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China Information >> Culture traditional
 
Feng Shui
The Five Elements Laminated Map

Overview

Traditional ("classical," "authentic") feng shui is a Chinese ethnoscience that addresses the design and layout of cities, villages, dwellings, and buildings. The construction of graves and tombs also includes feng shui, but the rules for dwellings differ from those applied to "yin houses" (houses of the dead). Feng shui was labeled geomancy by 19th-century Christian missionaries to China; however, geomancy and feng shui differ widely in their scope, aims, and means.

Traditional feng shui uses a specialized compass called a Luopan, and a comprehensive array of calculations involving mathematical iterations. It has foundation texts, core theories and methods, and an impressive past based on archaeological discoveries and the work of archeoastronomers. The New Age versions — Black Hat Sect, Pyramid Feng Shui, Fuzion, Intuitive, etc. — do not share this history. These offshoots typically use "intuitive" methods with concepts from the 19th-century Spiritualist movement, and self-help techniques and affirmations, al0ng with modern interior design.

For example, the Black Hat Sect version of feng shui, which began in 1960s Hong Kong (and incorporated as a US church in 1986), explains feng shui as the art of arranging objects within a home to obtain an optimum flow of qi. In traditional feng shui, the objects within a structure are of lesser significance than the siting of a building and its local environment, especially microclimates. It#s believed by many that individuals using New Age methods seek to profit from naïve consumers by explaining New Age versions as "classical" or traditional" feng shui. Yet, according to recent fieldwork in rural China by Ole Bruun, qi flow is rarely a concern in traditional feng shui.

Traditional Feng Shui began as an interplay of construction and astronomy. Early Yangshao houses at Banpo (c. 4800 BCE) were oriented to catch the mid-afternoon sun at its warmest a few days after the winter solstice. (Some tribes in southern China still refer to this month as "House-building Month.") Professor David Pankenier and his associates performed retrospective computation on the Chinese sky at the time of the Banpo dwellings 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.

The asterism Yingshi was known as Ding during the Zhou era. Ding was used to indicate the appropriate time and orientation for a capital city, according to the Shijing. All capital cities of China, including Beijing, follow this design. The rules for capital cities and other habitations can be found in the Zhou-era Kaogong ji (Manual of Crafts). Rules for builders were codified in the Lu ban jing (Carpenter#s Manual).

A grave at Puyang (4000 BCE) that contains mosaics of the Dragon and Tiger constellations and Beidou (Big Dipper) is similarly oriented al0ng a north-south axis, and it includes the classical "heaven-round, earth-square" design applied to other buildings in China at varying periods, and was used in the design of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

At Taosi the traditional home of King Yao, an observatory (c. 2400 BCE) with 12 sighting windows may have been used as mentioned in Yaodian (in the Shijing) and Wudibenji (in the Shiji), as Yao assigned astronomers to observe sunrise, sunset, and evening stars in culmination. According to astronomers, Yao#s pronouncement of the four major constellations is consistent with the astronomy for the age of the observatory.

The tombs of Shang kings and their consorts at the cemetery of Xiaotun near Anyang lie on a north-south axis, ten degrees east of due north. The Xia and Shang palaces at Erlitou are also on a north-south axis, slightly west of true north. These orientations were obtained by astronomy, perhaps using liuren astrolabes; the magnetic compass or zhinan zhen was not invented until the early Han era.

The history of feng shui devices may have begun at Lingjiatan c. 3000 BCE. An excavated grave contained a jade plaque with a compass design. (Similar markings were also found on pottery from the Taihu region.) The “arrows” point to cardinal and intercardinal directions. Noted historian Li Xueqin and other researchers indicate this is an early version of a liuren astrolabe, the ancestor of the more well-known feng shui devices shi, shipan, and Luopan.

Other feng shui devices consist of two-sided boards with astronomical sightlines. Liuren astrolabes have been unearthed intact from Qin-era tombs at Wangjiatai and Zhoujiatai. These devices date between 278 BC and 209 BC.

Today feng shui practitioners can select from three types of Luopan: 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.