The History of Feng Shui

A web of time and change

For the Chinese, Feng Shui has traditionally been a way of life. It is both a science and a art that has influenced the shape of Chinese cities, palaces, villages and cemeteries. Feng Shui is the study of the Heavens and the study of Earth in relation to humans. This force, alive in the Universe, was referred to as 'Tao'.

Tao reflects the natural way, the eternal rhythm of the universe and the way of humanity within it. As a principle, Tao is a wholeness stemming from balance, a harmonious union of interacting opposites. As a process, Tao is constant, cyclical change, opposites spawning each other - like the yearly cycle of summer leading to winter, and returning to summer. Tao is the central concept of Eastern culture. Traditional world views emanating from primitive societies throughout the world, are based on the perception of nature as one unending and continuing stream of action rather than as a series of generally unconnected phenomena. The Universe is seen as an endless interplay of forces which have the capacity to transmute themselves from matter to energy and back again in an endles sdrama of creation and destruction.

The urge to order our perceptions and define the world is as old as humankind itself. From observation and contemplation, we generate symbols that reflect our existence back to us, demystifying existence by discovering and deciding how reality is organised.

The yin/yang model symbolises the creation process through the interaction of bipolar forces. From the East we have gained an integrating, intuitive and logical mode of thinking (yin and yang are very rational concepts). From the west a more technical and scientific process. The underlying assumption of Chinese philosophy is that the forces that govern the cycles of change occurring in the external world are duplicated within our human bodies and minds - the Great Macrocosm and Microcosm

The Five element theory (Wu Xing), further differentiates this dynamic into five fundamental powers, agents, and movements and postulates that everything in creation can be categorised within the parameters of 'wood', 'fire', 'earth', 'metal', and 'water'. This theory has its roots in the interplay of yin and yang, and is reputed to be over 4,000 years old, and is explained at length in the 'Nei Ching', a compilation of ancient Chinese medicine first written down in 400BC. In addition, Chinese 'correlative thinking' systematically developed. The commentaries in The Book of Changes (Yi Jing) provide us with the Chinese concept of cosmology.

"Anciently, when Fu Hsi had come to the rule of all under Heaven, he looked up and contemplated the forms exhibited in the sky (the constellations), and he looked down contemplating the processes taking place on the earth. He contemplated the patterns of the various habitats and places."

Correlative thinking, which has also been called 'associative thinking' is the heart of the establishment of 'pattern thinking', that is the building up of a frame work where 'things' have a similar pattern of energy. The cosmic pattern of 'as above, so below' is an understanding that things influence each other in a ordered way, and that this system has its own causality and its own logic. As Joseph Needlam states in the 'Science and Civilisation of China' "It is not either superstition or primitive superstition, but a characteristic thought-form of its own."

History of feng shui

In 1996, I co-sponsored a study tour to China. We had the privilege to study with one China's foremost scholars on the history of Feng Shui , Professor Wang Yu De from Wuhan University. Here is a brief summary of his writings and lectures on the subject of the history of Feng Shui. In the pre 'In Dynasty' the ancient practice of Feng Shui was known as"Xiangdi" which meant the observation and appraisal of the earth. The practice of Xiangdi helped the Chinese select the right sight for settlement and location of shrines, temples and fertile lands. It is from this time that some of the basic principles of Feng Shui was developed.

Archaeological diggings indicate that the ancient Chinese would select a dwelling site based on the following criteria; Close to a river course which would supply fresh clean water and perhaps seafood; Built on a raised platform or on high ground; The site was usually selected by having some protection from the cold northerly winds (mountains, hills, trees); Houses were usually located on the northern side of a river bend, with their backs towards the north and facing the south. This orientation means that the site would have warm sun in the winter and cool breezes in the summer; in China they like to have houses protected from the north and facing the south for good luck; The cold winds came from the northern mountains (closer to the north pole) and the warm southerly breezes came from the equator. N.B. This would be reversed in the southern hemisphere. Knowledge in Feng Shui further developed in China as feudal society developed. The interrelationship between water, mountains, dwellings and agriculture were detailed in the many volumes of ancient literature.

In the Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 B.C.) the concept of 'Dimai' (the arteries and veins of the earth), were studied by the ancient geographers. 'Dimai' refers to the ridges and valleys of mountain ranges. This was also the time of massive building projects such as the 'Great Wall of China' and various palaces. At this time the people of In developed the whole ritual of burial and started to select the most auspicious sites for their ancestors. They buried their dead pointing towards the west and their grave facing east. Perhaps this was because the Qin's Dynasty tended to expand eastward towards the coast, and the location of their kingdom was in the west of China, hence they buried their dead pointing to the west in respect for their ancestral homeland. Also on a Yin /Yang level,east represents the new born (or Yang energy) and the west represents older life (Yin energy), movement towards the next world. The living had a north/south direction, hence an auspicious location for their bed was facing the north (towards north pole), or if we apply the same principles in the southern hemisphere, head facing towards the south.

In the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 24 A.D.) began the combined study of geography and astrology known as the study of heaven and earth or 'Kanya' in relationship to man. More detailed study of the mountain ranges of China were carried out and this was the beginning of the term 'Dragon Veins'. They produced detailed maps and drawing of ridges, peaks valleys and rivers.

The Eastern Han Dynasty (25 -220 A.D.) There were many customs in the Eastern Han period developed and passed on by Feng Shui practitioners. This was a time when Feng Shui started to germinate and take more form. The idea of a good burial site was for the dead to rest in peace, while the living family enjoyed prosperity. Some of the basic principals of FengShui were elaborated on and refined eg. a good housing site backing onto mountains, whilst close to a stream, open views in the front and trees in the surroundings. Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 - 581 A.D.) During the time of the Wei-Jin period there was a grand master of Feng Shui known as Guo Pu (276-324A.D.). There was widespread use of feng shui amongst the ruling class and populous as well as stories of Feng Shui masters were recorded in the book 'Jin-Shu' (the book of Jin Dynasty). The Southern dynasty was also concerned with burial sites and its associated rituals. It is at this time that the book on water 'Shui Jing' which was written earlier during the three kingdoms' period (220-280 A.D.) was further elaborated to include more details on the waterways of China. This provided a wealth of information for the Feng Shui masters on to harmony between buildings and landscapes.

Sui, Tang and the Five Dynasties (581 - 960 A.D.) During these three dynasties FengShui became more scientific and gradually the activities became more differentiated. There were many famous Feng Shui master as well as critics of Feng Shui. Books were written about Feng Shui by opposite camps of thought. Using the principles of Feng Shui at a gravesite became common practice. Overall, this was a time when the empire was strong and the cultural arts were at their peak and Feng Shui practice spread to the peripheries of the empire. During the five dynasties period (907 - 960 A.D.) feng shui practice became differentiated into 'Yinzhai' (residence of the dead) and 'Yangzhai' (residence of the living).

During the Song Dynasty, (960 -1279 A.D.), science and technology became more advanced and so did geographical knowledge. Feng Shui effected decisions such as building sites, burial sites, and irrigation which in turn effected the prosperity of a family. Some of the 'Song' emperors believed in Feng Shui while others had their doubts about the subject. The major concern was the selection of an auspicious site and how to maximise the energy of an existing site. Of foremost importance was the external surrounding of a dwelling such as the direction and landform. The internal environment was of secondary importance. A combination of both would lead to good health and prosperity. During this time there were many taboos regarding the constructions of buildings and an auspicious date would be selected to lay the foundations of a new building. Therefore a certain amount of superstition was associated with Feng Shui.

During the Ming Dynasty, (1368 - 1644 A.D.). Feng Shui was also popular, in particular the literati class. Practitioners were called Yin-Yang experts. There were numerous scholars who worked on subjects related to Feng Shui. The founder/emperor of the Ming Dynasty Zhu Yuanchang, sought a lot of Feng Shui advice to build his capital city in Beijing which was positioned and sited in a location of grandeur and worthy of being the capital of a great empire. The building constructions were closely adhered to Feng Shui principles.

Qing Dynasty, (1644 - 1911 A.D.) In the north of China all the buildings and renovations were done according to Feng Shui. For instance all the front doors of the courtyard houses were located on the front left corner of the courtyard. In Feng Shui terms this is called the green dragon door. The residence of these courtyard dwellings felt contented and protected psychologically. The Imperial court of the Qing Dynasty named a city after one of Guo Pu's poems ( a grandmaster of Feng Shui) and all their constructions were done in accordance with Feng Shui.

During the cultural revolution (1966 - 1976) all things associated with feudal society were forbidden. However in China today, there are departments at various universities who house on going research and teachings into Feng Shui. In 1990 a government building in Guangdong province was reported to have bad Feng Shui and there were accidents and deaths associated with it. Many alterations were done to the building with the help of Feng Shui experts. Despite occupying precious land in heavily cultivated China, traditional concepts and customs on burial remain. Two thirds of the dead are still given earth burials despite strong recommendations for cremations by the government.

Yang Zhai Feng Shui (feng shui for the living) has become more popular and open in recent years and with China opening its barriers, especially in regards to Hong Kong, Feng Shui is becoming more acceptable to governments again.

The Mystery of Feng Shui

Feng Shui is also part of the Mysterious culture (Shenmiwenhua) of China. Its purpose is to bring the two worlds (heaven and earth) together; the visible, physical world (Chinese called 'Yu') and the invisible, unseen vibrational world (Chinese called 'Kan'). Feng Shui is the edge in between these two worlds. An earlier name for feng shui was 'KanYu' meaning between Heaven and Earth. Over thousands of years, many aspects of divination have evolved from the Taoist philosophy of yin/yang, the 8 trigrams of the I Ching and the astrological systems of the 'Heavenly Stems' and 'Earthly Branches' and 'Lunar Mansions'.

The study of Feng Shui included a broad range of subjects and is considered part of the 8 'rays' of Traditional Chinese Medicine - acupuncture, herbal medicine, Wushu (Chinese martial arts) & Qigong (breathing exercises), food energetics, moxibustion, meditation, astrology and feng shui. According to tradition, "the 'River Chart' (Ho T'u) was a diagram supposed to have been borne out of the Yellow River on the back of a 'dragon horse' during the reign of the legendary Fu Hsi. This mathematical chart is one of the most ancient diagrams of Chinese numerical cosmological thought. "The 'Lo Writing' (Lo Shu) was supposed to have been borne out of the Lo River on the back of a tortoise at the time when the legendary Yu was draining off the waters of the great flood. This ancient diagram is often referred to as tute 'Ba Gua' or 'magic square', and is an arrangement of numbers reflecting the cosmological order of the seasons, directions and 8 trigrams in regards to the five element theory. In the Ching dynasty encyclopedia 'Si Xui Chu Shu" , Feng Shui is classified under the same category as mathematics because both are symbolic representations of nature. The divination of numbers is called 'Shu Shu' in China.

The practice of using Feng Shui for grave sites is ancient. Five centuries before Christ, Chinese literature mentions the mausloea of Hoh Lu and his daughter having water flow towards the site. The I-Ching and divination using tortoise shells was used thousands of years ago to determine burial sites. Over the centuries the compass came to be used,and such is the method used today.

History of different Feng Shui schools

In the Zhou Dynasty (11th Century BC to 246 BC), the pre-classical period of Chinese history, there is evidence from oracle bones and symbols that solar and lunar eclipses were recorded. Constellations were recorded in the Book of Odes (9th century BC) and a system of divination called "Zhan Bu' was used to determine the auspiciousness of a site. 'Zhan Bu' was dealing with the nature of water on a site, and underground streams.

From 475 to 221 BC, the study of the I Ching began to influence and be linked with fengshui. The Form School, Chinese name is Li Xing Pai, or some times referred to as the Mountain Top School or Luan Tou Pai, is the study of topographical features, soil quality,and watercourses. The Form or 'regulating the qi' school was concerned with finding the 'the feng shui spot' and made detailed study of the land and watercourses, and concern itself with tracing the 'dragon pathways' or energy lines of the Earth. At this time,Chinese theories on the nature of the Universe such as Taoism and Confucianism began to be blended with Feng Shui theories, and yin/yang, trigrams of the Ba Gua and the five elements took their place in Feng Shui methods.

The next stage of evolution of the feng shui schools was by Guo Pu's book the 'Book ofBurial (276 -324) and Form School principles of siting were well established in Chinese writings.

The Water Dragon Classic, written by Chiag Ping-chieh, a Ming Dynasty philosopher, now regarded as the standard text on the subject, considers that an ideal site should nestle among watercourses. The 'Water Dragon Classic' (c. A.D. 600) is a specialised manualde voted to the formation of the 'dragons'.

From the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) feng shui generally split into two major schools -the Form and Compass Schools. The Compass School , Chinese name ''Li Qi Pai ' or 'Regulating the form of energy', used a form of compass to help determine the feng shui situation. It also used astrological patterns and numerology to measure the auspiciousness of a dwelling. In the 10th Century, an emphasis on precise mathematical calculations and formulae relating to compass points evolved. The ancient Chinese, knowing of the magnetic effect of the earth's gravitational field on animals and human beings, used the Luo Pan time saver the relationship between man, the earth and the heavens. It was recorded that a geomancer, flourishing between AD 713-741, Ch'iu Yen-Han, used a Lo P'an featuring the 'twenty-four directions' or 15 degree zones of the magnetic circle.

During the Song Dynasty, the book "Yin Yang Tian Gi Shu" - Book of Yin Yang Celestial Poles was written by a feng shui practitioner named Wu Jin - Luan. This was passed onto Yang Yun-Sung who established one of the first formal schools of feng shui in take Jingo Province. Many schools in the Orient trace trace their techniques back to this famous school. In all, there is considered 102 Classical books written in Chinese on the subject of Feng Shui

In the Ming and Jing Dynasties (1368 - 1949) many techniques of feng shui were further developed, including the most popular methods today which are the "Fei Xing' or"Flying Star Method', 'Ba Zhai' or 8 house method, 'San He' or the 'Triple Combination School', 'Ming Kwa' or destiny number school and the Chinese horoscope referred to as the '4 pillars of Destiny' and the 'Tzu Wei' or Purple Palace Astrology.

Here is a brief description of each:

"Ming Kwa" or "Trigram of fate", uses the Later Heaven Trigrams and the Lo-Shu numbers to determine the eight directions of each individuals life, based on there year of birth. These numbers, which are said to have been revealed through the forces of heaven are contained in the 'book of River Lo'(Lo Shu) and the 'plan of the Yellow river'(Ho Tu). The Ming Kwa is divided into two groups known as the East Life and West Life. Each has specific directionology which brings good fortune. Historically it is part of the 'Li Qi Pai' or regulating the Qi school know in the west as the compass school. This system was written about by Wang Ch'ung in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD)

"Bazhai" Feng Shui is also called "Yigua" Feng Shui. "Yi"stands for "Yi Jing" (The Book of Changes) and 'Gua' stands for 'Bagua' (The Eight Trigrams). Its tenet is to see if the orientations and layout of a residence are in harmonic with the "ren ming" or human destiny, of the person living in it. There in ming is part of the important trinity in Taoist thinking called the 3 gifts or San Chai which are : Heavens Luck (Tien Chai), Earth Luck (Ti Chai) and Humans luck (RenChai).

The Lo P'an is a very useful tool for feng shui surveys - it enables you to map the unseen influences and balance the clients horoscope to the dwelling. The Lo P'an incorporates the Taoist concept that Heaven (unseen influences) and Earth (manifested influences) should be in harmony for our wellbeing and prosperity. This school, as the name implies, analyses the directional aspects of a given site in terms of the relationship between the Five Elements, Eight Trigrams, Heavenly Stems, Earthly Branches and Constellations. It is said to have been developed by Wang Ci (1030-1050) of the Sung Dynasty and was practiced in the relatively flat provinces of Fukien and Chekiang.

Feng Shui knowledge has been developed in China over the past 1000 years that incorporates the elements of time and is able to trace the pattern of change through the different 'ages'. This method of feng shui is called the flying star or 'FEI XING PAI',which makes it possible to assess the fortune of a dwelling and predict happenings within it. The Flying Star involves time cycles that are mapped onto the bagua (the numbers expressed in the ancient Lo Shu diagram).

Used extensively by feng shui experts in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the 4 Pillars is the ancient system of constructing a horoscope based on the hour, day, month and year of birth. It forms the base for all advice on the feng shui for the client eg directions,colours, cures, lucky and unlucky times, and names. It is used for destiny and character readings as well as fine tuning feng shui advice. The 4 pillars are analysed by the strength and weakness of the five elements - fire, earth, water , wood and metal. This traditional system was further developed and refined by Tzu Ping (907 - 960 AD) into one of the most accurate systems of character analysis by using the advance method referred to as the ' Luck Stems'.

Tzu Wei Astrology , according to legend, the immortal Chen Tuan devised Tzu Wei Astrology about 950 AD. Here you find combined the wisdom of the I Ching, the Ho Map, as well as introducing the time element based on the cycles of the moon, and the ever-changing patterns of the five celestial elements. These are all the result of thousands of years of observation by Chinese sages into the patterns shown in nature,which impact on all living things. Tzu Wei Astrology reveals many aspects of your life, and is extremely popular in the East. You can learn what to expect by way of good or bad fortune from year to year. It can also give insights into your relationships with colleagues, bosses, loved ones, and how your children will relate to you. Whether you can expect to inherit, what career path is wise, and your health or ailments to watch out for.

The practitioner ideally knows both 'Compass' and 'Form' (intuitive) schools so the best means are used for each consultation. With sufficient proficiency, the practitioner will be able to combine both so a truly helpful Feng Shui solution is presented to the client.

No one aspect of Feng Shui need be seen in isolation. Feng Shui can be at its most effective when several useful diagnostic "tools" have been acquired. No one tool is better, all have their use in different situations.

Roger Green teaches feng shui training programmes in Austria, London, USA and Australia. He has sponsored study tours to China and India and is currently planning a an International Conference in Prague (September 1998) and a study tour to Tibet, Taiwan and Japan , to be held in 1999.