The Chinese believe everything in a constant state of change between the five elements or forces of nature called wu-xing: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These are not literal elements but are qualities, relentlessly overcoming each other in a continuous cycle.
It can be creative and productive relationship: Water enables Wood to grow; Wood enables Fire to burn resulting in ashes or Earth in which forms Metal; which in liquid form resembles Water; and Water nourishes Wood.
Another cycle signifies how the elements control each other: Wood takes nutrients from the Earth; Earth pollutes or absorbs Water; Water extinguishes Fire; Fire melts Metal; and Metal cuts Wood.
In order to achieve harmony and good feng shui the relationship between the elements needs to be productive. Each element is associated with a direction, and the fifth, Earth, is associated with the center. Each also has corresponding shapes and colors.
Wood symbolizes spring, growth and plant life. In its yin form, it is agile and pliable, in its yang form as robust as oak. Positively used, it is a walking stick; negatively used as a spear. Viewed as a tree, wood energy is extroverted, fostering and adaptable.
Wood is associated with trees and plants, wooden furniture, paper, the color green, columns, decking and landscape.
Fire symbolizes summer, fire and heat. It can bring light, warmth and bliss or it can erupt, explode and destroy with hostility. Positively, it stands for nobility and equality. Negatively, it stands for violence and war.
Fire is associated with sun, candles, lights, lamps, triangles, the color red and man-made materials.
Earth symbolizes the nurturing environment that allows seeds to grow, which all living things derive from and return to. It nurtures, supports and interrelates with each of the other elements. Positively, it indicates equality, insight and impulse. Negatively, it can overwhelm or represent the nervous anticipation of fictional problems.
Earth is associated with clay, brick, terracotta, cement, stone, squares, and the colors yellow, orange and brown.
Metal symbolizes autumn and power. Its nature represents strength and the ability to contain objects. On the other hand, metal is also a conductor. Positively, it represents communication, brilliant ideas and fairness. Negatively, it can suggest devastation, peril and misery.
Metal is associated with round shapes, domes, metal objects, kitchenware, coins, clocks, and the colors white, grey, silver and gold.
Water symbolizes winter and water itself, gentle rain or a storm. It suggests the life-force, art and beauty. Positively, it nurtures and supports with sympathy. Negatively, it can erode and exhaust. Related with emotions, it can suggest fear, anxiety and stress.
Water is associated with rivers, streams, lakes, mirrors, glass, indirect patterns, fountains, ponds, fish tanks, water pictures, and the colors blue and black.