[ yahng, yang ]
/ yɑŋ, yæŋ /
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(in Chinese philosophy and religion) the positive, bright, and masculine principle, the counterpart of yin.
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See also yin and yang.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What else does yang mean?

Yang is a common Chinese surname.

It also refers to a cosmic force present in ancient Chinese philosophy, typically associated with masculinity, sunlight, and the color white.

Where does yang come from?

The origin of the surname Yang—one of the most common in mainland China—isn’t exactly known. Some sources say it comes from descendants of an emperor granted Yang as a prestigious title sometime during the Zhou Dynasty (1046–264 BCE). Other sources attribute the surname’s origin to the name of some territories in China, ruled by a different leader named Yang. Whatever its origins, the surname Yang was widely adopted by various Chinese and Korean peoples, spreading around the world due to migration.

The surname shares its name with the philosophical concept of yang, based on a Chinese word variously translated as “male,” “solar,” or “positive.” Yang reaches back to the third-century school of cosmology, Yin-yang. One of the school’s chief thinkers was Zou Yan, an alchemist who proposed that life had five basic elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. These elements are dictated by yin and yang, a pair of counterbalancing yet indivisible forces that make up and influence all of life.

Yin corresponds to earth, negativity, femininity, and passivity and is represented by the color black. Yang represents heaven, positivity, masculinity, and activity and is represented by the color white. Each force increases as the other decreases, striking a perfect balance and harmony believed to govern personal, social, and cosmic order.

The concept of yin and yang is depicted as a circle, popularly known as the yin-yang symbol. It’s divided into two whorls, one black (yin) and the one white (yang), with an opposite-colored dot in each half to show each has an element of the other—a depiction of their dual, complementary, and interdependent forces.

In the West, yin and yang spread with popular interest in Taoist and Confucianist philosophy in the 20th century as well as martial arts practices like Tai Chi, all which draw on the concept.

How is yang used in real life?

Over 40-million people in China have the surname Yang, placing it among the top-ten most common surnames. One such notable Yang is Yang Zhenning, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1957. Yang is also a somewhat common surname in Korea among Chinese-Korean people. While Yang as a last name is most common, it can also be a given name, usually designated for males, as yang can mean “male.”

For Westerners, yang usually calls up the philosophy of yin and yang. The concept and symbol have become so familiar that people might say someone is the yin to their yang, meaning their qualities nicely complement one another. Yang may also be used to assuage a setback, often as a substitute for expressions like “life’s ups and downs” or “take the bad with the good” (e.g., for every yin there’s a yang).

Among some practitioners of traditional Chinese or New Age medicine, yang is associated with high fevers and profuse sweating, in line with the force’s connection to the sun and heat. Such practitioners may advise a person with too much yang to alter their diet or lifestyle in some way to achieve more yin, restoring balance.

Note that in Chinese and Korean, among other East Asian languages, the surname is listed first, as in Yang Zhenning, who goes by Chen-Ning Frank Yang in the West. Also be mindful that Chinese is a tonal language and yang is a pinyin transliteration. Many other words in Chinese are rendered as yang for Westerners, but differences in tone and context can significantly change the meaning.

More examples of yang:

“Our Yang energy regenerates itself at night. Yang energy peaks during the day, and is strongest at noon; in the evening Yang gently gives way to Yin.’”
—Chris Tse, Blitz Conditioning, June, 2012


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use yang in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for yang (1 of 2)

/ (jæŋ) /


British Dictionary definitions for yang (2 of 2)

/ (jæŋ) /

Chen Ning (ˈtʃɛn ˈnɪŋ). born 1922, US physicist, born in China: with Tsung-Dao Lee, he disproved the physical principle known as the conservation of parity and shared the Nobel prize for physics (1957)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012