It is impossible to perform a Feng Shui expertise without understanding how the 5 Chinese elements interact with each other. This concept is called Wu Xing or, more precisely, “wu zhong liu xing zhi qi” which means “the five types of chi that predominate at different times”.
According to Chinese cosmology, everything that exists belongs to one of these five elements or phases. They form the basic components of all matter, and of everything that happens in nature and in our bodies.
As they characterise the Chi, I will explain how, in Feng Shui, we analyse whether the relationships between these elements are harmonious or not.
Please check the Feng Shui glossary for others important notions.
What are the characteristics of the 5 Chinese elements?
The principle of the 5 phases was born, like the 8 trigrams, like the concept of Taiji, from observations made by the ancients. From the natural substance, a dynamic property is defined which is then used to categorise objects, phenomena, seasons, weather, tastes, organs, emotions…
The Metal element: it is associated with the West (number 7) and Northwest (number 6) zones. Its representative season is late Autumn and early Winter. It is associated with dry weather, pungent taste, grief and D sound. The colours of Metal are white, grey, gold and silver. It is related to the respiratory organs such as the lungs, mouth, nose and also the skin. It is the phase of the Qian and Dui trigrams.
The Wood element: it is associated with the East (number 3) and South-East (number 4) zones. Its representative season is late spring and early summer. It is associated with wind, sour taste, anger and the sound of E. The colours of the Wood are green and brown. At the organ level, we find the liver and the gall bladder. It is also related to the legs, feet and lower back. It is the phase of the trigrams Zhen and Xun.
The Water element: it is associated with a single zone, the North (number 1). Its representative season is winter. It is associated with cold, salty taste, fear and sound. The colours of Water are blue and black. At the organ level, we find the kidney. It is also related to the ears, bladder, blood and urinary systems. It is the phase of the Kan trigram.
The Fire element: it is associated with a single zone, the South (number 9). Its representative season is summer. It is associated with heat, bitter taste, joy and ground sound. The colours of Fire are pink, red and violet. At the organ level, we find the heart and the small intestine. It is also related to the eyes and the tongue. This is the phase of the Li trigram.
The Earth element: it is associated with the Northeast (number 8) and the Southeast (number 2). In the lo-shu square, it is also associated with the centre (number 5). There is not really a representative season as it is found in early spring and also in early autumn. It is associated with moisture, sweetness, concentration and sound. The colours of the Earth are yellow and orange. At the organ level, it is associated with the stomach and the spleen. It is also connected to the abdomen, hands and fingers. This is the phase of the trigrams Gen and Kun.
Thus, we can see that each element or phase has its own chi, which has very different characteristics. Each phase interacts with the other elements. These interactions have been studied and we distinguish 3 cycles: the cycle of production, destruction and control.
The production cycle of the 5 Chinese elements
It is a harmonious movement where each element gives birth to and strengthens the next. This relationship is called the mother-child relationship: each element is the son of the phase that produces it and the mother of the phase it produces.
Wood produces Fire by feeding it.
Fire produces Earth by producing ashes.
Earth produces Metal by contracting.
Metal produces Water (chi liquefies)
Water produces Wood by stimulating its growth.
And the circle is complete, as they say. In feng shui, this cycle is used to strengthen, reinforce, positive stars.
The cycle of destruction of the 5 Chinese elements
It is also called the cycle of domination. It is a cycle of imbalance where each element weakens or even destroys the next element (even if, technically, the energy cannot really be destroyed).
Wood destroys Earth by exhausting it.
Earth destroys Water by absorbing it.
Water destroys Fire by extinguishing it.
Fire destroys Metal by melting it.
Metal destroys Wood by cutting it.
This cycle sets in motion a Chi which is not favourable, we speak of “outrageous relationship”. This chi is a source of stagnation, of problems, including health problems. But it can be used as a remedy against negative chi.
The control cycle of the 5 Chinese elements
It is sometimes called the weakening cycle. Here each element reduces the power of the next element. You will see from the diagram that it actually runs in the opposite direction to the birth cycle.
Wood controls Water by absorbing it.
Water controls Metal by eating it up.
Metal controls Earth by scratching it.
Earth controls Fire by reducing it.
Fire controls Wood by burning it without destroying it.
This cycle can help to restore the sequential balance (that of the productive cycle) of the phases concerned. It is widely used in the Flying Star method.
The link between Feng Shui and Wu Xing
Once we know all this about the 5 Chinese elements, what do we do with it? You may not do much with it, but I use it in every assessment!
First of all, during one of the first phases of the analysis, we define where each room in the home (or business or professional premises) is located. The next step is to make decorating recommendations that will support the corresponding element.
Let’s say that the living room belongs to the South East zone of Bagua. I know that this corresponds to the wood element. So, I can plan a green wallpaper, or a panoramic jungle wallpaper, wicker hangers or a beige sofa.
But the analysis doesn’t stop there. Next comes the one that corresponds to the school of flying stars. I will soon write an article on this method that brings space and time together. These famous stars are represented by numbers from 1 to 9, they have the same characteristics as the trigrams and therefore also belong to a phase. Once the numerical diagram has been defined, we obtain a combination of numbers for each zone: we then study the combinations of numbers with regard to the 3 cycles described above.
Let’s say that the zone contains the combination 4 (wood), 9 (fire) and 3 (wood): wood produces fire, moreover the star 9 is favourable (at this moment) so we have a favourable combination. No need for a remedy. On the other hand, with a combination of 4 (wood), 8 (earth) and 3 (wood): wood overwhelms the earth. Metal is not a remedy because it cuts the wood but also controls the earth. Fire can be brought in to control the wood and nourish the earth. And if the 8 is the water star, then one can bring water to increase the chances of financial success. These explanations are partial because there are many elements to take into account. There is no recipe to learn and apply in all cases, the analysis is more refined, hence the use of a feng shui expert who will be able to study the diagram in depth.
Wu Xing is not just a pretty theory that allows the 5 elements to be combined. This concept is widely used in feng shui but also in medicine or Chinese astrology. The principle of the 5 phases is really the backbone of any relevant feng shui analysis, the expert simply cannot do without it.