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The Five Elements


The five elements are a concepts in ancient Chinese philosophy referring to the nature of materials as well as their interrelationship.The concepts was later introduced into Chinese medical philosophy for clinical applications.The five elements refer to wood,fire,earth,metal and water.In Chinese medical philosophy,the five –element’s theory consists of four consists of four laws governing the relationships among the five materials.


According to this theory,the five viscera are viewed as the key organs and the four laws are applied to them.The four laws are the laws of production,control,attack and resisting control.the correspondence between the five elements and the five viscera is as follows;Wood corresponds to the liver,tendons and eyes.Fire corresponds to the heart ,blood vessels and tongue.Earth corresponds to the spleen,flesh and mouth.Metal corresponds to the lungs ,skin,hair and nose.And water corresponds to the kidneys ,bones and ears.


The laws of production and control are used to illustrate the interrelationship among the viscera.for instance,the liver controls the spleen (which is called wood controlling earth),the spleen produces the lungs (which is called earth producing metal)and the lungs control the liver(which is called metal controlling wood).Thaus ,there are patterns of relationship among the five viscera according the laws.


The laws of attack and resisting control are used to describe pathological changes as well as methods of treatment.For example ,since liver disease will affect the spleen,it is called wood attacking earth and should be treated by inhibiting wood and supporting earth.And in treating lungs energy deficiency syndrome,it is necessary to strengthen the spleen and tone up the lungs,which is called developing earth in order to produce metal.


The five-elements theory is based upon clinical experiences and very useful in clinical practice.The four laws of the theory can be summarized as follows.


The first law,the law of production,states that one organ can produce another organ,which indicates a mother- child relationship between the two organs.The mother organ is capable of assisting the child organ in its capacity for growth and nourishment.According to this law,wood produces fire,fire produces earth,earth produces metal,metal produces water and water produces wood.


The law of control states that one organ can control another organ.According to this law,wood controls earth,earth controls water,waters control fire,fire controls metal and metal controls wood.


The law of attack states that one organ can attack another organ,which means that one organ may abuse its power of control and attack another organ,Thus,an abuse of the second law will lead to the application of this third law.As an example,when the energy of wood is in excess and,at same time,metal fails to control wood properly,wood will manage to attack earth,which may cause live-wood in excess with spleen-earth in deficiency.The law ot attack falls within the context of pathology.


The fourth law,the law of resisting control,which can also be called the law of rebellion,states that one organ may resist control by another organ,which means that the employee may resist control by the boss,so to speak.This law is a reversal of the law of control and,thus,it falls within the context of abnormal relationships among the internal organs.As an example,under normal circumstances,metal should control wood;but if energy of metal is in short supply,or if the energy of wood is in excess,wood may resist control by metal,which gives rise to lungs-metal in deficiency with liver-wood in excess.