Whereas Western thought developed the idea of elements as subtsances, and Indian thought as emenations, Chinese philosophy conceived of the five elements, or Wu Xing, as dynamic states of change.
The concept of Wu Xing is central to all elements of Chinese thought, including science, philosophy, medicine, astrology, andFengshui.
Although the term is generally translated as "five elements", this is incorrect. The word Wu does indeed mean "five". But there is no simple translation for Xing. Translations such as "five elements", "five agents", "five qualities", "five properties" "five states of change", "five courses", "five phases" and "five elementals", are all used. As Master Joseph Yu explains
"Wu Xing" is actually the short form of "Wu zhong liu xing zhi chi" or "the five types of chi dominating at different times". Water dominates in winter, wood in spring, fire in summer, metal in autumn. At the intersection between two seasons, the transitional period is dominated by earth. It is customary in Chinese writing to summarize a longer phrase into a couple of characters. Sometimes the meaning is completely lost in the abbreviated form if the original phrase is not referred to. Wu Xing is one such example.and
The names "water", "wood", "fire", "metal" and "earth" are only substances whose properties resemble the respective chi in the closest possible way. They do help us understand the properties of the five types of chi but they also mislead us if we take everything in the literal sense.
The following table gives but a few of the many correspondences associated with Wu Xing.
|Wu Xing||number and polarity||Colour||Season||weather||Direction||yin and yang organs||emotion||taste||shape||movement||quality|
|Earth||5/10 - Tao||yellow, brown||late summer||humid||center||Spleen and Stomach||meditation||sweet||cubic||attracts and concentrates||stable|
|Metal||4/9 - senior yang||white, Golden, Silver||autumn||dry||west||Lungs and Large Intestine||worry, sorrow||pungant||Spherical||pierce inwards||sharp and pointing.|
|Wood||3/8- junior yin||green or blue||spring||windy||east||Liver and Gall Bladder||anger||sour||Rod like or beam like||grows upwards||enduring|
|Fire||2/7 - junior yang||red, Orange, Purple, Pink||summer||hot||south||Heart and Small Intestine||joy||bitter||Triangular||spreads in all directions,||radiant and hot|
|Water||1/6 senior yin||black, dark blue||winter||cold||north||Kidney and Bladder||fear||salty||wavy||runs downwards||liberal|
Note that qualities such as winter, cold and north only apply to the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere winter and cold would be associated with the south (antarctic)
Because these five qualities are dynamic, they interact in various ways. There are three cycles in traditional Chines ethought:
||relationship with wood on top||relationship represented clockwise||description|
|The Creative or Producing or Enhancing cycle||Moving clockwise from the top: Water produces wood. When a tree is watered, it grows better. When wood burns, we get fire. Fire reduces things to ashes which becomes part of the earth. Earth is mined for metal, which then changes to liquid (water) under heat. Finally, water provides nourishment for trees to grow, producing wood|
||e.g. Wood is burned by fire and hence weakened (reduced to ashes)|
||e.g., a metal knife can cut wood and shape or control it|
|Books and Web Links|
Chinese Five Elements - great site
Chinese Five Elemenst - neat site, includes Five Phases Complete Overview, Introduction to Zang Fu Theory, Twelve Primary Channels, Eight Extraordinary Vessels, The Three Dantians, and The Seven Chakras
Introduction to oriental medicine - the five phases or elements by Master Joseph Yu
The Theory of the Five Elements - by Karel Koskuba - this page also has some material on is Wuxingquan , a type of martial art that can be translated as Five Element Boxing.
more links to be added....
Traditional Acupuncture : The Law of the Five Elements by Dianne M. Connelly
Five Elements and Ten Stems : Nan Ching Theory, Diagnostics and Practice by Kiiko Matsumoto, Robert L. Felt (Editor), Stephen Birch
Four Pillars and Oriental Medicine : Celestial Stems, Terrestrial Branches and Five Elements for Health by David Twicken