The concept of Yin & Yang originated from Chinese philosophy, the term itself was translated from the Mandarin pronunciation of shadow and light. The earliest documentation of the two words, dating back to 14th century BCE, shows that they were used independently for describing the weather; where yin meant cloudy and yang meant sunny. It was not until much later, in the Book of Songs (a collection of Chinese poetry), that the two characters appeared together for the first time to describe the scenery on a hill.
In today’s Chinese culture, the word “yin” can represent elements in the universe that are feminine, dark, passive and inward. “Yang” symbolizes elements that are masculine, bright, active and outward. When used in context of each other, the phrase expresses the relationship between any two things that are in direct contrast of each other. This relationship of Yin and Yang is very accurately represented in its Taijitu symbol: ☯, where the circle itself represents the universe, and the light and dark side of all things in life coexist and therefore balance out. The philosophy of Yin and Yang has been recognized all around the world and is the central principle in the studies of Chinese medicine, martial arts, and traditional Chinese science. In exercises such as Taijiquan, the training focuses on the interplay of opposite fighting styles, both the hard and the soft techniques; “hard” techniques include physical strength training, and “soft” refers to the health benefits that can be gained from the practise.
Yin and Yang are opposite forces that interconnect and become a whole; with such a connection, one element cannot exist without the other. Although it may seem that Yin elements have more negative properties when compared to Yang, it is inaccurate to describe one weaker, or stronger, than the other. For example, it is impossible for one to fully appreciate beauty unless he has seen the contrasting ugliness in the world; just as the differentiation between day and night would not be possible if either period of time was missing.
The idea of Yin and Yang has been widely recognized around the world, and is often applied in many work fields, including art and architecture. In paintings such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, the composition is balanced by various Yin and Yang elements, working together and balancing each other. The violent waves in the foreground in juxtaposition with the negative space created in the background resemble the Taijitu symbol of Yin and Yang; it is also evident to see the calmness of the fishermen counteract with the enormous threatening waves. Together, these extreme elements create harmony and unity in the painting’s composition.
In the world of architecture, Yin and Yang play a very big role in controlling both the aesthetic and functional aspects of building designs. For the construction of a bathroom area, an architect and the client would generally prefer using solid walls and minimum windows to ensure maximum privacy; whereas in hallways or staircases, openness is preferred, large windows and lots of skylight are favoured for energy saving and aesthetic reasons. Another example of occasion where the relationship of yin and yang is appreciated could be found in the science of building orientation—it is very common to have more windows on the South side of a building to let in warm solar energy(the Yang), and having less windows on the North to block out the cold (the Yin).
Robin, Wang R. "Yinyang (Yin-Yang)." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed October 19, 2012.