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The 5 Elements: Essential Aspects of Taoism and Confucius

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What are five basic elements in traditional Chinese belief?
Describe the origins of Daoism (Taoism) and identify its key teachings (in particular, the Dao).
Describe key events in the life of Confucius and evaluate the role of Confucianism in contemporary East Asian societies.

An introduction to the founding texts of Taoism / Daoism and 3 of the central teachings found within the Taoist school of philosophy - Natural Vs Human, 'Actionless Action', Relativity-ism.

A brief examination of 2 factors that influenced the life of Confucius and the legacy he left.

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Solution Summary

This solution looks at 3 questions -
The five elements in traditional Chinese belief
The origins of Taoism and its key teachings - The Dao
The key events in the life of Confucius and a short evaluation of Confucianism.

This document, an original answer, is 1500 words long, each answer containing approx 500 words. References to Chinese works are cited, and characters are given (with pronunciation where appropriate) so you can refer to directly to the passages cited.

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The 5 elements in Chinese philosophy/medicine:

The 5 elements are: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water

The term elements is perhaps a little misleading because one could easily consider this theory to be akin to the Greek elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The Chinese character for 'element', in this instance is ? (xing) which means movement or phase. So the correct title should really be something like the 5 Phases. The most obvious example of a phase of movement would be seasonal changes. We have Spring which moves into Summer which moves in Autumn. Each season has predominant form of weather - heat in summer, cold in winter etc...

In this particular school of philosophy one phase engenders or gives birth (? sheng) to the next in what is called the 'Creative' cycle. Thus far this all seems 'normal' and easy to understand, however, another cycle exists called the 'controlling' cycle where one phase holds the expression of another 'in check'. For example Earth 'controls' Water - and when we look at flood defensive we see that earth was and is still used to keep flood waters at bay. Water 'controls' Fire - obvious. Fire 'controls' Metal - if we say Fire melts Metal we'll have the correct image in mind. And so on...

The 5 phases is a philosophy which seeks to map similar phenomena under a larger heading, for example, the following phenomena are all considered to be 'Fire' in nature - heat, Summer, Bitter tasting things, burnt or scorched smelling things, the colour red, the heart. Whereas; Cold, Winter, Salty, Kidneys, North, Blue / Black and putrid would all be considered to be Water.

The following table provides a typical, and somewhat exhaustive, list of the associations for each element / phase.

Element Season Direction Weather Taste Colour Bodily Organ Planet Sense Organ Emotion
Wood Spring East Wind Sour Green Liver Jupiter Eyes Anger
Fire Summer South Heat Bitter Red Heart Mars Tongue Joy
Earth Harvest Centre Dampness Sweet Yellow Spleen Saturn Mouth Worry
Metal Autumn West Dryness Pungent / Spicy White Lungs Venus Nose Sorrow
Water Winter North Cold ...

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