Feng shui is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to use the laws of both Heaven (Chinese astronomy) and Earth to help one improve life by receiving positive Qi. The original designation for the discipline is Kan Yu (simplified Chinese: 堪舆; traditional Chinese: 堪輿; pinyin: kānyú; literally: Tao of heaven and earth).
The term feng shui literally translates as "wind-water" in English. This is a cultural shorthand taken from the following passage of the Zangshu (Book of Burial) by Guo Pu of the Jin Dynasty:
- "Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water."
Historically, feng shui was widely used to orient buildings—often spiritually significant structures such as tombs, but also dwellings and other structures—in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of feng shui being used, an auspicious site could be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars, or a compass. Feng shui was suppressed in China during the cultural revolution in the 1960s, but has since seen an increase in popularity.
The Origins of Feng ShuiEdit
Currently the Yangshao and Hongshan cultures provide the earliest evidence for the origin of feng shui. Until the invention of the magnetic compass, feng shui apparently relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe. In 4000 BC, the doors of Banpo dwellings were aligned to the asterism Yingshi just after the winter solstice—this sited the homes for solar gain. During the Zhou era, Yingshi was known as Ding and used to indicate the appropriate time to build a capital city, according to the Shijing. The late Yangshao site at Dadiwan (c. 3500-3000 BC) includes a palace-like building (F901) at the center. The building faces south and borders a large plaza. It is on a north-south axis with another building that apparently housed communal activities. The complex may have been used by regional communities.
A grave at Puyang (c. 4000 BC) that contains mosaics—actually a Chinese star map of the Dragon and Tiger asterisms and Beidou (the Big Dipper, Ladle or Bushel) – is oriented along a north-south axis. The presence of both round and square shapes in the Puyang tomb, at Hongshan ceremonial centers and the late Longshan settlement at Lutaigang, suggests that gaitian cosmography (heaven-round, earth-square) was present in Chinese society long before it appeared in the Zhou Bi Suan Jing.
Cosmography that bears a striking resemblance to modern feng shui devices and formulas was found on a jade unearthed at Hanshan and dated around 3000 BC. The design is linked by archaeologist Li Xueqin to the liuren astrolabe, zhinan zhen, and Luopan.
Beginning with palatial structures at Erlitou, 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 (simplified Chinese: 考工记; traditional Chinese: 考工記; "Manual of Crafts"). Rules for builders were codified in the carpenter's manual Lu ban jing (simplified Chinese: 鲁班经; traditional Chinese: 魯班經; "Lu ban's manuscript"). Graves and tombs also followed rules of feng shui, from Puyang to Mawangdui and beyond. From the earliest records, it seems that the rules for the structures of the graves and dwellings were the same.
Feng Shui in the early stagesEdit
The history of feng shui covers 3,500+ years before the invention of the magnetic compass. It originated in Chinese astronomy. Some current techniques can be traced to Neolithic China, while others were added later (most notably the Han dynasty, the Tang, the Song, and the Ming).
The astronomical history of feng shui is evident in the development of instruments and techniques. According to the Zhouli the original feng shui instrument may have been a gnomon. Chinese used circumpolar 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, 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. Rituals for using a feng shui instrument required a diviner to examine current sky phenomena to set the device and adjust their position in relation to the device.
The oldest examples of instruments used for feng shui are liuren astrolabes, also known as shi. These consist of a lacquered, two-sided board with astronomical sightlines. The earliest examples of liuren astrolabes have been unearthed from tombs that date between 278 BC and 209 BC. Along with divination for Da Liu Ren the boards were commonly used to chart the motion of Taiyi through the nine palaces. The markings on a liuren/shi and the first magnetic compasses are virtually identical.
The magnetic compass was invented for feng shui and has been in use since its invention. Traditional feng shui instrumentation consists of the Luopan or the earlier south-pointing spoon (指南針 zhinan zhen)—though a conventional compass could suffice if one understood the differences. A feng shui ruler (a later invention) may also be employed.
Qi (pronounced "chee" in English) is a movable positive or negative life force which plays an essential role in feng shui. In feng shui as in Chinese martial arts, it refers to 'energy', in the sense of 'life force' or élan vital. A traditional explanation of qi as it relates to feng shui would include the orientation of a structure, its age, and its interaction with the surrounding environment including the local microclimates, the slope of the land, vegetation, and soil quality.
The Book of Burial says that burial takes advantage of "vital qi." Wu Yuanyin (Qing dynasty) said that vital qi was "congealed qi," which is the state of qi that engenders life. The goal of feng shui is to take advantage of vital qi by appropriate siting of graves and structures.
One use for a Luopan is to detect the flow of qi. Magnetic compasses reflect local geomagnetism which includes geomagnetically induced currents caused by space weather. Professor Max Knoll suggested in a 1951 lecture that qi is a form of solar radiation. As space weather changes over time, and the quality of qi rises and falls over time, feng shui with a compass might be considered a form of divination that assesses the quality of the local environment—including the effects of space weather.
Polarity is expressed in feng shui as Yin and Yang Theory. Polarity expressed through yin and yang is similar to a magnetic dipole. That is, it is of two parts: one creating an exertion and one receiving the exertion. Yang acting and yin receiving could be considered an early understanding of chirality. The development of Yin Yang Theory and its corollary, Five Phase Theory (Five Element Theory), have also been linked with astronomical observations of sunspots.
The Five Elements or Forces (wu xing) – which, according to the Chinese, are metal, earth, fire, water, and wood – are first mentioned in Chinese literature in a chapter of the classic Book of History. They play a very important part in Chinese thought: ‘elements’ meaning generally not so much the actual substances as the forces essential to human life. Earth is a buffer, or an equilibrium achieved when the polarities cancel each other. While the goal of Chinese medicine is to balance yin and yang in the body, the goal of feng shui has been described as aligning a city, site, building, or object with yin-yang force fields
Bagua (eight trigrams)Edit
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) was developed first, and is sometimes associated with Later Heaven arrangement of the bagua. The Luoshu and the River Chart (Hetu, sometimes associated with the Earlier Heaven bagua) are linked to astronomical events of the sixth millennium BC, and with the Turtle Calendar from the time of Yao. The Turtle Calendar of Yao (found in the Yaodian section of the Shangshu or Book of Documents) dates to 2300 BC, plus or minus 250 years.
In Yaodian, the cardinal directions are determined by the marker-stars of the mega-constellations known as the Four Celestial Animals:
- The Green Dragon (Spring equinox)—Niao (Bird 鸟), α Scorpionis
- The Red Phoenix (Summer solstice)—Huo (Fire 火), α Hydrae
- The White Tiger (Autumn equinox)—Mǎo (Hair 昴), η Tauri (the Pleiades)
- The Dark Turtle (Winter solstice)—Xū (Emptiness, Void 虛), α Aquarii, β Aquarii
The diagrams are also linked with the sifang (four directions) method of divination used during the Shang dynasty. 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
Feng Shui in the modern eraEdit
Many people believe Feng Shui to be an important and very helpful tool in living a prosperous and healthy life. It can help by either avoiding bad chi flow or deflecting negative energy that might otherwise have harmful or detrimental effects. Many of the higher-level forms of feng shui are not easily practiced without having connections in the community or a certain amount of wealth because hiring an expert, altering architecture or design, and moving from place to place requires a significant financial output. This leads some people of the lower classes to lose faith in feng shui, saying that it is only a game for the wealthy. Others, however, practice less expensive forms of feng shui, including hanging special (but cheap) mirrors, forks, or woks in doorways to deflect negative energy.
Feng shui is so important to some people that they use it for healing purposes in addition to guide their businesses and create a peaceful atmosphere in their homes. In 2005, even Disney acknowledged feng shui as an important part of Chinese culture by shifting the main gate to Hong Kong Disneyland by twelve degrees in their building plans, among many other actions suggested by the master planner of architecture and design at Walt Disney Imagineering, Wing Chao, in an effort to incorporate local culture into the theme park.
At Singapore Polytechnic and other institutions like the New York College of Health Professions, many students (including engineers and interior designers) take courses on feng shui every year and go on to become feng shui (or geomancy) consultants. When the principles are appropriately applied, feng shui has been seen to elicit the profound experience of magic, mystery, and order in American life.
Master Aaron Lee Koch of New York, USA, established the Feng Shui Excellence Award, the first award for the achievement of outstanding feng shui. The Feng Shui Excellence Award is awarded to home and business owners that have achieved a high level of feng shui excellence and have experienced the results of the changes they have made.