The Chinese have always deemed Korea as the country of courteous and well-mannered people (동방예의지국, 東邦禮義之國). An ancient Chinese historical text called Shanhaijing(山海經) states that the people of China referred Korea as The Courteous Country Of The Rising Sun In The East or The Country Of Gentlemen. Confucius once said that it was his dream to even take a raft to Korea to learn more about etiquette. They always held Korean people in high regard, complimenting to no end with descriptions such as “righteous people (仁人)” and “they like to decline politely and do not fight”, or “as they do not steal from each other they do not keep doors locked, and the women are virtuous and trustworthy and not lewd”. In short, Korea was respected as a civilised, advanced culture throughout the ages.
In ancient China and Korea, there are five, not four, basic elements (Japan also has five but they are slightly different). In the East, these five elements are called “oh hang (오행, 五行)” in Korean and “wu xing” in China. These are (read in Korean): hwa (火, fire), su (水, water), mok (木, wood), geum (金, metal), and toh (土, earth). When you combined with the theory of Yin and Yang, the concept is known as the Yin-Yang and the Five Elements theory (eum yang oh hang sul, 음양오행설). Wu Xing is quite different from the Four Elements of ancient Greece in that it explains the changes in life and the universe rather than being the building blocks of matter (“wu xing” translates to “five ways”). To first understand Wu Xing, one must understand that each element is more of an abstract concept than the actual object. For example, “mok” does not mean wood per se, but rather a symbol for the life force of a growing tree.
There are two relationships between the elements in Wu Xing: Creation (상생, 相生) and Destruction (상극, 相剋). Creation refers to the cyclic principle of what generates what, and Destruction refers to what overcomes and represses what. The Creation and Destruction of Wu Xing are as follows:
- 목생화(木生火): Wood creates Fire. Wood feeds Fire.
- 화생토(火生土): Fire creates Earth. Fire makes ash which becomes Earth.
- 토생금(土生金): Earth creates Metal. Earth bears Metal.
- 금생수(金生水): Metal creates Water. Metal carries Water.
- 수생목(水生木): Water creates Wood. Water nourishes Wood.
- 목극토(木剋土): Wood beats Earth. Wood takes roots in Earth.
- 토극수(土剋水): Earth beats Water. Earth absorbs Water.
- 수극화(水剋火): Water beats Fire. Water quenches Fire.
- 화극금(火剋金): Fire beats Metal. Fire melts Metal.
- 금극목(金剋木): Metal beats Wood. Metal chops Wood.
(Image source: http://cadfluence.deviantart.com/)
Most of mankind’s major expeditions happened from east to west. Since the beginning of man’s history, people have wondered where the giant fireball set at the end of the day and followed the journey of the sun. Odysseus, Christopher Columbus and Attila the Hun all believed the answer lied in the west. To journey to the west – that was a quest to know the future.
Contrary to the people who questioned where the sun was heading towards, there were also people who wondered where the sun came from. Marco Polo, Napoleon and Bilbo Baggins (protagonist of The Hobbit By J.R.R. Tolkien) are examples of people who travelled to the east. They believed that they would surely discover great things in the place where everything originated from.
In the symbolic system of adventure, there are still two directions left for travellers. The meanings of each are as follows: to venture north is to seek obstacles that can test your abilities, while journeying to the south is seeking rest and peace.
(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)