Chinese five elements

Chinese Five Elements Theory ☯️ Wu Xing

Chinese Five Elements Theory ☯️ Wu Xing (五行) Explained

The Chinese five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Wood comes first, water comes last with earth in the middle. In Chinese five element theory the relationships between the five Chinese elements forms four dynamic cycles:

  1. Creative cycle (also known as the generating cycle or productive cycle). Follow the arrows clockwise around the outside:
    Each element is the mother of the following element and the son of the preceding element. Wood feeds fire, fire creates earth (ash), earth produces metal, metal collects water (e.g. condensation) and water nourishes wood, which completes the creative cycle.
  2. Weakening cycle (also known as the exhaustive cycle). Follow the arrows counter-clockwise around the outside:
    The weakening cycle is the opposite of the creative cycle. For example; when metal ore is removed from the earth it becomes exhausted.
  3. Destructive cycle (also known as the overcoming cycle or control cycle). Follow the straight lines in the direction of the arrows:
    Each element exerts control to suppress or inhibit the following element. For example; wood takes nutrients from the earth, earth can stop the flow of water, water can overcome fire, fire can melt metal and metal (e.g. in the form of an axe) can split wood.
  4. Suppression cycle (also known as insults cycle or counter-acting cycle). Follow the straight lines backwards around the straight lines:
    If the element being acted-upon is too strong, or the acting element is too weak, the cycle can temporarily reverse. For example; if there’s not enough water to put out a fire the water is vaporized and the fire continues. However, if the flow of water in a river is too strong it may overcome its banks causing a flood.

five element cycles
Chinese five element theory chart created by ADDucation and released under the Creative Commons Zero license. No credit required but always appreciated.

  • ADDucation’s five elements theory lists and tables are compiled by Joe Connor and last updated on Jan 16, 2023 @ 2:02 pm

The Chinese five elements (also known as five phases and five elementals) influence every aspect of daily life in Chinese culture including; setting up home (feng shui), cooking healthy Chinese food, entertaining guests (tea ceremonies), listening to music, health (Chinese medicine), exercise and relaxation (meditation, tai chi and other martial arts), making decisions (Chinese astrology), philosophy, spirituality and religion (Chinese cosmology).

List of Chinese 5 Elements in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Chinese Five Elements Theory Medicine Lifestyle Tips for TCM

In China, and some other Asian cultures, more people rely on traditional Chinese medicine for their health and well being than western medicine. A traditional Chinese medicine practitioner takes an holistic approach to diagnosis.

The external evidence presented by a person (their body, pallor, skin, hair, gait, nails, feet, hands, tongue and bodily fluids) in conjunction with the meridian system (which charts the flow of life-energy “qi” through the body) is used to diagnose “blockages” and suggest treatments.

Treatments could include acupuncture, acupressure, manipulative therapy “Tui na”, massage, herbal remedies etc.

Important! This ADDucation list is published for information only and does NOT constitute medical advice. If you have any health issues always seek professional medical advice.

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Elements (Wu Xing) Wood (mu 木) Fire (huo 火) Earth (tu 土) Metal (jin 金) Water (shui 水)
Color/s Green Red Yellow White Black (blue)
Ying organs (Zang) Liver Heart / pericardium The spleen / pancreas The lungs The kidneys
Yang organs (Zu) Gall bladder Small intestine Stomach Large intestine Urinary bladder
Face parts / Sensory organs Eyes Tongue Mouth Nose Ears
Bodily fluids Tears Sweat Saliva Mucus Urine
Sense Sight Speech Taste Smell Hearing
Body part Tendons Pulse Muscle Skin Bones
Bodily fluid Tears Sweat Saliva Mucus Urine
Fingers Index finger Middle finger Thumb Ring finger Little finger
Body tissue Ligaments Arteries Muscles Skin and hair Bones
Life-stage Birth Childhood and adolescence Adulthood Maturation, old age. Old age, death
Hun-Po theory / Five shen system
Hun (ethereal soul) Shen (Emperor of the Heart) Unified shen Yi (intellect) Po (corporeal soul) Zhi (will to act)
List of Chinese Five Elements in Chinese Cosmology

How Chinese Cosmology Uses Chinese Five Element Theory

In Chinese cosmology (The System of Correspondences) the universe has three layers:

  • Heaven (tian)
  • Earth (Di 地)
  • Humans (ren 人)

When the yin and yang aspects of each of the five elements are in balance we can lead happier balanced lives. Heaven and earth gave birth to the ten thousand things, including humans, and we are the most valuable treasure.

Each layer is made up from the same five elements and they are connected to universal energies which resonate within each layer and between the three layers. Consequently our bodies mirror the energy in the universe internally.

For example, the five yin organs (the heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys) are connected to earthly energy, and the six yang organs (the small intestine, gall bladder, stomach, large intestine, bladder and pericardium) are connected to heavenly energy. The energy of all five elements connects the layers together in the universal macrocosm.

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Elements (Wu Xing) Wood (mu 木) Fire (huo 火) Earth (tu 土) Metal (jin 金) Water (shui 水) Chinese 5 Elements Notes
The Planets Jupiter Mars Saturn Venus Mercury These five planets, combined with the Sun and the Moon, make up the Seven Rulers (Qi Zheng).
Their position in twenty eight Chinese lunar houses governs everything that has happened in the past or is yet to happen in the future on a personal, earthy and universal level.
Direction East South Center West North
Heavenly creatures Azure Dragon / Blue-green Dragon. Vermilion Bird / Scarlet Bird. Yellow Dragon. White Tiger. Black Tortoise / Mysterious Warrior. The 28 lunar houses are divided into four directions, each with seven houses.
The east by the blue/green dragon, the south by the red bird, the west by the white tiger and the north by the black turtle and snake.
Seasons of the year Spring Summer Changing of the seasons / Late Summer. Autumn Winter Each season lasts seventy two days.
Development Sprouting Blooming Ripening Withering Dormant
Climate Windy Hot Damp Dry Cold
Moon Phase New Yang Full Yang Yin/Yang balance. New Yin Full Yin
Direction and Natural phenomena Expansive and external in all directions. Ascending Stabilizing (harmony) Contracting and internal Descending
Spiritual dimension Ethereal soul (hun 魂) Spirit (shen 神) Intention (yi 意) Corporeal soul (po 魄) Vital essence (jing 精)
Beneficial emotions Kindness (ren 仁) Respect (li 禮), self sacrifice Honesty (xin 信), trustworthiness Discernment (yi 義), propriatory Wisdom (zhi 志)
Damaging emotion Anger (nu 怒). Excessive joy (xi 喜) Worry (si 思) Grief (ku 苦) Fear (kong 恐)
Chinese 5 Elements in Martial Arts Table

Chinese Five Elements Theory in Martial Arts & Five Elements Boxing (Wuxingquan)

The Chinese five elements (directions) can be combined with the eight powers/trigrams of the Bagua (Ba Fa/Pa Kua/eight symbols) associated with Taoist cosmology to give thirteen tactics, often referred to as “five elements, eight methods”.

The five Chinese elements can also be combined with the I Ching 64 permutations “hexagrams” (derived from the trigrams) and the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac (Sheng Xiao).

These combinations offered many other tactics which have evolved into other arts and methods.

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Elements (Wu Xing) Wood (mu 木) Fire (huo 火) Earth (tu 土) Metal (jin 金) Water (shui 水)
Directions Look around / move left (Zuo gu) Move forwards (Jin bu) Centered (Zhong ding) Move backwards (Tui bu)
Orientation Outward Upwards Centering Inward Downward
Energy Generative energy Expansive energy Stabilizing energy Contracting energy Conserving energy
Taichi chuan energies Joining or connecting energy / jin
(connecting jin)
Following energy / jin
(following jin)
Do not let go and do not resist Adhering energy / jin
(adhering jin)
Sticking energy / jin
Wuxingquan five fists Crushing Fist (Pengquan). Cannon Fist (Paoquan). Crossing Fist (Hernquan). Splitting / Cutting Fist (Piquan). Drilling Fist (Tzuanquan).
List of Chinese Zodiac Signs

Chinese Five Elements Theory – List of Zodiac Signs

Each of the 12 Chinese zodiac animal signs is associated with one of the Chinese five elements. Use the table below to find the fixed Chinese element for each sign of the Chinese Zodiac.

Chinese Zodiac Animal Signs Chinese 5 Elements (Wu Xing)
Monkey, Rooster Metal
Tiger, Rabbit Wood
Rat, Pig Water
Snake, Horse Fire
Ox, Dragon, Sheep, Dog Earth

Each Chinese animal sign is also sub-divided into the five elements. In Chinese astrology the animal signs play a similar role to the signs of the zodiac in western culture.
You can find your Chinese animal sign and associated personality traits, lucky colors, ideal partners and more by entering your birth year on ADDucation’s Chinese Animal Signs of the Zodiac List

Chinese 5 Elements in Chinese Music

Chinese Five Elements Theory in Chinese Music List

The Chinese pentatonic scale has just five notes compared to the seven note western scale. Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si becomes:

  • Gong (Do)
  • Shang (Re)
  • Jiao (Mi)
  • Zhi (Sol)
  • Yu (La)

Each tone influences the human body in different ways:

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Elements (Wu Xing) Wood (mu 木) Fire (huo 火) Earth (tu 土) Metal (jin 金) Water (shui 水) Notes
Note Jiao (Mi)
Affects the liver.
Soothing, giving a sense of comfort and relaxation.
Can be used to dispel anger.
Zhi (Sol)
Affects the heart.
Invigorating with a  sense of passion and excitement.
Can be used to treat depression.
Gong (Do)
Affects the spleen.
Mediating in nature giving a sense of calm and seriousness.
Ideal to help anyone who has been frightened.
Shang (Re)
Affects the lungs.
Cleansing in nature and gives a sense of quietness.
Can be used to help anyone suffering from anxiety and irritability.
Yu (La)
Affects the kidneys.
Cooling and moistening in nature with a sedative effect.
Can be helpful for insomnia caused by excessive joy or sorrow.
Gong=Do (note 1)
Shang=Re (note 2)
Jiao=Mi (note 3)
Zhi=Sol (note 5)
Yu=La (note 6)
notes 4 (Fa) and 7 (Si) are omitted.
Tone Chueh (Jiao)
Chueh based music is Spring like. Makes one feel conciliatory and kind hearted.
Chih (Zhi)
Chih based music is highly emotional, even fiery and makes one feel generous.
Keng (Gong)
Keng based melodies are noble and can make one tolerant and kind.
Shang based melodies are unbending and heavy like metal which makes one feel righteous and friendly.
Yue (Yu)
Yue based tunes are melancholy, like running water and can help restore balance and feel generous.
Five tones are based on perfect fifth, in order of Gong, Zheng, Shang, Jiao, Yu. Mode-structures of Gong and Zheng have sprightly major property, while mode-structures of Jiao and Yu have oppressive ditty property, mode-structure of Shang is between the two.

Because mode-structures of five notes do not include acumination sound, tense and disharmonious intervals like minor second, tritone, major second seventh, the whole music is tranquil and soft, by which people can express emotions. For example, happy memories, beautiful wishes, nature and so on.

Emotions / Feelings
Anger Over excitement Anxiety /Meditate Grief / Worry Fear See the emotions in our Chinese Horoscope table.
Moods Happiness Joy Desire Anger Sadness
Virtues Humanity Manner Trust Righteousness Wisdom Virtues ascribed by Dong Zhong Shu.
Chinese Five Elements and Feng Shui

Chinese Five Elements Theory in Feng Shui List

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Elements (Wu Xing) Wood (mu 木) Fire (huo 火) Earth (tu 土) Metal (jin 金) Water (shui 水)
Compass direction East South Center West North
Shapes Rectangular Angular Square Round Undulating
Orientation Outward Upwards Centering Inward Downward

Chinese 5 element theory underpins the Chinese art (system/practice/mythology) of Feng Shui which is used to design and position things, based on ying and yang energy flow, to achieve harmony with the environment.

Chinese 5 Elements in Religion

Chinese Five Elements Universe in Theory and Religion

The Chinese five elements of universe are an integral part of ceremonies and rituals in religions including Taoism, Confuscianism, Buddism and others.

Taoist shrines typically include:

  • Five bowls of fruit which represent the Chinese five elements in their pre-natal (earlier heaven) form in the creative cycle between the elements.
  • Five plates of food which represent the Chinese five elements in their post-natal (later heaven) form in the destructive cycle between the elements.
  • Taoist Hung-Po theory, also known as the five-shen system associates spirits with the five yin organs in the body; heart, kidney, spleen, liver, and lungs.

If you can help expand this section please add your comments below.

Chinese 5 Elements in Other Lists

More Chinese Five Elements Theory References

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Elements (Wu Xing) Wood (mu 木) Fire (huo 火) Earth (tu 土) Metal (jin 金) Water (shui 水)
Materials air, sound, minerals, mana, ink, acid, mind, rubber, paper, static, wax, plywood, health. visible light, soap, thermal radiation, uv rays, rust, bleach, infrared beams, burn, blaze, oil, glass, mass, clay. rock, carbon, dust, sand, energy, powder, space, sugar, smoke, gems, ash, gravity, earthquakes. gold, platinum, holy water, snow, ice, frost, alloys, forge, nimbus clouds, ether, milk. the sea, vegetation, electrical currents, storms, rain, steam, fluid, mud, slime, sludge, salt, time, pressure, glass mirror, shadows.
Livestock Dog Sheep, goat Cattle Chicken Pig
Animal type Scaly Feathered Human Furred Shelled
Sound Shouting Laughing Singing Weeping Groaning
Climate / Weather
Wind Hot / Heat. Dampness / Humid. Dryness Cold

Traditional Chinese Medicine Lifestyle Tips:

2 responses to “Chinese Five Elements Theory ☯️ Wu Xing”

  1. zhongbi says:

    The Five Phases also correspond with the five seasons of the Chinese traditional calender, each with 72 days as follows:

    • Spring-Wood
    • Summer-Fire
    • Harvest*-Earth
    • Autumn-Metal
    • Winter-Water.
    • * Harvest time is between western summer and autumn, from solstice to equinox (August-September).

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