Taijitu: Wikis


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Classic Taoist taijitu of 'fishlike' shape

Taijitu (Traditional Chinese: 太極圖; Simplified Chinese: 太极图; Wade-Giles: T'ai Chi T'u; Pinyin: tài jí tú; Rough English translation: “diagram of ultimate power”) is a term which refers to a Chinese symbol for the concept of yin and yang (Taiji). The taijitu consists of a symmetrical pattern inside a circle. One common pattern has an S-shaped line that divides the circle into two equal parts of different colors. The pattern may have one or more big dots. The classic Taoist taijitu (pictured here), for example, is black and white with a black dot upon the white background, and a white dot upon the black background.

The patterns of the taijitu also form part of Celtic[1], Etruscan[2] and Roman[3] iconography where they go by the − retrospective − name yin yang.


Geometric figure

Naturally grown wood in yin yang shape

The taijitu is a simple geometric figure, consisting of variations of nested circles. The classical Taoist symbol can be drawn with the help of a compass and straightedge: 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.[4] Thus, one obtains a spiral form which Taoist texts liken to a pair of fishes nestling head to tail against each other.[5] This basic pattern is not a pure product of human imagination, but also occurs − of less geometrical precision − in nature (see image at the right). In the most common Taoist variant, the two differently coloured halves additionally contain one dot each of opposite colour.[5]

European iconography



Celtic yin yang motif on an enamelled bronze plaque (mid-1st century AD)

In Celtic art, the motif of two interlocking commas that appear to swirl is a recurrent one which can be traced back to the late 5th century BC.[6] With a view to the much later Chinese symbol, art historians of the La Tène culture refer anachronistically to these clinging pairs as "yin yang".[1]

Early Celtic yin yangs are typically not treated for themselves alone, but appear as part of larger floral or animal ornament, such as revolving leaves at the bottom of a palmette or stylized tails of seahorses.[6] In the 3rd century BC, a more geometrical style develops in which the yin yang now figures as a principal ornamental motif.[6] It is not clear whether the Celts attributed any symbolic value to the emblem, but in those cases where it is placed prominently, such as on the upper end of a scabbard, its use seems to have been apotropaic indeed.[7]

Celtic yin yang whorl

Unlike the classic Taoist symbol, the Celtic yin yang whorls consistently lack the element of mutual penetration, and the two halves are not always portrayed in different colours.[8] In keeping with the dynamic nature of Celtic decor which is characterized by a strong predilection for curvilinear lines, the circles often leave an opening, conveying the impression of the interlocked leaves swirling endlessly around their own axis.[7] Sometimes the yin yang motif is also executed in relief.[7]

The popularity of the design with the Celts is attested by the wide range of artifacts adorned with yin yang roundels. These include beaked flagons, helmets, vases, bowls, collars, hand-pins, cross-slabs, brooches and knife blades.[9] While Celtic iconography was gradually replaced by Roman art on the continent, its revival in post-Roman Britain and persistence in Ireland (see Insular art) also saw the resurgence of the ancient yin yang motif; the comma-shaped whorls in a triskele layout in the famous 7th century Book of Durrow (folio 3v) are a case in point.[10]


In Etruscan art, the yin yang motif arrives at the end of the 4th century BC, possibly due to the rising Celtic trans-alpine influence.[2] It appears in large size on the belly of two oenochoe excavated in a Falisci tomb, showing a fusion of Etruscan floral ornament with the geometrical pattern by now typical of the Celtic yin yang.[2]


Shield pattern of the Western Roman infantry unit armigeri defensores seniores (ca. AD 430), the earliest known classical yin yang emblem[3]

A mosaic in a Roman villa in Sousse, Tunisia, features differently coloured halves separated by an S-shaped line, but still omits the dots.[8]

The classical yin yang pattern appears, for the first time,[3] in the Roman Notitia Dignitatum, an ancient collection of shield patterns of the Roman army.[11] The shield collection which dates to ca. AD 430 has survived in three manuscript copies.[12][13][14] These show the emblem of an infantry unit called the armigeri defensores seniores ("shield-bearers") to be graphically identical in all but color to the classic Taoist taijitu.[15] Another Western Roman detachment, the Pseudocomitatenses Mauri Osismiaci, used an insignia with the same 'fishlike' form that had dots in one color.[15] An infantry regiment, the Legion palatinae Thebaei, had a pattern for its shields that also appears in taijitu: three concentric circles vertically divided into two halves of opposite and alternating colors, so that, on each side, the two colors follow one another in the inverse order of the opposite half.[15] The Roman symbols predate the taijitu by several hundred years:

As for the appearance of the iconography of the "yin-yang" in the course of time, it was recorded that in China the first representations of the yin-yang, at least the ones that have reached us, go back to the eleventh century AD, even though these two principles were spoken of in the fourth or fifth century BC. With the Notitia Dignitatum we are instead in the fourth or fifth century AD, therefore from the iconographic point of view, almost seven hundred years earlier than the date of its appearance in China.[15]

Taoist symbolism

The Taijitu or Taiji diagram is a well known symbol representing the principle of yin and yang, introduced in China by Ming period author Lai Zhide (1525-1604). The term taijitu (literally "diagram of the supreme ultimate") is commonly used to mean the simple 'divided circle' form, but may refer to any of several schematic diagrams representing these principles, such as the one at right.

In the taijitu, the circle itself represents a whole (see wuji), while the black and white areas within it represent interacting parts or manifestations of the whole. The white area represents yang elements, and is generally depicted as rising on the left, while the dark (yin) area is shown descending on the right (though other arrangements exist, most notably the version used on the flag of South Korea). The image is designed to give the appearance of movement. Each area also contains a big dot of a differing color at its fullest point (near the zenith and nadir of the figure) to indicate how each will transform into the other.

The Taijitu symbol is an important symbol in martial arts, particularly Tai Chi Chuan"[16], and Jeet Kune Do. In this context, it is generally used to represent the interplay between hard and soft techniques.


Unicode Transformation Format Character Set

Taijitu is defined in code point U+262F (☯). As an alternative, Unicode suggested it can be substituted by U+0FCA (࿊) (tibetan symbol nor bu nyis -khyil), the double body symbol.

See Also


  1. ^ 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; Morris 2003, p. 69; Megaw 2005, p. 13
  2. ^ a b c Peyre 1982, pp. 62−64
  3. ^ a b c Monastra 2000; Nickel 1991, p. 146, fn. 5; White & Van Deusen 1995, pp. 12, 32; Robinet 2008, p. 934
  4. ^ Peyre 1982, pp. 62f.
  5. ^ a b Robinet 2008, p. 934
  6. ^ a b c Peyre 1982, pp. 62−64, 82 (pl. VI)
  7. ^ a b c Duval 1978, p. 282
  8. ^ a b Duval 1978, p. 282; Monastra 2000
  9. ^ Harding 2007, pp. 70f., 76, 79, 155, 232, 241f., 248, 259; Kilbride-Jones 1980, p. 128
  10. ^ Harding 2007, p. 253
  11. ^ Altheim 1951, p. 82; Fink & Ahrens 1984, p. 104; Benoist 1998, p. 116; Sacco 2003, p. 18
  12. ^ a b Bodleian library: Late Roman Shield Patterns. Notitia Dignitatum: Magister Peditum
  13. ^ Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 10291 (I): Mauri Osismiaci; Armigeri; Thebei
  14. ^ Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 10291 (II): Mauri Osismiaci; Armigeri; Thebei
  15. ^ a b c d e f Monastra 2000
  16. ^ Davis, Barbara (2004). Taijiquan Classics. Berekeley, California: North Atlantic Books. p. 212. ISBN 9781556434310. 


European iconography

  • Altheim, Franz (1951), Attila und die Hunnen, Baden-Baden: Verlag für Kunst und Wissenschaft 
  • Benoist, Alain de (1998), Communisme et nazisme: 25 réflexions sur le totalitarisme au XXe siècle, 1917-1989, ISBN 2-86980-028-2 
  • Duval, Paul-Marie (1978), Die Kelten, München: C. H. Beck, ISBN 3-406-03025-4 
  • Fink, Josef; Ahrens, Dieter (1984), "Thiasos ton mouson. Studien zu Antike und Christentum", Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 20, ISBN 3-412-05083-0 
  • Harding, D. W. (2007), The Archaeology of Celtic Art, Routledge, ISBN 0-203-69853-3 
  • Kilbride-Jones, H. E. (1980), Celtic Craftsmanship in Bronze, Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0-7099-0387-1 
  • Laing, Lloyd (1979), Celtic Britain, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, ISBN 0-7100-0131-2 
  • Laing, Lloyd (1997), Later Celtic Art in Britain and Ireland, Shire Publications LTD, ISBN 0-85263-874-4 
  • Leeds, E. Thurlow (2002), Celtic Ornament in the British Isles, E. T. Leeds, ISBN 0-486-42085-X 
  • Megaw, Ruth and Vicent (2005), Early Celtic Art in Britain and Ireland, Shire Publications LTD, ISBN 0-7478-0613-6 
  • Monastra, Giovanni (2000), "The "Yin-Yang" among the Insignia of the Roman Empire?", Sophia 6 (2), http://www.estovest.net/tradizione/yinyang_en.html#t24 
  • Morris, John Meirion (2003), The Celtic Vision, Ylolfa, ISBN 0-86243-635-4 
  • Mountain, Harry (1997), The Celtic Encyclopedia, 5, ISBN 1-58112-894-0 
  • Nickel, Helmut (1991), "The Dragon and the Pearl", Metropolitan Museum Journal 26: 139–146 
  • Peyre, Christian (1982), "Y a-t’il un contexte italique au style de Waldalgesheim?", in Duval, Paul-Marie; Kruta, Venceslas, L’art celtique de la période d’expansion, IVe et IIIe siècles avant notre ère, Hautes études du monde gréco-romain, 13, Paris: Librairie Droz, pp. 51–82 (62–64, 82), ISBN 978-2-600-03342-8 
  • Sacco, Leonardo (2003), "Aspetti 'storico-religiosi' del Taoismo (parte seconda)", Studi e materiali di storia delle religioni (Università di Roma, Scuola di studi storico-religiosi) 27 (1-2) 
  • Verger, Stéphane (1996), "Une tombe à char oubliée dans l'ancienne collection Poinchy de Richebourg", Mélanges de l'école française de Rome 108 (2): 641–691 
  • White, Lynn; Van Deusen, Nancy Elizabeth (1995), The Medieval West Meets the Rest of the World, Claremont Cultural Studies, 62, Institute of Mediaeval Music, ISBN 0-931902-94-0 

Taoist symbolism

  • Robinet, Isabelle (2008), "Taiji tu. Diagram of the Great Ultimate", in Pregadio, Fabrizio, The Encyclopedia of Taoism A−Z, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 934−936, ISBN 978-0-7007-1200-7 

External links


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