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Another important point in Chinese medicine is the theory of the Five Elements which are

considered to be the elementary bricks of the universe.


The Five Elements are as the following:

wood

fire

earth

metal

water

The relations of Five Elements


The term Wu Xing or Five Elements appears for the first time in SHANGSHU, but it was
not until later that the theory of their mutual relations was established. These relations can be
described briefly as mutual creation (xiangsheng) and mutual destruction (xiangke).
On the basis of the conception of mutual creation and mutual destruction there appeared
further laws (like mutual creation and mutual destruction /zhihua/ and detrimentary
destruction /xiangcheng xiangwu/), explaining the complicated processes in nature.

Meaning and relations of the Five Chinese Elements

1. Rule of Mutual Creation


The creative force in nature is manifested in the following way:
1.

water creates wood

2.

wood creates fire

3.

fire creates earth

4.

earth creates metal

5.

metal creates water

Such a relation between the Five elements is called the relation between mother and son
(mu lai gu zi The mother comes to take care of the son). Each element after having been

created creates another element. Wood, creates fire (wood representing mother and fire
representing son), but fire creates earth (fire becomes mother while earth becomes son) etc.

2. Rule of Mutual Destruction


The destructive force in nature is manifested in the opposite way:
1.

wood destroys earth

2.

earth destroys water

3.

water destroys fire

4.

fire destroys metal

5.

metal destroys wood

Each element after having been destroyed destroys another element. This relation is called
sons revenge upon his mother (zi fu mu chou The son avenges his mother).

3. Rule of Mutual Creation and Mutual Destruction


Each destruction contains creation while each creation contains destruction in itself. If only
creation or only destruction existed, the balance could not be preserved. The relation
between the Five Elements must be viewed as the relation involving mutual creation as well
as mutual destruction.
The relations are as the following:
1.

wood destroys earth

2.

earth creates metal

3.

metal destroys wood

4.

fire destroys water

5.

water creates wood

6.

wood destroys earth

7.

metal destroys wood

8.

wood creates fire

9.

fire destroys metal

10. water destroys fire


11. fire creates earth
12. earth destroys water
The harmony in nature can be preserved only in the case, when the constructive and
destructive forces are in balance. Each element implies four relations: it is created, it creates
itself, it is destroyed and it destroys itself.

4. Rule of Detrimentary Destruction

The rule of mutual creation and mutual destruction reflects the normal relations between the
Five Elements. In the case the balance is disturbed (in medicine if Qi is either excessive or
insufficient), the so called detrimentary destruction appears. For example, if fire is too strong
and water too weak to destroy it, then fire destroys not only metal, but also water. The theory
of the Five Elements applied to Ancient Chinese medicine established a perfect theoretical
system. Even now in some modern Chinese books on medicine much stress is put on the
theory of the Five Elements without which it is impossible to understand the elementary
principles of the traditional medicine.
The universe as a whole and the man as a part of it are subordinated to the rigid schema of
the number five. Here only a partial chart is given.
Five Elements

wood

fire

earth

metal

Development

birth

growth

change

decline

Five Colours

green

red

yellow

white

black

Five Flavours

sour

bitter

sweet

pungent

salty

Five Seasons

spring

summer

mid-summer

autumn

winter

Five Climates

wind

heat

damp

dryness

cold

liver

heart

spleen

lungs

kidney

gall-

small

bladder

intensine

Five Viscera
(ZangOrgans)

Five Bowels

blood

Five Tissues

tendon

Five Ofirices

eye

tongue

Five Emotions

anger

joy

vessels

stomach

large
intensine

water
extincti
on

bladder

flesh

skin

bones

mouth

nose

ear

grief

fear

strain due to excessive


mental activity

Diurnal Cycle of Five Chinese Elements

The relations between the Five Elements and


internal organs
In ZHONGYIXUE-GAILUN the following example is given:
Spring corresponds to the element of wood. In spring the wind, mostly the east
wind is blowing; the weather is warm; the grass and the trees begin to grow. In
spring the man is full of vigour which manifests the function of the liver and
abounds in joy.

1. Relations between the Five Elements and the Five


ZangOrgans
Wood corresponds to the liver, fire is identified with the heart, earth with the spleen, metal
with the lungs, water with the kidney. If Qi accumulates in some organ or is lacking there, the
organ becomes sick. On the basis of the theory of the Five Elements there exists a relation
between the Yang (Fu) Organs and the Yin (Zang) Organs, in other words the
two organs are always coupled together. Thus liver corresponds to gall-bladder, heart to small
intestine, etc. In the case an organ becomes sick, the diseased Yang (Fu) Organ can
influence the corresponding Yin (Zang) Organ.

2. Relations between the Five Zang Organs and the Five


Orifices
Liver leads into the eye, lungs into the nose, kidney into the ears etc. According to the
experiences of the ancient Chinese physicians the liver can be cured when the eye is
diseased and the lungs can be healed when the nose is diseased etc.

3. Relations between the Five Zang Organs and the


Five Tissues
In the case the organs become sick, the tissues are affected as well. The liver disease affects
the tendons and cramps occur. If the spleen becomes sick, the flesh begins to dwindle, etc.

4. Relations between the Five Zang Organs and the


FiveEmotions
Strong emotions can evoke strong, nervous stimulation and thus cause the disease of some
organ. Thus the liver can be destroyed by anger, the heart by great joy, the lungs by sadness,
the kidney by anxiety and the spleen by strain due to excessive mental activity.

Five elements Cycles of generation and control andcycles of imbalance

5. Relations between the Five Zang Organs and the


Five Sounds
The Five Sounds are the pathological sounds uttered in various diseases. Thus the heart
disease, often accompanied by nervous collapse, is characterized by incessant cheerful
laughter.

6. Relations between the Five Zang Organs and the Five


Colours
A patient suffering from the heart disease is red in his face, that suffering from the liver
disease becomes green; the one suffering from lung disease is pale, while he suffering from
kidney disease has his face quite dark in colour. As far as colours are concerned, distinction
must be made between the good colour (shan) and the ominous (e) one. Smooth and moist
skin represents the good colour, while a dry spiritless skin suggests the ominous colour. The
disease of the second type usually has a bad prognosis. In more complicated cases,
however, colours need not coincide with the diseases. If the patient suffering from the liver

disease is pale in his face, it means that metal is destroying wood, i.e. detrimentary
destruction is taking place between the Five Zang Organs.

7. Relations between the Five Flavours and the Five


ZangOrgans
The sour flavour corresponds to wood and enters the liver; the bitter flavour corresponds to
fire and enters the heart; the sweet flower corresponds to earth and enters the spleen; the
pungent flavour corresponds to metal and enters the lungs; the salty flavour corresponds to
water and enters the kidney. In ancient Chinese thought, each organ chooses only one
flavour. In the case the illness dwells in the muscles, the patient should not eat sour food, if it
dwells in the bones, he should refrain from salty food, if it is in the blood, he should avoid
bitter food and if it is in the flesh, he must not take anything sweet. When only one flavour is
preferred for a long time, the man becomes sick. The sour flavour destroys the tendons, the
sweet flavour destroys the flesh, etc. Even in the selection and combination of
the Chinese drugs to be used the relations between the Five Flavours and the Five
Zang Organs were taken into consideration.
On the basis of the Five Elements even the characterology of people has been elaborated. A
gentle, good-tempered man belongs to wood, a choleric, violent person to fire. People
belonging to wood and fire can bear spring and summer and do not bear autumn and winter.
By the expression to bear we meant to resist illness in that particular season.