NZ Chinese Language Week – The Wu Xing (five-element theory) of Chinese characters

Kia ora koutou, da jia hao 大家好 !

This week (7 to 13 September 2015) is New Zealand Chinese Language Week. To celebrate this occasion, I would like to share some information about the Wu Xing (five-element theory) of Chinese characters.

The Wu Xing refers to the five natural elements – Wood ( ), Fire ( huǒ), Earth ( ), Metal ( jīn), and Water ( shuǐ). This philosophical concept has been used to provide explanation for phenomena across many different fields, such as Chinese astrology, Feng Shui, health and medicine. The dynamic relationships among the five elements are essential, known as “mutual generation 相生” and “mutual overcoming 相克”.

Chinese calligraphy - Chinese Lunar New Year festivities at Upper Riccarton Library, Flickr P1040956.JPG
Chinese calligraphy – Chinese Lunar New Year festivities at Upper Riccarton Library, Flickr, P1040956.JPG

Without trying to explain the whole complexity of Wu Xing, let’s use the Wu Xing application in the Chinese language as an example. Each Chinese character belongs to one of the five elements, determined by how it is written and its origin.

I still remember how hard it was to try to find a good name combination for my kids. Firstly I had to identify their preferred element by searching in the Lunar Calendar using their time and date of birth. Of course their having been born in the southern hemisphere made it even more complicated as the Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the northern hemisphere climate.

Then I had to find the characters to go with my surname to have the “mutual generation” effect. After intensive research I had a pool of characters I could use to form the name and then it was time to put them together and look at the visual and sound effect. There are normally a few things to consider from here: simplicity of writing, pleasant intonation, homophonic sounds, meaning of each character and combined meaning, plus characters’ gender differences.Mango!

If you are interested in learning some Mandarin Chinese, you can access Mango Languages via our website (use at a library or enter your library card & password/PIN) or download the Android / iOS app to your mobile device – this would a good place to start your journey.

“书山有路勤为径, 学海无涯苦作舟” – 韩愈 (from a Chinese poem)

Diligence is the path to the mountain of knowledge; hard-work is the boat to the endless sea of learning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s