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Feng Shui

Beijing Culture: Feng Shui

Mind over Matter: Feng shui aligns man and nature 風水

Daniel Allen

Feng shui (Mandarin for "wind water") is an ancient philosophy that has its roots in the Chinese appreciation of nature, and a belief in the universality of all things. The assumption is that the key to living a harmonious and rewarding life is to reflect the balance of nature in daily life, which principally involves the following concepts: yin and yang, qi, and the five elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water.

Despite its long heritage, feng shui has been illegal in mainland China since the mid-20th century, mainly because of the propensity for scamming and fraud within its practice. However, classical feng shui is still considered important in some parts of modern Chinese culture, especially in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia, and has also become important in some Western countries since its introduction in the 1960s.

Feng shui "masters" have always had an important role in the construction of Hong Kong's great buildings. Perhaps most famously the soaring Bank of China building on Hong Kong Island was said to wish bad luck on the colony's British overseers with its "negative" spikes. The rediscovery of feng shui by western scholars and new-age spiritualists in the 1960s has led to the widespread and often liberally interpreted feng shui techniques practiced on the US west coast and British Columbia since the early 1990s.

Feng shui promotes the search for places where chi (literally "energy" or "energy flow") forms or accumulates, as these places are perfect for engendering happy, prosperous, successful lives. In feng shui winds are bad because they scatter chi, so those looking for good feng shui typically avoid windswept sites. Regardless of the country of practice, businesses typically use feng shui to increase sales and boost morale, while homeowners aim to enhance environmental peace and harmony.

Classical Chinese feng shui can trace its beginnings to the relationship between construction and astronomy. It has been noted that early Yangshao houses at the Banpo archaeological site near Xian were oriented to catch the mid-afternoon winter sun at its warmest, just after the solstice. Some tribes in southern China still refer to the time around this event as the "house-building month".

All capital cities of China followed the 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, with the earliest record showing that the rules for these structures evolved from the rules for homes and cities.

The oldest known feng shui device consisted of a two-sided board with astronomical sightlines. Liuren astrolabes (the predecessor of the feng shui compass) have been unearthed from Qin-era tombs at Wangjiatai (Hubei Province) and Zhoujiatai (Shanxi Province) dating from between 278 BCE and 209 BCE. Today however, feng shui practitioners generally rely on a feng shui compass or lo pan for their metaphysical machinations.

The feng shui compass is essentially a bowl with which you are allowed to access universal mysteries. A simple lo pan has three rings - each will provide a different type of information through the electromagnetic needle. Today Feng Shui practitioners generally select from three types of feng shui compass the San He (the so-called "form school", although the compass name means "Triple Combination"), San Yuan (the so-called "compass school", although the compass name actually refers to time), and the Zong He that combines the other two.

Feng shui masters - those who understand the five elements and the two energies such as chi and sha (hard energy, the opposite of chi) - are supposed to be able to detect metaphysical energies and give directions for their optimal flow. These masters can tell concerned home owners where bathrooms should go, which way doorways should face, where mirrors should hang, which rooms need green plants and which need red ones, which direction the head of the bed should face, and so on.

Today, typical feng shui form includes the use of fountains, curves rather than hard straight lines, alignment of entrances with the best views, natural materials, and is best seen in such buildings as Richard Meier's Getty Center in Los Angeles. It was rumored that the Beijing government had consulted a feng shui expert for the construction of key Olympic structures, although this has been denied.

Beijing residents or visitors who would like to find out more about feng shui can attend talks / discussions given by the China Culture Center - more information at