In Chinese philosophy, it is taught that every entity has yin and yang. The sun is traditionally thought of as being very strongly biased towards yang (from the perspective of the balance we perceive).

It is easy to find wordings describing the attributes of the sun which give it its heavy yang character. However, I have had trouble finding and discussion of the attributes of its yin side. It is difficult to find these because there is a great deal of content talking of the balance between the yang of the sun and the yin of the moon. It is hard to find words capturing the yin side of the sun itself.

What descriptions of the sun capture the yin portion of its essence?

5 Answers 5


One thing that be helpful to keep in mind is that the characters for yin and yang are (for some reason SE prohibits the characters here. See here). For readers of languages that use Chinese characters, one thing will be immediately evident -- the former character means "shadow" and the other "sunlight" (roughly speaking).

The claim that in "Chinese philosophy" both are constituents of everything is based on the Yi Jing (formerly written as I Ching ) which is a book often associated with Daoism.

There's some validity to the claim that this is true in Chinese philosophy more generally insofar as the neo-Confucians (approx. 11th and 12th Century) and the Chinese Buddhists tended to integrate this concept into their own accounts.

One account of how the sun is also yin is that while the sun at its apex in the day is very yang, as it sets it becomes yin. (See here).

My personal take is that you've got something that started as claim about light and shadow, and then became a metaphysical claim about all objects have aspects of both. Then, you need to go back and explain how that works, and this is going to be the hardest for the objects that created the conceptual duality in the first place.

  • +10 upvote, I learned much from your answer. Only that the sun becomes yin at sunset does not convince me: The sun does not change, the whole day long. What changes is the kind of lighting on earth.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 14:36
  • Yeah, I wouldn't say I found that convincing either. I really think it's once you've committed yourself to seeing yin and yang as philosophical categories and then said everything has both that it's going to be hard to explain that for the very origins of the words
    – virmaior
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 14:37
  • I had not accounted for the idea of the sun becoming more yin as it sets. That does fit quite well with the patterns I have seen associated with yin and yang for non-sun entities.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 16:05

The Yang Nature of the Sun

  • penetrating
  • warm
  • illuminating
  • powerful
  • flaming

The Yin Aspects of the Sun

  • mortal
  • temporal
  • beautiful
  • vulnerable
  • black sunspots
  • cycling (solar cycles)
  • incubator of life

...Sunlike stars that are capable of incubating life...

Extraterrestrial Civilizations, by Isaac Asimov (c1979)


Learning from the different answers and comments to this and similar posts I suggest the following answer:

Etymology: Yang means sunny and yin means shady; see also the answer of virmaior. This conforms e.g., to the names of several hills. In China the south side of a hill is the sunny side indicated by yang as part of the name, while the north side is the shady side, indicated by yin as part of the name.

Considered in the light of etymology the sun is yang - nearly by definition. Hence you need not to look for a yin aspect of the sun: There is none by definition!

Now time went on: In later times an attempt was made to understand all phenomena by means of a classification which provides always pairs of opposite properties. In addition a second attempt was made to think in processes, notably cyclic processes. Combining both modes of thought results in the attempt to explain the phenomena by cyclic processes, which run through the whole spectrum between a property and its opposite and vice versa back to the original.

The short version of this thinking states that all objects include both the property and its opposite. The long version advocates, not to restrict to a static view of things, but to consider their lifespan as a cycle which passes through opposite properties. Note that a parallel stream of thinking exists also in some early Greek speculations on nature.

Applying the lifecycle paradigm to the sun and to other stars: 5 Billion years ago the sun originated from a dark (= shady, hence yin) cloud of dust. After condensation the first nucleo-synthesis started and the sun became yang, because light was released. But further 5 Billion years later the fuel is consumed and the nucleo-synthesis stops. The sun cools down and becomes shady (yin). For our sun that’s the end. But more massive stars explode as supernovae after several steps of nucleo-synthesis and generate the components for new stars. The cycle restarts with a new generation of stars.

Aside: Who likes can clothe the astrophysical theory of stellar development into the Chinese metaphor of yin and yang. But what is the benefit of such clothing?

  • I think this answer understates the Chinese tendency to generate terminology differently than we do. We westerners like to cut up and isolate an idea from the greater ideas, and then assign it a matching name (often in Greek or Latin). The Chinese tend to start with an isolated idea and then let it grow outward towards the greater ideas. While the etymology of yin and yang is tremendously valuable for making sense of it, it is hard to confine the definitions to their origins.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 16:02
  • Another example of this effect is Chi. Literally speaking, Chi translates as "breath." However, that is intended to be the seed of understanding, not the tree it grows into. If one actually limited their definition of Chi to merely "breath" as we think of it as westerners, virtually all literature written about it would be impossible to translate.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 16:03

The sun is bounded, and thus yin compared to the yang of the sky which is uninterrupted.

It is constantly diminishing itself, by throwing off heat, solar wind and other fields, and in doing so it is nurturing to life in more of a yin way than a yang one (It does not provide. Instead, it is consumed.)

Compared to this endless outpouring, the Earth incorporates energy, and the Moon reflects it, which are both more aggressive and controlled stances than effulgence.

The Sun is fluid, and so yin compared to the yang solidity of both the Earth and the Moon.

We have night, and the occasional eclipse. So the Sun is easily blocked from us by the Earth, and less so, by the Moon. In this way it is conquered or controlled by things much less powerful than itself.

We perceive it to move quickly, but we know that it is actually more fixed in position (in an orbit that takes hundreds of millions of years) than the Earth or the Moon, which comparatively move much more quickly (making annual or monthly orbits).

  • Could you please first state the meaning of yin and yang. Is it the same like sunlight and shadow in the answer of virmaior? And secondly, could you please make it comprehensible, how this meaning points to the different properties of sun, earth and moon from your examples.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 16:11
  • There is not a fixed definition. I can quote Wikipedia at you: "Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, and nighttime. Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.[20]" In each case I have already indicated the traditional associated trait normally assigned to yin.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 20:41
  • Actually all characteristics of yin have their opposite in characteristics of yang, e.g., slow - fast, soft - hard, yielding - solid. How can object have both yin and yang characteristics? - You conclude in your post, that the sun is fluid, hence yin. But the sun is not fluid, instead it is gaseous. And the sun does not have the opposite yang characteristic, the sun is not solid. To me it seems more convincing: Depending on the variable pressure there is a continuum from core to surface stretching from atomic nuclei to gaseous molecules.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 20:29
  • 1) Gasses are fluids. 2) I don't understand your hostility to the question. If you disagree with the assumptions behind question itself (that these terms make sense, that all things are both yin in some ways and yang in others, etc.), your issue is not with me, go talk to the OP.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 22:00
  • ad 1) When you consider the sun being fluid I assume that you point to the yin characteristic “wet” from your list. But the sun is not wet like a fluid or liquid. – ad 2) The question asks for the yin characteristic of the sun. I do not understand why you consider the sun wet like a liquid? There are no liquids on the sun. But most part of the surface of the earth is covered by water. – ad 3) Whether the terms yin and yang make sense at all, I have asked in a separate post. What do you think?
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 22:47


Vedic Astrology

Saturn – Shani – is the son of the sun and shade (shadow) and as such integrates in himself these two opposite modes:

  • Lustrous and black
  • Handsome and lame
  • Slow-moving and grinds (us creatures!) to fine dust
  • Kind and unforgiving
  • Succours and kills
  • Neither male nor female

The standard invocation to Saturn in Sanskrit:

Neelanjana samabhasam
Raviputram yamagrajam
Chaya martanda sambhutam
Tam namami Shani-scharam

With my somewhat free translation

To the one who is dark as a raincloud
Who is son of the Sun
To the brother of death
To that impartiality that arises from the love
Of the evening shadows and the setting sun
To that slow moving Lord Saturn
May this obeisance be

Note 1: The word for Sun in father-of-Saturn mode above is martanda. The usual translation is golden egg signifying the sunset sun – shimmering glowing but not bright. The literal translation is dead (or dying) egg which is a striking coincidence of the life and the death principles onto the person of the Sun.

Note 2: In Vedic astrology all "planets" are gendered :

  • male: Sun, Jupiter, Mars
  • female: Venus, Moon
  • neuter : Saturn, Mercury


This note is not Chinese philosophy; however it has enough elements of yin-yang integration in the solar framing that hopefully it is permissible in this context

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