five elements should appear in china at very ancient time, may be the first seen of it is in the《山海經》. 《山海經》is a book that stated ancient myth of china, the book written NOT in sequential, but some scholar make it a time line, and found the story time is from the very beginning of earth creation to the king 禹.
in 《山海經》, we can found the original model of five elements, 黃帝 conquer the central place of china(中原, in fact, it means some eastern region of today's china map), which 黃(yellow) is the color of 土(earth/ground), the main element, it located at the center, not east, west, south nor north.and those goddess been conquered by 黃帝, is eastern dragon god called 帝俊, southern fire god called 炎帝, and west tiger queen called 西王母. (黃帝 is originally the northern god). they are all with the representative animals, color and direction.
the story of 山海經 could be posting in other post in future if been wanted.
this saying of five elements is being pushed to popular during 春秋戰國 period, and goes to peak in 漢 dynasty buy 董仲舒, which make a cross over saying of 儒,道,墨,法,名,陰陽,五行. that saying he made out is called 儒術, which been accepted by 漢武帝.
金defeat木, 木defeat土, 土defeat水, 水defeat火, 火defeat金.
金should be understand as METAL, but not gold for ancient Chinese.
metal is what used to made axe, which can cut tree(木) down,
tree break the soil(土) to grow,
soil, mud and stone etc.(土) is what only can stop water(水) when flooding,
water is what used to put out fire(火).
木give birth to火, 火give birth to土, 土give birth to金, 金give birth to水, 水give birth to木
wood(木) can be brunt(火),
fire(火) burns everything to soil(土),
soil contain metals(金),
metals condense dew(水),
water to irrigate plants(木).
yellow colored soil in center.
soil supply ALL resources, just like a king or a god, so it stand for CENTER.
east for wood, for blue/green dragon, for spring.
east is the direction that sun rise, so east stand for birth, stand for life, stand for youth, energy, for spring.
plants face east to growth, and sun is what make plants growth strong, so plants represent east, and green is the color of plants, represent east too.
dragon is a aquatic creature, and the sea in the east of china, so dragon belong to east.
south for fire, for red colored bird, for summer.
south part of china is more close to equator, relatively hot then north region that ancient Chinese lives in, so it stand for fire, and summer.
fire generate heat, so fire represents south.
phoenix have to burn himself in fire every 500years in order to get a new life, and ancient Chinese believe there is a bird kind creature in the sun(the biggest fire), so red color bird, or some say phoenix, represents south.
west for metals, for white tiger, for autumn.
west is the direct that sun goes down, so west stand for death, stand for old age, feels like autumn(tree comes dry and animals begin disappear in autumn).
metals is used to make weapons, axe, ect. to kills, to cut, to destroy something, so metal represents deaths, same as the feeling of sunset, and so belongs to west.
metals reflex light, so white represents west.
there are tiger lives in the west part of china, so tiger for west.
ancient Chinese will war at autumn normally(if you start a war not at autumn, you will be said as a bad king) since it is a season for death, for killing,.
north for water, for black turtles, for winter.
northern part of china laid many snow mountain.(ancient Chinese most active in the northeast part of today's china map, and also the region between two river), snow for water, for winter.
compare to to snow mt., river seems having dark color, Chinese called the northern part of china, a world of 白山黑水.
for turtles... we all know what turtles act in myth, and what turtles imply in Chinese culture, but i cant just find out why it stand for north...
after knowing above, you will found 5 elements is just the elements of every part of Chinese culture.
some funny e.g. related to 5 elements:
with his 字, "玄德", we can know what his name "備" means. 玄(black, with some reddish)is the color of water, "玄德" means "水德", the moral conduct of water.
the moral conduct of water is just perfectly flawless, and 備 can means fully, perfectly flawless (完備).
so 劉備 means (the one who desire the named for him wants) he having a perfectly flawless moral conduct like water.
->東西 stand for "things".
you just cant explain why "east west" means "things".
in 5 elements, 火金水火is used to represents 4 directions,
水(water) and 火(fire) is not able to hold in heads,
only 木(wood, east) and 金(metal, west) can hold in hands, so 東西 means "things(that you may hold in hand)"
every gate of royal city named with special meanings. 玄武for north, so 玄武門 is the most northern gate of the royal city. next to 玄武門 is the place where royal family lives, that "變" (event) happens next to it.
only by this event's name, without any history books, you can know, it is a event happens within the royal family, guess may be a fight for crown?
yes, that's the smaller brother kills the elder one, and get the crown.(唐太宗李世民)
it is the name of the river which flows in front of 太和殿 of forbidden city.
this name is not only means "金生水" (metals give birth to water),
but the river flows from west, 金水 means "water from west".
so it is a name that having double meaning.
->白玉台(foundation made by white jade)
thatís what laid under the big 3 hall of forbidden city, with a shape of chinese word "土".
黃土居中, yellow soil stand for center, that 土 shape foundation is the center of the whole forbidden city.
anything come from earth, ground, soil, so the only one who can stands on 土 shape foundation is the king.
木克土, wood defeat soil, and so you cant find any plants on that foundation.
水生木, water give birth to wood, so you can see there are so many drainage system on that foundation, in order not to let water stay on it.
thatís a famous poem, but little notes that 朱雀橋 is just a contrast to 烏衣巷 in color(red, south, to black, north).
and the 朱雀橋 is out of the city, and 烏衣巷 is inside the city,
so 朱雀橋 and 烏衣巷 is a pair of double contrast.
i think this is almost there for 5 elements...
if i forget to explain something common, please say it out.
Edited by sylvester, 08 January 2008 - 10:47 PM.