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An Introduction to Wu Xing: the Five Phases, also called the Five Elements

The Wu Xing, (五行 wŭ xíng) also known as the Five Phases are chiefly an ancient mnemonic device, in many traditional Chinese fields.

It has customarily been translated as Five Elements probably because of the similarity of this doctrine to the Western system of four elements.

The five elements are:


Element Chinese pinyin
Fire huǒ
Metal jīn
Water shuǐ

The system of five phases is used to describe interactions and relationships between phenomena. It is employed as a device in many fields of early Chinese thought and can still be found in seemingly disparate fields such as geomancy or Feng shui, astrology, traditional Chinese medicine, music, military strategy and martial arts.

The cycles:

The doctrine of five phases describes two cycles, a generating or creation (生, shēng) cycle, also known as "mother-son", and an overcoming or destruction (剋/克, ) cycle, also known as "grandfather-nephew", of interactions between the phases.


The common memory jogs, which help to remind in what 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.

Other common words for this cycle include "begets", "engenders" and "mothers."

  • Wood parts Earth (such as roots; or, Trees can prevent soil erosion);
  • Metal chops Wood;
  • Fire melts Metal;
  • Water quenches Fire;
  • Earth dams (or muddies or absorbs) Water;

Cosmology and Feng Shui

According to Wu Xing theory, the structure of the cosmos mirrors the five phases. Each phase has a complex series of associations with different aspects of nature, as can be seen in the following table. In the ancient Chinese form of geomancy known as Feng Shui practitioners all based their art and system on the five phases (Wu Xing). All of these phases are represented within the Bagua. Associated with these phases are colors, seasons and shapes; all of which are interacting with each other.

Based on a particular directional energy flow from one phase to the next, the interaction can be expansive, destructive, or exhaustive. With proper knowledge of such aspect of energy flow will enable the Feng Shui practitioner to apply certain cures or rearrangement of energy in a way that can create potentials and be beneficial for the receiver of the Feng Shui.



This article is based on the article Wu Xing from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it licensed under the double licence of GNU Free Documentation License und Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported. On Wikipedia a list of authors for this article is available. This article has been adjusted and extended for the use on this website.