Although Wu Xing is usually translated as the ‘five elements’, the Chinese word Xing, however, literally means something like ‘changing states of being’, ‘permutations’ or ‘metamorphoses of being’.
In fact, there is quite a difference between the Chinese astrology meaning and view of the ‘element’ from that of Western concept.
In Western astrology, there are only four elements: fire, earth, air and water, which were seen as the basic building blocks of matter. On the other hand, the Chinese astrology believed in 5 ‘elements’: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, which were seen as the basic substances of the material world according to the ‘Theory of the Five Elements’, which are ever changing and moving forces or energies.
According to the Chinese views, the attributes and properties of the Western and Indian air element are described to equal to that of the Wood element, where the element of Ether is usually viewed as a corresponding Metal.
It is also believed that there is a balance of yin and yang and the five elements, which are being in constant move and cyclical change (phases), in a person’s make-up and this balance will have a major impact on what is beneficial and effective for them in terms of feng shui, the Chinese form of geomancy. This is so due to the fact that there is a link between each element to a particular direction and season, and their different kinds of qì or life force.
Expansion of Theory of Five Elements
In the Expansion of Theory of Five Elements, it believed of the doctrine of five phases, which describes two cycles, a generating or creation (shēng) cycle, also known as “mother-son”, and an overcoming or destruction (kè) cycle, also known as “grandfather-nephew”, of interactions between the phases.
The Generating Cycle
In this cycle, it is believed that one element (which serves as parent) enriches, nourishes, strengthens, promotes growth and development of the following element (which serves as child).
In this cycle, the order the phases are:
- Wood feeds Fire;
- Fire creates Earth (ash);
- Earth bears Metal;
- Metal carries Water (as in a bucket or tap, or water condenses on metal);
- Water nourishes Wood
This means that (Interpretation):
- The Wood element is the supporting element of Fire, which in turn can release the power of Wood.
- The Fire is the supporting element of Earth, which in turn can release the power of Fire.
- The Earth is the supporting element of Metal, which in turn can release the power of Earth.
- The Metal is the supporting element of Water, which in turn can release the power of Metal.
- The Water is the supporting element of Wood, which in turn can release the power of Water.
The Controlling Cycle
Also known as Grandparent – Grandchild relationship. This is said to be the controlling cycle that provides for a check and balance system among all of the elements.
In the controlling or destructing cycle, there is one element that suppresses, controls, dominates, overcomes, weakens another element, preventing it from establishing its power.
In this cycle:
- The Wood parts or can break the ground (Earth).
- The Earth can soak up Water, blocking its flow.
- Water can control Fire.
- Fire melts Metal;
- Metal can chop Wood.
Interrelation of the Cycles
Sheng and Ke Cycle
This cycle generates a feedback system, which keeps the system/ body/ universe in balance; thus, ensuring that each element is connected with the other four elements.
In this cycle, the Wood restrains Earth, but at the same time, the Earth promotes Metal, which then restrains the Wood, making sure that Wood does not restrain Earth too excessivley.
Ke and Wu Cycle
This the Controling- Weakening cycle or Ke and Wu cycle which is said to represent a conflicting (fighting) aspect.
In this cycle:
- The Wood can break the ground (Earth), but Earth can bury Wood, too.
- The Earth can absorb Water, but Water can cover the land (Earth).
- The Water can extinguish Fire, but Fire might evaporate Water.
- The Fire can melt Metal, but Metal might not melt before Fire is extinguished.
- The Metal can cut Wood, but Metal might become dull before breaking Wood.
Wu and Cheng cycle