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Wu Xing

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Classical Elements
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Water Aether Fire



Water Space Fire


Hinduism (Tattva) and
Buddhism (Mahābhūta)

Prithvi / Bhumi — Earth
Ap / JalaWater
Vayu / PavanAir / Wind
Agni / TejasFire
AkashaAether .

Japanese (Godai)
Earth (地)
Water (水)
Air / Wind (風)
Fire (火)
Void / Sky / Heaven (空) .

Life Force / Electricity

Chinese (Wu Xing)

  Water (水)  
Metal (金) Earth (土) Wood (木)
  Fire (火)  

In traditional Chinese philosophy, natural phenomena can be classified into the Wu Xing (Chinese: 五行; pinyin: wǔxíng), or the Five Elements, also translated as five phases, five movements or five steps.

The elements are:

  • metal (Chinese: ; pinyin: jīn, Vietnamese: kim)
  • wood (Chinese: ; pinyin: , Vietnamese: mộc)
  • water (Chinese: ; pinyin: shuǐ, Vietnamese: thủy)
  • fire (Chinese: ; pinyin: huǒ, Vietnamese: hoả), and
  • earth (Chinese: ; pinyin: , Vietnamese: thổ).

The system of five elements was used for describing interactions and relationships between phenomena. It was employed in many fields of early Chinese thought, including seemingly disparate fields such as geomancy or Feng shui, astrology, traditional Chinese medicine, music, military strategy and martial arts. The original foundation is based on the concept of the Five Cardinal Points.

Traditional Taijiquan schools relate them to footwork and refer to them as five "steps". The system is still used as a reference in some forms of complementary and alternative medicine and martial arts.



The doctrine of five phases describes two Cycles of Balance, a generating or creation (生, shēng) cycle and an overcoming or destruction (克, ) cycle of interactions between the phases.


  • Wood feeds Fire;
  • Fire creates Earth (ash);
  • Earth bears Metal;
  • Metal collects Water and
  • Water nourishes Wood.


  • wood parts earth;
  • earth absorbs water;
  • water quenches fire;
  • fire melts metal and
  • metal chops wood


There are also two Cycles of Imbalance, an overacting cycle (cheng) and an insulting cycle (wu).

Cosmology and feng shui

Main article: Feng Shui

According to Chinese thought the structure of the cosmos mirror the five elements, and each has a complex series of associations with different aspects of nature, as can be seen in the following table. In the ancient Chinese form of geomancy known as Feng Shui practitioners all based their art and system on the five elements (Wu Xing). All of these elements are represented within the Bagua. Associated with these elements are colors, seasons and shapes; all of which are interacting with each other. [1]

Based on a particular directional energy flow from one element to the next, the interaction can be expansive, destructive, or exhaustive. With proper knowledge of such aspect of energy flow will enable the Feng Shui practitioner to apply certain cures or rearrangement of energy in a beneficial way.

Element Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Color Green Red Yellow White Blue
Direction east south Center west north
Planet Jupiter Mars Saturn Venus Mercury
Heavenly creature Azure Dragon
青龙 or 青龍
Vermilion Bird
Yellow Dragon or Yellow Qilin
黃龍 or 黃麟
White Tiger
Black Tortoise
Heavenly Stems 甲, 乙 丙, 丁 戊, 己 庚, 辛 壬, 癸
Phase New Yang Full Yang Yin/Yang balance New Yin Full Yin
Energy Generative Expansive Stabilizing Contracting Conserving
Season Spring Summer Change of seasons
(Every third month)
Autumn Winter
Climate Windy Hot Damp Dry Cold
Development Sprouting Blooming Ripening Withering Dormant
Livestock dog sheep/goat cattle chicken pig
Fruit plum apricot jujube(dates) peach chestnut
Grain wheat beans rice hemp millet


Main article: Bagua (concept)

The elements have also been correlated to the eight trigrams of the I Ching:

Element Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
I Ching Wind, thunder Fire Earth, mountain Sky, lake Water
Trigrams :|| (xùn) |:: (zhèn) |:| () ::: (kūn) ::| (gèn) ||| (qián) ||: (duì) :|: (kǎn)

Chinese medicine


According to Chinese medical theory, each organ is associated with one of the Five Phases. It is believed to be more efficacious to treat an organ during a particular time period appropriate to it. The citation order of the Five Phases, i.e., the order in which they are cited in the Bo Hu Tong and other Han dynasty texts, is Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth. The organs are most effectively treated, according to theory, in the following four-hour periods throughout the day, beginning with the 3 a.m. to 7 a. m. period: Metal organs (see the list below), Earth organs, Fire1 organs, Water organs, Fire2 (the "non-empirical" Pericardium and Triple Burner organs), and Wood organs, which is the reverse of the citation order (plus an extra use of Fire and the non-empirical organs to take care of the sixth four-hour period of the day). These two orders are further related to the sequence of the planets going outward from the sun (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, or Water, Metal, Fire, Wood, and Earth) by a star diagram similar to the one shown above. [2]

Element Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Planet Jupiter Mars Saturn Venus Mercury
Mental Quality Sensitivity Creativity Clarity Intuition Spontaneity
Negative Emotion anger, frustration over-excitation worry, anxiety grief, sadness fear, lack of will
Positive Emotion Patience Joy Empathy Courage Calmness
Zang (yin organs) liver heart/pericardium spleen/pancreas lung kidney
Fu (yang organs) gall bladder small intestine/San Jiao stomach large intestine urinary bladder
Sensory organ eye tongue Mouth nose ears
Body Part Tendons Pulse Muscle Skin Bones
Body Fluid Tears Sweat Saliva Mucus Urine
Finger index finger middle finger thumb ring finger little finger
Sense sight speech taste smell hearing
Taste sour bitter sweet pungent salty
Smell Rancid Scorched Fragrant Putrid Rotten
Life birth youth adulthood old age death

Chinese astrology

Main article: Chinese astrology

Chinese astrology is based upon the interaction of the five elements with the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, to produce the well-known 60 year cylce of signs.

Element Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Heavenly Stem Jia 甲
Yi 乙
Bing 丙
Ding 丁
Wu 戊
Ji 己
Geng 庚
Xin 辛
Ren 壬
Gui 癸
Birth year ends with 4, 5 6, 7 8, 9 0, 1 2, 3

For example, assume someone is born in the year 1953, the year of the Snake. Because her birth year ends with 3, her element is Water; therefore, she was born in the year of the Water Snake.


Main article: Chinese music

The Yuèlìng chapter (月令篇) of the Lǐjì (禮記) and the Huáinánzǐ (淮南子) make the following correlations:

Element Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Colour Green Red Yellow White Blue
Direction east south center west north
The Chinese Five-note Scale jué 角 (mi) zhǐ 徵 (so) gōng 宮 (do) shāng 商 (re) 羽 (la)


  • The Chinese word 青 qīng, traditionally translated as azure in this context, includes the range in the spectrum from green to blue, with shades down to black.)
  • In modern Western music, various seven note or five note scales (e.g., the major scale) are defined by selecting seven or five frequencies from the set of twelve semi-tones in the Equal tempered tuning. The Chinese "lǜ" tuning is closest to the ancient Greek tuning of Pythagoras. See Chinese musicology.)

Martial arts


Main article: Xingyi

Xingyiquan uses the five elements to metaphorically represent five different states of combat.

Element Fist Chinese Pinyin Description
Wood Crushing Bēng Arrows constantly exploding forward.
Fire Pounding Pào Exploding outward like a cannon while blocking.
Earth Crossing Héng Crossing across the line of attack while turning over.
Metal Splitting Like an axe chopping up and over.
Water Drilling Zuān Drilling forward horizontally like a geyser.

See also

  • Pushing hands
  • Qi
  • Qigong
  • Taijitu
  • Tao
  • Zang Fu theory


  • Feng Youlan (Yu-lan Fung), A History of Chinese Philosophy, volume 2, p. 13
  • Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, volume 2, pp. 262-23
  • Maciocia, G. 2005, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, 2nd edn, Elsevier Ltd., London


  1. ^ Chinese Five Elements Chart]Information on the Chinese Five Elements from Northern Shaolin Academy in Microsoft Excel 2003 Format
  2. ^ See 5 Xing in Citation Order.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Wu_Xing". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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