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Diagram of the Utmost Extremes[1]
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese太極圖
Simplified Chinese太极图
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetThái cực đồ
Chữ Hán太極圖
Korean name
Japanese name

In Chinese philosophy, a taijitu (Chinese: 太極圖; pinyin: tàijítú; Wade–Giles: tʻai⁴chi²tʻu²) is a symbol or diagram (; ) representing taiji (太極; tàijí; 'utmost extreme') in both its monist (wuji) and its dualist (yin and yang) forms in application as a deductive and inductive theoretical model. Such a diagram was first introduced by Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhou Dunyi of the Song Dynasty in his Taijitu shuo (太極圖說).

The Daozang, a Taoist canon compiled during the Ming dynasty, has at least half a dozen variants of the taijitu. The two most similar are the Taiji Xiantiandao and wujitu (無極圖; wújítú) diagrams, both of which have been extensively studied since the Qing period for their possible connection with Zhou Dunyi's taijitu.[2]

Ming period author Lai Zhide simplified the taijitu to a design of two interlocking spirals with two black-and-white dots superimposed on them, became synonymous with the Yellow River Map.[3][further explanation needed] This version was represented in Western literature and popular culture in the late 19th century as the "Great Monad",[4] this depiction became known in English as the "yin-yang symbol" since the 1960s.[5] The contemporary Chinese term for the modern symbol is referred to as "the two-part Taiji diagram" (太極兩儀圖).

Ornamental patterns with visual similarity to the "yin yang symbol" are found in archaeological artefacts of European prehistory; such designs are sometimes descriptively dubbed "yin yang symbols" in archaeological literature by modern scholars.[6][7][8]


The taijitu consists of five parts. Strictly speaking, the "yin and yang symbol", itself popularly called taijitu, represents the second of these five parts of the diagram.

  • At the top, an empty circle depicts the absolute (wuji). According to Zhou, wuji is also a synonym for taiji.[9]
  • A second circle represents the Taiji as harboring Dualism, yin and yang, represented by filling the circle in a black-and-white pattern. In some diagrams, there is a smaller empty circle at the center of this, representing Emptiness as the foundation of duality.
  • Below this second circle is a five-part diagram representing the Five Agents (Wuxing), representing a further stage in the differentiation of Unity into Multiplicity. The Five Agents are connected by lines indicating their proper sequence, Wood () → Fire () → Earth () → Metal () → Water ().
  • The circle below the Five Agents represents the conjunction of Heaven and Earth, which in turn gives rise to the "ten thousand things". This stage is also represented by the bagua.
  • The final circle represents the state of multiplicity, glossed "The ten thousand things are born by transformation" (萬物化生; simplified 化生万物)


The term taijitu in modern Chinese is commonly used to mean the simple "divided circle" form (☯), but it may refer to any of several schematic diagrams that contain at least one circle with an inner pattern of symmetry representing yin and yang.

Song and Yuan eras[edit]

Yuan dynasty Taijitu diagram from the Shilin Guangji by Chen Yuanjing
The Taijitu (太極圖), 1615 Xingming guizhi

While the concept of yin and yang dates to Chinese antiquity,[10] the interest in "diagrams" ( ) is an intellectual fashion of Neo-Confucianism during the Song period (11th century), and it declined again in the Ming period, by the 16th century. During the Mongol Empire and Yuan dynasty, Taoist traditions and diagrams were compiled and published in the encyclopedia Shilin Guangji by Chen Yuanjing.[11]

The original description of a taijitu is due to Song era philosopher Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073), author of the Taijitu shuo (太極圖說; "Explanation of the Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate"), which became the cornerstone of Neo-Confucianist cosmology. His brief text synthesized aspects of Chinese Buddhism and Taoism with metaphysical discussions in the Yijing.

Zhou's key terms Wuji and Taiji appear in the opening line 無極而太極, which Adler notes could also be translated "The Supreme Polarity that is Non-Polar".

Non-polar (wuji) and yet Supreme Polarity (taiji)! The Supreme Polarity in activity generates yang; yet at the limit of activity it is still. In stillness it generates yin; yet at the limit of stillness it is also active. Activity and stillness alternate; each is the basis of the other. In distinguishing yin and yang, the Two Modes are thereby established. The alternation and combination of yang and yin generate water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. With these five [phases of] qi harmoniously arranged, the Four Seasons proceed through them. The Five Phases are simply yin and yang; yin and yang are simply the Supreme Polarity; the Supreme Polarity is fundamentally Non-polar. [Yet] in the generation of the Five Phases, each one has its nature.[12]

Instead of usual Taiji translations "Supreme Ultimate" or "Supreme Pole", Adler uses "Supreme Polarity" (see Robinet 1990) because Zhu Xi describes it as the alternating principle of yin and yang, and:

insists that taiji is not a thing (hence "Supreme Pole" will not do). Thus, for both Zhou and Zhu, taiji is the yin-yang principle of bipolarity, which is the most fundamental ordering principle, the cosmic "first principle." Wuji as "non-polar" follows from this.

Since the 12th century, there has been a vigorous discussion in Chinese philosophy regarding the ultimate origin of Zhou Dunyi's diagram. Zhu Xi (12th century) insists that Zhou Dunyi had composed the diagram himself, against the prevailing view that he had received it from Daoist sources. Zhu Xi could not accept a Daoist origin of the design, because it would have undermined the claim of uniqueness attached to the Neo-Confucian concept of dao.[11]

Ming and Qing eras[edit]

Diagram from Zhao Huiqian's Liushu benyi (1370s) as represented in the Siku Quanshu edition (1751)[13]
Simplified form of Lai Zhide's "Taiji River Diagram" (1599)[14]

While Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073) popularized the circular diagram,[15] the introduction of "swirling" patterns first appears in the Ming period.

Zhao Huiqian (趙撝謙, 1351–1395) was the first to introduce the "swirling" variant of the taijitu in his Liushu benyi (六書本義, 1370s). The diagram is combined with the eight trigrams (bagua) and called the "River Chart spontaneously generated by Heaven and Earth". By the end of the Ming period, this diagram had become a widespread representation of Chinese cosmology.[16]

The dots were introduced in the later Ming period (replacing the droplet-shapes used earlier, in the 16th century) and are encountered more frequently in the Qing period.[17] The dots represent the seed of yin within yang and the seed of yang within yin; the idea that neither can exist without the other.

Lai Zhide's design is similar to the gakyil (dga' 'khyil or "wheel of joy") symbols of Tibetan Buddhism; but while the Tibetan designs have three or four swirls (representing the Three Jewels or the Four Noble Truths, i.e. as a triskele and a tetraskelion design), Lai Zhide's taijitu has two swirls, terminating in a central circle.[18]

Modern yin-yang symbol[edit]

The Ming-era design of the taijitu of two interlocking spirals was a common yin-yang symbol in the first half of the 20th century. The flag of South Korea, originally introduced as the flag of Joseon era Korea in 1882, shows this symbol in red and blue. This was a modernisation of the older (early 19th century) form of the Bat Quai Do used as the Joseon royal standard.

The symbol is referred to as taijitu, simply taiji[19][20][21] (or the Supreme Ultimate in English),[22] hetu[1] or "river diagram", "the yin-yang circle",[23] or wuji, as wuji was viewed synonymously with the artistic and philosophical concept of taiji by some Taoists,[9][24] including Zhou.[9][25] Zhou viewed the dualistic and paradoxical relationship between the concepts of taiji and wuji, which were and are often thought to be opposite concepts, as a cosmic riddle important for the "beginning...and ending" of a life.[26]

The names of the taijitu are highly subjective and some interpretations of the texts they appear in would only call the principle of taiji those names rather than the symbol.[further explanation needed]

Since the 1960s, the He tu symbol, which combines the two interlocking spirals with two dots, has more commonly been used as a yin-yang symbol.[citation needed]
compare black/white taijitu with black/white taijitu with internal dots

In the standard form of the contemporary symbol, one draws on the diameter of a circle two non-overlapping circles each of which has a diameter equal to the radius of the outer circle. One keeps the line that forms an "S", and one erases or obscures the other line.[27] The design is also described[according to whom?][year needed] as a "pair of fishes nestling head to tail against each other".[28]

The Soyombo symbol of Mongolia may be prior to 1686. It combines several abstract shapes, including a Taiji symbol illustrating the mutual complement of man and woman. In socialist times, it was alternatively interpreted as two fish symbolizing vigilance, because fish never close their eyes.[29]

The modern symbol has also been widely used in martial arts, particularly tai chi,[30] and Jeet Kune Do, since the 1970s.[31] In this context, it is generally used to represent the interplay between hard and soft techniques.

The dots in the modern "yin-yang symbol" have been given the additional interpretation of "intense interaction" between the complementary principles, i.e. a flux or flow to achieve harmony and balance.[32]

Similar symbols[edit]

Shield pattern of the Western Roman infantry unit Armigeri Defensores Seniores (ca. AD 430)[8]

Similarities can be seen in NeolithicEneolithic era Cucuteni–Trypillia culture on the territory of current Ukraine and Romania. Patterns containing ornament looking like Taijitu from archeological artifacts of that culture were displayed in the Ukraine pavilion at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China.[36]

The interlocking design is found in artifacts of the European Iron Age.[6][37] Similar interlocking designs are found in the Americas: Xicalcoliuhqui.

While this design appears to become a standard ornamental motif in Iron-Age Celtic culture by the 3rd century BC, found on a wide variety of artifacts, it is not clear what symbolic value was attached to it.[38][39] Unlike the Chinese symbol, the Celtic yin-yang lack the element of mutual penetration, and the two halves are not always portrayed in different colors.[40] Comparable designs are also found in Etruscan art.[7]

In computing[edit]

Unicode features the he tu symbol in the Miscellaneous Symbols block, at code point U+262F YIN YANG. The related "double body symbol" is included at U+0FCA (TIBETAN SYMBOL NOR BU NYIS -KHYIL ࿊), in the Tibetan block. The Soyombo symbol, that includes a taijitu, is available in Unicode as the sequence U+11A9E 𑪞 + U+11A9F 𑪟 + U+11AA0 𑪠.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Theobald, Ulrich (2021-05-06). "Taiji tushuo 太極圖說". Chinaknowledge. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  2. ^ Adler 2014, p. 153
  3. ^ Theobald, Ulrich (2012-02-08). "Hetu luoshu 河圖洛書". Chinaknowledge. Retrieved 2023-05-02.
  4. ^ Labelled "The Great Monad" by Hampden Coit DuBose, The Dragon, Image, and Demon: Or, The Three Religions of China; Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism (1887), p. 357
  5. ^ "The 'River Diagram' is the pattern of black-and-white dots which appears superimposed on the interlocking spirals [...] Those spirals alone form the Taiji tu or 'Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate', often known in English since the 1960s as the 'yin-yang symbol'.) These dots were believed to be collated with the eight trigrams, and hence with the concepts of roundness and of the heavens, while the equally numinous 'Luo River Writing' was a pattern of dots accosiated with the number nine, with squareness and with the earth." Craig Clunas, Pictures and Visuality in Early Modern China (1997), p. 107.
  6. ^ a b Peyre 1982, pp. 62–64, 82 (pl. VI); Harding 2007, pp. 68f., 70f., 76, 79, 84, 121, 155, 232, 239, 241f., 248, 253, 259; Duval 1978, p. 282; Kilbride-Jones 1980, pp. 127 (fig. 34.1), 128; Laing 1979, p. 79; Verger 1996, p. 664; Laing 1997, p. 8; Mountain 1997, p. 1282; Leeds 2002, p. 38; Megaw 2005, p. 13
  7. ^ a b Peyre 1982, pp. 62–64
  8. ^ a b Monastra 2000; Nickel 1991, p. 146, fn. 5; White & Van Deusen 1995, pp. 12, 32; Robinet 2008, p. 934
  9. ^ a b c Kalton, Michael. "Chapter 1: DIAGRAM OF THE SUPREME ULTIMATE". University of Washington. Retrieved 2023-05-01.
  10. ^ in the I Ching, originally a divination manual of the Western Zhou period (c. 1000–750 BC), yin and yang are represented by broken and solid lines: yin is broken (⚋) and yang is solid (⚊).
  11. ^ a b Adler 2014, p. 152
  12. ^ Adler 1999, pp. 673–674
  13. ^ Louis 2003, p. 171 The facing page shows an earlier copy, dated 1520, with an essentially identical diagram.
  14. ^ Louis 2003, p. 194 shows a version of Lai Zhide's diagram in a 1969 representation.
  15. ^ Xinzhong Yao (13 February 2000). An introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 98–. ISBN 978-0-521-64430-3. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
  16. ^ Louis 2003
  17. ^ Louis 2003 has diagrams with dots dated to 1623 (p. 187) and 1688 (p. 146, p. 190).
  18. ^ Robert Beer, The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols, 2003, p. 209
  19. ^ Wang, Robin R. (July 2005). "Zhou Dunyi's Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate Explained: A Construction of the Confucian Metaphysics". Journal of the History of Ideas. 66 (3). Loyola Marymount University: 317. doi:10.1353/jhi.2005.0047. S2CID 73700080 – via The Digital Scholarship Repository at Loyola Marymount University and Loyola Law School.
  20. ^ "dao". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2023-04-30.
  21. ^ Stefon, Matt; Duignan, Brian (2016-04-29). "taiji". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2023-05-02.
  22. ^ Hands, John (2017-10-31). "Human Evolution 2: Philosophical Thinking". Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution from the Origin of the Universe. Overlook Duckworth. ISBN 978-1-4683-1324-6. OCLC 1090301527.
  23. ^ Pearson, Patricia O'Connell; Holdren, John (May 2021). World History: Our Human Story. Versailles, Kentucky: Sheridan Kentucky. p. 103. ISBN 978-1-60153-123-0.
  24. ^ Li, Lizhu (2022-05-01). "The Diversity of Confucianism in the Southern Song Dynasty: A Comparative Study of Zhu Xi's and Zhang Shi's Views on Taiji and Human Nature". Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies. 22 (1): 114–115. doi:10.1215/15982661-9767222. ISSN 1598-2661.
  25. ^ Sturm, Sean (2009-07-03). "Wuji to Wanwu". Te Ipu Pakore: The Broken Vessel. Retrieved 2023-05-02.
  26. ^ Patt-Shamir, Galia (2020-09-01). "Reading Taijitu Shuo Synchronously: The Human Sense of Wuji er Taiji". Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy. 19 (3): 427–442. doi:10.1007/s11712-020-09735-y. ISSN 1569-7274. S2CID 225577820 – via Springer Science+Business Media.
  27. ^ Peyre 1982, pp. 62f.
  28. ^ Robinet 2008, p. 934
  29. ^ Pu̇revsambuu, G. (2006). Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: Montsame. p. 8. ISBN 99929-0-627-8.
  30. ^ Davis, Barbara (2004). Taijiquan Classics. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. p. 212. ISBN 978-1-55643-431-0.
  31. ^ "Yin Yang symbol" (with dots) as part of "embroidered emblems", Martial Arts Shopping Guide (advertisement), Black Belt magazine, August 1974, p. 23.
  32. ^ "the yin/yang symbol so familiar to us contains a white dot amid the black and a black dot amid the white to indicate that these principles interact intensely." Norman R. Kraft, Ogdoadic Magick, Weiser Books, 1969, p. 23.
  33. ^ "The figures in the inner space are the dual forces, Yin and Yang, symbolized by darkness and light, which forms the starting point of Chinese philosophy" W.A.P. Martin, A cycle of Cathay, or, China, south and north (1897).
  34. ^ Numericana - Escutcheons of Science
  35. ^ Archie J. Bahm, The World's Living Religions, Jain Publishing Company, 1964, p. 156.
  36. ^ More about Taiji Symbols of Ukraine Pavilion at Expo 2010 (xingyimax.com)
  37. ^ Peyre 1982, pp. 62–64, 82 (pl. VI)
  38. ^ beaked flagons, helmets, vases, bowls, collars, hand-pins, cross-slabs, brooches and knife blades. Harding 2007, pp. 70f., 76, 79, 155, 232, 241f., 248, 259; Kilbride-Jones 1980, p. 128
  39. ^ "apotropaic": Duval 1978, p. 282
  40. ^ Duval 1978, p. 282; Monastra 2000


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