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Everything Under the Sun

The universe in balance.
China, <i>Taoist Priest’s Robe</i>, 1662-1722, embroidered satin
zoom China, Taoist Priest’s Robe, 1662-1722, embroidered satin


To the Chinese Taoist priest who wore this robe, the sun was just one part of a balanced system. Taoism (DOW-ism) teaches that two forces, yin and yang, together produce everything in the universe. The moon expresses the cool, dark, feminine force of yin. The sun expresses the hot, bright, masculine force of yang. An imbalance of yin and yang causes disorder.

A diagram of the cosmos appears on the back of many Taoist priests’ robes. In the center, a pagoda surrounded by a rainbow-like pattern represents paradise. Clouds float around it, within a ring of flames. Beyond, evenly placed colored circles stand for the stars. Two disks at the priest’s shoulders, one on each side, signify the sun (red) and the moon (white), shown as equal in size and importance.

Like the sun, the emperor represented yang forces. (Only the emperor and his immediate family could wear bright yellow, the color of the sun.) An eclipse of the sun was thought to be a dangerous time for him. The sun also symbolized good government: just as the sun shines on everyone alike, rulers should treat all their subjects fairly.

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1. Many Taoist priests’ robes feature a diagram of the cosmos on the back.
2. A three-legged rooster appears on the red disk of the sun. The number three is another symbol of yang.
3. A rabbit said to live on the moon is shown here pounding a root to make the elixir of immortality.


May 2005