In ancient China, through the long observation of changes in nature and human society, ancient Chinese classified the mechanism of transformation into five types, which were represented by the emblems of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. This mechanism of transformation is called “Wu-Xing.”
Many Blue Mountain feng shui students in different parts of the world are asking me “how do we see and handle the coronavirus pandemic from a feng shui perspective?” I was surprised at the question, as feng shui is about living environment design. It is about life design and has no obvious connection to this pandemic.
However, since the fundamental feng shui principle is based on natural principles — natural laws, the highest guidance for human living, then maybe we can try to see the pandemic from a natural law perspective.
On a smaller scale, the Wu-Xing theory could be very useful in other ways, such as design. A good example would be the design of the McDonald’s logo. It is perfectly in tune with the Wu-Xing and Yin-Yang Theory. Let’s try to see if we can break it down and analyze the logo.
As a global company, the McDonald’s logo is seen throughout the world. Almost all of us can recognize their famous ‘golden arches’, which is the big yellow rounded letter ‘m’. The arches sit on top of a red rectangular box which has the word McDonald’s written in white letters. Let’s first look at the logo from a Yin-Yang point of view. The ‘m’ is dynamic, so it represents the yang element, while the rectangular box is static, representing the yin element. The yang rests on top of the yin which creates a good balance with correct positioning.
Next, let’s examine the logo from a Wu-Xing point of view. The combination of the color red (Fire) and the color yellow (Earth) has a cohesive relationship as Fire creates Earth. In addition to this, yellow resonates with appetite (stomach, Earth element), and red resonates with desire (heart, Fire element). This means that with the combination of red and yellow, when people are hungry and see those golden arches they go to McDonald’s! How many of you thought that something as simple as that has helped to make McDonald’s into one of the most successful restaurants in the world! By the way, you may have noticed most restaurant logos or food court signs use red and yellow colors. This follows the Wu-Xing theory and is a good sign for increasing business.
But before we wrap up on the Wu-Xing theory, it is important to remember that in any analysis, one should apply the Yin-Yang theory first. If you have a good grasp of the Yin-Yang theory, you will have accomplished much in the understanding of feng shui and also in various aspects of design. On the other hand, the Wu-Xing theory is much more challenging as it mainly applies in dynamic situations. So, don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to understand the concepts and be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to absorb the information. We all learn at different speeds.
I would like to emphasize, that both the Yin-Yang and Wu-Xing theories are the basis in guiding us with the most important and valuable knowledge throughout our entire lives. Remember, knowing or not, we all live under the influence of these principles.
All things in the universe are always changing, and nothing stays the same. The Wu-Xing theory describes this process as the way and the mechanism of change. It is mostly applied in interpreting the dynamic processes and interactions caused by change. In Chinese medicine, we are able to see how the sophisticated use of the Wu-Xing theory helps in diagnosing and treating disease. Unfortunately, today most usage of the theory’s applications is limited to Chinese medicine. This is most unfortunate, as it could be a very powerful tool to help us understand and also provide guidance to all aspects of human endeavors and not just Chinese medicine. If more can understand how to apply the theory, the more we will all benefit.
Take for example, the 2001 tragic incident of 9-11 in the USA. Why did it happen? What was the best way to respond? At the time, there was no shortage of opinions, analysis or suggestions on the reasons for the incident to take place on how the U.S. should respond to the attack. But there was never a clear and wholesome picture of the devastation. Had our leaders in government been able to take a step back and see it from the laws of natural principles, from the Yin-Yang and Wu-Xing theory point of view, they could have better understood the cause of the incident, enabling them to come up with a more wholesome way to respond. This would have helped to obtain a good result. Unfortunately, they were unable to see it from that perspective. Therefore, today, eight years later, President Obama is still sending more troops to Afghanistan to deal with the Taliban.
When the ‘Mission-accomplished’ George Bush had issues with Saddam Hussein of Iraq, he ordered to attack and invade Iraq. Was that the best way to handle this issue? Through analysis based on the Wu-Xing theory, it was so clear that his decision was not the right approach to the situation and would thus lead to very negative consequences. In Blue Mountain Feng Shui classes, we had discussed this subject way before the invasion. We predicted the outcome and sure enough, it turned out to be exactly what we had expected. In today’s current events, how should the United States deal with Iran or North Korea? Could the Wu-Xing theory provide guidance? Yes. May be it’s time for President Obama to a take these classes!
Nowadays in China, except for those in the field of Chinese medicine, most people regard the Wu-Xing theory as a useless remnant of an ancient dinosaur. It’s unfortunate that modern Chinese society is unaware of the benefits it has to offer. In fact, the Wu-Xing is a very powerful tool for understanding the course of changing and transformation for all worldly events. On a large scale, this knowledge should be the required study for all world leaders, military commanders, the CEO of corporations, all people setting economic policies, education systems, etc. Oh, how it could benefit us all!
Recently, a Ukraine student asked me the following question. “Since tea is a Wood element and there are many different kinds of tea such as, green tea, black tea, Oolong tea, Pu-er tea, etc., can each tea be classified into different elements in the Five-Element theory?” It took a moment for me to absorb the question and then I did not know where to begin to address his question.
For years I have encountered many questions regarding the application of the Five-Element theory. Most people, who have asked questions regarding this theory, do not have a clear grasp of its principles. This is truly understandable, as many feng shui books that mention the Five-Element theory do so only as a window dressing for the book. It seems to be standard practice to mention some form of both the Yin-Yang and Five-Element theories; however, it is rare to find a book that discusses the relevance and application of these theories in real terms. No wonder there are many who are confused!
So what is the Wu-Xing theory? Let’s try to break it down so we can have a better understanding of the principles behind the theory. In an earlier blog we talked about the Yin-Yang theory. The ancient Chinese used the Yin-Yang theory to describe the existence of all things and phenomena in the universe. From this we understand that there are four aspects of the Yin-Yang theory.
1. Yin and Yang unify and oppose
2. Yin and Yang entail each other
3. Yin and Yang increase and decrease
4. Yin and Yang transform into each other
Through these principles, we try to achieve balance and harmony.
So how does this relate to the Wu-Xing theory? To compliment this, they used the Wu-Xing theory to describe the dynamic transformation in the universe. Wu means five, Xing means passages. So, the Wu-Xing, or five-passages, represents a type of function that represents a form of change, a transformation of the characteristics that connect and interact with all thing in the world of time and space. So, the key word here is interaction. This is a very important point to remembered. These interactions are transformed through three fundamental processes which affect their relationships and energy. They are
This differs from the Greek and Indian system as it relates more to the interactions between the elements as opposed to their individual characteristics.
In the Western world, Jesuits first rendered ‘Wu-Xing’ as ‘Five-Elements’, obviously having in mind the Four Elements of ancient Greek philosophers. This translation became very popular and is adopted by Needham in his renowned book ‘Science and Civilization in China’. Unfortunately, that planted the seed of confusion and misunderstanding, causing people to associate the Five-Elements as just material elements. It left out the main point! As we discussed earlier, it is the interaction or relationship of the elements that should have been emphasized, not the motionless ‘fundamental’ substances. So, this belief has created many to stretch this misunderstanding in its application.
Nowadays we often come across a feng shui analysis of a table using the Five- Element theory. The following is an example of such a scenario. “This is a good table since it has all five elements; the form is square (Earth element), it is made of wood (Wood element), the color is red (Fire element) has metal legs (Metal element), and there is a wave-like (Water element) motif on the table…”
Not only is this kind of stretch rather comical, but there is no relevance with the quality of design either. However, today it is common to find many books using this type of stretch claiming they are following Wu-Xing principles. And they truly believe this is correct, because this is what they have been taught. So really it is no fault of theirs. However, it is a shame that the true theories are not fully understood. The Wu-Xing theory is not easy to grasp at one session. It takes time to absorb, digest and comprehend all the aspects of its principles. For those that have taken the Wu-Xing class at Blue Mountain institute and are not yet confident in its understanding, it is always good to go back over your notes and to once again come to class to build on your ever expanding knowledge.