Chinese Philosophy in Three Simple Lessons!

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

Chinese Philosophy can be a complex system of wisdom and knowledge to understand for an English speaking individual in North America! That's why I have decided to give a simple, easy to understand breakdown of three very different yet interdependent philosophical concepts that make Chinese philosophy so beautifully interconnected and unique.

Gold Chinese Characters on Red Background
Chinese Good Fortune and Philosophy

#1) The Chinese Calendar

In North America, we operate our calendar on the Gregorian calendar. This calendar year ends every year on December 31st, without fail. The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which means it is based on exact astronomical observations of the sun and the phases of the moon. The Chinese called it the Lunisolar calendar.

However, the way that the Chinese have divided time, has plenty of differences from a fixed calendar. Not just in how the year is counted, which varies from late January to early February dates, but also how our cycles of centuries are counted. For example, the Chinese calendar considers a full century, typically 100 years in a Gregorian calendar, 5 full zodiac animal cycles. Since there are 12 zodiac animals, this equates a full cycle to equal 60 years. There's quite a difference from 100 years, to 60!

Why was the Lunisolar calendar so important?!

The calendar was important in ancient China because it was used by farmers to regulate their agricultural activities, and because regularity in the yearly cycle was a sign of a well-governed empire in which the ruler was able to maintain harmony between Heaven and Earth. People all across China also use the traditional calendar for selecting auspicious days for weddings, funerals, moving house, or starting a business.

Yin and Yang symbol with luxe gold etching
Golden Yin and Yang Symbol

#2) Yin & Yang

Have you ever seen this circular image before?! You may know the one, it has a swirly white drop and within it a black dot in the middle and on the other side of it with a black swirly drop with a white dot in it?! That's the universal symbol for yin and yang. This is representative of 2 opposing forces that rely on each other in order to achieve a sense of harmony or balance.

What is the difference between Yin and Yang?

These two opposing forces are based on the energetic principle of the law of gender.

Yin which is Chinese for “female” or “moon,” represents feminine like traits: darkness, femininity, passivity, receptivity, chaos and the earth.

Yang, Chinese for “sun” or “male” represents masculine type traits:

light, masculinity, activity, order and the heavens. The balance of both yin and yang were believed to influence health and order within an individual, society, and the entire universe.

These two energies of one half of a part that make a whole, and cannot thrive without the balance of the other. Yin and Yang represent a higher cosmological order of qi (pronounced like chi) that defines a duality that exists in all things and within people.

#3) The Five Elements

The five elements in Chinese Philosophy are: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, & Water.

five Chinese elements
The Five Chinese Elements

In the Five Elements theory, it is the interaction between the elements that both creates and destroys energy. When the elements interact, like the opposing sides of a yin yang symbol, progress (whether positive or negative) is inevitable.

The cycle of the Five Elements goes in a specific order and can be remembered through noting the different processes of creation and destruction through them.

The creating (generative) interactions are:

  • Wood starts a Fire

  • Fire creates Earth

  • Earth holds Metal

  • Metal carries Water

  • Water feeds Wood

The destruction (overcoming) interactions are:

  • Fire melts Metal

  • Metal chops Wood

  • Wood separates the Earth

  • Earth absorbs Water

  • Water puts out Fire

What do the Chinese zodiac elements mean?

When you begin to understand how the elements work together, they each have different priorities and people born under certain element types have distinct personality traits, (elemental personality traits are an in-depth topic for another article!). A wise individual can use this knowledge to know who compliments them and who challenges them: whether it's the creative visionary wood person, the adventurous fire person, the peacekeeping & rational earth person, to the strict, but resilient metal person and of course, the sensitive and artistic water person.

In the Five Elements Theory, creation and destruction are complementary processes in which the ultimate goal is harmony, much like yin to yang.


Out of these 3 distinct, yet interwoven lessons of Chinese philosophy, the system of the Chinese zodiac was created. From the Chinese zodiac system (zodiac is defined as: zoo + circle = a circle of animals), this was a system designed to provide knowledge for fortune telling, in how one's life path develops and also to measure time as an intricate and complex system based on the number twelve! Twelve is the number that represents the cosmic order of space and time within Chinese culture.

To summarize, Chinese Philosophy has contributed to the development of Chinese Astrology. Also, as a broad topic, it refers to any of several schools of philosophical thought in the Chinese tradition, including Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, Buddhism and Mohism. However, that is an article for another day!

Until then, Stay Legendary!!!

#chinesephilosophy #chinesezodiac #yinyang #chinesecalendar #fiveelements #wood #water #earth #metal #fire #chineseculture #chinesehistory #lunisolarcalendar #thefiveelements

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