Wu Xing

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This article is about the five-element theory of Chinese philosophy. For other uses, see Wuxing (disambiguation).
Diagram of the interactions between the Wu Xing. The "generative" cycle is illustrated by grey arrows running clockwise on the outside of the circle, while the "destructive" or "conquering" cycle is represented by red arrows inside the circle.
Wu Xing
Chinese 五行

The Wu Xing (Chinese: ; pinyin: Wǔ Xíng), also known as the Five Elements, Five Phases, the Five Agents, the Five Movements, Five Processes, the Five Steps/Stages and the Five Planets[1] is the short form of "Wǔ zhǒng liúxíng zhī qì" (五種流行之氣) or "the five types of chi dominating at different times".[2] It is a fivefold conceptual scheme that many traditional Chinese fields used to explain a wide array of phenomena, from cosmic cycles to the interaction between internal organs, and from the succession of political regimes to the properties of medicinal drugs. The "Five Phases" are Wood ( ), Fire ( huǒ), Earth ( ), Metal ( jīn), and Water ( shuǐ). This order of presentation is known as the "mutual generation" (相生 xiāngshēng) sequence. In the order of "mutual overcoming" (相剋/相克 xiāngkè), they are Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal.[3][4][5]

The system of five phases was used for describing interactions and relationships between phenomena. After it came to maturity in the second or first century BCE during the Han dynasty, this device 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 system is still used as a reference in some forms of complementary and alternative medicine and martial arts.

Names[edit]

Xing (Chinese: ) of 'Wu Xing' means moving; a planet is called a 'moving star'(Chinese: ) in Chinese. Wu Xing (Chinese: ) originally refers to the five major planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Venus, Mars) that create five dimensions of earth life.[1] "Wu Xing" is also widely translated as Five Elements and this is used extensively by many including practitioners of Five Element acupuncture. This translation arose by false analogy with the Western system of the four elements.[6] Whereas the classical Greek elements were concerned with substances or natural qualities, the Chinese xíng are "primarily concerned with process and change," hence the common translation as "phases" or "agents".[7] By the same token, is thought of as "Tree" rather than "Wood".[8] The word 'element' is thus used within the context of Chinese medicine with a different meaning to its usual meaning.

It should be recognized that the word phase, although commonly preferred, is not perfect. Phase is a better translation for the five seasons (五運 Wǔ Yùn) mentioned below, and so agents or processes might be preferred for the primary term xíng. Manfred Porkert attempts to resolve this by using Evolutive Phase for 五行 Wǔ Xíng and Circuit Phase for 五運 Wǔ Yùn, but these terms are unwieldy.

Some of the Mawangdui Silk Texts (no later than 168 BC) also present the Wu Xing as "five virtues" or types of activities.[9] Within Chinese medicine texts the Wu Xing are also referred to as Wu Yun (五運 wǔ yùn) or a combination of the two characters (Wu Xing-Yun) these emphasise the correspondence of five elements to five 'seasons' (four seasons plus one). Another tradition refers to the Wǔ Xíng as Wǔ Dé (五德), the Five Virtues (zh:五德終始說).

The Phases[edit]

The five phases are usually used to describe the state in nature:

  • Wood/Spring=(72 days) a period of growth, which generates abundant wood and vitality
  • Fire/Summer=(72 days) a period of swelling, flowering, brimming with fire and energy
  • Earth=(72 days=4x18days (4 transitional seasons x 18days each) the in-between transitional seasonal periods, or a separate 'season' known as Late Summer or Long Summer - in the latter case associated with leveling and dampening (moderation) and fruition
  • Metal/Autumn=(72 days) a period of harvesting and collecting
  • Water/Winter=(72 days) a period of retreat, where stillness and storage pervades

Cycles[edit]

The doctrine of five phases describes two cycles, a generating or creation (生, shēng) cycle, also known as "mother-son", and an overcoming or destruction (剋/克, ) cycle, also known as "grandfather-nephew", of interactions between the phases. Within Chinese medicine the effects of these two main relations are further elaborated:

  • Inter-promoting (mother/son)
  • Inter-acting (grandmother/grandson)
  • Over-acting ( cycle)
  • Counter-acting (reverse )

Generating[edit]

The common memory jogs, which help to remind in what order the phases are:

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

Other common words for this cycle include "begets", "engenders" and "mothers".

Overcoming[edit]

  • Wood parts Earth (such as roots or trees can prevent soil erosion)
  • Earth dams (or muddles or absorbs) Water
  • Water extinguishes Fire
  • Fire melts Metal
  • Metal chops Wood

This cycle might also be called "controls", "restrains" or "fathers".

Cosmology and feng shui[edit]

Main article: Feng shui
Another illustration of the cycle.
Tablet, in Chinese and Manchu, for the gods of the five elements in the Temple of Heaven. The Manchu word "usiha", meaning star, explains that this tablet is dedicated to the five basic planets, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus & Mercury rather than their respect element itself.

According to Wu Xing theory, the structure of the cosmos mirrors the five phases. Each phase 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 phases (Wu Xing). All of these phases are represented within the trigrams. Associated with these phases are colors, seasons and shapes; all of which are interacting with each other.[10]

Based on a particular directional energy flow from one phase to the next, the interaction can be expansive, destructive, or exhaustive. A proper knowledge of each aspect of energy flow will enable the Feng Shui practitioner to apply certain cures or rearrangement of energy in a way they believe to be beneficial for the receiver of the Feng Shui Treatment.

Movement Metal Metal Fire Wood Wood Water Earth Earth
Trigram hanzi
Trigram pinyin qián duì zhèn xùn kǎn gèn kūn
Trigrams
I Ching Heaven Lake Fire Thunder Wind Water Mountain Earth
Color Silver White Red Green Purple Black Blue Yellow
Season Fall Fall Summer Spring Spring Winter Intermediate Intermediate
Cardinal direction West West South East East North Center Center

Chinese medicine[edit]

Five Chinese Elements - Diurnal Cycle

The interdependence of zang-fu networks in the body was said to be a circle of five things, and so mapped by the Chinese doctors onto the five phases.[citation needed]

Movement Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Planet Jupiter Mars Saturn Venus Mercury
Mental Quality idealism, spontaneity, curiosity passion, intensity agreeableness, honesty intuition, rationality, mind erudition, resourcefulness, wit
Emotion anger, determination hatred, love anxiety, trust grief, bravery fear, gentleness
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 eyes tongue mouth nose ears
Body Part tendons pulse muscles skin bones
Body Fluid tears sweat saliva mucus urine
Finger index finger middle finger thumb ring finger pinky finger
Sense sight taste touch smell hearing
Taste[11] sour bitter sweet pungent, umami salty
Smell rancid scorched fragrant rotten putrid
Life birth youth adulthood old age death, conception
Animal scaly feathered human furred shelled

Celestial stem[edit]

Main article: Celestial stem
Movement 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
Year ends with 4, 5 6, 7 8, 9 0, 1 2, 3

Ming neiyin[edit]

In Ziwei, neiyin (纳音) or the method of divination is the further classification of the Five Elements into 60 ming (命), or life orders, based on the ganzhi. Similar to the astrology zodiac, the ming is used by fortune-tellers to analyse a person's personality and future fate.

Order Ganzhi Ming Order Ganzhi Ming Wuxing Element
1 Jia Zi 甲子 Sea metal 海中金 31 Jia Wu 甲牛 Sand metal 沙中金 Metal
2 Yi Chou 乙丑 32 Gui Wei 乙未
3 Bing Yin 丙寅 Furnace fire 炉中火 33 Bing Shen 丙申 Forest fire 山下火 Fire
4 Ding Mao 丁卯 34 Ding You 丁酉
5 Wu Chen 戊辰 Forest wood 大林木 35 Wu Xu 戊戌 Meadow wood 平地木 Wood
6 Ji Si 已己 36 Ji Hai 己亥
7 Geng Wu 庚牛 Road earth 路旁土 37 Geng Zi 庚子 Adobe earth 臂上土 Earth
8 Xin Wei 辛未 38 Xin Chou 辛丑
9 Ren Shen 壬申 Sword metal 剑锋金 39 Ren Yin 壬寅 Precious metal 金白金 Metal
10 Gui You 癸酉 40 Gui Mao 癸卯
11 Jia Xu 甲戌 Volcanic fire 山头火 41 Jia Chen 甲辰 Lamp fire 佛灯火 Fire
12 Yi Hai 乙亥 42 Yi Si 乙己
13 Bing Zi 丙子 Cave water 洞下水 43 Bing Wu 丙午 Sky water 天河水 Water
14 Ding Chou 丁丑 44 Ding Wei 丁未
15 Wu Yin 戊寅 Fortress earth 城头土 45 Wu Shen 戊申 Highway earth 大驿土 Earth
16 Ji Mao 已卯 46 Ji You 已酉
17 Geng Chen 庚辰 Wax metal 白腊金 47 Geng Xu 庚戌 Jewellery metal 钗钏金 Metal
18 Xin Si 辛己 48 Xin Hai 辛亥
19 Ren Wu 壬牛 Willow wood 杨柳木 49 Ren Zi 壬子 Mulberry wood 桑柘木 Wood
20 Gui Wei 癸酉 50 Gui Chou 癸丑
21 Jia Shen 甲申 Stream water 泉中水 51 Jia Yin 甲寅 Rapids water 大溪水 Water
22 Yi You 乙酉 52 Yi Mao 乙卯
23 Bing Xu 丙戌 Roof tiles earth 屋上土 53 Bing Chen 丙辰 Desert earth 沙中土 Earth
24 Ding Hai 丁亥 54 Ding Si 丁巳
25 Wu Zi 戊子 Lightning fire 霹雳火 55 Wu Wu 戊牛 Sun fire 天上火 Fire
26 Ji Chou 已丑 56 Ji Wei 已未
27 Geng Yin 庚寅 Conifers wood 松柏木 57 Geng Shen 庚申 Pomegranate wood 石榴木 Wood
28 Xin Mao 庚寅 58 Xin You 辛酉
29 Ren Chen 壬辰 River water 长流水 59 Ren Xu 壬戌 Ocean water 大海水 Water
30 Gui Si 癸巳 60 Gui Hai 癸亥

Music[edit]

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

Movement Wood Fire Earth Metal Water
Colour Green Red Yellow White Black
Arctic Direction east south center west north
Basic Pentatonic Scale pitch
Basic Pentatonic Scale pitch pinyin jué zhǐ gōng shāng
solfege mi or E sol or G do or C re or D la or A
  • The Chinese word 青 qīng, has many meanings, including green, azure, cyan, and black. It refers to green in Wu Xing.
  • In most modern 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.

Martial arts[edit]

T'ai chi ch'uan uses the five elements to designate different directions, positions or footwork patterns. Either forward, backward, left, right and centre, or three steps forward (attack) and two steps back (retreat).[12]

The Five Steps (五步 wǔ bù):

  • Jìn bù (進步) Forward step
  • Tùi bù (退步) Backward step
  • Zǔo gù (左顧, in simplified characters 左顾) Left step
  • Yòu pàn (右盼 ) Right step
  • Zhōng dìng (中定) Central position, balance, equilibrium.

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

Movement Fist Chinese Pinyin Description
Metal Splitting To split like an axe chopping up and over.
Water Drilling Zuān Drilling forward horizontally like a geyser.
Wood Crushing Bēng To collapse, as a building collapsing in on itself.
Fire Pounding Pào Exploding outward like a cannon while blocking.
Earth Crossing Héng Crossing across the line of attack while turning over.

Tea ceremony[edit]

There are spring, summer, fall, and winter teas. The perennial tea ceremony ("perennial", literally means four steps or sequences that are linked together, each representing a season of the year) includes four tea settings (茶席) and a tea master (司茶). The tea settings are:

  • earth, (Incense), yellow, center, up and down
  • wood, 春風 (Spring Wind), green, east
  • fire, 夏露 (Summer Dew), red, south
  • metal, 秋籟 (Fall Sounds), white, west
  • water, 冬陽 (Winter Sunshine) black/blue, north

Each tea setting is arranged and stands for the four directions (north, south, east, and west). A vase of the seasons' flowers is put on tea table. Sometimes if four tea masters are included then five chairs are arranged per tea setting, making a total of twenty plus the 4 tea masters equalling 24, which symbolizes the 24 solar terms of the Chinese calendar, and represents that nature continues or is perennial.

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • 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

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Dr Zai, J. Taoism and Science: Cosmology, Evolution, Morality, Health and more. Ultravisum, 2015.
  2. ^ http://www.kheper.net/topics/eastern/wuxing.html
  3. ^ Deng Yu; Zhu Shuanli; Xu Peng; Deng Hai (2000). "五行阴阳的特征与新英译" [Characteristics and a New English Translation of Wu Xing and Yin-Yang]. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine. 20 (12): 937. 
  4. ^ Deng Yu et al; Fresh Translator of Zang Xiang Fractal five System,Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine; 1999
  5. ^ Deng Yu et al,TCM Fractal Sets中医分形集,Journal of Mathematical Medicine ,1999,12(3),264-265
  6. ^ Nathan Sivin (1995), "Science and Medicine in Chinese History," in his Science in Ancient China (Aldershot, England: Variorum), text VI, p. 179.
  7. ^ Nathan Sivin (1987), Traditional Medicine in Contemporary China (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan) p. 73.
  8. ^ 千古中医之张仲景. Wood and Metal were often replaced with air. Lecture Room, CCTV-10. 
  9. ^ Nathan Sivin (1987), Traditional Medicine in Contemporary China, p. 72.
  10. ^ Chinese Five Elements Chart Information on the Chinese Five Elements from Northern Shaolin Academy in Microsoft Excel 2003 Format
  11. ^ Eberhard, Wolfram (December 1965). "Chinese Regional Stereotypes". Asian Survey. University of California Press. 5 (12): 596–608. doi:10.2307/2642652. JSTOR 2642652. 
  12. ^ Wu, Kung-tsao (2006) [1980]. Wu Family T'ai Chi Ch'uan (吳家太極拳). Chien-ch’uan T’ai-chi Ch’uan Association. ISBN 0-9780499-0-X. 

External links[edit]