The Five Elements and Wu-Xing Theory

Five elements theory is also referred to as Wu-Xing or five phases theory. In China, the “Wu-Xing” theory has a long history. If Yin-Yang theory is the ancient theory of the unity of opposites, then the Wu-Xing (five elements) can be regarded as a philosophical thought originating from politics. Jizi of the Shang Dynasty recognized the five elements over 3,000 years ago. The five elements are mainly used for the governance system.

Ancient people believed that everything in the world is composed of five elements, namely wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, interacting with each other. The five elements refer to five changing substances, while the Wu-Xing refers to the movement and changes of the five substances of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

Five seasons and five elements

Five Elements & Five Seasons

The early five elements did not simply refer to five materials or an abstract philosophical concept, but to the changes of the five seasons in a year. Five elements mean five seasons, which are Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Late Summer.


Spring (Wood): Spring is a time of birth and new beginnings, and many plants begin to grow in spring. So spring belongs to the element of wood.

Summer(Fire): Summer is hot and dynamic and brings fire through the sun’s heat. So summer belongs to the element of fire.

Late Summer(Earth): There is a later summer after the summer we commonly talk about, which corresponds to two unusual time periods. First, it refers to the period from the beginning of autumn to the autumn equinox. It’s a short season just before the cool weather sets in, usually in lunar June. Second, the element of earth is related to the period of four seasons alternation throughout the year, including those days between seasons in which autumn changes to winter, winter to spring, and spring to summer.

Late summer is associated with the earth element. People live on the earth, and the four seasons alternate, so there must be some earth elements in the human body. The element of the earth affects people throughout the year and is the most important element in the human body. 

Autumn (Metal): Autumn is always described as golden polish autumn because the trees are golden. Autumn brings the harvest of crops. So autumn belongs to the element of metal.

Winter (Water): Winter is the coldest and darkest season of the year which is the opposite of summer and some areas will experience snow. Snow is formed by water condensation, so the element of water can be used to describe winter. The winter belongs to the element of water.

After spring comes summer, so wood produces fire. Likewise, fire produces earth, the earth produces metal, metal produces water, and water produces wood.


The five elements do not refer to five specific things, but an abstract generalization of the five different properties of everything in the universe. The meaning of the word “Xing” in the five elements refers to action, not matter.

The element of metal is not gold, and the element of water is not the same as drinking water in a cup. Don’t regard the five elements as five substances. The five elements are the movements of five different Qi.

Interaction of the five elements

We already know the five elements are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. The five elements have their own internal orders and patterns. Every element can be supported or weakened by another element. The five Elements relate to each other in different ways, including the Creation cycle and the Destruction cycle. The other two cycles including the Overacting (Cheng) cycle and the Insulting (Wu) cycles represent disharmony and imbalance. 

The creating relationships of five elements can be memorized as follows: Water enables Wood to grow, Wood enables Fire to burn to result in ashes or Earth, in which forms Metal, which in liquid forms resembles water. 

Wood Create Fire

Wood creates a Fire

The destruction cycle is like water extinguishing Fire, and water or flood is controlled by the dam or river bank which belongs to the earth element. Earth is depleted of energy by Wood in the form of trees, which can be chopped or destroyed by Metal tools. One element is destroyed by another.

Metal Destruct Wood

Metal destructs Wood

Each element is under the influence of the other four elements in some way. These relationships are shown in “The Relationships of the Five Elements” table.

The Interaction of the Five Elements

ElementProduced byDestructed byProducesDestruct

The creation and destruction/controlling cycle are inseparable. Without creation, things cannot occur and grow; without control, things are unconstrained, and normal coordination cannot be maintained. Only by maintaining the dynamic balance of the creation and control cycle can things happen and develop normally.

Therefore, we shouldn’t assume creation is good, and destruction is bad. When the five elements are all in balance, it feels wonderful. Assuming you have much fire, do you still feel well? If someone comes to help you, your fire element would become super stronger. Thus this is unbalanced. You need to balance the fire element in you, which means someone to control your fire element.

Because there is always an interaction between the five elements, there is no primary and secondary distinction between the five elements.


What are the five elements
Relationships of five elements

Site design / logo © 2020-2022 Guide to Chinese Astrology - Dicover Your Fate!