in pendants. Couples and best friends sometimes wear each half to represent that they are only ever whole when they are together. These are perfect to signify a strong, complete relationship with harmonious duality. Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the Yin-Yang symbol.
The design is also beautiful in studs and dangle earrings, as well as used in charms and on bracelets. It’s a unisex design and can be formed into both feminine and masculine jewelry.
Yin-yang art comes in many forms, such as the tiger and dragon yin-yang, yin-yang suns, and nature yin-yangs. All of these forms represent balancing of energies, and have been incorporated in feng shui-inspired interior design and even fashion.
Something to note is that although the yin-yang is connected to Taoism and ancient Chinese religion, it’s not viewed as a religious symbol. It’s more universal in symbolism and applicable to anyone regardless of religion, unlike specific religious symbols like the Cross or the Star of David.
The yin-yang symbol is a good reminder to always strive to find balance in order to achieve peace and harmony. The two sides may be opposite, but one cannot exist without the other, and are never supposed to be separate.