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Date: Thu, 1 Oct 1998 06:36:05 -0400
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@H-NET.MSU.EDU>
From: "Leibo, Steven A." <leibo@cnsvax.albany.edu>
Subject: H-ASIA: Origins of Yin Yang

Origins of Yin Yang

A dialog from the H-Asia list, October 1998

Date: Wed, 30 Sep 1998 20:40:47 -0400
From: Sherry West swest@injersey.com

Dear Members,

One of my students asked me about the origins of the yin-yang symbol, specifically about the selection of the visual elements in the symbol. While I was able to explain the message conveyed by the various elements I don't know why those particular ones were chosen. Any help will be appreciated.

Sherri West

Professor Sherri West
(732) 224-2410 (work)
History Department
(732) 528-0064 (home)
Brookdale Community College
Lincroft, NJ 07738

Date: Sun, 4 Oct 1998 08:10:33 -0400
From: tonywang@istar.ca

The Yin Yang Chart is generalluy called Taiji Tu, which Prof. Richard Smith translated as "the picture of supreme ultimate." I believe this was culturally more Daoist artifact than a Confucian property. It was believed to have first appeared in Song4 Dynasty scholar Zhou1-lian2-xi1's _Tong1-shu1_.

In fact, many similar graphic conceptions were circulating and were major topics of intellectual dispute among Song4 scholars. The most notable dispute was negotiated between Zhu1-xi1 and Liu4-jiu3-yuan1's brother. The Lu's complaint was that Zhu1-xi1 unnecessarily added Laotze's concept of limitless (Wu2ji2) before Confucius' usage of Taiji. They argued over Zhou1's 249 word essay titled "On the Taiji Tu." This argument was conducted by means of 23 correspondences. Apparently, the graphic concept was a major controversy in Song4 scholarship. Whether Confucius was crazy about Laotze's concept of nothingness (Wu2) was one thing. It is obvious that some sort of the Taiji graphic notions were alive among every one familiar with _the Book of Changes_ after Confucius introduced the word Taiji in _the Changes_.

This chart was obviously not a Song4 invention because a similar Yin Yang picture had already appeared in one of the Tang dynasty Daoist canons called _Zhen1-yuan2-miao4-pin3-jing1_. This Yin Yang grpahic consisted of five black and white alternating circles representing the five elements (metal,wood, water,fire and earth). It is evident that the well known Taiji Tu which later became part of the South Korea national flag was an integral part of the ancient Chinese culture. The current graphic we see, with two conjugating fish shapes, could not be a Song4 invention at all. It should have existed long before, probably before Tang Dynasty. At least in terms of designing concept, a similar product called the mail case, which was made of two pieces of wood shaped like fish containing letters for the purpose of correspondence, was designed according to the concept of the Yijing, since Fish and Bird, two symbols of "correspondence," were the most frequently used metaphors in the Yijing.

Among the popular legends, the most commonly believed one was for Zhu1-xi1 to send Cai4-ji4-tong1 to Si4chuan (and Shan3xi1) to search what Zhu1 believed to be a vital Laotze legacy, three Taiji graphic designs. Apparently, Zhu1 did not live long to see any of the three, since his major Yijing publication Zhou1-yi4-ben3-yi4 did not include this mystic design. In his old age, Zhu1 became increasingly fond of Daoist thoughts. He could have become a true believer of the Taiji Tu and a convert with greater penchant towared Daoism.

Although I wrote a book called _the Principles of the Yijing_" (yi4-jing1-yuan2-li3), I am neither a scholar nor a historian. I am interested in researching topics related to the Yijing crafts, such as geomancy, fortune-telling, divination, and folk religion, as a layman.

Please pardon me for any errors I made. I became a member of the HA list when I was working for the Fulbright Program in Taipei several years ago.

Tony Wang
Independent researcher

Date: Sun, 4 Oct 1998 17:32:02 -0400
From: "Richard J. Smith" <smithrj@rice.edu>

Since my name has been invoked by my good friend Tony Wang (Wang2 Ming2-hsiung2), I should probably add a word or two to this discussion. First, despite his protestations to the contrary, Mr. Wang is a fine scholar, whose book on the basic principles of the I-ching (I-ching yuan-li) provides an illuminating "close reading" of the classic as a divinatory text. Second, the translation of T'ai-chi tu in my book, Fortune-tellers and Philosophers, is actually "Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate"--although the word "picture" certainly conveys the same basic notion. Third, Mr. Wang is certainly correct in asserting that versions of the T'ai-chi t'u circulated before the Sung period, although they did not gain any real currency until that time. What is not generally known is that the famous Ho-t'u (River Chart), usually rendered in straight lines, also occasionally appears in shapes that suggest the T'ai-chi tu (see for example, the section on the I-ching in the Ch'ing encyclopedia Ku-chin t'u-shu chi-ch'eng [Vol. 55, p. 574-576 of the Taiwan Ting-wen reprint of 1977]).

Richard J. Smith
Professor of History (MS-42) and Director of Asian Studies (MS-47)
Rice University
6100 Main Street
Houston, Texas 77005 USA
Phone: 713-737-5843 (Asian Studies) or 713-527-4947 (History)
Fax: 713-737-6129 (Asian Studies) or 713-285-5207 (History)
Asian Studies homepage: http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~asia/

Date: Thu, 1 Oct 1998 22:03:55 -0400
From: Evgueni Tortchinov <blade@comset.net>

It seams to me (but I am not completely sure) that the symbol of taiji (Monade, yin-yang) has been appeared in the second half of the Tang Dynasty period (about 8 or 9 centuries A.D.). I think that it was influenced by the graphic symbolism of the Tantric Buddhism (mi jiao) thoug the idea imbodied in the Monade was very old. We can find the symbolism of white(enlightment) and black (delusion) circles in the writings of the Buddhist authors of Tang period (in Zong-mi's "Ch'an Preface" and in the "Five Positions," wu wei, of the "Caodong school of Chan Buddhism."

With good regards,
Evgueni Tortchinov

Date: Thu, 1 Oct 1998 22:04:46 -0400
From: Steven Davidson <davidsos@southwestern.edu>

In Schuyler Cammann's article in History of Religions 1-2, 1961-63) on "The Magic Square of Three in Old Chinese Philosophy and Religion" he points out (p.77) that "Sometime in the Sung, a new Yin-Yang symbol appeared, to take over the sole remaining function of the Lo Shu [river diagram]. . . The new symbol was also intended to represent the workings of the Tao through the actions of the Yin and Yang, as the Lo Shu had once done . . ."

This doesn't answer your question about the reason for the selection of the artistic elements, but it does state that it happened in the Song.

Steve Davidson
Southwestern University

Date: Sat, 3 Oct 1998 08:48:01 -0400
From: "[ISO-8859-1] Holger Kühnle" <HOLGER@gw.sino.uni-heidelberg.de>

To Evgueni Tortchinos answer:

I don't think you're right. Have a look in He Yan's (190-249) "Wuming lun" (Treaties on the Nameless) as quoted in Zhang Zhan's (4th cent.) Commentary on ch. 4 of the _Liezi_ (_Zhuzi jicheng_-edition, p. 41)! You will find there no picture but a quite detailled and exact description of the taiji. Too exact if he hadn't a picture in mind that suits well with those of the well-known taiji-symbol.

Holger Kühnle
University of Heidelberg

Date: Sat, 3 Oct 1998 08:48:44 -0400
From: Michael Lestz <Michael.Lestz@mail.trincoll.edu>

I seem to remember that the yun-yang symbol appears on bronzes of the Shang dynasty—perhaps earlier as an artistic motif on pottery. At any rate, it considerably antedates the Tang or Song eras.