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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: November 2012

1 - Introduction

Summary

The sage scrutinizes what is appropriate to the Yin and Yang and discriminates what is beneficial in the myriad things in order to enhance life.

Lüshi Chunqiu

Those charged with recording the Yin and Yang observe their interaction and can bring about order.

Xunzi

What is yinyang? This question is at once utterly simple and wildly complicated. Thorough scholarly attempts to answer this question are surprisingly few, given the prominence of this concept. This may be a result of that prominence itself. People generally think they know about yinyang, although they usually pronounce yang incorrectly (it should rhyme with the English words “tong” or “bong,” not with “sang” or “hang”). Because yin and yang are the most commonly known concepts from Chinese philosophy, they have practically become English words themselves. This familiarity may suggest that their meanings are obvious or that the concepts contain little worthy of deep intellectual inquiry. This would be a serious mistake.

Chinese thinkers themselves have recognized the significance of yinyang in Chinese thought and culture since ancient times. In the Yantie lun 鹽鐵論 (Discourse on Salt and Iron, 81 b.c.e.), one of the most significant texts in early China, we read: “The middle kingdom (zhongguo/China) is in the middle (zhong) of heaven and earth and is at the border (ji 際) of yin and yang (中國, 天地之中, 陰陽之際也).”

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