The Five Elements ( Wu Xing )




The Five Elements

The five elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) and the Yin and Yang form the physical universe. It is also known as "Wu Xing" in Chinese.

To maintain balance among them, these elements supports one another (the generating cycle), and oppose one another (the controlling cycle).

The generating cycle of the five elements

So what is generating cycle in five elements? Let's look at some examples:

  • Water generates Wood, for without moisture there cannot be growth.
  • Wood is the fuel to create Fire, and it is the action of heat on organic matter that produces Earth (think of a compost heap).
  • Metal and minerals are generated from the Earth, and these filter and purify the Water that returns to feed the trees. So the cycle continues.

Chinese philosophers also tried to explain how life was intricately bound together. They noticed the natural events in the changing season and this simple model:

  • Winter rains caused new green plants to emerge in the spring;
  • these in turn were scorched by the heat of high summer, leading to forest fires that created ashes, and returned to earth.
  • From the earth came the metal ores used by the early copper- and bronze smiths,
  • while the cold metal surfaces caused water to condense, so completing the cycle.

The Controlling cycle of the five elements

If you look at the diagram of five elements, the internal links between the Elements are referred to as the Controlling Cycle.

Controlling Cycle balances the Generating Cycle, and connects the elements. For example, Water will keep Fire in check and Fire can make Metal usable. The hardness of Metal is required to tame Wood. Without the controlling structure of roots, the Earth would collapse and be in disarray. Water is without shape and will always sink to the lowest level: it is Earth that defines its outline.

In terms of bodily functions, this is expressed through the organ relationships between each of the Five Elements. Each Element has an associated Yin and Yang organ.

The table below summarises the five elements:

Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Nature
Seasons
Spring
Summer
Late Summer
Autumn
Winter
Directions
East
South
Center
West
North
Colour
Green
Red
Yellow
White
Black
Climate
Wind
Summer Humidity
Dampness
Dryness
Coldness
Change
Germinate
Grow
Transform
Harvest
Store
Tone
Jiao
Zheng
Gong
Shang
Yu
Human body
Solid Organ (Zang)
Liver
Heart
Spleen
Lung, Nose
Kidney, Ear
Hollow Organ (Fu)
Gall bladder
Small Intestine
Stomach
Large Intestine
Urinary Bladder
Tissues
Tendons/nails
Blood vessels/ Complexion
Muscles/Lips
Skin/Body Hair
Bone/Head Hair
Body Fluid
Tears
Sweat
Saliver
Mucus
Urine
Five Senses
Eye (Sight)
Tongue (Speech)
Mouth (Taste)
Nose (Smell)
Ears (Hearing)
Sound
Shout
Laugh
Sing
Cry
Mourn
Emotions
Anger
Joy
Thinking
Melancholy
Fear

Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Nature
Seasons
Spring
Summer
Late Summer
Autumn
Winter
Directions
East
South
Center
West
North
Colour
Green
Red
Yellow
White
Black
Climate
Wind
Summer Humidity
Dampness
Dryness
Coldness
Change
Germinate
Grow
Transform
Harvest
Store
Tone
Jiao
Zheng
Gong
Shang
Yu
Human body
Solid Organ (Zang)
Liver
Heart
Spleen
Lung, Nose
Kidney, Ear
Hollow Organ (Fu)
Gall bladder
Small Intestine
Stomach
Large Intestine
Urinary Bladder
Tissues
Tendons/nails
Blood vessels/ Complexion
Muscles/Lips
Skin/Body Hair
Bone/Head Hair
Body Fluid
Tears
Sweat
Saliver
Mucus
Urine
Five Senses
Eye (Sight)
Tongue (Speech)
Mouth (Taste)
Nose (Smell)
Ears (Hearing)
Sound
Shout
Laugh
Sing
Cry
Mourn
Emotions
Anger
Joy
Thinking
Melancholy
Fear


Return from The Five Elements to The Theory of Chinese Medicine

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