The picture is a composite of the Ultimate and the Eight Diagrams, and is found even now in some Chinese temples. The picture of the Ultimate consists of a black and a white fish-also called the yin and yang fish. The picture of the Eight Diagrams is an octagon formed of eight combinations of three whole or broken lines.
According to legend, the picture was created by Fuxi, an ancient Chinese sage. It is written in the ancient book Zhou Yi (The Zhou Book of Changes) that "Changes originate in the Ultimate; from the Ultimate issue the two spheres. From the two spheres issue the four elements, and from the four elements the eight diagrams". That was the basic theory of the Ultimate giving rise to the eight diagrams. By the Ultimate, the ancient meant the origin of all things and creatures. The philosopher Zhu Xi (1130-1200) of the Southern Song Dynasty said, "The Ultimate is the way of all things in heaven and earth". The two spheres refer to heaven and earth, or yin (feminine, negative) and yang (masculine, positive). The four elements are metal, wood, water and fire, which are everywhere. The eight diagrams symbolize the eight natural phenomena: sky, earth, thunder, wind, water, fire, mountain and lake. So the picture represented the ancient Chinese's earliest knowledge of the universe, which contained a simple dialectical materialist point of view .
What is more interesting is the picture of the Eight Diagrams, which are formed of yao (lines), namely, the yangyao (male line, whole line written as __ ) and the yinyao (female line, a broken line written as - - ) The two forms are contradictory opposites and they form the eight combinations. (see the diagram above) By taking two of them or doubling them, 64 combinations can be made.
It has been suggested that the German mathematician Wilhelm von Leibuiz (1646-1716) was inspired by the Chinese Eight Diagrams to create the binary system. If this was true, then the Chinese picture of the Ultimate and the Eight Diagrams made some historic contribution to the modern computer science.
In the early 1930's the Chinese scholar Liu Zihua, 27 years of age who was in France on a work-study basis, used the Eight Diagrams, without recourse to Newton's theory of gravity, to forecast the existence of the tenth planet of the solar system, and wrote a thesis entitled "The Eight Diagrams Theory of the Universe and Modern Astronomy", which won him the French national doctorate in 1938 and thrilled the world astronomy profession.
The Chinese picture of the Ultimate and the Eight Diagrams is still being studied by some Western scholars as a source of ancient science. It is certainly an important heritage of Chinese science and culture, though at times it was used for divination and other superstitious activities.