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Five elements (Chinese philosophy)

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Classical Elements


Water Aether Fire



Water Space Fire


Hinduism (Tattva) and
Buddhism (Mahābhūta)

Prithvi / BhumiEarth
Ap / JalaWater
Vayu / PavanAir / Wind
Agni / TejasFire

Japanese (Godai)

Earth (地)
Water (水)
Air / Wind (風)
Fire (火)
Void / Sky / Heaven (空)

Chinese (Wu Xing)

  Water (水)  
Metal (金) Earth (土) Wood (木)
  Fire (火)  



Liquid Informatics Plasma



Life Force / Electricity

In traditional Chinese philosophy, natural phenomena can be classified into the Five Elements (Template:Zh-c; pinyin: wǔxíng

): wood, fire, earth, metal, and water (木, 火, 土, 金, 水; mù, huǒ, tǔ, jīn, shǔi). These elements were used for describing interactions and relationships between phenomena. Five phases is the more appropriate way of translating wǔxíng — literally, "five goings". Traditional Taijiquan schools relate them to footwork and refer to them as five "steps".

The doctrine of five phases describes both a generating (生, shēng) cycle and an overcoming or restraining (克, ) cycle of interactions between the phases. In the generating cycle, wood generates fire; fire generates earth (ash); earth generates metal; metal generates water (if metal is left out at night water will have condensed on it by morning); water generates wood. In the overcoming cycle, wood grows in earth; earth absorbs water; water quenches fire; fire melts metal; metal cuts wood.
Interactions of Five Chinese Elements
The doctrine of five phases was employed in many fields of early Chinese philosophy, including seemingly disparate fields such as music, traditional Chinese medicine, and military strategy.

Correlations between the five elements and other categories Edit

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

Element Direction Color Musical Note
Wood east green or blue jué 角 (mi)
Fire south red zhǐ 徵 (so)
Earth center yellow gōng 宮 (do)
Metal west white shāng 商 (re)
Water north black 羽 (la)

(see also pentatonic scale)

(note: The Chinese word 青 includes the range in the spectrum from green to blue, with shades down to black.)

Some other correspondences are shown below:

Element Heavenly creature Season Direction Planet Tastes Sense Viscera (yin) Viscera (yang) Finger
Wood Azure Dragon
Spring east Jupiter sour sight liver gall bladder ring finger
Fire Vermilion Bird
Summer south Mars bitter sound heart small intestine middle finger
Earth Yellow Dragon/Qilin
Change of seasons
(four times a year)
center Saturn sweet smell spleen/pancreas stomach index finger
Metal White Tiger
Autumn west Venus spicy taste lung large intestine thumb
Water Black Tortoise
Winter north Mercury salty touch kidney urinary bladder little finger

The elements have also been correlated to the eight trigrams of the I Ching:

Element I Ching Trigrams
Wood Wind, thunder :|| (☴ 巽 xùn) |:: (☳ 震 zhèn)
Fire Fire |:| (☲ 離 )
Earth Earth, mountain ::: (☷ 坤 kūn) ::| (☶ 艮 gèn)
Metal Sky, lake ||| (☰ 乾 qián) ||: (☱ 兌 duì)
Water Water :|: (☵ 坎 kǎn)

The Five Elements appear in the movie "The Mystery of Chess Boxing", where the Ghostface Killer (later a member of the wu-tang clan) uses the a kung-fu style called the five-elements. A chessmaster learns the style, so that he can use the correct element to defeat whatever element the Ghostface Killer is using. It has memorable quotes such as "Five Elements! and first the gold!" "Fire melts gold, earth absorbs water" and last but not least, "I don't think your wood can overcome anything!".

See also Edit

References 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

External links Edit

es:Cinco Elementos fr:Cinq éléments (Chine) he:חמשת האלמנטיםpt:Cinco elementos (filosofia chinesa) sv:Fem elementen vi:Ngũ hành zh:五行

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