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What are the Chinese Wu Xing 5 Phases?

The Yin Yang Theory

The Yin Yang theory is an ancient Chinese philosophy created long ago and still deep-rooted in Chinese culture today. The most infamous part of the theory is perhaps the symbol of the theory. A circle is divided into two sides, each side colored black and white. If you see the picture above, you’ll notice that they are not fully black nor fully white as there is a small dot with the opposite color on each side. This symbol is a representation of the theory’s belief in balance and interconnection. A simple explanation for this theory is that good things can’t always be fully good, and bad things can’t always be fully bad. Nothing is ever fully perfect or imperfect, the good and bad cannot be fully separated and will always be connected in a certain way. This philosophy is most commonly found in martial art teachings and exercises such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. The Yin Yang theory later made it into pop culture and international fame when the famous martial artist, Bruce Lee, made his break into Hollywood. Bruce Lee’s break into Hollywood brought up traditional Chinese martial arts to light along with the studies that the martial arts were based on including the Yin and Yang theory. Other applications of the Yin Yang theory can be found in Chinese Metaphysics Feng Shui, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and a less well-known application, the 5 phases. 

See more: Understanding Chinese Culture – The Top 12 Most Unique Cultural Facts.

The wu xing 5 phases

The 5 phases or wu xing 五行, is an ancient Chinese philosophy as old as the Han dynasty in China. As ancient as it may be, the philosophy can still be found in modern-day Chinese culture, for example, in Chinese medicine and Chinese astrology. In the 5 phases philosophy, each phase is represented with an element derived from nature. The 5 elements in this philosophy are water, earth, fire, metal, and wood. Each of the elements has different relationships with the other elements both negative and positive.

Chinese traditional medicine

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In Chinese traditional medicine, these wu xing elements can be used to represent an organ and medicinal herb. A traditional Chinese medicine doctor can decide on which medicinal herb can be used to treat a problematic organ based on the elements that the organ and herb are represented with. For example, the lungs in Chinese medicine are represented with the element metal. The herbs in Chinese medicine are represented with tastes complementary to the elements. The tastes of the herb can be categorized into salty, sweet, bitter, pungent, and sour. The herbs with a pungent taste such as agarwood, tangerine peel, and wild mint, are represented by the metal elements, therefore, believed to be effective in treating lung problems.

Chinese astrology

Similar to Chinese medicine, Chinese astrology also uses these wu xing elements as a representation of astrological phenomena and space objects. This representation is also the source of one of China’s four great folktales, the Tale of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl. The folktale represents why the star Vega (weaver girl) and Altair (cowherd) are separated by the Milky way (heavenly river). Other than a source of fairy tale, these elements can also be combined together with the Chinese zodiac giving the astrologer insights on a person’s personality, fortune and love. 

See more: The Chinese Zodiac.

Find out your element!

Left to right: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water

Getting to know your element is as easy as pie. All it takes is your year of birth to figure out.

If your year of birth

  • ends with the number 0 or 1, your element is metal.
  • ends with the number 2 or 3, your element is water.
  • ends with the number 4 or 5, your element is wood.
  • ends with the number 6 or 7, your element is fire.
  • ends with the number 8 or 9, your element is earth.

Let us know your element in the comments below!

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