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Wuxing (Chinese: 五行; pinyin: wǔxíng),[a] usually translated as Five Phases or Five Agents, is a fivefold conceptual scheme used in many traditional Chinese fields of study to explain a wide array of phenomena, including cosmic cycles, the interactions between internal organs, the succession of political regimes, and the properties of herbal medicines.
The agents are Fire, Water, Wood, Metal, and Earth.[b] The wuxing system has been in use since it was formulated in the second or first century BCE during the Han dynasty. It appears in many seemingly disparate fields of early Chinese thought, including music, feng shui, alchemy, astrology, martial arts, military strategy, I Ching divination, and traditional medicine, serving as a metaphysics based on cosmic analogy.
Wuxing originally referred to the five major planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Mars, Venus), which were conceived as creating five forces of earthly life. This is why the word is composed of Chinese characters meaning "five" (五; wǔ) and "moving" (行; xíng). "Moving" is shorthand for "planets", since the word for planets in Chinese literally translates as "moving stars" (行星; xíngxīng). Some of the Mawangdui Silk Texts (before 168 BC) also connect the wuxing to the wude (五德; wǔdé), the Five Virtues and Five Emotions. Scholars believe that various predecessors to the concept of wuxing were merged into one system with many interpretations during the Han dynasty.
Wuxing was first translated into English as "the Five Elements", drawing delibrate parallels with the Western idea of the four elements. This translation is still in common use among practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine, such as in the name of Five Element acupuncture. However, this analogy is misleading. The four elements are concerned with form, substance and quantity, whereas wuxing are "primarily concerned with process, change, and quality". For example, the wuxing element "Wood" is more accurately thought of as the "vital essence" of trees rather than the physical substance wood. This led sinologist Nathan Sivin to propose the alternative translation "five phases" in 1987. But "phase" also fails to capture the full meaning of wuxing. In some contexts, the wuxing are indeed associated with physical substances. Historian of Chinese medicine Manfred Porkert proposed the (somewhat unwieldy) term "Evolutive Phase". Perhaps the most widely accepted translation among modern scholars is "the five agents", proposed by Marc Kalinowski.
In traditional doctrine, the five phases are connected in two cycles of interactions: a generating or creation (生 shēng) cycle, also known as "mother-son"; and an overcoming or destructive (克 kè) cycle, also known as "grandfather-grandson" (see diagram). Each of the two cycles can be analyzed going forward or reversed. There is also an "overacting" or excessive version of the destructive cycle.
The generating cycle (相生 xiāngshēng) is:
The reverse generating cycle (相洩/相泄 xiāngxiè) is:
The destructive cycle (相克 xiāngkè) is:
The excessive destructive cycle (相乘 xiāngchéng) is:
A reverse or deficient destructive cycle (相侮 xiāngwǔ or 相耗 xiānghào) is:
Main article: Heavenly Stems
|Heavenly Stems||Jia 甲
|Ren 壬 |
|Year ends with||4, 5||6, 7||8, 9||0, 1||2, 3|
In Ziwei divination, neiyin (纳音) further classifies the Five Elements into 60 ming (命), or life orders, based on the ganzhi. Similar to the astrology zodiac, the ming is used by fortune-tellers to analyse individual personality and destiny.
|1||Jia Zi 甲子||Sea metal 海中金||31||Jia Wu 甲午||Sand metal 沙中金||Metal|
|2||Yi Chou 乙丑||32||Yi Wei 乙未|
|3||Bing Yin 丙寅||Furnace fire 炉中火||33||Bing Shen 丙申||Forest fire 山下火||Fire|
|4||Ding Mao 丁卯||34||Ding You 丁酉|
|5||Wu Chen 戊辰||Forest wood 大林木||35||Wu Xu 戊戌||Meadow wood 平地木||Wood|
|6||Ji Si 己巳||36||Ji Hai 己亥|
|7||Geng Wu 庚午||Road earth 路旁土||37||Geng Zi 庚子||Adobe earth 壁上土||Earth|
|8||Xin Wei 辛未||38||Xin Chou 辛丑|
|9||Ren Shen 壬申||Sword metal 剑锋金||39||Ren Yin 壬寅||Precious metal 金白金||Metal|
|10||Gui You 癸酉||40||Gui Mao 癸卯|
|11||Jia Xu 甲戌||Volcanic fire 山头火||41||Jia Chen 甲辰||Lamp fire 佛灯火||Fire|
|12||Yi Hai 乙亥||42||Yi Si 乙巳|
|13||Bing Zi 丙子||Cave water 洞下水||43||Bing Wu 丙午||Sky water 天河水||Water|
|14||Ding Chou 丁丑||44||Ding Wei 丁未|
|15||Wu Yin 戊寅||Fortress earth 城头土||45||Wu Shen 戊申||Highway earth 大驿土||Earth|
|16||Ji Mao 己卯||46||Ji You 己酉|
|17||Geng Chen 庚辰||Wax metal 白腊金||47||Geng Xu 庚戌||Jewellery metal 钗钏金||Metal|
|18||Xin Si 辛巳||48||Xin Hai 辛亥|
|19||Ren Wu 壬午||Willow wood 杨柳木||49||Ren Zi 壬子||Mulberry wood 桑柘木||Wood|
|20||Gui Wei 癸未||50||Gui Chou 癸丑|
|21||Jia Shen 甲申||Stream water 泉中水||51||Jia Yin 甲寅||Rapids water 大溪水||Water|
|22||Yi You 乙酉||52||Yi Mao 乙卯|
|23||Bing Xu 丙戌||Roof tiles earth 屋上土||53||Bing Chen 丙辰||Desert earth 沙中土||Earth|
|24||Ding Hai 丁亥||54||Ding Si 丁巳|
|25||Wu Zi 戊子||Lightning fire 霹雳火||55||Wu Wu 戊午||Sun fire 天上火||Fire|
|26||Ji Chou 己丑||56||Ji Wei 己未|
|27||Geng Yin 庚寅||Conifer wood 松柏木||57||Geng Shen 庚申||Pomegranate wood 石榴木||Wood|
|28||Xin Mao 辛卯||58||Xin You 辛酉|
|29||Ren Chen 壬辰||River water 长流水||59||Ren Xu 壬戌||Ocean water 大海水||Water|
|30||Gui Si 癸巳||60||Gui Hai 癸亥|
The wuxing schema is applied to explain phenomena in various fields.
The five phases are around 73 days each and are usually used to describe the transformations of nature rather than their formative states.
Main article: Feng shui
The art of feng shui (Chinese geomancy) is based on wuxing, with the structure of the cosmos mirroring the five phases, as well as the eight trigrams. Each phase has a complex network of associations with different aspects of nature (see table): colors, seasons and shapes all interact according to the cycles.
An interaction or energy flow can be expansive, destructive, or exhaustive, depending on the cycle to which it belongs. By understanding these energy flows, a feng shui practitioner attempts to rearrange energy to benefit the client.
|Planet (Celestial Body)||Neptune||Venus||Mars||Jupiter||Pluto||Mercury||Uranus||Saturn|
According to the Warring States period political philosopher Zou Yan (c. 305–240 BCE), each of the five elements possesses a personified virtue (德; dé), which indicates the foreordained destiny (運; yùn) of a dynasty; hence the cyclic succession of the elements also indicates dynastic transitions. Zou Yan claims that the Mandate of Heaven sanctions the legitimacy of a dynasty by sending self-manifesting auspicious signs in the ritual color (yellow, blue, white, red, and black) that matches the element of the new dynasty (Earth, Wood, Metal, Fire, and Water). From the Qin dynasty onward, most Chinese dynasties invoked the theory of the Five Elements to legitimize their reign.
Main article: Traditional Chinese medicine
The interdependence of zangfu networks in the body was said to be a circle of five things, and so mapped by the Chinese doctors onto the five phases.
In order to explain the integrity and complexity of the human body, Chinese medical scientists and physicians use the Five Elements theory to classify the human body's endogenous influences on organs, physiological activities, pathological reactions, and environmental or exogenous influences. This diagnostic capacity is extensively used in traditional five phase acupuncture today, as opposed to the modern eight principles based Traditional Chinese medicine. Furthermore in combination the two systems are the study of postnatal and prenatal influencing on genetics, psychology and sociology. 
|Mental Quality||idealism, spontaneity, curiosity||passion, intensity||agreeableness, honesty||intuition, rationality, mind||erudition, resourcefulness, wit|
|Emotion||anger, kindness||hate, resolve||anxiety, joy||grief, bravery||fear, passion|
|Zang (yin organs)||liver||heart/pericardium||spleen/pancreas||lung||kidney|
|Fu (yang organs)||gall bladder||small intestine/San Jiao||stomach||large intestine||urinary bladder|
|Finger||index finger||middle finger||thumb||ring finger||pinky finger|
|Life||early childhood||pre-puberty||adolescence/intermediate||adulthood||old age, conception|
|Year||Spring Equinox||Summer Solstice||Summer Final||Fall Equinox||Winter Solstice|
The Yueling chapter (月令; Yuèlìng) of the Liji (禮記; Lǐjì) and the Huainanzi (淮南子; Huáinánzǐ) make the following correlations:
|Color||Qing (green and blue)||Red||Yellow||White||Black|
|Basic Pentatonic Scale pitch||角||徵||宮||商||羽|
|Basic Pentatonic Scale pitch pinyin||jué||zhǐ||gōng||shāng||yǔ|
|solfege||mi or E||sol or G||do or C||re or D||la or A|
Tai chi uses the five elements to designate different directions, positions or footwork patterns: forward, backward, left, right and centre, or three steps forward (attack) and two steps back (retreat).
The Five Steps (五步; wǔ bù):
The martial art of xingyiquan uses the five elements metaphorically to represent five different states of combat.
|Metal||Splitting||劈||Pī||To split like an axe chopping up and over|
|Water||Drilling||鑽 / 钻||Zuān||Drilling forward horizontally like a geyser|
|Wood||Crushing||崩||Bēng||To collapse, as a building collapsing in on itself|
|Fire||Pounding||炮||Pào||Exploding outward like a cannon while blocking|
|Earth||Crossing||橫 / 横||Héng||Crossing across the line of attack while turning over|
Wuxing heqidao, Gogyo Aikido (五行合气道) is a life art with roots in Confucian, Taoists and Buddhist theory.[further explanation needed] It centers around applied peace and health studies rather than defence or physical action. It emphasizes the unification of mind, body and environment using the physiological theory of yin, yang and five-element Traditional Chinese medicine. Its movements, exercises, and teachings cultivate, direct, and harmonise the qi.
The Japanese term is gogyo (Japanese:五行, romanized: gogyō). During the 5th and 6th centuries (Kofun period), Japan adopted various philosophical disciplines such as Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism through monks and physicians from China. In particular, wuxing was adapted into gogyo. These theories have been extensively practiced in Japanese acupuncture and traditional Kampo medicine.