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The 5 Chinese Elements

Water White


Intelligence, wisdom, flexibility, softness, pliancy, indecisive, fluid, weak but great destructive powers of flood, rivers, lakes, oceans, flowing, formless, plants, blood, emotions towards change like defensiveness, suppleness, adaptability, magnetism

In Taoist thought and Chinese Medicine WATER motion is downward and inward (Yin) while the energy is stillness and conservation. The WATER colors are black, blue, grey representing  night, north, winter, cold weather and the planet Mercury and the Moon. WATER governs the kidney, bladder, ears and bones. The negative emotion is fear/anxiety and the positive is calmness.

The pictograph for WATER/Shui evolved from the ancient three parallel wavy lines. The contemporary character’s movement is downward portraying a central current with eddies and drops of water. When WATER/Shui is paired with WIND/Feng – Feng-Shui denotes flowing energy in a place of prosperity and peace to build a house, business or place of importance.

Fire Red


Summer, South, Mars, Red, extreme luck, expansive, daylight, dynamic, strength, persistence, restlessness, warmth, enthusiasm, creativity, aggression, impatience and impulsive, heat, warmth, burn, energetic, forceful, drive, passion, motivation, intention, outgoing spirit

In Taoist thought and Chinese Medicine FIRE attributes are expansive energy, motion upward (Yang), the color red, the planet Mars, warmth, heat, summer, dynamic and persistent energies. However, in extremes FIRE can bring restlessness, impulsiveness, anger, even hate and war.   FIRE is “yang” or expansive energy associated with the heart, small intestines, tongue and body pulse or metabolism. As FIRE can provide warmth, passion, motivation and creativity, it can also burn.

The original pictogram was one flame and two sparks rising from a log.  The character now has Humanity at the center with two long strokes suggesting a wide variety of human traits - warmth, strength, danger and anger. The two short strokes for the sparks are in other characters signifying fire or heat. When you combine FIRE/Huo with Steam/Qi it means anger or Chi rising straight up.

Wood Green


Strength, flexibility, warmth, generosity, co-operation, idealism, expansive, outgoing, socially conscious, growth, beginnings, spring, sensuality and fecundity, patience, altruism

 In Taoist thought and Chinese Medicine WOOD is the most Yang with the movement upwards and growing energy for springtime, east. The associated planet is Jupiter and the color green. WOOD influences with the liver, gall bladder, eyes and tendons. WOOD connotes strength and flexibility like bamboo. A WOOD person seeks ways to grow and expand; celebrates the beginning of life, springtime, sensuality and fecundity and needs moisture to survive. WOOD’s negative energy is anger while it’s positive feelings are patience and altruism.

The pictogram for Wood or Tree once depicted a mirror image of roots and branches above and below the earth. Here the horizon line becomes part of the branches. Trees like humanity connect earth and sky - rooted in the earth and branches reaching for the heavens. One WOOD/Mu character  can means Tree while several means Forest.

Metal Orange


Stability, persistence, determination, firmness, rigidity, set-in-your way, strength, self-reliant, controlling, ambitious, forceful, generative powers, strong impulses, transformative, wise, business-oriented, organized, luxury, controlling, strong-willed

 In Taoist thought and Chinese Medicine METAL connotes rigidity, strength, controlling, forceful and ambitious but patient.  METAL is associated with air, the color white (death) and the white planet Venus rising in the west. METAL governs the lung and large intestine, nose and skin. The negative emotion is grief. METAL connotes movement inward and contracting (Yin), autumn, old age, the west. The metal person is courageous, strong-willed, conducts energy and can transform those they touch. They are organized, wise, stabile and enjoy luxury and the good things in life.

The character for METAL/GOLD/Jin is made up of several other basic characters. The top of the character is the two strokes for HUMAN/Ren. Below that is the character for EARTH/Tu with two small sparks like FIRE/Huo on its base. Thus, Man combines earth and fire to make metal.

Earth black


Balance, inward, centering, stabilizing, conservation, yellow, Saturn, damp weather, anziety, empathy, patience, thoughtfulness, practicality, hard work, nurturing, rootedness, ambition, stubbornness, responsibility, long-term planning, resistant to change, collectiveness, physicality, gravity, confidence

 In Taoist thought and Chinese Medicine EARTH connotes the balance of yin and yang, the feminine and masculine attributes. EARTH is the center and associated with the color yellow and the planet Saturn.  Its motion is centering and governs the spleen, stomach, mouth, bones and muscles. EARTH is associated with patience, hard work, practicality, patience and harmony drawing all things into itself to bring stability like gravity.  The opposite energy is anxiety. The extremes of EARTH energy are stubbornness, calcification, physicality, collectiveness.

The Chinese pictogram of EARTH/Tu looks like a plant sprouting with roots in the earth and then evolved into this depiction of square fields on the earth. All things evolve from The Five Chinese Elements: water, fire, wood, metal and earth. You will see this character as part of other Chinese characters reliant on the earth.