The Five Elements Triumph over Each Other.
This refers to the concept of the five elements sequentially overpowering each other, which is also described as “the five elements, each in turn checking the next”. The term “five elements” refers to five basic material elements, namely: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. According to this concept, water checks fire, fire checks metal; metal checks wood; wood checks earth; and earth checks water. Similarly, things with the properties of these five elements also have corresponding relations between themselves. For example, using this theory, dynastic changes can be explained.
- 五行者，五官也，比相生而间相胜也，故为治，逆之则乱，顺之则治。 （董仲舒《春秋繁露•五行相生》） （五行，如同五个官职，相邻的事物依次生成而相互间隔的事物依次克胜。因此治理国家人事，悖逆了五行次序就会混乱，顺应了五行次序则会安定。）
The five elements are comparable to five official positions. Adjacent things emerge in a certain sequence. If things do not emerge in order, each will check the next. This principle also applies to the governance of a state and all social affairs. Chaos grows if the order of the five elements is disrupted; peace prevails if the five elements are in good order. (Dong Zhongshu: Luxuriant Gems of The Spring and Autumn Annals)