wǔxíng (五行)

has often been translated as “Five Elements,” though “Five Phases” is more accurate. Wǔ (五) means five; xíng (行) means “to walk, go, act, or to travel,” though also “actions, conduct, or behavior (as nouns), especially to be acceptable or competent.” The wǔxíng (五) is the only important group of five symbolic images (xiàng (象)) used in Chinese natural philosophy, so is the sole representative of that shù (數), which signifies the group of directional movements that emanate from an undifferentiated whole. Within individual human beings, that ‘undifferentiated whole’ refers to the individual’s jīng (精) and/or its active expression in the form of yuánqì ().

Each of the wǔxíng (五) refer to both ordinary things in the world and rich, resonant symbolic images. Indeed, the common nature of these images (xiàng (象)) makes them particularly powerful: shuǐ (水), mù (木), huǒ (火), tǔ (土), and jīn (金). The wǔxíng (五) has long been played an important role in Chinese medicine, which has been dominant since at least the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), when the five zàng (藏) supplanted the twelve jīngmài (經脈) as the central conceptual framework for both the theories of physiology and patho-physiology and the process of differential diagnosis. Many historical thinkers since then, including the Four Great Masters of the Jin-Yuan period (1115-1368), have framed their theories in terms of the wǔxíng (五). Today, the popular ‘Worseley School’ of acupuncture follows this time-honored tradition in being based on the wǔxíng (五). Like most other contemporary acupuncture and CM doctrines, it includes little emphasis on the liùhé (六合). Alas, while the wǔxíng (五) is clearly the best shù (數) of symbolic images (xiàng (象)) to use in discussing and differentiating the five zàng (藏), it is not nearly so suitable for discussing the twelve jīngmài (經脈). For them, the liùhé (六合) is a much better shù (數).

 

 

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