In ancient times as well as today, Feng Shui, (風水) pronounced in English as [fʊŋ'ʃweɪ] ("fung shway"), was known as "Kan-Yu" which means 'The Law of Heaven and Earth.’ [1] Today's Feng Shui schools teach that it is the ancient Chinese practice of placement and arrangement of space to achieve harmony with the environment. Feng shui literally translates as "wind-water." This is a cultural shorthand taken from the following passage of the Zhangshu (Book of Burial) by Guo Pu of the Jin Dynasty:[2]

The qi that rides the wind stops at the boundary of water.[3]

Feng shui is a discipline with guidelines that are compatible with many techniques of agricultural planning as well as internal furniture arrangements. Space, weather, astronomy, and geomagnetism are basic components of feng shui. Proponents claim that feng shui has an effect on health, wealth, and personal relationships.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Early feng shui relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe [4] and it is inseparable from an understanding of political power in premodern China.[5]

Chinese often used the celestial pole determined by the pole stars to determine the north-south axis of settlements. This technique explains why Shang palaces at Xiaotun lie 10° east of due north. In some cases, as Paul Wheatley observed[6], they bisected the angle between the directions of the rising and setting sun to find north. This technique provided the more precise alignments of the Shang walls at Yanshi and Zhengzhou.

Currently Early Yanshao and Hongshan cultures provide the earliest evidence for feng shui. Professor David Pankenier and his associates reviewed astronomical data for the time of the Banpo dwellings (4000 BCE) to show that the asterism Yingshi (Lay out the Hall, in the Warring States period and early Han era) corresponded to the sun's location at this time. Centuries before, the asterism Yingshi was known as Ding. It was used to indicate the appropriate time to build a capital city, according to the Shijing. Apparently an astronomical alignment ensured that Banpo village homes were sited for solar gain.[7]

The grave at Puyang (radiocarbon dated 5,000 BP) that contains mosaics of the Dragon and Tiger constellations and Beidou (Dipper) is similarly oriented along a north-south axis.[8] The presence of both round and square shapes in the Puyang tomb, and at Hongshan culture ceremonial centers, suggests that the gaitian cosmography (heaven-round, earth-square) was present in Chinese society long before it appeared in the Zhou Bu Suan Jing.[9]

Cosmography that bears a striking resemblance to modern feng shui compasses (and computations) were found on a jade unearthed at Hanshan (c. 3000 BCE). The design is linked by Li Xueqin to the liuren astrolabe, zhinan zhen, and Luopan. [10]

All capital cities of China followed rules of Feng Shui for their design and layout. These rules were codified during the Zhou era in the "Kaogong ji" (Manual of Crafts). Rules for builders were codified in the "Lu ban jing" (Carpenter's Manual). Graves and tombs also followed rules of Feng Shui. From the earliest records, it seems that the rules for the structures of the graves and dwellings were the same.

Instrumentation[edit | edit source]

History[edit | edit source]


A feng shui spiral at LA Chinatown's Metro station.

Emperor Di Ku was said to dabble in astronomy. Shun consulted the stars before he assumed the throne. There were feng shui devices before the invention of the magnetic compass, which occurred comparatively late in the long history of feng shui. According to the Zhouli the original device may have been a gnomon, although Yao, Huangdi, and other figures were said to possess devices such as the south-pointing chariot.

As Derek Walters observed[11], "The luopan was originally a scientific instrument, used for astronomical observation." The oldest excavated examples of instruments used for feng shui are liuren astrolabes. These consist of a lacquered, two-sided board with astronomical sightlines. Liuren astrolabes have been unearthed from tombs that date between 278 BC and 209 BC. The markings are virtually unchanged from the astrolabe to the first magnetic compasses.[12]

Since the invention of the magnetic compass for use in Feng Shui[13], some feng shui disciplines require the use of a compass. This compass could be a Luopan (Chinese Feng Shui compass of the types San Yuan, San He, and Zong He) or one of the earlier versions such as a south-pointing spoon (zhinan zhen).

The history of the Luopan compass takes us back to the Zhou dynasty (770-476 BCE), when emperor Shing combined the knowledge of the compass with that of the I-ching. The compass consists of a magnetic needle that point towards magnetic north not true north. The foundation of the I-ching is in the trigrams.

The trigrams are the set of three broken and/or solid lines that you typically find around a Chinese mirror.

In Traditional Compass techniques these trigrams determine the divination of fortune. The traditional Luopan has 36 rings of information. These trigrams occupy the first circle of the luopan. How these rings line up with the compass and the combination of the reading of these rings determines your fortune.

Foundation theories[edit | edit source]

The goal of feng shui as practiced today is to situate the human built environment on spots with good qi. The "perfect spot" is a location and an axis in time. Some areas are not suitable for human settlement and should be left in their natural state.

Some current techniques can be traced to Neolithic China, while others were added in later times (most notably the Han dynasty, the Tang, and the Ming). Today, to determine a perfect spot, local manifestations of qi must be assessed for quality. Quality is determined by observations and by using a compass (Luopan).

Qi (ch'i)[edit | edit source]

Qi is a difficult word to translate and is usually left untranslated. Literally the word means "air". In feng shui, "Qi" means "flow of energy". Max Knoll suggested in a 1951 lecture that qi is a form of solar radiation.[14]

A Luopan is used to determine many things. One of those being to detect the direction of the flow of qi. Compasses reflect local geomagnetism which includes geomagnetically induced currents caused by space weather.[15] It could be said that feng shui assesses the quality of the local environment and the effects of space weather -- that is, feng shui is qimancy, or qi divination. [16].

Beliefs from the Axial Age, feng shui among them, hold that the heavens influence life on Earth. This seems preposterous to many people, yet space weather exists and can have profound effects on technology (GPS, power grids, pipelines, communication and navigation systems, surveys), and the internal orienting faculties of birds and other creatures.[17][18][19] Atmospheric scientists have suggested that space weather creates fluctuations in market prices.[20][21]

Polarity[edit | edit source]

Polarity is expressed in feng shui as Yin and Yang. The polarity within feng shui is buildings of the living (yang) and buildings of the dead (yin).

Magnetic north and Luopan compass[edit | edit source]

The stability of Magnetic North is critical for the accuracy of reading your fortune with a compass. Earth has an electromagnetic field. Our solar sun also has an electromagnetic field. Our solar sun goes through 11 year cycles of solar fluctuations called solar flares that create solar wind. In 2003 two of the strongest flares ever were recorded. This solar wind creates a vibration that disturbs the electromagnetic field of the earth.

Magnetic North and True North (the Earth’s axis) are not the same. Magnet North moves an average of 40 kilometers every year. In the last 100 years Magnetic North has moved approximately 1200 kilometers. Due to solar flares, Magnetic North is always in constant movement, creating conflicting readings on a compass.

Bagua (eight symbols)[edit | edit source]

Two diagrams known as bagua (or pa kua) loom large in feng shui, and both predate their mentions in the Yijing or I Ching. The Lo (River) Chart (Luoshu, or Later Heaven Sequence) and the River Chart (Hetu, or Early Heaven Sequence) are linked to astronomical events of the sixth millennium BCE, and with the Turtle Calendar from the time of Yao.[22] The Turtle Calendar of Yao (found in the Yaodian section of the Shangshu or 'Book of Documents') dates to 2300 BCE, plus or minus 250 years.[23]

It seems clear from many sources that time, in the form of astronomy and calendars, is at the heart of feng shui.

In Yaodian, the cardinal directions are determined by the marker-stars of the mega-constellations known as the Four Celestial Animals.

East: the Bluegreen Dragon (Spring equinox) --- Niao (Bird), α Hydrae

South: the Red Bird (Summer solstice) --- Huo (Fire), α Scorpionis

West: the White Tiger (Autumn equinox) --- Xu (Emptiness, Void), α, β Aquarii

North: the Dark (Mysterious) Turtle (Winter solstice) --- Mao (Hair), η Tauri (the Pleiades)

The bagua diagrams are also linked with the sifang (four directions) method of divination used during the Shang dynasty.[24] The sifang is much older, however. It was used at Niuheliang, and figured large in Hongshan culture's astronomy. And it is this area of China that is linked to Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, who allegedly invented the south-pointing spoon.[25]

Fundamental techniques[edit | edit source]


A building in Hong Kong with a hollow middle hole, maximizing on fengshui benefits

School[edit | edit source]

A school in Feng Shui terminology is a technique. The term should not be confused with the physical school. There are many 'masters' of the different Feng shui schools. However, some maintain that authentic masters impart their genuine knowledge of Feng shui only to selected students.[26]

Early fundamentals[edit | edit source]

The history of feng shui covers at least 3,500 years before the invention of the magnetic compass,[27] therefore defining authentic feng shui as having a "compass school" and a "form school" misses the point.

Feng Shui developed thousands of years ago in little villages of the Orient. It was called Folk Feng Shui[28]. Their livelihoods were dependent on it. They studied the formations of the land and ways of the wind & water to determine the best setting for their survival. Good Feng Shui would produce bountiful harvest, healthy livestock and abundant life. Harsh winds would destroy their crops leaving no food for their family and their animals. Violent storms tear down their homes and villages.

The elements, water, rain, wind, fog, sun were believed to be the energy of heaven and earth. These shaman-kings had knowledge of landforms and weather, that could drive back the elements that threaten a village. This divinization of land forms was the beginning and foundation of Feng Shui.

Landform Technique is the fundamental basis of feng shui. Compass Feng Shui originated after Landform techniques. Compass Feng Shui uses the compass and magnetic north for all of its readings.

In his fieldwork in China, Ole Bruun[29] noted that traditional methods of feng shui (increasingly referred to worldwide as "classical feng shui") all use a compass. Traditional or classical Feng shui is what is practiced and taught in Asia. Classical Feng shui has some features similar to those found in the archaeological record, and in Chinese history and literature, but the application of classical Feng Shui is not identical to that of ancient Feng Shui techniques.

Combining techniques[edit | edit source]

Classical feng shui is typically associated with the following techniques. This is not a complete list; it is merely a list of the most common techniques.[30]

New Version[edit | edit source]

One of the grievances mentioned when the anti-Western Boxer Rebellion broke out was that Westerners were violating the basic principles of Feng shui in their construction of railroads and other conspicuous public structures throughout China. At the time, Westerners had little idea of, or interest in, such Chinese traditions.

Since Richard Nixon journeyed to The People's Republic of China in 1972, there has been substantial interest in the subject of feng shui by Westerners. It has been reinvented by New Age entrepreneurs for Western consumption. Feng shui speaks to the profound role of magic, mystery, and order in American life.[31] This is a curious twist given that feng shui cannot be legally practised in its country of origin today.

The following list does not exhaust the varieties.

Black Sect -- Incorporated as a US church in 1984, with temples in California and New York. (The church deviates from what is known of the history of Tantrism in China.) [32]

This new version of Feng Shui was invented in the early 1980s by Thomas Lin Yun Rinpoche who came to the US from Taiwan. [33] Called Black Sect (or Black Sect Tantric Buddhist, or BTB) Feng Shui, it relies on "transcendental" methods, the concept of clutter as metaphor for life circumstances, and the use of affirmations or intentions (what some deride as "happy talk").[34] BTB Feng Shui has a unique and specially created bagua, with each of the eight compass segment directions representing a particular area of one's life.

Shen Dao Feng Shui - Developed in the late '70's by Harrison G.Kyng.

Shen Dao style became the first school of its type in the UK. Based upon both 'Form' and 'Compass' styles, Shen Dao utilises the Five Element modality to assess its clients health as well as their buildings harmony. This relationship is said to create a unique 'viewpoint' that can then be used to create a greater sense of harmony both inwardly and outwards. Shen Dao's unique compass uses the former heavenly sequence and expands the Ba Gua into over 300 harmonics that help to fine tune its results.

Criticism[edit | edit source]

Victorian-era commentators on feng shui were generally ethnocentric, and as such skeptical and derogatory of what little they knew of feng shui.[35]

In 1896 at a meeting of the Educational Association of China, Rev. P.W. Pitcher railed at the "rottenness of the whole scheme of Chinese architecture," and urged fellow missionaries "to erect unabashedly Western edifices of several stories and with towering spires in order to destroy nonsense about fung-shuy." [36]

Some modern Christians have a similar opinion of feng shui.[37]

It is entirely inconsistent with Christianity to believe that harmony and balance result from the manipulation and channeling of nonphysical forces or energies, or that such can be done by means of the proper placement of physical objects. Such techniques, in fact, belong to the world of sorcery.[38]

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, feng shui has been officially deemed as a "feudalistic superstitious practice" and a "social evil" according to the state's atheistic Communist ideology and discouraged or even outright banned at times [39][40]. Persecution was the most severe during the Cultural Revolution, when feng shui was classified as a custom under the so-called Four Olds to be wiped out. Feng shui practitioners were beaten and abused by Red Guards and their works burned. After the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the official attitude became more tolerant but restrictions on feng shui practice are still in place in today's China. It is illegal in the PRC today to register feng shui consultation as a business and similarly advertising feng shui practice is banned, and there have been frequent crackdowns on feng shui practitioners on the grounds of "promoting feudalistic superstitions" such as one in Qingdao in early 2006 when the city's business and industrial administration office shut down an art gallery converted into a feng shui practice [41]. Communist officials who had consulted feng shui were sacked and expelled from the Communist Party [42].

Partly because of the Cultural Revolution, in today's PRC less than one-third of the population believe in feng shui, and the proportion of believers among young urban PRC Chinese is said to be much less than 5% [43]. Among all the ethnic Chinese communities the PRC has the least number of feng shui believers in proportion to the general population. Learning feng shui is considered taboo in today's China.[44] Nevertheless, it is reported that feng shui has gained adherents among Communist Party officials according to a BBC Chinese news commentary in 2006. [45], and since the beginning of Chinese economic reforms the number of feng shui practitioners are increasing. A number of Chinese academics permitted to research on the subject of feng shui are anthropologists or architects by trade, studying the history of feng shui or historical feng shui theories behind the design of heritage buildings, such as Cao Dafeng, the Vice-President of Fudan University[46], and Liu Shenghuan of Tongji University.

Feng Shui practitioners have been skeptical of claims and methods in the "cultural supermarket."[47] Mark Johnson[48] made a telling point:

This present state of affairs is ludicrous and confusing. Do we really believe that mirrors and flutes are going to change people's tendencies in any lasting and meaningful way? ... There is a lot of investigation that needs to be done or we will all go down the tubes because of our inability to match our exaggerated claims with lasting changes.

A travelogue-type article from the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry explained feng shui initially as "a commonsense alignment of structures to conform to the shape of the land, an idea shared by any sensible architect in a land fraught with typhoons and torrential rains." However, after reading two books (one by field researcher Ole Bruun), the writer's conclusion was that feng shui "is more of a mystical belief in cosmic harmony."[49]

Penn & Teller did an episode of their television show Bullshit! that featured several Feng Shui practitioners in the US, and was highly critical of the inconsistent (and frequently odd) advice. In the show, the entertainers argue that if Feng Shui is a science (as some claim), it should feature a consistent methodology.

People have reacted skeptically towards the alleged benefits of crystals, wind chimes, table fountains, and mirrored balls, etc., on one's life, finances, and relationships. Often, these claims are dismissed as New Age, pseudoscience, relying on the placebo effect, or even outright fraud.

Current research[edit | edit source]


A modern feng shui fountain at Taipei 101, Taiwan

A growing body of research exists on what is now called "traditional" or "classical" feng shui.

Landscape ecologists find traditional feng shui an interesting study.[50] In many cases, the only remaining patches of old forest in Asia are "feng shui woods," which strongly suggests the "healthy homes,"[51] sustainability[52] and environmental components of ancient feng shui techniques should not be easily dismissed.[53][54]

Environmental scientists and landscape architects have researched traditional feng shui and its methodologies.[55][56]

Architectural schools study the principles as they applied to ancient vernacular architecture[57][58][59].

Geographers have analyzed the techniques and methods to help locate historical sites in Victoria, Canada,[60] and archaeological sites in the American Southwest, concluding that ancient Native Americans considered astronomy and landscape features. [61]

Whether it is data on comparisons to scientific models, or the design and siting of buildings,[62] graduate and undergraduate students have been accumulating solid evidence on what researchers call the "exclusive Chinese cultural achievement and experience in architecture"[63] that is feng shui.

Modern Usage[edit | edit source]

Architects in Sydney and Hong Kong were surveyed by researchers regarding their selection of the environment for a building and interior layout. The architects generally concurred with the ideal feng shui model.[64]

The hospitality industry has documented the expensive retrofits members must undertake when accommodations were not designed with feng shui principles in mind.[65]

His Royal Highness, Prince Charles of Wales and Donald Trump have been accused of using feng shui.[66]

News Corporation consulted feng shui experts regarding the headquarters offices of DirecTV after News Corp. acquired that company in 2003.[67]

It has also recently been included in the Lockie Leonard TV series.

Cowboy Bebop featured an episode called "Boogie Woogie Feng Shui" with a young girl as a Feng Shui master's daughter.

In the TV advertisement to promote the sales of "The Beverly Hills", Tai Po, Hong Kong, real estate project of Henderson Land Development in 2007, many Feng Shui masters, most famous in Hong Kong, are shown made their own speeches of advantages of living there.

References[edit | edit source]

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  5. Aihe Wang. Some do believe that early feng shui was started a colony of peace loving nomadic types who participated in every form of love and bonding including homosexuality. Cosmology and Political Culture in Early China. 2000:23
  6. The Pivot of the Four Quarters (1971:46)
  7. David W. Pankenier. 'The Cosmo-Political Background of Heaven's Mandate.' Early China 20 (1995):121-176.
  8. Zhentao Xu, David W. Pankenier, and Yaotiao Jiang. East Asian Archaeoastronomy. 2000:2
  9. Sarah M. Nelson, Rachel A. Matson, Rachel M. Roberts, Chris Rock and Robert E. Stencel. (2006) Archaeoastronomical Evidence for Wuism at the Hongshan Site of Niuheliang. Page 2.
  10. Chen Jiujin and Zhang Jingguo. 'Hanshan chutu yupian tuxing shikao,' Wenwu 4, 1989:15
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  18. Moore, F. R. 1977. Geomagnetic disturbance and the orientation of nocturnally migrating birds. Science 196:684-686.
  19. Thomas Alerstam. Bird Migration Across a Strong Magnetic Anomaly. J. exp. Bml. 130, 63-86 (1987)
  20. L.Pustil’nik, G. Yom Din, Influence of solar activity on the state of the wheat market in medieval England, Solar Physics. 223, 335–356, 2004.
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  22. Deborah Lynn Porter. From Deluge to Discourse. 1996:35-38
  23. Sun and Kistemaker. The Chinese Sky During the Han. 1997:15-18
  24. Aihe Wang. Cosmology and Political Structure in Early China. 2000:107-128
  25. Sarah M. Nelson, Rachel A. Matson, Rachel M. Roberts, Chris Rock, and Robert E. Stencel. Archaeoastronomical Evidence for Wuism at the Hongshan Site of Niuheliang. 2006
  26. Jacky Cheung Ngam Fung History of Feng Shui..
  27. Aihe Wang. Cosmology and Political Culture in Early China. Cambridge UP: 2000.
  28. Candace Czarny. Different Schools of Feng Shui. http://www.artofplacement.com
  29. Ole Bruun. Fengshui in China: Geomantic Divination Between State Orthodoxy and Popular Religion. U of Hawai'i Press, 2003.
  30. Cheng Jian Jun and Adriana Fernandes-Gonçalves. Chinese Feng Shui Compass Step by Step Guide. 1998:46-47
  31. H. L. Goodall, Jr. Writing the American Ineffable, or the Mystery and Practice of Feng Shui in Everyday Life. Qualitative Inquiry, 7:1, 3-20 (2001)
  32. Chou Yi-liang. Tantrism in China. Harvard J. of Asiatic Studies, 8:3/4 (Mar., 1945), 241-332
  33. Crystal Chu [http://www.yunlintemple.org/professor.htm His Holiness Grandmaster Professor Thomas Lin Yun.].
  34. Wu, Emily Shao-Fan. 2003. Fengshui plus Buddhism equals what?: an initial analysis of Black Sect Tantric Buddhism in the United States. Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University, 2003.
  35. Andrew L. March. 'An Appreciation of Chinese Geomancy' in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2. (February 1968), pp. 253-267.
  36. Jeffrey W. Cody. Striking a Harmonious Chord: Foreign Missionaries and Chinese-style Buildings, 1911-1949. Architronic. 5:3 (ISSN 1066-6516)
  37. Mah, Y.-B. Living in Harmony with One's Environment: A Christian Response to Feng Shui. Asia J. of Theology. 2004, 18; Part 2, pp 340-361.
  38. Marcia Montenegro. Feng Shui" New Dimensions in Design. Christian Research Journal. 26:1 (2003)
  39. Chang Liang (pseudoym), 14 January 2005, What Does Superstitious Belief of 'Feng Shui' Among School Students Reveal? <http://zjc.zjol.com.cn/05zjc/system/2005/01/14/003828695.shtml>
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  45. Jiang Xun, From Voodoo Dolls to Feng Shui Superstitions, BBC Chinese service, 11 April 2006, <http://news.bbc.co.uk/chinese/trad/hi/newsid_4870000/newsid_4872500/4872542.stm>
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  60. Chuen-Yan David Lai. A Feng Shui Model as a Location Index. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 64 (4), 506–513.
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  62. Lu, Hui-Chen. 2002. A Comparative analysis between western-based environmental design and feng-shui for housing sites. Thesis (M.S.). California Polytechnic State University, 2002.
  63. Su-Ju Lu; Peter Blundell Jones. House design by surname in Feng Shui. J. of Architecture. 5:4 December 2000, 355-367.
  64. Michael Y. Mak and S. Thomas Ng. The art and science of Feng Shui—a study on architects’ perception. Building and Environment. 40:3, March 2005, pp 427-434
  65. J.S. Perry Hobson. International J. of Contemporary Hospitality Management. Dec 1994. 6:6, 21-26
  66. San Antonio Business Journal, April 7 2000
  67. Eller, Claudia. "Younger Wife, Exotic Fish: The Mogul's Secret to Vitality." Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2006

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Yoon, Hong-key, Culture of Fengshui in Korea: An Exploration of East Asian Geomancy, Lexington Books, 2006. ISBN 9780739113486 (cloth : alk. paper); 0739113488 (cloth : alk. paper)
  • Wu, Baolin, Lighting the Eye of the Dragon: Inner Secrets of Taoist Feng Shui, St. Martin's Press, 2000. ISBN 0-312-25497-0

See also[edit | edit source]

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