Yin and Yang (yinyang, 阴阳)

  • Yueqing WangEmail author
  • Qinggang Bao
  • Guoxing Guan


Yin and yang are an extremely important and widely used pair of concepts in Chinese philosophy. The initial meaning of yin and yang referred to whether the topography faced the sun or not: the side that faced the sun is yang and the side with its back to the sun was yin. Explaining Graphs and Analyzing Characters says: “yin, is dark, it is the south of the water and the north of the mountain.” Xu Kai (徐锴)explains that, “the north of the mountain and the south of the water is not reached by the sun.” With regard to yang, Explaining Graphs and Analyzing Characters says, “it is high and bright.” This means that the higher places face the sun; this is relative to yin. The poem “Gong Liu” (公刘) of the Greater Odes of the Kingdom of the Book of Odes has it that, “He surveyed the yin and the yang, viewing [also] the [course of the] streams and springs.” Here, the yin and yang refer to the backside of the mountains and it is thus employing yin and yang in their original sense.


  1. Chan, Wing-Tsit. 1969. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Queen, Sarah A., and John S., Major. 2016 Luxuriant Gems of the Spring and Autumn; Attributed to Dong Zhongshu. Trans. Sarah A. Queen and John S. Major. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar

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© Nanjing University Press 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NanjingChina

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