Chinese Zodiac Five Elements philosophy

Written by Sally Guo Updated Dec. 21, 2023
Five Elements

Many people know there are 12 zodiac animal signs in the Chinese zodiac. But, maybe few people know each Chinese zodiac year is associated with an element. For example, 2023 is the year of the Water Rabbit, and 2024 will be the year of the Wood Dragon. 

The Chinese Zodiac Five Elements are wood, fire, earth, metal (gold), and water. The five elements theory is used to describe interactions and relationships between things. This theory tries to explain the balance of all things. As one energy waxes, the other wanes. 

Chinese people believe that everything comes from the five elements These five elements are supposed to be the foundation of the universe. 

The theory can be applied in different fields, such as in the Chinese zodiac, Chinese feng shui, and Chinese medicine.

Interactions Between the Five Elements

According to the five elements theory, the universe works by five elements’ generating and overcoming interactions.

The generating interaction means the element can promote the development of the following element.

The overcoming interaction means the element can restrain the development of the following element.  

By promoting and restraining, systems are harmonized and balance is maintained.

Generating Interactions

Overcoming Interactions

What Does the Chinese Zodiac Element Mean? 

Each zodiac year is associated with one element. Each element has different features. People born under different elements are believed to have different personality traits. although they may have the same zodiac sign.  

For example, people born in the water rabbit year (such as 2023) are thought to be curious with high independence and self-esteem; while people born in the fire rabbit year (such as 1987) are believed to be clever, strong-willed, and serious-minded.

Knowing the element will give us more information on the zodiac and also know ourselves better. 

The Wood Element

Wood has strong vitality. It can be straight, it is also easy to bend. It symbolizes flourishing and everlasting things.

The Fire Element

Fire is hot, dry, and upward. It gives out light and heat which can transfer things to different shapes. It symbolizes intense power.

The Earth Element

Earth is the most important element among the Five Phases. It is the base of nature. Earth provides a growing environment for creatures, and it is the final destination for everything and everyone. It symbolizes birth, growth, and support.

The Metal (Gold) Element

Metal is tough, it can be used to make weapons. Where wars occur, weapons always appear. It symbolizes severe and destructive power.

The Water Element

Water is cool, wet, and downward. As a liquid, it runs from high to low and finally comes into the sea. Water moistens everything. It symbolizes tolerance and wisdom.

The Fixed Element of Each Chinese Zodiac Sign

In the Chinese zodiac, each zodiac sign is associated with one of the five elements. See below the table with the zodiac signs with their fixed elements. 

Elements Chinese Zodiac Signs
Wood Tiger, Rabbit
Fire Snake, Horse
Earth Ox, Dragon, Goat, Dog
Metal Monkey, Rooster
Water Pig, Rat

Five Elements Analysis for the Chinese Zodiac

Five Elements and the Chinese Fengshui

When it comes to Chinese Fengshui, it mainly refers to the direction of a location. Chinese people divide the five elements into five directions (east, south, west, north, and center).

Elements Directions
Wood East
Fire South
Earth Center
Metal West
Water North

In modern times, the five elements theory is applied to balance the Fengshui of the house. For example, people think it is bad Fengshui if a washroom is located in the center of the house. Because the center is related to the earth, the washroom is related to water. And the earth can restrict the water running.  

Five Elements and the Chinese Medicine

When Chinese medicine meets the five elements, it seems that the interactions also work to some degree. In Chinese medicine theory, the liver is connected to wood, the heart is to fire, the spleen is to earth, the lung is to gold (metal), and the kidney is to water. Like the wood can get fire more intense, the liver can produce blood to strengthen the heart. One organ will affect another one. They are much more correlative.

The element's interactions give doctors a theoretical foundation. Doctors may diagnose if the disease is caused by a hot or cold environment. If hot, doctors will prescribe medicines with a cool character as the cool water can stop the fire.

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