What Does Water Mean In Chinese Culture?

Water is an essential element in Chinese culture and plays a vital role in the lives of the Chinese people. From ancient times to the present day, water has been celebrated for its life-giving properties and revered for its power and symbolism. In this article, we will explore the various meanings and symbolism associated with water in Chinese culture.

what does water symbolize in China?

The meanings and cultural significance of water in Chinese culture are as follows:

A metaphor for the common people: The saying “water can carry a boat or overturn it” equates the common people to water.

Wealth: Water, which flows constantly, is also used as a metaphor for wealth that flows continuously and steadily.

Bravery: Water has the ability to penetrate through obstacles, so it is seen as a symbol of courage and strength.

Opportunity: In daily life, water is often associated with opportunity, prospects, resources, wealth, and potential.

Emotions: Water represents endless things and emotions due to its boundless nature. Some poets even use water to express undying longing and emotions.

Purity: From a literary perspective, water is also a symbol of purity and natural tranquility as “jing” (静) and “jing” (境) share the same sound.

Inclusiveness: Water is relatively gentle and is therefore seen as a symbol of inclusiveness. It benefits all things without contention, so many people use water to express their own mindset.

Prospects: Water continuously moves forward, so it can be seen as a symbol of future prospects.

Endless things: Water is a continuous flow towards a goal and ultimately pours into the sea. Therefore, it is used to represent endless things.

Strength: Although a single drop of water may seem weak, the combined force of many drops of water is very powerful. Thus, water represents strength and power.

Life: Water is the source of life, without which life cannot exist.

Cleanliness: Water can wash away dirt and grime, symbolizing purity and cleanliness and representing spiritual purification.

Flow: Water never stops flowing, symbolizing the passing of time and changes in things.

Calmness: Water can also be calm and still, representing tranquility and peace.

Power: Water can drive machinery such as water wheels and turbines, symbolizing power and energy.

Mystery: The depth and unknown qualities of water create a sense of mystery and wonder.

River: The original meaning of the character “水” is river, and it refers to all bodies of water (the general term for rivers, lakes, and seas).

Woman: “Women are made of water” is a common expression used to describe females. Beautiful women are described as “water-spirited.” Other expressions include “A daughter who marries is like spilt water,” and “Women are all crybabies.”

In Chinese culture, water has a rich and varied symbolism that reflects the importance of this essential element in everyday life.

mountains and water in Chinese culture

Mountains and waters are a portrayal of stability and flexibility, a symbol of dignity and kindness, and a representation of strength and tenderness. The meaning of mountains and waters may seem contradictory, but in reality, they are harmoniously united, representing the profound cultural heritage of China. Mountains and waters are the veins and blood of China’s vast territory. Mountains are the vast and majestic wilderness of the north, with a deep and profound presence, while waters are the flowing streams and small bridges of the south, gentle and delicate. Since ancient times, mountains and waters have been a beautiful scenery in Chinese ancient paintings. The hazy or powerful lines depict the grandeur and pride of mountains, and the flexibility and freedom of water. Chinese landscape painting is different from the thick oil paintings and exaggerated facial expressions of Western art, which were influenced by the repressive thoughts of the Middle Ages. Chinese landscape painting creates a profound artistic conception with the most concise brushstrokes and simplest tones. The serene and elegant images contain profound humanistic thoughts and the cultural heritage of the Chinese nation.

If mountains and waters were compared to people, mountains would be a heroic and invincible man, with a resolute and unyielding character, always displaying an unshakable spirit to the world. On the other hand, water would be a gentle and affectionate woman from the south, with a graceful and tender manner, like the willow trees in the sunny March, delicate yet tenacious.

If mountains and water were compared to people, the mountain would be a strong and resolute man, with unyielding determination and an unbreakable will. He is brave and invincible, rarely showing a smile, always presenting a solid and unshakable side to the world. Water, on the other hand, would be a gentle and affectionate woman from the south, standing tall and graceful, with a tender and charming manner, like the willows in the spring breeze, both delicate and resilient.

Mountains and water represent the two cultural factions of China, the north and the south. The different cultural backgrounds, historical accumulations, and geographical environments have created the differences between the two. The towering mountains and steep ridges of the north have nurtured a fearless and ambitious style, as seen in phrases like “Thirty years of achievement are but dust and soil; Eight thousand miles of journey, clouds and moon.” or “Leaving Purple Mountain heading towards the desert, only the Green Family remains as the sun sets.” There is also the heroic and tragic line “Black clouds press down on the city, the city is about to collapse; The armor shines towards the sun, golden scales open.” The mild and clear waters of the south, with its fishing boats singing in the evening, have nurtured a gentle and sentimental style, as seen in phrases like “The crows cry as the frost fills the sky; The maple trees and the fishing fires sing in the night” or “On the bank of the willow trees, under the lingering moon and the morning breeze, a year has passed, it must have been a good time and a beautiful scene, but how can I express it to anyone?”

The desolate north and the lofty mountain culture are not inferior to the gentle and graceful culture of the southern waters, and the creek culture of the south is not without brilliance in comparison to the elegant and vast north.

The mountain peaks are ancient and enduring, rooted firmly to the ground, regardless of the changing of the stars and the passage of time. They always protect their land and never follow the trend. They are committed to their duty and responsible for their choices until the end, even if it means sacrificing themselves. They understand that their duty is to stand firm.

The flowing water is ever-moving, chasing after its dreams and never stopping until the day it dries up. It can bend and stretch, be flexible and adaptable, and is not bound by any predetermined rules. It is good at discovering, seeking, and sensing, and once it has set a goal, it will not easily give up.

what is water called in ancient China?

Water is a first-level Chinese character that was first seen in the Shang Dynasty oracle bone script. Its original meaning is “river”, which is then extended to refer to all bodies of water. It is also extended to refer to certain liquid substances that are colorless and tasteless. With the meaning of water being calm and level, it is used to describe water levels and water measurements, as in the definition of “standard” given in the “Shuowen Jiezi”. Water also has other meanings, such as swimming, being one of the five elements, and living organisms that live in various bodies of water.

The elegant names for water in Chinese include:

Bixu: refers to water. It appeared in a poem by Zhang Jiuling of the Tang Dynasty, “Sending off Zhao Shaofu with a couplet”: “The bamboo forest contains clear scenery, and the splendid pool reflects the blue emptiness.”

Hanjing: refers to clear water. It appeared in a poem by Wang Anshi of the Song Dynasty, “My Thoughts Sent to Huang Jifu”: “My thoughts are in Pengli, where a cold and clear path extends for thousands of miles.”

Hanjiang: refers to cool water. It appeared in a poem from the “Collection of Music Bureau Poetry, Dance and Song Verse Three, the Huaian King’s Poem”: “A silver bed was made by digging a well in the backyard, and cold water was drawn with a golden pitcher and a plain rope.”

Hanyu: refers to clear, cool and elegant things, such as water, bamboo, and moonlight. It appeared in a poem by Li Qunyu of the Tang Dynasty, “Drawing Water”: “A cold and elegant stream runs through the autumn springs, leading to the deep and smoky cave.”

Kongming: refers specifically to water under moonlight. It appeared in a poem by Su Shi of the Song Dynasty, “Ode to Red Cliffs”: “With cassia oars and orchid paddles, we travel upstream under the moonlit water.”

water in Chinese called:

Small and deep water is called a pool, while large and deep water is called an abyss. Water areas with dense water grass are called marshes.

Shallow water is called a shoal, fast flowing water is called a rapid, slow-flowing water is called a backwater, large waves are called waves, and small waves are called ripples.

The edge of the water is called a bank or a shoal, while a body of water surrounded by land on two sides is called a bay.

A body of water surrounded by land on three sides is called a cove, and a peninsula refers to a large area of land surrounded by water on three sides. An archipelago refers to a group of densely packed islands, while a chain of islands arranged in a line or arc is called an island chain.

A piece of land surrounded by water on all four sides is called an island if it is large, and a reef if it is small. A sandbar with people living on it is called a shoal, while an area with many rocks is called a jut.

A large river is called a river or a stream, while a small river is called a creek. An east-west oriented watercourse is called a pond, while a north-south oriented one is called a harbor. A deep body of water is called a lake, while a shallow one is called a lagoon.

The edge of the water is called a riverbank or a shore, and a small water-filled depression is called a hollow. A man-made drainage channel is called a canal, while a large functional river artificially excavated for transportation is called a canal. A pavilion or tower built near or on the water for rest and sightseeing is called a pavilion.

Other water-related structures include dams, embankments, piers, and harbors.


The image of rain has always been a popular subject in poetry, literature, and music. It can be used to describe scenery, create atmosphere, or convey emotions and ideas.

In the literary world, the need for rain is no less than in real life. Therefore, there are many poetic names for rain that have emerged over the course of these texts.

Rainfall: Lin, jumping pearls, sweet rain, good rain, nourishing rain, mysterious fluid, divine fluid, spiritual fluid, dragon’s moisture, flowing water, clear dew, miraculous water, pouring rain, heavy rain, light rain, night spring, silver bamboo.

Showers: Sweet rain, good rain, nourishing rain.

Prolonged rain: Bitter rain, excessive rain.

chinese symbol for water

The oracle bone script, bronze script, seal script, clerical script, semi-cursive script, cursive script, and regular script of the Chinese character “水” are shown in the following image:

chinese water symbol meaning

In Chinese culture, the water symbol has multiple meanings, including:

Life and regeneration: Water is essential for life and growth, and it is often associated with new beginnings and regeneration.

Adaptability and flexibility: Water is known for its ability to take on the shape of any container it is poured into, making it a symbol of adaptability and flexibility.

Wisdom and clarity: Water is often associated with wisdom and clarity, as it has a reflective quality that allows one to see things clearly.

Yin energy: In traditional Chinese philosophy, water is considered a yin element, associated with darkness, coldness, and quietness.

Balance and harmony: Water is an element that seeks balance and harmony, flowing around obstacles and finding its way to the lowest point. This makes it a symbol of balance and harmony in Chinese culture.

Overall, the water symbol in Chinese culture represents the essential nature of life, adaptability, wisdom, and balance, among other meanings.

water found for in ancient china

How to find drinkable water sources in the wild?

Listen: With sensitive hearing, pay attention to the sound of flowing water from mountain streams, waterfalls, cliffs, basins, valleys, and the sounds of frogs and water birds. If you can hear these sounds, it means you are not far from a water source, and it proves that the water source is flowing and can be directly consumed. However, be careful not to mistake the sound of rustling leaves blown by the wind for the sound of flowing water.

Smell: Use your nose to sniff for damp smells or the scent of mud and water plants carried by the wind. Then follow the direction of the odor to find the water source. Of course, this requires some accumulated experience.

Observe: With rich experience and knowledge, observing animals, plants, weather, climate, and geographical environment can also help find water sources.

Judging the level of the underground water table based on the terrain and geographical environment. For example, underground water is often found at the foot of a mountain, in low-lying areas, places where rainwater accumulates, and downstream of reservoirs. Also, digging several meters below the lowest point on the outside of a river bend or under a dry riverbed can yield water, but there may be a lot of mud, which needs to be purified before drinking.

Find water sources based on climate and ground moisture conditions. In hot summers, the ground is always very humid, and under similar climatic conditions, places that have been exposed to the sun for a long time but are not dry or hot have a high water table. In autumn, water vapor rises from the ground, and thin mist like gauze often appears in the early morning. Heavy dew also occurs at night, and the ground is damp, indicating a high water table and sufficient water supply. In the cold winter, there is white frost in the cracks on the ground surface, and the water table is also relatively high. Places that thaw early in spring and freeze late in winter, as well as places where snow melts quickly after snowfall, also have a high water table.

Find water sources by observing plant growth. It is also very effective to identify water sources through plants. Places where fragrant cattails, sand willows, water lilies, golden needles (also known as yellow flowers), and mustard grow have a relatively high water table and good water quality. Places where grey plants, thistles, and sand grass grow also have underground water, but the water quality is not good and may taste bitter or astringent, or contain rust. In early spring, when other branches of a tree have not yet sprouted, only one branch has already sprouted, indicating that there is underground water in that area. In autumn, when other trees in the same area have already turned yellow, but only one tree has not, it indicates that there is underground water in that area. Additionally, plants such as the triangular-leaved willow, Chinese parasol tree, willow, and salt cedar only grow in places with water, and digging below them will yield underground water.

Finding water sources based on the activity of animals and insects: Mosquitoes gather in cylindrical shapes and their presence can indicate a nearby water source. Places where frogs, large ants, and snails reside also tend to have water sources. Additionally, the flight paths of swallows and the locations where they gather mud to build nests are often near areas with high groundwater levels. In the evening, quails fly towards water sources while in the morning, they fly away from water. Flocks of doves also fly towards water sources in the morning and evening. These are all indicators of water sources. Although this information may not be relevant nowadays, it is still worth knowing.

Using mugwort to find water sources: Mugwort is a hardy plant that can grow in sunny areas, making it readily available. When soldiers find themselves in the wilderness, they split up to search for mugwort or bring it with them on their journey. They pile up the mugwort and burn it. Mugwort has a unique property that causes it to bend downwards and search for water. When it burns, the heat causes it to release steam, which follows underground channels until it finds a way out. When it reaches a water source, it evaporates the water with the steam. Soldiers can look for areas within a five-mile radius where water mist is rising from the ground. They can dig in this area and find water within a short amount of time. This way, they can have water to drink and continue their journey. This is the story of how mugwort was used to find water. The same principle applies to the use of mugwort for medicinal purposes. The heat from mugwort enters the body and follows the flow of Qi and blood. It can also find and remove dampness, which is why mugwort can help with conditions related to coldness and dampness. It can warm and promote the flow of Qi and blood, open up channels, improve Yang energy, disperse stagnation, clear blockages, expel toxins, and prevent disease, thus promoting health and longevity.

water used for in ancient China

The utilization of hydraulic power was the second aspect of ancient China’s utilization of natural forces. By the Han Dynasty at the latest, water power had been used to serve agricultural production. Huan Tan, a Western Han scholar, wrote in his book Huanzi Xin Lun, “Mi Xi established the system of using a pestle and mortar to hull rice, and ten thousand people benefited. Later people added effort and devised a way to borrow the weight of the body to step on the pestle and mortar, and the efficiency was multiplied tenfold. The pestle and mortar were also equipped with machinery that could be powered by donkeys, oxen, horses, and water, and the benefits were nearly one hundred times greater.” The so-called “using water power to hull rice” referred to the use of water power to pound rice, which was later known as the water-powered pestle and mortar. This is the earliest record in our country of using water power for agriculture. The utilization of water power in agriculture mainly involves two aspects: irrigation and processing. In terms of irrigation, water-lifting devices such as the water wheel turning the car, the water wheel turning the tube car, and the high-turning tube car are all machines that use water power to lift water. In terms of processing, there are water-powered pestle and mortar, water-powered mill, water-powered rice mill, and water-powered pulp beater, among others. In addition, there are “three tasks of the water wheel,” a kind of agricultural tool that uses water power to complete three tasks of grinding, pounding, and milling. Water-powered Luo surface machine and water-powered spinning wheel are mainly used in work processes with high labor intensity, high power consumption, and relatively mechanical operations.

water in four symbols

The Four Divine Beasts and their meanings:

Qing Long (Azure Dragon) represents the East and is associated with the Wood element.

Zhu Que (Vermilion Bird) represents the South and is associated with the Fire element.

Bai Hu (White Tiger) represents the West and is associated with the Metal element.

Xuan Wu (Black Tortoise) represents the North and is associated with the Water element.

Qi Lin (Kirin) represents the center and is associated with the Earth element.

In ancient times, people divided the sky into four parts – east, west, south, and north – and named each part after a main constellation, which was associated with the Four Divine Beasts. Xuan Wu is a combination of a tortoise and a snake, and its original meaning was “mysterious darkness”. In ancient times, the tortoise was black, so Xuan Wu was associated with the color black. Xuan Wu was also associated with water because the tortoise lives in rivers, lakes, and seas. It was also associated with longevity and the north, and later became a god worshipped in Taoism.

The name “Xuan Wu” can be translated into English as “Black Tortoise” or “Mysterious Darkness”.

water in Chinese 5 elements

The theory of Five Elements is a summary of practical experience by ancient Chinese people. They believed that everything in the world is composed of five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth, which exhibit different characteristics in different objects.

In classical Chinese philosophy, “Five Elements” refers to the five basic elements in the universe, which have a broad representation.

Water, as a representation of the Five Elements, is associated with the north direction.

Water is associated with the season of winter in the Five Elements.

The color black represents water in the Five Elements.

The kidney is the organ associated with water in the Five Elements.

The emotion associated with water in the Five Elements is fear.

In the heavenly stems of the Five Elements, water is represented by Ren and Gui.

In the earthly branches of the Five Elements, water is represented by the zodiac signs of Hai and Zi.

The hexagram of Kan is associated with water in the Eight Trigrams of the Five Elements.

Water represents intelligence, and its nature is clever and its emotions are kind. Its taste is salty, and its color is black. Those who are strong in water have a dark and bright complexion, speak clearly and harmoniously, are thoughtful and resourceful, and have exceptional knowledge. If they have an excess of water, they may gossip and indulge in lust. If they have a deficiency of water, they may be short in stature, moody, cowardly, and indecisive.

The theory of the Five Elements is a summary of practical experience by ancient Chinese people. They believed that everything in the world is composed of five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth, which manifest differently in different things.

In classical Chinese philosophy, the Five Elements represent the five basic elements in the universe and have a broad representation. Water represents the north direction, the winter season, the color black, the kidney organ, and the emotion of fear. Water is also associated with the heavenly stems of Ren and Gui, the earthly branches of Hai and Zi, and the trigram of Kan.

The characteristics of water include moistening and descending, as described in the Book of Documents. Water has the properties or effects of moisturizing, descending, coldness, closure, and other phenomena, which belong to the element of water.

Water is represented by the colors black and gray-blue. People who lack the water element in their Five Elements are suitable to wear crystals such as black tourmaline, tiger eye, and black hair crystal.

The Five Elements have a mutually generating and restraining relationship. The generating sequence is: fire generates earth, earth generates metal, metal generates water, water generates wood, and wood generates fire. The restraining sequence is: wood restrains earth, earth restrains water, water restrains fire, fire restrains metal, and metal restrains wood.

In the generating relationship, any element has a mother-child relationship. In the restraining relationship, any element has a so-overcoming and so-overcome relationship. The relationship between generating and restraining is essential for maintaining a relative balance in all things.

If any element is excessively strong or weak, abnormal phenomena can arise, leading to multiplication or humiliation. Multiplication means excessive restraining, which goes beyond the normal limit of restraint, and the one being restrained becomes weaker. Humiliation, also known as reverse restraint, is when the one who should overcome is instead overcome. For example, when the earth is weak or the water is excessive, water can overcome the earth, contrary to the normal restraint relationship.

What is the water element personality like?

According to traditional Chinese philosophy, the water element is associated with certain personality traits. People who have a strong water element in their personality are believed to be intelligent, perceptive, and thoughtful. They tend to be resourceful and strategic, and they are often able to see things from multiple perspectives. They may be introspective and reflective, and they often have a deep emotional life.

However, if the water element is out of balance in someone’s personality, it can lead to negative qualities as well. They may become overly analytical or critical, or they may struggle with fear or anxiety. They may be prone to indecisiveness or a lack of confidence. When the water element is excessively strong, it can lead to a tendency toward coldness or detachment, or an overemphasis on intellectual pursuits at the expense of emotional connection.

water element zodiac personality

In Chinese astrology, each zodiac sign is associated with one of the five elements, and the water element is linked to the zodiac signs Rat, Pig, and Ox.

People born under the water element zodiac signs are said to be insightful, intuitive, and sensitive. They tend to be calm, patient, and flexible in their approach to life, but can also be reserved and introspective. They have a natural ability to adapt to changing circumstances and are able to navigate complex social situations with ease.

Water element zodiac individuals tend to be very creative, imaginative, and have a rich inner world. They are also known for their great intuition and have a deep understanding of their own emotions and those of others. However, they can be prone to getting lost in their own thoughts and emotions, and may struggle with decision-making at times.

Overall, the water element zodiac personalities are known for their emotional depth, sensitivity, and creativity.

what does water mean in Chinese zodiac?

The characteristics of the element of water in the Chinese zodiac are coldness and the tendency to flow downwards. According to the theory of the five elements in the eight characters, metal produces water because water relies on iron tools to dredge and clear the way.

Water produces wood because wood relies on rainwater for irrigation, while earth controls water because it can block its flow. Water controls fire because it can extinguish flames. In the Chinese zodiac, the animals that belong to the element of water are the rat and the pig, which correspond to the zodiac signs of the rat and the pig in the ten heavenly stems.


In the twelve earthly branches, the rat corresponds to the first branch, which is called “zi” and represents yin water.

Water rats are clever and nimble, intelligent and flexible, cautious and sensitive, and good at planning and strategizing. They are known for their quick thinking and are able to seize opportunities at work. They excel in their ability to think ahead.

However, some of them tend to be too conservative and unwilling to innovate, which makes it difficult for them to take risks and step out of their comfort zone.


In the twelve earthly branches, the pig corresponds to the twelfth branch, which is called “hai” and represents yang water.

Water pigs are serious and meticulous, cautious and careful, thoughtful and thorough, but can also be indecisive and impulsive. They are responsible and conscientious in their work and never do things half-heartedly. They are strong-willed and fearless when it comes to making decisions, even when the going gets tough.

However, their conservatism and excessive caution can make them easily influenced and indecisive, and their state of mind may not be stable enough to handle setbacks.

The personality of the zodiac animals belonging to the Water element

The personality traits of the zodiac signs belonging to the Water element are characterized by coldness and a tendency to flow downwards. According to the theory of the Five Elements and their interactions, Metal generates Water, as Water needs a metallic tool to clear its path.

Water generates Wood, as Wood relies on rainwater for growth. Earth overcomes Water, as Earth can block its flow. Water overcomes Fire, as Water can extinguish Fire. In the Five Elements theory, the zodiac signs of the Rat and Pig are associated with the Water element, and their corresponding Heavenly Stems are Zi and Hai.

Zodiac sign Rat:

The Rat is associated with the first Earthly Branch Zi, which corresponds to the Yin Water element.

Water Rats are quick-witted, smart, cautious, and sensitive. They are good at strategizing and can seize opportunities in their work. They have excellent thinking abilities and can anticipate things beforehand.

However, some Water Rats tend to be too conservative and refuse to innovate, which may hinder their progress. They may also conform to others’ opinions and stick to old ways, unable to step out of their comfort zone.

Zodiac sign Pig:

The Pig is associated with the twelfth Earthly Branch Hai, which corresponds to the Yang Water element.

Water Pigs are meticulous, careful, and thoughtful. They take their responsibilities seriously and are always thorough in their tasks, never being careless or superficial. They are assertive and not afraid of challenges, even when they face difficulties.

However, Water Pigs may be too cautious and conservative, easily influenced by others’ opinions and indecisive. They may lack mental stability and collapse easily when they face setbacks.

In general, Water element people are gentle and peaceful, preferring harmony over conflict. They are good at developing strategies and have a strong sense of responsibility. However, if their Yin energy is too dominant, they may become cunning and treacherous, resorting to manipulative tactics to achieve their goals. The zodiac signs of Rat and Pig under the Water element are characterized by their intelligence, prudence, sensitivity, and conservatism. They are thoughtful and deliberate, but may also hesitate in their actions.

The appearance of people represented by the Water element

The complexion of water-type people is both black and white. If they are anxious or stressed, their face may turn blue or pale. Overworking and exhausting themselves for a long time can also damage their heart and blood, resulting in a pale complexion. Young people may also develop acne due to external cold and dampness.

Their forehead and cheeks are slightly wider than usual, their shoulders are small, their back is long, and their buttocks are flat. They tend to be of medium or small stature.

They have a relatively fat body, are short, have a relatively large head, wide cheeks, a relatively large abdomen, dark skin, a slightly larger waist and hips, short fingers, and dense and black hair. They are sensitive to cold and prefer warmth.

what is water dog in chinese astrology

In Chinese astrology, the Water Dog is one of the 12 zodiac signs. It is also known as the “Ren Xu” in Chinese, and it is associated with the earthly branch Xu (戌) and the Yang Water element. The Water Dog is said to be energetic, loyal, and trustworthy, with a strong sense of responsibility and justice. They are also thought to be good at communication and socializing with others.

The Water Dog is believed to be born in the years 1982 and 2042, as well as every 60 years before and after those years. According to Chinese astrology, the year of a person’s birth sign can influence their personality traits, relationships, career, and overall luck. The Water Dog is believed to be compatible with the other zodiac signs of the Water element, such as the Rat and the Ox, and incompatible with the signs of the Fire element, such as the Horse and the Snake.

water in chinese mythology

Water plays a significant role in Chinese mythology, both as a symbol and as a character in stories and legends. In traditional Chinese culture, water is seen as one of the five basic elements along with wood, fire, earth, and metal. It is associated with the north, winter, the kidneys, and the emotion of fear.

In many myths and legends, water is personified as a dragon, which is one of the most powerful and revered creatures in Chinese culture. The dragon is often depicted as a water deity that controls the rains, the rivers, and the oceans, and is capable of causing floods, droughts, and storms.

There are also many stories about other water spirits, such as the “water god” Gonggong, who was said to have caused a catastrophic flood by smashing his head into a mountain, and the “dragon king” of the sea, who ruled over the creatures of the ocean and had the power to summon storms and tidal waves.

water in chinese story

The Story of Da Yu’s Flood Control

The story of Da Yu’s flood control is a legendary tale from ancient China, and is one of the most famous stories of the ancient great flood. Da Yu was a descendant of the Yellow Emperor, and during the period of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, the Yellow River was flooding. Da Yu and his father Gun were appointed by the emperors Yao and Shun to be responsible for flood control.

Da Yu led the people in a struggle against the natural disasters of flooding, and ultimately achieved victory. Faced with the raging flood, Da Yu learned from Gun’s failure in flood control, and changed the approach of “blocking” the water, instead choosing to guide the floodwaters, demonstrating his intelligence and leadership in overcoming difficulties with the people.

In order to control the flood, Da Yu worked tirelessly with the people for many years, putting aside personal interests and “passed by his own door three times without entering”. After 13 years of flood control efforts, Da Yu finally completed his great undertaking.

The Story of Gong Gong’s Flood Control

This is one of the earliest flood control stories in ancient China, and tells the heroic story of the ancient figure Gong Gong in controlling the Yellow River floods. Gong Gong was a character from ancient legends, and according to legend, he was a descendant of the Yan Emperor with the surname Jiang.

In ancient times, the Yellow River entered the territory from the west of Xinxian County, flowing northeast through Yanjin and Weihui before flowing north. The Yellow River, which brought disasters nine out of ten years, was a serious threat to the tribes engaged in agricultural production here.

According to historical records, at that time, the floodwaters were raging for a long time, with wild beasts coming in and out of them, and ferocious birds often preying on the elderly and children.

Faced with the frequently flooded river, in order to develop agricultural production and ensure the safety of the tribes, Gong Gong organized the people to build dikes to prevent flooding. They used high ground to fill in low areas, blocking the floodwaters in an attempt to put an end to the water disaster and achieve lasting peace.

Jingwei Filling the Sea

Jingwei Filling the Sea is one of the ancient myths in China. It is said that Jingwei was the youngest daughter of the legendary Emperor Yan, whose original name was Niwa. One day, Niwa went to the East Sea to play and drowned in the water.

After her death, her spirit turned into a kind of divine bird with a flower head, a white beak, and red claws. Every day, the bird would pick up stones and vegetation from the mountains and throw them into the East Sea, while making a mournful cry of “Jingwei, Jingwei,” as if calling out for herself.

Based on different research perspectives, people classify the myth of Jingwei Filling the Sea into different types of myths. Obviously, the myth belongs to the typical transformation myth, and it is also a “rebirth after death” myth in the transformation myth, which means that the soul is entrusted to a material that currently exists.

Moreover, Jingwei Filling the Sea also belongs to the revenge myth. Niwa had no grievances or hatred with the sea during her lifetime, but she died by drowning, which created a deep hatred towards the sea. Thus, she transformed into a bird and dedicated her life to filling the sea out of revenge.

Water Overflowing the Golden Mountain

The legend of Water Overflowing the Golden Mountain took place in Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Zhenjiang during the Song Dynasty. Bai Suzhen was a thousand-year-old snake demon who had been practicing cultivation. In order to repay the favor of a scholar named Xu Xian who saved her in a previous life, she took human form and sought to repay the favor. Later, she met another snake demon named Xiaoqing, and the two became companions.

Bai Suzhen used her magical powers to cleverly and ingeniously get to know Xu Xian and eventually married him. However, after their marriage, a monk named Fahai from the Jinshan Temple told Xu Xian that Bai Suzhen was a snake demon. Xu Xian was skeptical, but he eventually followed Fahai’s plan and tricked Bai Suzhen into drinking wine containing realgar on the Dragon Boat Festival, causing her to reveal her true form and inadvertently scaring Xu Xian to death.

Bai Suzhen went to the Heavenly Court to steal the Immortal Grass to revive Xu Xian. Fahai then deceived Xu Xian into going to the Jinshan Temple, where he was imprisoned. Bai Suzhen and Xiaoqing fought against Fahai and caused the temple to be flooded, which harmed other living beings.

Bai Suzhen violated the heavenly laws and was captured and suppressed under the Thunder Peak Pagoda after giving birth to her son. Later, her son became the top scholar and went to the pagoda to pay respects to his mother, freeing her from captivity and reuniting the whole family.

Nezha’s Triumph Against the Dragon King

According to legend, Li Tianwang, a general stationed at Chentang Pass, chopped open a meatball that his wife had given birth to, thinking it was an ill omen. Unexpectedly, a handsome boy named Nezha emerged from it.

Since childhood, Nezha had a love for martial arts. One day, while playing by the seaside, he encountered the third prince of the East Sea Dragon King, who was rampaging and harming the people, especially children. Outraged by the evil prince’s actions, Nezha stood up and killed him.

When the East Sea Dragon King learned of the incident, he was furious and blamed Nezha’s father. As a result, he created a storm and unleashed a flood. To protect his parents, Nezha took his own life. However, his master used lotus leaves and flower power to transform Nezha, and he was reborn as a lotus flower.

Later, Nezha went on a rampage in the East Sea, smashing the Dragon Palace and capturing the Dragon King.

six-water in Chinese mythology

1、Eight Auspicious Waters

Eight Auspicious Waters, also known as Eight Auspicious Attainments Waters, refer to waters that possess eight kinds of special auspicious attainments. These waters are regarded as holy objects in Buddhism, representing the prosperity, merits, and devout faith of Buddhism, and have countless magical uses. The eight auspicious attainments are clarity, coolness, sweetness, softness, moisturizing, peacefulness, satiating hunger and thirst, and nourishing the senses. At the same time, the eight qualities of Eight Auspicious Waters are sweetness, coolness, softness, lightness, clarity, odorlessness, a fragrance for bathing, and not harming the body when used. Whenever people are in places where Eight Auspicious Waters are found, any unwillingness or worries in their hearts can be eliminated.

2、The River of Yin and Yang

The River of Yin and Yang is a manifestation of the fusion of the innate Yin and Yang principles. As the weather cools, the earth’s energy rises, and when heaven and earth come together, all things are born. The River of Yin and Yang is full of endless vitality, and whoever drinks its water will conceive and give birth to children in a very short time, regardless of gender. In “Journey to the West,” the River of Yin and Yang is the moat of the Women’s Kingdom in Xiliang. Xiliang is a kingdom of women with no men. Tang Sanzang and Zhu Bajie unknowingly drank the water of the River of Yin and Yang, and became pregnant, suffering from severe abdominal pain. Only with the help of Sun Wukong, who went to the Yang Mountain to fetch the water of the “falling fetus” spring, could the pregnancy be resolved.

3、Weak Water

Weak Water is described in the “Classic of Mountains and Seas” as having the strength of not being able to lift a goose feather and is therefore called Weak Water. Above the Weak Water, there is a domain where not even a goose feather can float, and it is difficult for immortals and Buddhas to cross it. Anyone who dares to cross the Weak Water will only have one outcome, which is sinking into the Weak Water and being dissolved and integrated into it. Later, the concept of Weak Water was extended to describe the metaphorical river of love and affection, which is what we refer to as “the Weak Water of the Three Thousand.” The first time that the phrase “the Weak Water of the Three Thousand” was used was in “Dream of the Red Chamber.” Baoyu said, “Even if I have the Weak Water of the Three Thousand, I only need one cup to drink.”

4: River of Oblivion

The River of Oblivion, also known as Wangchuan River, is the water that ferries all living beings in the afterlife. In Chinese mythology and legends, when a person dies, they have to pass through the Gate of Ghosts and travel along the Yellow Springs Road. The River of Oblivion serves as the boundary between the Yellow Springs Road and the underworld. The water of Wangchuan River appears blood-yellow and is full of lonely souls and wild ghosts who cannot be reincarnated. The river is infested with insects and snakes, and the air is filled with a foul stench. Located in the deepest abyss, by the side of the Yellow Springs River, there is no return from the River of Oblivion. The River of Oblivion is a natural god water of the underworld, born with the opening of the underworld and dies with its collapse. It is the most abundant natural god water that still exists.

On the River of Oblivion lies the Naihe Bridge, where sits the old woman named Meng Po. Those who wish to cross the River of Oblivion must drink the soup brewed by Meng Po to forget their past lives. Without drinking the soup, one cannot cross the bridge and thus cannot be reincarnated.

5: Three-Color God Water

The Three-Color God Water, also known as the Three-Light God Water, is named so because it is a mixture of three natural god waters: the Sun God Water, the Moon God Water, and the Star God Water. Each type of natural god water is unique and has deadly poison. The Sun God Water can erode flesh and bones, the Moon God Water can corrode the soul and spirit, and the Star God Water can consume the true spirit and consciousness. However, once the golden Sun God Water, silver Moon God Water, and purple Star God Water are combined, they become the number one holy medicine, capable of curing all poisons, including those deemed incurable. It can also heal all wounds and diseases, even resurrecting the dead.

6: Xiangliu Poisonous Water

Xiangliu, also known as Xiang Yao, was a malevolent god in ancient Chinese mythology and legend, serving as the minister of Gong Gong, who caused massive flooding. According to the Shanhaijing (Classic of Mountains and Seas), Xiangliu had nine heads and a snake-like body, devouring countless humans and turning their territories into swamps. The water it spewed out was even more vicious than floodwater, being both bitter and spicy. Consuming it would lead to certain death, and even animals could not survive in such an environment. Seeing the rampant devastation caused by Xiangliu, Yu the Great used his divine power to slay the monster. However, Xiangliu’s blood polluted the land, causing crops to fail to grow wherever it touched. Yu attempted to block the flow with mud, but the mud sank into the ground, leaving only a swamp. Thus, various heavenly gods built a high platform by the edge of the swamp to suppress the demon.

water dragon Chinese mythology

The Water Dragon is a mythical creature in ancient Chinese mythology, resembling a serpent with scales and horns. It has the ability to summon winds and rain, and is highly revered as a totem by the Chinese people, with emperors referring to themselves as the “true dragon emperor”. The Coiled Dragon, also known as the Panlong, is a type of Water Dragon in Chinese mythology. Coiled Dragons reside in water and are unable to fly, thus they do not have dragon horns. According to legend, Coiled Dragons are female dragons, which is why they do not have horns. They are said to be four zhang in length, with a dark green and black body that is highly venomous, causing instant death upon contact.

Feng Shui, a traditional Chinese practice of geomancy, also incorporates the image and symbolism of the dragon. Winding mountain ranges are referred to as mountain dragons, while meandering rivers are known as water dragons. In flat plains, where mountains are rare, rivers become an important standard for determining geographical features, and the auspiciousness of water dragons can affect the fortunes of homes and gravesites. Water quality, location, and flow direction can all have varying effects on health and fortune. By observing water, Feng Shui practitioners can also determine the gathering and dispersal of local energies and predict the fate of people and families in the area.

Water Dragons can take on different forms, including separate and converging entities. The source of water is considered the dragon’s origin, while the end of the watercourse represents the end of the dragon vein. The point where water intersects signifies the interruption of the dragon vein. If a chosen dwelling or grave is located at a converging water point or is surrounded by water in the opposite direction of the water flow, it is considered auspicious.

god of water in Chinese mythology

The water deities in the earliest Chinese mythology are generally referred to as gods who govern fresh water and rivers, but not including the sea. Water gods also control rain, which is different from the later dragon king mythology that categorizes rivers, lakes, and seas as a water system. Here are some famous water gods:

Gonggong: The earliest Chinese water god, usually refers to the god who governs fresh water and rivers, not including the sea. Gonggong is known for causing floods and is considered the god of floods. He is associated with inland waters, and does not have any connection with the ocean.

Fengyi: Also known as the River Earl, is the water god who governs the Yellow River. In ancient times, Fengyi was highly regarded and often received national-level sacrificial offerings. According to the poem “Nine Songs” by Qu Yuan, Fengyi is a handsome water god with a fish tail and a human body.

Qixiang: The water goddess who governs the Yangtze River, which is as famous as the Yellow River. According to the book “Guangya”, Qixiang was a daughter of the Zhuanxu tribe in ancient times. She stole the Yellow Emperor’s treasure and sank into the Yangtze River, thus becoming the goddess of the river.

Qu Yuan: After Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River, he was worshiped as a water god and called “Shuixian”, which means “water fairy”. Qu Yuan is considered a water god because he died in the Miluo River, which is part of the Dongting Lake water system.

These four water gods are representative and well-known in ancient Chinese mythology, but there are many other water gods associated with different rivers and bodies of water, such as the Water Mother of the Luo River, Wuzhiqi of the Huai River, and Li Bing of the Shu River. If one had to choose a water god who oversees all bodies of water, Gonggong would be the most appropriate.

water about Chinese festival

Water is closely associated with many Chinese festivals and traditional customs. For example, during the Dragon Boat Festival, people race dragon boats on rivers and lakes, and the festival is also known as the “Water Festival”. In addition, the traditional practice of collecting “Wu Shi Shui” (noontime water) from wells at noon on the day of the festival is believed to be auspicious and have cleansing and healing effects.

During the Mid-Autumn Festival, people often admire the full moon while drinking tea or wine. In ancient times, it was customary to offer sacrifices to the moon goddess, and the festival was also called the “Moon Festival”. In some regions, people also release water lanterns into rivers and lakes to pray for good luck.

Water is also an important part of many traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, such as the custom of cleaning the house to wash away bad luck, and the tradition of making dumplings and preparing special meals to welcome the new year.

Dai Water-Splashing Festival

The Dai Water-Splashing Festival, also known as the “Bathing Buddha Festival”, is a traditional festival of the Dai, Achang, De’ang, Bulang, Wa, and other ethnic groups. Countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos also celebrate the Water-Splashing Festival.

The festival usually takes place in mid-June of the Dai calendar and is one of the most important traditional festivals in Xishuangbanna. Its activities include folk events, artistic performances, economic and trade exchanges, and other categories.

The Water-Splashing Festival originated in India, and as Buddhism’s influence deepened in the Dai region, the Water-Splashing Festival became a cultural custom passed down through the generations. It has a history of several hundred years. During the festival, Dai people of all ages and genders dress in festival attire, and women each carry a bucket of clean water to wash the Buddha statue and seek blessings from the Buddha.

After “Bathing the Buddha,” people begin to splash water on each other to express blessings and hopes that the holy water will wash away diseases and disasters and bring a happy and prosperous life. The Water-Splashing Festival fully showcases the Dai water culture. In the festival, whoever is splashed the most symbolizes the happiest person, expressing the Dai people’s wish for each other’s peace and happiness, making people nostalgic.

Miao Dragon Boat Festival

The Miao Dragon Boat Festival, also known as “Za Weng” in the Miao language, which means “paddling dragon boats,” is a traditional festival of the Miao ethnic group and is held from May 24th to May 27th of the lunar calendar. The Dragon Boat Festival is generally held on the Qingshui River, which runs through Kaili, also known as Longtoujiang. Every year in May of the lunar calendar, the Miao people living here celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.

There are two folk legends about the origin of the Miao Dragon Boat Festival in southeastern Guizhou. One legend says that the dragon king who controlled the rain made a mistake and violated the will of heaven. As a result, the god of thunder chopped the dragon king into several pieces and threw them into the river. Since then, there has been a severe drought, and the Miao people have built dragon boats to ferry across the Qingshui River, symbolizing the resurrection of the dragon king who was killed by the god of thunder and the resumption of normal rainfall. This is an ancient custom of racing dragon boats to pray for rain. Another legend says that a father and son were fishing in the river, and the son was taken by the dragon king as a pillow. The father was angry and burned down the dragon palace, chopping the dragon into several pieces and leaving the body floating in the river. Everyone shared the dragon meat. But after eating the meat, it was pitch black for nine days and nights.

One day, a woman brought her child to the riverbank to wash clothes, and the child tapped the river with a hammer and kept saying “dong dong,” imitating the sound of beating a drum. Soon it became dawn. After that, the Miao people near the river celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival, racing dragon boats to the sound of drumming.

Wa New Water Festival

The New Water Festival, also known as “Xinshui Festival”, “Welcoming the New Water” or “Receiving the New Water”, is the most joyful and happy day of the year for the Wa people. In the months before the Spring Festival, every household begins to prepare food, brew water wine, and prepare festival clothing for adults and children, as well as repair houses and gather firewood. As the festival approaches, women cut grass and prepare horse feed.

Dai Water-Splashing Festival

The Dai Water-Splashing Festival, also known as the “Bathing Buddha Festival”, is a traditional festival of the Dai, Achang, De’ang, Bulang, Wa, and other ethnic groups. Countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos also celebrate the Water-Splashing Festival.

The festival usually takes place in mid-June of the Dai calendar and is one of the most important traditional festivals in Xishuangbanna. Its activities include folk events, artistic performances, economic and trade exchanges, and other categories.

The Water-Splashing Festival originated in India, and as Buddhism’s influence deepened in the Dai region, the Water-Splashing Festival became a cultural custom passed down through the generations. It has a history of several hundred years. During the festival, Dai people of all ages and genders dress in festival attire, and women each carry a bucket of clean water to wash the Buddha statue and seek blessings from the Buddha.

After “Bathing the Buddha,” people begin to splash water on each other to express blessings and hopes that the holy water will wash away diseases and disasters and bring a happy and prosperous life. The Water-Splashing Festival fully showcases the Dai water culture. In the festival, whoever is splashed the most symbolizes the happiest person, expressing the Dai people’s wish for each other’s peace and happiness, making people nostalgic.

Miao Dragon Boat Festival

The Miao Dragon Boat Festival, also known as “Za Weng” in the Miao language, which means “paddling dragon boats,” is a traditional festival of the Miao ethnic group and is held from May 24th to May 27th of the lunar calendar. The Dragon Boat Festival is generally held on the Qingshui River, which runs through Kaili, also known as Longtoujiang. Every year in May of the lunar calendar, the Miao people living here celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.

There are two folk legends about the origin of the Miao Dragon Boat Festival in southeastern Guizhou. One legend says that the dragon king who controlled the rain made a mistake and violated the will of heaven. As a result, the god of thunder chopped the dragon king into several pieces and threw them into the river. Since then, there has been a severe drought, and the Miao people have built dragon boats to ferry across the Qingshui River, symbolizing the resurrection of the dragon king who was killed by the god of thunder and the resumption of normal rainfall. This is an ancient custom of racing dragon boats to pray for rain. Another legend says that a father and son were fishing in the river, and the son was taken by the dragon king as a pillow. The father was angry and burned down the dragon palace, chopping the dragon into several pieces and leaving the body floating in the river. Everyone shared the dragon meat. But after eating the meat, it was pitch black for nine days and nights.

One day, a woman brought her child to the riverbank to wash clothes, and the child tapped the river with a hammer and kept saying “dong dong,” imitating the sound of beating a drum. Soon it became dawn. After that, the Miao people near the river celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival, racing dragon boats to the sound of drumming.


Wa New Water Festival

The New Water Festival, also known as “Xinshui Festival”, “Welcoming the New Water” or “Receiving the New Water”, is the most joyful and happy day of the year for the Wa people. In the months before the Spring Festival, every household begins to prepare food, brew water wine, and prepare festival clothing for adults and children, as well as repair houses and gather firewood. As the festival approaches, women cut grass and prepare horse feed.

Han Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the “Zongzi Festival”, “Dragon Boat Racing Festival”, and “Bathing in Artemisia Festival”, is a holiday celebrated by the Han Chinese that is closely associated with water. Although the origins of the festival are said to be related to figures such as Qu Yuan, the dragon boat races, making and eating zongzi (sticky rice dumplings), drinking realgar wine, and bathing in water during the festival all have a connection to water.

Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon boat racing is an important custom during the Dragon Boat Festival and is prevalent in southern China, with forms of dry dragon boat racing and dragon dance boat performances being common in cities near rivers and lakes in the north. There are various theories about the origin of dragon boat racing, including rites to Cao E, Qu Yuan, water gods, and dragon gods, which can be traced back to the end of the primitive society.

Noon Water

Noon water refers to the water drawn from wells at noon on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival. “Drawing noon water” is a traditional custom prevalent in the coastal areas of southern China. The noon hour on the day of the festival is considered to be the most auspicious time of the day as the sun’s energy is at its peak. The water drawn at this time is believed to have strong spiritual properties that can ward off evil, purify the body, and remove obstacles. It is said that using noon water to brew tea or alcohol results in an especially fragrant and tasty beverage, which can even have curative effects. There is a saying that goes, “Wash your eyes with noon water, and they will shine like black kites.” Another saying goes, “Drinking noon water is better than taking medicine for three years.”

Bathing in Artemisia

As the saying goes, “Plant willows on Qingming Festival, and hang artemisia on Dragon Boat Festival.” Many people hang artemisia leaves at their doorsteps and use them to bathe or wipe their bodies as a means of warding off evil and praying for safety. Artemisia has natural properties that can dispel moisture, relieve itching, and kill bacteria, and it has been used to bathe adults, children, and pregnant women for thousands of years. Bathing with artemisia leaves not only disinfects and kills bacteria but also removes evil spirits.

Dragon Boat Festival Water

“On May 5, Dragon Boat Festival Water.” The heavy rainfall that occurs before and after the Dragon Boat Festival is known as dragon boat water, Duanwu water, dragon descent water, and auspicious water. It is believed to have the power to dispel evil spirits. During the festival, the stars of the dragon constellation rise to the zenith in the south at midsummer. In traditional folklore, the dragon is a symbol of good fortune and the master of the wind and rain, and its flight in the sky and movements on earth bring rain and good harvests. Soaking dragon boat water is a traditional custom in the southern regions of China, and people consider the water that the dragon boats touch to be “auspicious water.” According to traditional beliefs, soaking in dragon boat water can bring good fortune and everything will go smoothly.

water in Chinese medicine

Water is one of the five elements in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), along with wood, fire, earth, and metal. In TCM, water represents the winter season, the color black, the emotion of fear, and the organ system of the kidneys and bladder.

According to TCM theory, water is essential for the body’s vital functions, and it helps to nourish the kidneys and bladder. The kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood, producing urine, and regulating water balance in the body. The bladder stores and eliminates urine.

Imbalances in the water element can lead to various health problems, such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, frequent urination, incontinence, and lower back pain. To maintain balance in the water element, TCM practitioners may recommend dietary and lifestyle changes, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and other therapies.

Some foods that are considered beneficial for the water element include black beans, kidney beans, black sesame seeds, seaweed, fish, and dark leafy greens. Lifestyle practices that may support the water element include getting enough rest, staying warm in cold weather, and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.

Traditional Chinese medicine considers water to play a very important role in maintaining human health. In the correspondence between the five elements and the five organs in Chinese medicine, gold corresponds to the lungs and large intestine, water corresponds to the kidneys and bladder, wood corresponds to the liver and gallbladder, fire corresponds to the heart and small intestine, and earth corresponds to the spleen and stomach.

Water and fire are both very common and important substances in nature. As the “Book of Documents” says, “Water and fire are what the people drink and eat.” Water and fire each have their own characteristics, with water being still, cold, descending, moisturizing, and closed; while fire is active, warm, rising, burning, and warming. The “water-fire theory” in traditional Chinese medicine uses the characteristics of water and fire in nature as a metaphor to explain human life activities and pathological phenomena, and guide clinical diagnosis and treatment. It runs through various aspects of the theoretical system of traditional Chinese medicine.

Water and fire in the human body. In nature, water and fire are the source of life, but they can also cause natural disasters such as floods and fires. In the human body, water and fire also have physiological and pathological distinctions. Physiological water is an important material basis for the human body, manifesting as the body’s fluids, yin essence, blood, etc.; physiological fire is the yang qi that maintains normal human life activities. It warms and drives the functions of the organs, and is the driving force of human life activities. Under physiological conditions, water and fire maintain mutual unity and balance, quietly driving life activities, which is what traditional Chinese medicine often refers to as the “harmonious balance of water and fire”. The saying “water and fire are incompatible” emphasizes the opposite aspect of the mutual antagonism between water and fire. Once the balance of water and fire is disrupted, “water and fire imbalance” can occur, and clinically one may see symptoms such as mouth and tongue sores, throat swelling and pain, boils and abscesses due to “excessive heart fire”, or symptoms of yang deficiency and water swelling due to “excessive water dampness”.

Water and fire in the five organs. Each of the five organs has its own water and fire, but the most common balance or imbalance between water and fire often refers to the relationship between the heart and kidneys. The heart governs the body’s yang, located on the upper part of the body, and its nature is fire; the kidneys govern the body’s yin, located on the lower part of the body, and its nature is water. This relationship of fire below and water above, and the intersection of water and fire is called “harmonious balance of water and fire” and “intersection of heart and kidneys”. If the heart’s yang is not strong, then the water will not be transformed, leading to the symptoms of “water qi invading the heart”; if the kidneys lack water, then the symptoms of “heart yang dominance” can occur, both of which belong to the “imbalance of water and fire” and “failure of heart-kidney interaction”.

water in yin and yang

In the concept of Yin and Yang, water is considered to be Yin in nature. Yin and Yang are two complementary and interdependent forces in the universe, representing the female and male, dark and light, and other opposing but interconnected aspects of the world. Water is associated with the Yin aspect of things, representing quiet, stillness, and coldness.

In Chinese philosophy, everything in the universe can be classified as either Yin or Yang. These two forces are constantly interacting with each other, and their balance or imbalance determines the state of health or illness in a person. In the human body, Yin and Yang are represented by the organs and tissues, with the Yin organs being the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys, and the Yang organs being the small intestine, large intestine, stomach, bladder, and gallbladder.

Water is associated with the kidneys, which are considered the root of the Yin energy in the body. The kidneys store the essence of Yin and Yang, and water is seen as nourishing and supporting the Yin energy of the kidneys. The kidneys also control the body’s water metabolism and regulate the balance of fluids in the body.

Overall, in the Yin-Yang theory, water is seen as a vital element in maintaining the balance and harmony of the body, and its importance is reflected in the many ways it is used in traditional Chinese medicine, including herbal remedies, acupuncture, and dietary therapy.

water in feng shui

Feng Shui is a natural force in the universe, a magnetic field energy. Wind represents the vital force and field energy, while water represents flow and change. In daily life, water is generally understood as the common liquid, and when people choose a residence, an ideal environment would include mountains and water. In the book “Entering the Earth’s Eye,” it is written that “Blood is the honor, and water is the blood of the earth.”

However, the water in Feng Shui is not just the common liquid. Feng Shui believes that water can accumulate dragon qi. The term “boundary water” means that vital energy stops when it meets water. Therefore, in Feng Shui, everything revolves around “vital energy.” In fact, Feng Shui studies the two opposing factors that affect people’s living environment to obtain vital energy and auspicious energy. It is about how to truly unify these two contradictions from the real environment.

It is for this reason that Feng Shui believes that there must be water to retain vital energy and auspicious energy, to provide residents with a healthy, happy, and stable life, and to bring happiness and wealth to people.

The “water” in Feng Shui can be broadly divided into three types:

  1. First, natural water, referring to visible and tangible flowing water in the natural world, such as rivers and streams.
  • Second, figurative water, referring to materials that have all the forms and characteristics of water, such as vehicular traffic, pedestrian flow, and streets.
  • Third, extended meaning of water, such as money flowing in and out, the pursuit of the “Great Tao,” and wisdom.

Water in the Eight Trigrams

The hexagrams in the Book of Changes (Yi Jing) are a part of ancient Chinese culture, representing human perception and exploration of the relationship between heaven and earth. Water is the source of life and one of the most basic elements in nature, so it represents the nourishment and source of life in hexagrams, as well as the character of moistening things silently and going with the flow. Let’s learn about the hexagram that represents water in the eight trigrams.

What are the eight trigrams?

The eight trigrams are an important form of ancient Chinese philosophical thought, consisting of eight different symbols: Qian, Kun, Zhen, Xun, Kan, Li, Gen, and Dui. They represent different natural elements, gases, animals, etc. In ancient Chinese culture and philosophy, the eight trigrams and five elements are two very important concepts, and they are important means and tools for understanding nature and describing the world in Chinese culture and philosophy.

The meaning of water

The Kan hexagram represents water in the eight trigrams and symbolizes “nourishing, following, and achieving the Tao,” as well as “moistening, yielding, and following circumstances.” In ancient Chinese culture, water has always been considered as the nourishment and source of life, able to overcome difficulties and return to the sea. Therefore, water also represents flexibility in action and an accepting attitude towards destiny.

Explanation of Kan hexagram

The Kan hexagram, also known as the “Water” hexagram, is one of the eight trigrams, representing the flow, concealment, and danger of water. In the Kan hexagram, water represents the combination of stillness and movement, and has a very powerful force. The color of Kan hexagram is black, representing dignity, mystery, and depth. The symbol of Kan hexagram is the swift-flowing water, representing vigor, passion, and positive advancement.

The Kan hexagram is like a lake containing vitality, representing victory, transformation, and progress. In the Kan hexagram, we can feel the moisture of water and the power of going with the flow.

Application of Kan hexagram

In life, it is important to adhere to the aspiration of nourishing the great ambition, and to adapt to changing circumstances and follow the situation. The application of the Kan hexagram is very extensive, and it can be used to guide people’s lives and behavior, as well as to help us understand the problems and challenges of life and achieve goals through transformation and action.


Water is an essential element in our life, representing the nourishment and source of life. The Kan hexagram, which represents water in the eight trigrams, symbolizes nourishment, following, moistening, yielding, and going with the flow. We can learn from the Kan hexagram the quality of going with the flow, the power of nourishment, the flexibility of action, and the spirit of positive advancement. The Kan hexagram has deeply influenced Chinese culture and philosophy, and hexagrams are an essential part of Taoism, Yin-Yang studies, the Book of Changes, and other fields in ancient Chinese culture.

water in Taoism

In Taoism, water is considered one of the Five Elements, along with wood, fire, earth, and metal. Each element is associated with different aspects of the natural world and different qualities of energy.

Water is associated with the qualities of adaptability, flexibility, and fluidity. It is also associated with the emotions of fear and stillness. Water is seen as a powerful force that can overcome obstacles and erode even the hardest of substances over time.

In Taoist philosophy, water is often used as a metaphor for the Tao itself. The Tao is the underlying natural force that governs all things, and, like water, it is considered to be flexible, adaptable, and ever-flowing. In this sense, water represents the way that the Tao operates in the world, constantly changing and adapting to new circumstances.

Taoist practitioners often use water as a symbol in their meditations and visualizations. They may imagine themselves flowing like water, or visualize water washing away negative emotions and thoughts. By working with the energy of water, they seek to cultivate greater adaptability and flexibility in their own lives.

water by lao tzu

Laozi praised “the highest goodness is like water,” and said that a person with the Tao is like water. Why did he say that? Because “water is good at benefiting all things without contending, and it stays in places that people dislike, thus it is close to the Tao.” Water is good at benefiting all things without contending with them, and it resides in low-lying areas that people despise, so its behavior is in line with the principles of the Tao.

Laozi compared a person with the Tao to water and called it “the highest goodness is like water.”

The great Tao is formless and manifests as virtue. What kind of virtues are expressions of the Tao? Although the Tao cannot be seen, it is worth looking at water. Water has eight characteristics that correspond to the eight virtues of a person with the Tao, which Laozi greatly admires.

First, it dwells in the lowly places. It stays in a humble and low position. The ancients had a couplet: “Only water can be below to become a sea, while mountains don’t boast of height and yet reach the sky.”

Second, it is like the deep. Its thoughts are profound and hard to fathom.

Third, it is kind. It is compassionate and loving in its interactions with others.

Fourth, it is truthful. Its speech is honest and free from deceit.

Fifth, it is orderly. It governs with clarity, purity, and stability.

Sixth, it is capable. It is capable of doing anything.

Seventh, it moves with timing. Its actions are timely and appropriate.

Eighth, it does not contend. Therefore, it has no fault. Because it does not contend with others, it avoids calamities.

Humility, profundity, kindness, honesty, clarity, purity, stability, and the absence of contention – these eight virtues of water are highly valued by Laozi. He believed that these virtues are beneficial to all things without contending with people, and completely conform to the spirit of the Tao. A person who possesses these eight water virtues is the ultimate perfection, “the highest goodness is like water.”

water by zhuang zhou

Zhuangzi used still water as a mirror to illustrate the way of nourishing the spirit.

When we say “calm as still water,” we mean a state of mind that is peaceful and clear in the face of everything. It can describe a state of inner tranquility and clarity, as well as a steadfastness in one’s beliefs that is not swayed by external influences.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the world, Daoism emphasizes maintaining a “calm” and “tranquil” attitude, not being disturbed by the secular world. “People should not look at running water, but at still water; only stillness can calm the multitude.” “Still water” can serve as a mirror in which people can reflect upon themselves, the heavens, and all living things.

Because of the inherent nature of water, as long as it is not mixed, it will be clear; if it is not stirred, it will be calm; if it is stagnant and does not flow, it will not be pure and clear. This is a natural phenomenon. “The nature of water is to be clear when not mixed, calm when not disturbed, and unable to be clear when stagnant. This is the image of Heavenly Virtue.” (Zhuangzi, “Deliberate Balance”)

To nourish the spirit, one must maintain clarity and tranquility. Clear and tranquil states of mind have always been highly valued by Daoism. “If a person can always be clear and tranquil, all things in heaven and earth will return to him.” When the mind remains calm and unperturbed, with no extraneous thoughts, one can experience physical and mental comfort and pleasure and effectively take care of oneself.

To nourish the spirit, one must also follow the natural order and exercise appropriately. Living according to the laws of nature can bring about good results in nourishing the spirit, whereas going against the natural order can lead to disruption of bodily functions. Following the natural order requires exercise. If one does not exercise, one is like stagnant water, lacking vitality and health.

“Purity without impurity, stillness without change, simplicity without inaction, and movement following the ways of Heaven. This is the way to nourish the spirit.” Pure and unadulterated, still and unchanging, peaceful and uninvolved, and movement following the ways of nature – this is the way to nourish the spirit.

water in Confucianism

In Confucianism, water is often used as a metaphor for the ideal behavior and character of a person. It is believed that water has a number of virtues that a person should strive to embody, such as adaptability, clarity, and selflessness.

Confucius himself frequently used water as an analogy for the way a person should conduct themselves in society. He saw the natural properties of water as a model for how people should behave towards one another. Just as water is essential for all life, he believed that people should be concerned with the well-being of others and work towards the common good.

Water is also associated with the idea of humility in Confucianism. Just as water flows downhill and seeks the lowest point, a person should strive to be humble and not seek to elevate themselves above others. This is reflected in a famous Confucian quote: “The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike.”

Additionally, water is often used in Confucian rituals as a symbol of purity and renewal. It is used to purify oneself before important events, such as weddings or funerals, and is seen as a way to wash away negative energies and start anew.

Overall, water is an important symbol in Confucianism and is used to convey a number of important values and virtues.

water in Buddhism

Water holds significant symbolism in Buddhism and is a common metaphor for the nature of existence. The Buddha himself used water as a metaphor to describe the nature of the mind and the state of enlightenment. Here are some examples of the symbolism of water in Buddhism:

Purification: Water is often used in Buddhist purification rituals to symbolize the cleansing of impurities, negative karma, and defilements of the mind.

Impermanence: In Buddhism, water is a symbol of impermanence because it is constantly flowing and changing. The Buddha taught that everything in the world is impermanent, and that nothing remains the same.

Emptiness: Water is also a symbol of emptiness, which is a central concept in Buddhist philosophy. Like water, everything in the world is empty of inherent existence, and their existence is dependent on other causes and conditions.

Clarity: Water can also represent clarity and the state of enlightenment. The Buddha compared the mind to a still and clear body of water, where one can see their own true nature reflected.

Compassion: Water can also symbolize compassion in Buddhism. Just as water nourishes and sustains life, compassion helps to alleviate the suffering of others and promote their well-being.

In Buddhist art and literature, there are also many depictions of water, such as lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, which are often associated with the Buddha’s teachings and enlightenment.

water Pattern in China

As the source of life, water has been an indispensable part of people’s production and life since ancient times. In addition to its functions such as drinking, cleaning, and irrigation, water has also become an important element in fields such as literature, philosophy, and art. For example, water patterns are engraved on Hemudu pottery.

Unlike other tangible objects, water takes on various forms and flows with the current, and is transparent and colorless. Therefore, it is not easy to simulate the form of water and present its image in art.

Throughout ancient paintings and decorative crafts, painters and craftsmen often used the lines of water movement to suggest the form and direction of water flow.

With just a few strokes or strands, one can imagine “a gentle breeze, the water ripples not rising,” while curved and crowded lines can evoke “the autumn wind bleak, the surging waves.”

It can be seen that in the hands of ancient Chinese artists, water patterns could also derive various forms. Today, let us appreciate the myriad changes of water patterns together.

The most classic water pattern is the spiral pattern, which is found on many pottery unearthed in the Yellow River Basin. Perhaps this is the earliest impression of water by our ancestors, or some believe it originated from snake patterns.

During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, the vortex pattern was simplified into a cloud pattern on some objects, retaining only the main lines, such as the S-shaped vortex. This pattern has the meaning of endless growth and is therefore often used on jade objects.

Another classic water pattern is the ripple pattern. Ripples offer great creative potential for artists, as the density and curvature of the lines suggest the state of the water and can convey different stylistic features.

Based on the state of the water, ripple patterns can be roughly divided into wave patterns, surf patterns, and hanging patterns (continuous hanging wave lines), etc. Sparse ripples represent a relatively calm water surface, while concentrated ripples create a strong sense of motion in the image.

In the hands of some artists, ripple patterns can be further associated with other objects and become even more visualized. For example, the waves in Japanese ukiyo-e prints have a distinctive feature – their wave crests resemble sharp bird claws, and Vincent van Gogh once called them “eagle claw waves”. The surging and almost violent beauty of the scene also has stylistic similarities to eagles.

In China, people often associate water with clouds, thus forming cloud and water patterns, which are often composed of a series of wave-shaped arcs, resembling clouds and water, and have a hazy beauty and unique charm.

The third type of water pattern is the fan-shaped water pattern, which often has multiple layers and is arranged in neat and orderly rows, with each wave shape and size being very uniform. The “Water and Moon Guanyin Picture” in the Yulin Grottoes is an example of this type of ripple pattern. Neat order often gives people a sense of solemnity, so it is very suitable for highlighting the image of a deity.

The fourth type is the circular water pattern, which is often a closed concentric circle, with very fine lines, enhancing the sense of order through equidistant spacing. However, some people may make slight changes to the outer lines, or directly twist them to make the pattern more vivid and less rigid.

This type of pattern is often used to draw celestial maps, simulating the trajectories of stars and planets, such as the wall painting “Celestial Map” in the tomb of Yuan Yi of the Northern Wei Dynasty in Qianhaizi Village, Mengjin County, Henan Province.

There is another type of water pattern that is the most free-form: the natural flow of water. Water has many variations – when it falls from a height, it forms a waterfall; when suddenly agitated, it splashes into water droplets; and raindrops falling from the sky gradually accelerate and create a visual effect similar to silk threads. There are also misty water droplets and calm lake surfaces, among other forms.

Therefore, people often combine various types of lines according to the needs of the image to capture the essence of water and reproduce its appearance. There are also more abstract water patterns, such as curved water patterns and swastika water patterns, which are directly connected by geometric lines and have a strict structure and fine organization.

In addition to individual water patterns, in the development of arts and crafts, people have also summarized some classic combinations of water patterns, such as the falling flowers and flowing water pattern. This pattern is based on ripples, embellished with various flowers, and its meaning is to create a melancholy atmosphere of “falling flowers and flowing water”, often used in jacquard weaving.

This pattern inevitably reminds people of the plum blossom pattern on ice cracks, also known as ice crack plum blossom pattern. In essence, this is also a combination of water patterns. This pattern is usually used for decoration of woven fabrics, ceramics, furniture, and other objects.

There is also a very classic pattern called the seawater and river cliff pattern, which is a combination of two types of water patterns, sea waves and surges. It was commonly seen on official costumes in the Qing dynasty. Because it combines two types of water patterns, the texture direction is different, one is flat and the other is vertical, symbolizing peace and stability of the country.

It is worth mentioning that people also use other things to suggest the existence of water, which is not uncommon in art history.

During the Song dynasty, there was a famous painting academy exam question “Returning home after stepping on flowers, the horse’s hooves smell fragrant”. Fragrance is intangible and invisible, but the winner opened up his mind and successfully interpreted the topic by using butterflies that often appear together with flower fragrance.

Water can also be represented through this technique, the most classic example being the “Solitary Fishing in a Cold Stream” painting, which depicts a single flat boat in an empty space. Of course, due to the movement of the boat and the actions of the person, the ripples around the boat naturally cannot be omitted.

Cloud water pattern

importance of water in Chinese culture

Water has played an important role in Chinese culture for thousands of years, with many symbolic meanings and cultural associations. Here are some examples of the importance of water in Chinese culture:

Vitality and Life: Water is seen as essential to life and vitality in Chinese culture, and is associated with the concepts of yin and yang, balance and harmony. Water is seen as a source of nourishment and renewal, and is often depicted in art and literature as a life-giving force.

Agriculture and Irrigation: Water has been crucial to agriculture in China for centuries, with irrigation systems and water management playing a key role in the success of crops. The famous Dragon Boat Festival, for example, is a celebration of the arrival of the rainy season and the beginning of the rice-planting season.

Feng Shui: Water is an important element in traditional Chinese geomancy, or feng shui, and is believed to be a source of positive energy or qi. Water features such as fountains, ponds, and waterfalls are often used in feng shui to create balance and harmony in homes and other spaces.

Traditional Medicine: Water is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine, which emphasizes the balance of yin and yang energies in the body. Many traditional therapies involve the use of water, such as hot springs, steam baths, and herbal soaks.

Philosophy and Religion: Water has significant philosophical and religious meanings in Chinese culture. Taoism, for example, emphasizes the importance of flowing like water, adapting to change and maintaining balance. Buddhism also has strong associations with water, with many temples and shrines located near bodies of water.

Overall, water is an integral part of Chinese culture, with deep symbolic meanings and practical applications in many areas of life.

In conclusion, water holds a significant place in Chinese culture and is deeply rooted in the traditions and beliefs of the Chinese people. It is a symbol of life, vitality, and growth, and is associated with the concepts of yin and yang, as well as the emotions of fear and tranquility. Whether in art, literature, or daily life, water remains an essential element that continues to inspire and captivate the Chinese people to this day.

The use of water in Chinese warfare

Battle of Yanying:

The Battle of Yanying refers to a large-scale military campaign led by the Qin dynasty general Bai Qi against the Chu state in the 36th to 37th year of King Nan of Zhou’s reign (279-278 BC). It involved the capture of the Chu capitals Yancheng (present-day Yicheng, Hubei) and Ying (present-day Jiangling, Hubei), and inflicted heavy losses on the Chu army.

During the war, General Bai Qi seized the strategic initiative by choosing the optimal timing and route for his attack on Chu. The Qin army fought alone in enemy territory, facing a life-or-death situation. Exploiting the neglect of Chu’s city defenses, Bai Qi employed a tactic known as “digging the heart” to infiltrate the Chu state. Additionally, he employed water-based tactics to capture the city of Yancheng, followed by advancing deep into Chu territory along the Yangtze River, capturing the capital Ying, and finally achieving victory by burning down the ancestral temples and Yiling of Chu.

Battle of Weishui:

The Battle of Weishui was a significant turning point during the Chu-Han Contention, a period of conflict between the Chu and Han states. In this battle, Han general Han Xin not only eliminated the remaining Chu forces but also severed the right arm of the Western Chu state, while occupying the territory of the Three Qis (Qingzhou, Yanzhou, and Donghai), thus achieving a favorable strategic encirclement of Western Chu.

During the Battle of Weishui, Han Xin ordered thousands of sandbags to be thrown into the river overnight, obstructing the river flow. He then pretended to be at a disadvantage and retreated across the river. The Chu general, Long Qie, believed that Han Xin was overrated and decided to pursue him. However, when they reached the middle of the river, Han Xin suddenly ordered his soldiers upstream to remove the sandbags, causing a surging flood that caught Long Qie’s army off guard. Simultaneously, Han Xin turned his forces around and attacked the scattered enemy soldiers, resulting in a major victory for Han Xin and the death of Long Qie.

Battle of Xiangfan:

The Battle of Xiangfan, also known as the Northern Expedition of Guan Yu, the Xiangfan Campaign, or the struggle for Jingzhou, refers to a significant military campaign in the late Eastern Han dynasty. In the 24th year of the Jian’an era (219 AD), the general Guan Yu, under Liu Bei’s command, led an army to attack the occupied cities of Xiangyang and Fancheng held by Cao Wei.

During the battle, Guan Yu initially besieged Xiangyang and Fancheng. General Yu Jin led a force of 30,000 troops to rescue Fancheng but encountered a natural disaster caused by heavy rain that resulted in the Han River flooding and affecting the army and civilians. Taking advantage of this situation, Guan Yu launched an attack, captured Yu Jin and others, and dealt a severe blow to Cao Wei, establishing his reputation throughout the land.

Battle of Mingshui:

The Battle of Mingshui occurred in the 5th year of the Wude era during the Tang Dynasty (622 AD). It was a significant military operation in which Li Shimin, the Prince of Qin, led his army to defeat Liu Heita’s forces in the Mingshui area.

This battle exemplified the strategy of attacking the enemy after exhausting them, resulting in victory. Li Shimin closed off his positions without engaging in direct combat, employed surprise attacks to cut off the enemy’s supply lines, and waited until their supplies were depleted and their morale weakened. He then launched a decisive attack at Mingshui, completely defeating Liu Heita’s army and recapturing previously lost territories.

Wang Ben’s Flooding of Daliang:

In the 22nd year of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s reign (225 BC), Wang Ben led an army to attack the Wei state and used the waters of the Yellow River to flood and submerge the capital city of Daliang (present-day Kaifeng, Henan). In March of the same year, the city walls of Daliang collapsed, leading to the death of the Wei king, and the complete annexation of the Wei state by the Qin dynasty.

Idioms related to water

Water can carry a boat, but it can also overturn it

The idiom “水能载舟亦能覆舟” can be translated into English as “Water can carry a boat, but it can also overturn it.” This idiom emphasizes that water, which is typically beneficial for carrying a boat, can also be destructive and cause the boat to capsize. It metaphorically represents the idea that something or someone can be both advantageous and harmful depending on how they are used or managed.

fighting a desperate battle

The idiom “背水一战” can be translated into English as “fighting a desperate battle” or “making a last stand.” It originated from the historical account in “Records of the Grand Historian” by Sima Qian during the Western Han dynasty. The story tells of the Han general Han Xin leading his troops to attack the state of Zhao, positioning his forces with their backs against the water at Jingxing Pass. By cutting off any possibility of retreat, Han Xin’s army fought with determination and achieved a decisive victory. The idiom implies the idea of fighting with one’s back against the wall, taking risks in a desperate situation, and emerging victorious.

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