The theory of five elements

Yin, Yang and five elements are basic concepts to explain the physical world in ancient Chinese philosophy. Since the early days of the 20th century, many Chinese scholars have blamed traditional Chinese medicine because traditional Chinese medicine is based on the theory of Yin, Yang and five elements. However, the survival of traditional Chinese medicine is not because its supporters don’t accept modern medicine, but because of its effectiveness. During the past one hundred years, a lot of people tried to discard the theory of traditional medicine but utilize medicinal materials with modern research methods. However, they were never able to destroy the theory of traditional medicine. For making Chinese herbs work as the effects that the herbs should have, it is necessary to understand the theory of Yin, Yang and five elements.

Five elements include wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Exactly speaking, five elements are five attributes. In 546 BC, a noble said, „The nature generates five materials, and people utilize all of them.” The theory of five elements was developed from the attributes of five materials.

Five elements are correlative. The relations of the five elements include generation and restraint.

Wood generates fire, fire generates earth, earth generates metal, metal generates water.

Why? Burning wood generates fire, and ash forms earth. Mineral resources from earth are made into metal. Melted metal is liquid like water.

Wood restrains earth, fire restrains metal, earth restrains water, metal restrains wood, and water restrains the fire.

Why? A sprout breaks through earth and becomes a big tree. The primitive spade and plough were made of wood. Fire can melt metal. Earth can be used for embanking rivers against floods. An ax and a saw can cut wood because they have a metal blade. Water can extinguish fire.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the theory of five elements is applied to describe the attributes of many things such as seasons, climates, directions, colors, internal organs, and tastes.

Spring, east, wind, green, liver and sour have the attribute of wood.

Summer, south, hotness, red, heart and bitter have the attribute of fire.

Autumn, west, dryness, white, lung and piquancy have the attribute of metal.

Winter, north, coldness, black, kidney and salt taste have the attribute of water.

Center, wetness, yellow, spleen and sweet have the attribute of earth. In the theory of traditional Chinese medicine, in addition to four seasons, a part of summer is called growing summer, and its attribute is earth.

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