Five Elements

The Five Elements and the Chinese Zodiac

In Chinese tradition there are Five Elements from which all things in the universe stem. These elements are: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Each has its own power or energy, and like all things in the universe, the elements strive for balance with one another.

Each element has the power to create or destroy. Each also has the ability to strengthen or weaken. For example, water is necessary for wood to grow, but water can also extinguish fire. Water’s influence on wood is a productive or creative one, while its effect on fire is hindering or destructive.

The elements’ influence on one another gives them the ability to affect your life and the world around you. As such, they play a part in all things, including personal relationships, career choices, health and wellbeing, and daily events.

Westerners are often familiar with the concept of star charts or other tools that allow astrologers to analyze the influence of the plants/heavens or the universe on the lives of humans. In Chinese tradition, it’s the elements rather than the stars that drive the universe’s influence on life events.

Dominant Elements and the Chinese Life Cycle

Every element has its dominant years in Chinese Zodiac charts as well as a direct impact on persons born in the year an element dominates or rules.

The Chinese astrological calendar runs on a 12-year cycle for the assignment of birth animals, but an accurate Chinese zodiac chart also reflects the traditional belief in a 60-year Life Cycle. The Chinese Life Cycle concept is a complex topic, but for the purposes of understanding your own dominant birth element can be boiled down to just the basics:

  • The 60-year Life Cycle Runs through six elemental cycles.
  • Each elemental cycle makes up a 10-year period in the life cycle.
  • The elemental cycle of that 10-year period follows the same pattern, which is the “productive” order of the elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water.

The current Chinese Life Cycle began in 1984. Using 1984 as the starting point for our example then, the pattern for dominant elements is as follows:

Year Element
1984 Wood
1985 Wood
1986 Fire
1987 Fire
1988 Earth
1989 Earth
1990 Metal
1991 Metal
1992 Water
1993 Water


It’s important to keep in mind however that the Chinese New Year is different than that used in Western tradition. If you were born in January or February, this may change the year of your birth under the Chinese calendar and therefore your dominant element as well. If you are a January or February baby, you’ll need to determine your Chinese birth year to arrive at your accurate birth element.

Your Dominant Birth Element

If you do not have a January or February birthday, then there’s a short cut to finding your own dominant birth element, regardless of when you were born within the 60-year Life Cycle. You simply need to look at the last number of the year of your birth.

Years Ending in … Dominant Element
4 or 5 Wood
6 or 7 Fire
8 or 9 Earth
0 or 1 Metal
2 or 3 Water


If you were born in 1984, for example, your birth element is Wood. Discovering your dominant element is only half of the task though when trying to understand the role your birth element plays. This is because each dominant element also has an attribute of either being an Active Dominant or Receptive Dominant.

Active and Receptive Elements

Each element dominates two years in every 10-year period within the Chinese Life Cycle. The first year the element dominates is an Active year. The second is a Receptive year. Whether your birth element is Active or Receptive determines the personality attributes, character traits, and other influences the element bares on your life.

Year Element
1984 Active Wood
1985 Receptive Wood
1986 Active Fire
1987 Receptive Fire
1988 Active Earth
1989 Receptive Earth
1990 Active Metal
1991 Receptive Metal
1992 Active Water
1993 Receptive Water


Element Associations and Characteristics

The active or receptive status of your element strongly influences which zodiac animal character traits you develop. Each element also has attributes or characteristics of its own, which compliment or mingle with your animal sign traits.

Elements additionally have powerful associations in Chinese tradition. The following chart depicts variations of active and receptive element characteristics as well as common associations.













Element Manifestation



If Active,



If Active,



If Active,



If Active,



If Active,



If Receptive,



If Receptive,



If Receptive,



If Receptive,



If Receptive,

Fishing Net

Helped By Water Wood Fire Earth Metal
Hindered By Metal Water Wood Fire Earth
Seeks Wisdom Fame Security Status Wealth


Territory, Realm of Influence, or Career Focus


If Active,



If Active,



If Active,



If Active,



If Active,

Liquid Assets


If Receptive,



If Receptive,



If Receptive,



If Receptive,



If Receptive,

Fixed Assets

Lucky Creature Dragon Phoenix The Emperor Tiger Tortoise
Lucky Shape Rectangle Triangle Square Circle or Oval Wavy Lines
Lucky Day Thursday Tuesday Saturday Friday Wednesday
Lucky Season Spring Summer The Equinoxes Autumn Winter
Lucky Planet Jupiter Mars Saturn Venus Mercury
Lucky Color Green Vermilion Yellow White Black
Lucky Direction East South Center West and Northwest North


Element associations or connections are far reaching. When used in Chinese astrology, they provide insight into your personality and character and into those of others. Knowledge of your element can help guide choices or assist you in understanding or predicting personal and professional relationships or interactions.

These associations additionally play a powerful role in a personalized Feng Shui design, which is intended to achieve balance in Chi or life force and can be used to promote or hinder personality traits, tendencies, activities, or focus. Traditional Chinese healing practices, including Reflexology, draw on the power and associations of the Five Elements as well.