Yin and yang are critical concepts to Chinese philosophy, and they are also integrated into Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese architecture, and many other branches of Chinese culture and society. Famously, these concepts are often represented with the yin/yang symbol, in which equal parts of black and white are shown in balance to demonstrate their harmony.
Rather than being actual forces or things, yin and yang are better understood as abstract concepts which explain a variety of phenomena. They are viewed as complementary, arising from the same root or action and transforming each other while also working in opposition. They also strive for balance, reaching for a state of equilibrium so that they will be at peace with the universe as a whole.
One of the classic representations of this concept is as male and female. Women are said to be “yin,” associated with things like water and cool temperatures, while men are “yang,” associated with fire and metal. Under the beliefs of Traditional Chinese Medicine, every body should have a proper balance of yin and yang, and it may be necessary to correct this balance with various practices, herbs, and foods.
Chinese martial arts incorporate the concept, and many other Asian martial arts traditions have picked up these concepts as well. Balance is a critical aspect of practicing martial arts effectively, and experienced practitioners may use a variety of techniques to achieve balance, including meditating and following traditional etiquette in matches and bouts.
Students of Chinese philosophy often integrate discussions of these two concepts into their analysis of philosophical issues, and the need for balance is also seen in practices such as feng shui. According the idea, everything in the universe has an opposite, and things can always be broken down into opposites. Fire and water, for example, are an example of opposites which are also complementary. One can destroy the other, but both need oxygen to exist, and both are critically important to life on Earth.
Chinese philosophers have been discussing yin and yang for centuries. They are part of the five movements or five elements which are also integrated into Chinese philosophy. These concepts have been explored since at least 1,000 BCE, when written discussions on these issues first began appearing, along with graphical illustrations and lively debates about the nature of the universe.