The ancient Chinese divide energy or “qi” into five types namely Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth “qi”. They are collectively known as “Wu Xing” or more commonly in the English speaking circle as the Five Elements.
The ancient Chinese believe that qi and matter are interchangeable. Hence a wooden table is essentially wood qi at rest while steam is water qi in an agitated or unstable state.
“Wu Xing” roughly translates to the Five Ways or Five Transformations which suggest some kind of relationship between them.
In fact there exist a productive and controlling relationships between these elements.
In the productive relationship, Wood produce Fire which in turn produce Earth. Earth then produce Metal which produce Water. Water produce Wood and the cycles repeats itself. This productive relationship is commonly known as the Productive Cycle.
In the controlling relationship, Wood control Earth which in turn control Water. Water then control Fire which control Metal. Metal control wood and the cycle repeats itself. This controlling relationship is commonly known as the Controlling Cycle.
Tips to remembering the relationships.
First the productive relationship.
Wood produce Fire – Picture an old fashion wood fire stove.
Fire produce Earth – Picture fire burning leaving ash behind.
Earth produce Metal – Picture an mining iron ore from the ground.
Metal produce Water – Picture water condensing on a cold metal cup.
Water produce Wood. Picture water nourishing a plant.
Next the controlling relationship.
Wood control earth – Picture trees extracting nutrients from the earth.
Earth control water – Picture bags of sand holding back flood water.
Water control fire – Picture firemen putting out fire with water hoses.
Fire control metal – Picture an iron foundry and molten metal.
Metal control wood – Picture an axe cutting down a tree.
The concept of the Five Elements is pervasive in Chinese metaphysics and is the founding principles in many disciplines such as Feng Shui, Astrology, Chinese Medicine, Face Reading, Martial Arts and even in Chinese Music.
For example, in Chinese Medicine, the heart is Fire while the liver is Wood. As you have learnt earlier, Wood produces Fire. Therefore if the heart is weak you can strengthen it by strengthening the liver!
Aside from associations with the organs in the body, the Fire Elements has association with direction, colour, the seasons, emotion, flavour etc.
For example, for colours, fire is red, pink, orange or purple while wood is green and water is blue or black. And for seasons, winter is north, spring is east, summer is south while autumn is west.