Yin and Yang, a macho symbol?

Before choosing it as a tattoo, beware! This is not a pretty Chinese circle presenting “good and evil in the world” or “the complementary energies necessary for all things”, but rather the domination of your male subway neighbor over you, ladies.

Let’s start at the beginning: the sign of Yin and Yang, or tàijítú, is the emblematic symbol of Taoism. Taoism is based on three main texts, including Lao Tzu’s Dao de Jing

Along with Confucianism and Buddhism, the Taoist current is one of the foundations of Chinese thought. It is based on the original impetus giving life to everything, called « Tao ». The well-known two-color circle was born from the desire to efficiently and quickly schematize the Tao (or Dao). Or almost: note right now that the original circle does not include the secondary points inside each of the two parts. 

This symbol is then codified by the school (called « yinyangjia ») of Zou Yan (305-240 BC). By a more advanced extremism or by the simple need to make his teaching more fluid, Zou Yan reinforces the binary aspect of the meaning of the symbol. Yang (black) would be like the sunny side of a mountain (south face) and Yin (white) would be the shady side of this same mountain (north face). The two aspects simply being, without a judgment of value or correlation of energy being added to them. Indeed, the point is, notably through the circular form, to highlight the natural dynamics of the birth and rebirth of things, resulting from the connection, in and through the Tao, of any principle opposed to another. 

And things get tough for women: the Mawangdui manuscripts (168 BC), meanwhile, added more direct binary notions, more specifically opposed and fixed, more defined and codified and also… more macho. It was a question of knowing which principle (no longer any) oppose the other, and to define more specifically « the link » that they maintain. Still following me?  

It is no longer the necessary connection in time and space, at a given moment of two different principles, but the eternal alliance of two opposing energies, thus entering into tensions. And what’s it like to be macho, you ask me? Well here’s the rest:

“When binary decomposition is applied […] it metaphorically associates yang with the dominant (or positive) and yin with the dominated (or negative). In this list, the pairs minister / suzerain, man / woman, father / son, elder / younger, superior / inferior illustrate [notably] a very rigid Confucianist hierarchical system, defining the morality which governs hierarchical relations in society. Social order is maintained if each person performs the function linked to his rank with uprightness and sincerity: the superior yang can exercise its domination over the inferior yin to the extent that it respects its protection and the inferior manifests its loyalty. » 

In other words:  « Social order is maintained if everyone performs the function linked to his rank with uprightness and sincerity: the man (yang) can exercise his domination over the woman (yin) to the extent that he respectfully ensures her protection. and where the woman, inferior, manifests her loyalty. »

According to this same list, based on the values of ancient Chinese society, woman rubs shoulders with misery, autumn and winter, the inferior, the son, the younger, mourning, the pupil, silence and the act to receive, or even a weak country, a penniless country, the passive, the void, the night, the gloomy, the cold… everything great, in short!

This list, where yin is associated with the weak, the submissive, and yang with the powerful, the dominant, follows the social codes of the time of the emergence of Taoism. The sexism of the symbol of the Dao (or Tao) is therefore the symptom of a strongly patriarchal society, rather than being the initiator of a properly macho thought. But it is nonetheless fundamentally sexist and conveys a (very) poor valuation of women. 

© Instagram / vivi_blackcat

There is of course a huge amount of other concepts which enrich this founding symbol with medicinal, cultural, social, esoteric and even sexual components. However, it should be noted that none of the aspects which are not deployed in this article enter into contradiction with the principle of patriarchal domination put forward here. 

The other values added to it over the centuries mainly address the balance and order of the world maintained by the domination of one by the other and its corpus is supplemented with advice on the behaviors to be observed to maintain this beneficial balance. 

The writings on the subject are numerous and extensive; it may be sufficient to avoid personal development books which will have a strong tendency to romanticize the sign even more, thus erasing the tension aspect of a positive, clear and strong (a man), over a negative, a weak element (a woman). 

Hunab Ku of the Mayans: the true Yin-Yang? 

If you are looking for a sign symbolizing the complementarity of two opposing forces working for well-being, turn to the maya Hunab Ku instead. Its origins and meaning are still heavily debated. It could be the image of a supreme whole reigning as master, and alone, over all the other divinities. It would be an almost monotheistic deification of the Universe as such, its name meaning « the only god ». Astonishing case since the Mayas, their first and distant cousins, ancestors, and descendants, were all fundamentally polytheists. 

Some academics argue that Hunab Ku is an outright invention of Christian missionaries in order to “accustom” the Mayans to worshiping a single god. This would be the God of the Bible in disguise as a South American one.

However, disguised or not, the concept of the divinity Hunab Ku, namely two equal entities entering into a harmonious relation and whose homogeneous mixture create a powerful and positive vital energy, is much closer to the conception which is made of Yin and Yang by Westerners, than of Yin-Yang itself.

© Museum Tales • Writer : Lou Desance / Reviser : Emma Dechorgnat

Sources :

  • Léon Laulusa, Jean-Yves Eglem, « L’impact des valeurs confucéennes sur le processus de contrôle de gestion dans une entreprise d’État chinoise », Comptabilité – Contrôle – Audit, vol. 17, no 3, 2011. (lire en ligne?). 
  • Anne Cheng, « « Un Yin, un Yang, telle est la Voie » : les origines cosmologiques du parallélisme dans la pensée chinoise », Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident, vol. 11, 1989, (lire en ligne?).
  • Liu An (auteur), Charles le Blanc (dir.), Philosophes taoïstes, tome 2, Gallimard-Pléiade, 2003. 
  • Cyrille J.-D. Javary, Les Trois sagesses chinoises : Taoïsme, confucianisme, bouddhisme., Albain Michel, Spiritualités vivantes., 2012. 
  • https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_et_yang : pour l’extrait cité plus haut.

Publié par Museum Tales

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