The term Wu Xing (five elements) refers to the movements and mutations of the five materials:
These are the five substrates that make up nature.
It is also called the theory of the five motions because they are constantly mutating.
All things and phenomena in the universe are the result of the movements and mutations between these five materials.
The theory of the five elements explains the interrelationship between the things and phenomena of the universe through the relations of production and domination that exist between them,
It considers that all things and phenomena in nature are neither isolated nor immobile, but remain in a state of equilibrium in their movements of production and domination.
The main content of the theory of the five elements is based on these two parts:
1.- Correspondence of the five elements with the things and phenomena of nature.
2.- Relations of production and domination; of aggression and insult (Sheng-Ke; Cheng-Wu).
1º Particularities and correspondences of the five elements
The particularities or characteristics of the five elements arise from the observation by the ancient Chinese, based on the knowledge of the five matters.
These have become (up to the present day) fundamental principles for the analysis and relations between all things in the universe:
a) Particularities of wood.
“Wood is both curved and straight”. This indicates the growth process of the tree with its trunk and branches extending in all four directions.
From this it was deduced that all things or phenomena whose peculiarities or characteristics are those of:
belong to wood.
b) Particularities of fire.
“Fire flames and rises upwards”.
Characteristics or peculiarities:
All things with these two functions belong to fire.
c) Particularities of the earth.
“The earth is the seed and the harvest”. This means that the sown earth produces the fruits of agriculture.
All things having the function:
– They belong to the earth.
d) Particularities of metal.
“Metal is involved in reform and change”.
All things with action of:
– Purification and retraction, belong to metal.
e) Particularities of water.
“Water moistens and percolates downwards”.
All things with characteristics of:
Belong to water.
To sum up:
Wood represents expansion, movement outwards and in all directions, metal represents contraction, movement inwards,
water represents downward movement, fire represents upward movement, earth represents stability.
The theory of the five elements classifies the correspondences (relations) of the five elements with things in nature according to the particularities of the five elements.
Example: In relation to the cardinal points
The sun rises in the east, it corresponds to the characteristics of wood (growth and expansion). So the east belongs to wood.
The sun sets in the west, it corresponds to the retraction characteristic of metal.
The South is a warm climate, it corresponds to fire.
The North has a cold climate, it corresponds to water… etc.
“The East produces the wind, the wind produces wood, its color is green; The South produces heat, heat produces fire, its colour is red; The Centre produces humidity, humidity produces earth, its color is red,
humidity produces earth, its color is yellow; the West produces dryness, dryness produces metal, its color is white; the North produces cold, cold produces water, its color is black” “Shu Wen chapter 5”.
“Jupiter corresponds to wood, Sun to fire, Saturn belongs to earth, Venus to metal and Mercury to water, these shine most brightly respectively in spring, summer, late summer (5th season), autumn, autumn and winter.
summer (5th season), autumn and winter “Nei Jing”.
Applying the correspondences of the five elements to the human being, the five organs are considered to belong respectively to the five elements.
– Since the liver controls expansion, it belongs to wood.
– The heart, whose function is to heat, belongs to fire.
– The spleen, which controls transport and transformation, belongs to earth.
– The lung, whose function is purification and descent, belongs to metal.
– The kidney, which controls the liquids, belongs to water.
Apart from this system of directly comparing things or phenomena with the particularities of the five elements, the method of indirect education was applied.
For example, the heart belongs to fire:
The heart belongs to fire, the vessels and the tongue also belong to fire. The liver belongs to wood. The tendons and the eyes controlled by the liver also belong to wood. etc.