The Five Elements in Chinese and Asian Culture

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What are The Five Elements?

The Five Elements (Chinese: Wu Xing) are the five factors that play a lifeblood role in establishing the world, according to the ancient theory of Chinese.

These five factors include Metal (Jin), Wood (Mu), Water (Shui), Fire (Huo), and Earth (Tu). Every element shows its typical characters. For examples, “Metal” represents the solid matters, conductors, storage capacity, or the power. “Wood”  reflects the natural world, the spring, and the development. “Water” symbolizes for the source of water, the winter, the arts, and beauty. “Fire” is typical for the summer, the heat, and fire, the warmth, and happiness. Lastly, “Earth” is about the environment where nourishes every creature. And, these are just some popular characters of each element.

Besides that, the Five Elements are under the rule of the generating and overcoming themselves. This rule is called Yin & Yang. For thousands of years, people have relied on the rule of Yin & Yang for describing the interactions and relationship between things of this world. Moreover, the practices of the Five Elements are also applied to Chinese astrology, Feng Shui, fortune telling, and explaining various natural and social phenomenon.

It can be said that the theory of Five Elements not only reflects the nature of the world but also the rule of human life. We will discover further information about the Five Elements in the following paragraphs.


The Nature of The Five Elements 
The Rule of Generating Together

 One of the most prominent nature of the Five Elements is the continuous movement. It is changing perpetually. In fact, the Five Element never stops. It is always available in three dimensions including time, space, and materials. That is the reason why people said that the Five Elements are the lifeblood for the formation and transformation of the universe and human life.

In the continuity of the Five Elements, there are two principles: the generating and overcoming each other. The law of generating means everything support and nourish the others. In a simple manner, this is the rule of relying on each other to maintain and develop the lives. Generally, this rule is described as the generating circle.

For more details, we can consider the following information.

The cycle of birth in the Five Elements. (Source: Quora).
  • Metal” supports “Water” element.
  • Water” nourishes “Wood” element.
  • Wood” creates  “Fire” element.
  • Fire”  bears “Earth” element.
  • Earth” covers “Metal” element.

In order to understand clearly about this relationship, let us imagine the routine below. First of all, the “Metal” element heated under the high temperature will transform into the liquid, or “Water” element. Then, “Water” element waters the trees or “Wood” element. Next, “Wood” element is used as a fuel to make “Fire” element. After that, “Fire” element is burnt to become ash, ash comes into the ground or “Earth” element. Finally, “Earth” element covers metal element inside the ground.


The Principle of Overcoming Each Other

On the other hand, the Five Elements also against each other in the circle of movement. In the figurative meaning, we can think about this rule as “Diamond cuts diamond”.

For example, let us consider the below description.

The cycle of overcoming each other in the Five Elements. (Source: LoveToKnow Horoscopes)
  • Metal”  goes against “Wood”. You can see that the ax can chop down the tree easily.
  • Wood”  goes against “Earth”. The roots of trees grow in the soil then break the ground.
  • Earth”  goes against “Water”. The things belong to earth like rock, stones can stop the flow of the water.
  • Water”  goes against “Fire. It is clear that the water can put out the fire.
  • Fire” goes against “Metal”. People use fire to fuse the metal.

In reality, the generating and the overcoming process are not separated from each other. The generating phenomenon always covers the origination of the overcoming phenomenon and vice versa. Therefore, everything, every creature, and every factor in this universe always interacts together and rely on each other to maintain and improve the lives.

In order to know more about the nature of each element in the Five Element, it is helpful for you to consider the following table. This table shows the relationship of each element with other aspects.

Factors Wood” Fire” Earth” Metal” “Water”
Time The early morning The noon The afternoon The evening The midnight
Weather Windy Hot Warm Cool Cold
Hand The thumb The index finger The middle finger The ring finger The little finger
Sense The body The eyes


The ears The nose The tongue


Materials The wood, tree The fire The Ground The


The water
Color Green Red Yellow White Black
Season Spring Summer The late summer Fall Winter
Orientation East South Middle West North
Emotion Angry Happy Worry Unhappy Afraid
Fortune Long lifespan Health Peace Richness Fame



The Relationship between The Bagua and The Five Elements
The ancient people believed that everything in the world is created by the five elements. They are the metal, the wood, the water, the fire, and the earth. Then, all phenomenon cover itself with five characters that correspond to the Five Element. For examples, there are 4 main orientations (the Five Elements), and 8 directions (the Bagua) in the space.

Moreover, we can also see clearly the relationship between the Five Elements and the nature of the five orientations. For more details, “Wood” element is warm and toward to the sun, so “Wood” element belongs to the spring and the East. As the same as “Wood” element, “Fire” element is hot, then it is closely connected to the summer and the South. Next, the “Water” element is cold, thus it presents the winter and the North.  Clearly, it is easy for us to see that the typical character of each element in the Five Elements is related to the various nature of the phenomenon.

The Five Elements has a strong connection to the Bagua because both of them share the same factors that are the fund in the universe. In the Bagua, the eight parts concluding: the sky, the wind, the water, the mountain, the earth, the thunder, the fire, and the lake are also the fundamental elements of the universe. In fact, they shared the same origination – the Supreme Ultimate. The Supreme Ultimate divided into Yin and Yang. Then, the Yin and Yang created the sky and the earth, followed by the five materials. Next, the five materials transformed into eight phenomena. In short, through the theory of the Five Element and the Bagua, we can realize the worldview of Chinese people about the formation and transformation of the universe as well as the human life and its characters.


The Usage of The Five Element in Fortune Telling and Feng Shui


The usage of the Bagua and the Five Elements for fortune telling. (Source: Transformations for Interiors).

 According to the philosophy of the Five Elements, the rule of generating have a significant effect on human’s life. Therefore, Asian people usually consider the most suitable orientation/time/color with their fate for most of the important decisions. They believe that the best choice based on the rule of the Five Element will bring good fortune as well as prevent fortune.

For example, if someone belongs to “Wood” element, he or she should go toward to the East because the East will bring shed light on his or her journey (a tree). On the contrary, he or she should not go to the West as the “Metal” element in the West will have a bad influence on his or her progress (the metal can cut the wood). Hence, before Lunar’s holiday, Asian people tend to have the Master of fortune telling to predict about their life in the upcoming year. They will choose the best orientation to take the first step outside on the beginning day of new year. Or, they will rely on the most suitable color with their fate in this year to choose the color of clothes to dress up, and so on.

From the Feng Shui’s perspective, the rule of the Five Element also applies to the choice of the most suitable orientation. In reality, the Asian people often rely on the knowledge of the Five Elements to make the decisions in celebrating the important ceremonies such as the wedding, starting a project, burying the dead, etc.


Short Summary about The Five Elements

In conclusion, the doctrine of the Five Elements have played an important role in Chinese philosophy and influenced deeply the Asian culture for ages. Nowadays, people still apply its practices in normal and formal activities easily. We can admit that it would be a dismiss to not discover about this ancient philosophy while we study about Chinese and Asian culture. Obviously, the Five Elements not only represent the worldview of ancient Chinese but also reflect the typical Asian lifestyle and culture.

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