Yin and yang

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The Taoist yin and yang
Thinking hardly
or hardly thinking?

Icon philosophy.svg
Major trains of thought
The good, the bad,
and the brain fart
Come to think of it

The concept of yin and yang began as an element of Chinese philosophy, and has since become an important part of East Asian mysticism. The concept still plays a significant role in traditional Chinese medicine.[1]

Basics of the philosophy[edit]

Ferret love

The essence of yin and yang is that the universe is made up of complementary dualities. Unlike Western dualisms, in which the mind and body or good and evil are resolutely opposed and unable to be bridged, traditional Chinese philosophy holds that all things contain elements of both yin and yang. Therefore both are necessary for the implied balance of the universe.

Yang is represented as masculine, active, light, warm, etc. Yin, by contrast, is feminine, passive, dark, cold, etc. The sun is yang, and the moon is yin. Neither is good or bad, but have different effects on different things. A person should strive for a balance of each.

Yin and yang today[edit]


Although there is only one oblique reference to them within the Tao Te Ching, yin and yang play a significant role in Taoism,[note 1] but the overall idea was considered vital to becoming in tune with the Tao. Moreover, in many places, the book refers to standing with the "feminine" or the "dark," a reference to the "yin." (Religious Taoism (daojiao) put far more emphasis on the maintenance of "yin" and "yang".)

All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is.
So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.[2]


Balance your chi with a drink

Yin and yang are considered extremely important to Chinese geomancy (feng shui, or "wind-water"). Traditionally, many people would build houses in ways that increase the amount of yang energy given off by the sun. Examples of this included building south of mountains and north of rivers, where the sun's yang was supposed to collect. Feng shui also considers siting a building to make it more defensible against enemies. Moreover, the expert layout of rooms would allow for yin and yang to be used most effectively. While the concept might have some validity regarding a house's location and layout, feng shui also employs magic to protect against problems using mirrors, feathers, and other items placed in strategic locations. These items' efficacy often involves some sort of wordplay or resemblance of word sounds to achieve their intended effect.

Other kinds of woo[edit]

In modern Western societies, yin and yang are most often associated with various kinds of woo. In many of these cases, the philosophical background of the concepts of yin and yang is usually discarded entirely for warm fuzzy pronouncements about being in touch with "both sides" of oneself or the universe, or not getting caught up in antagonistic dualities. This sometimes involves using some kind of Eastern-seeming rituals or procedures, wholly divorced from the cultural milieu that gave birth to it.

Also, many of the tenets of modern neopaganism at least sound like they are related to yin and yang, mainly the focus on "balancing" male and female energies.


Although the concept of yin and yang is usually brought up as egalitarian (i.e., "women are just as important as men", "the feminine is sacred", et cetera), in practice, it has been historically utilized to enforce strict gender roles in Chinese culture.[3][note 2] Light is, after all, almost universally prioritized over darkness as far as human civilization is concerned,[note 3] and Confucianism in particular stresses how the yang is "superior" to yin. Under the yin and yang system, women can only hold authority if they possess yang attributes, which unfortunately Chinese culture tends to not recognize outside of the household.

There is evidence that Taoists and Confucianists have persecuted Chinese sun goddess cults.[4]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. "The Tao gives birth to One.
    One gives birth to Two.
    Two gives birth to Three.
    Three gives birth to all things.
    All things have their backs to the female
    and stand facing the male.
    When male and female combine,
    all things achieve harmony." (Chapter 42)
  2. This is far from the only example in history of "separate but equal" not panning out in practice; see Jim Crow for a more modern failure of egalitarian segregation (that never really even tried to be egalitarian in the first place).
  3. Remember, humans are diurnal and have relatively poor night vision. Humans tend to be more vulnerable in the dark, which makes fear of the dark a useful heuristic for survival (this was especially true in prehistoric times, i.e. over 85% of the total duration of humanity's existence, during which humans had nocturnal predators with far superior nighttime navigational senses (night vision, smell, etc.) that could and did pick off people who were caught out in the open after the sun set). And people tend not to like what they're afraid of…


  1. http://www.qi-journal.com/tcm.asp
  2. http://www.edepot.com/tao8.html
  3. https://www.iep.utm.edu/gender-c/
  4. Jacques H. Kamstra, Encounter Or Syncretism: The Initial Growth of Japanese Buddhism