The Five Elements or Wu Xing — Meaning, Formation, Content, History, and Application

The Five Elements in Chinese Culture

The Five Elements in Chinese Culture, Picture from RayRenault.

Five Elements and Yin Yang
 

What is the Five Elements Theory?

 

Five Elements, also named Wu Xing or Five Phases, is the essence of ancient Chinese Philosophy and Cosmology.

It defines the nature and attributes of everything in the universe and its movements and concludes the fundamental theories regarding how ancient Chinese perceive the world. 

Throughout history, the Five Elements theory has been widely used in many traditional cultural fields, such as astrology, traditional Chinese medicine, name, diet, Feng Shui, and so on. 

Natural Herbs and five elements
Five Elements and Yin Yang
 

How the Five Elements are Formed? 

Taiji

In ancient Chinese Cosmology, the whole universe was believed undifferentiated and oneness.

 

This is Taiji, the beginning of the cosmos. 

Taiji the beginning of the cosmos

Yin and Yang

 

Gradually, the movement of Taiji evolves the Yin and Yang.

 

  • Yin is about contracting energy, which is downward, passive, dark, accumulated, introverted, feminine, and quiet. 

  • Yang is about releasing energy, which represents those that are upward active, bright, expand, exocentric, masculine, and lively.

 

Everything in the world has both Yin and Yang side; they are in constant motion and mutual transformation. 

Click to Read More About Taiji and Yin Yang

Yin and Yang

Four Images

 

The motion of Yin and Yang, then, generates the Four Images

The Four Images, Lesser Yang - Greater Yang - Lesser Yin - Great Yin can be:

  • Spring - Summer - Autumn - Winter, and 

  • Birth - Grow - Old - Die, and

  • Wood - Fire - Metal - Water and

  • East  - South - West - North.

 

Five Elements

All lives birth out of and come back to the earth; four seasons change under the Moon and the Sun.

 

So, the Moon and the Sun together constitute a Taiji, which contains both Yin and Yang; it corresponds to the earth on the ground. 

 

Then the Five Elements are formed. 

five element wood

Wood

five element fire

Fire

five element earth

Earth

five element metal

Metal

five element water

Water

 
Five Elements and Yin Yang

Meaning of the Five Elements.

 

The Five Elements Theory is a philosophical term in ancient Chinese culture, which defines the nature and attributes of everything in the universe and its movements. 

 

The Wood, Fire, Metal, Water, and Earth are five specific representatives, or symbols, of the Five Elements. 

 

  • Wood: growth, development, extension;

  • Fire: hotness, upward, bright;

  • Metal: convergence, concretion, solid;

  • Water: cold, downward, circulate, nourish;

  • Earth: mild, placid, neutralization. 

 
Five Elements and Yin Yang