Feng shui, pronounced "foong swee" (Cantonese) or "fong shway" (Mandarin) is the Chinese art of arranging buildings, objects, and space in the environment in order to achieve energy, harmony, and balance. The English translation of Feng shui is "the way of Wind (feng) and Water (shui)" or "the natural forces of the universe."
Feng shui, derived from the Chinese concept of yin and yang, has been practiced for thousands of years. Evidence of the existence of this practice can be found in the alignment and organization of graves in the Yangshao villages from 6000 b.c. In fact, there is compelling evidence that suggests that feng shui was not strictly an Asian entity. In prehistoric Europe, the practice of arranging objects and structures to be in harmony with the universe was a relatively common practice.
A popular theory regarding the origins of feng shui suggests that the practice stemmed from ancient shaman who understood the vital importance of strategically placing a village. Areas which possessed mild winds would generate plentiful harvests while harsh winds would stunt crop growth or destroy the harvest altogether. In addition, the placement of a village in close proximity to flowing water and fresh springs would stimulate growth and ensure health, while stagnant water would foster disease and disharmony within the community. As the centuries passed, these shaman correlated their thoughts on wind and water with the teachings of Daoism, thus creating the practice of feng shui.
As a design philosophy, "good" feng shui is believed to promote health, prosperity, creativity, positive social relationships, self-confidence, contemplation, and respect for others.
An ancient Daoist Chinese theory of design and placement, feng shui grew from observations that an individual's surroundings elicit positive and negative effects. According to Daoism, everything that exists contains qi (chi), the energy or life force. This qi possesses two properties, yin (receptive) and yang (active)—they are opposites and cannot exist without the other. Within the qi, eight constituents compose the universe (the Lake, the Mountain, Fire, Water, Heaven, Thunder,
Wind, and Earth). Each trigram, or combination of three yin/yang elements, represents a particular quality and pattern of energy. In turn, the proper arrangement of these energetic qualities would affect not only the qi of the environment, but that of the individual within the environment as well. With feng shui, the goal is to bring both into harmony so as to foster prosperity, health, and well-being with the Wind (feng) dispersing the qi throughout the universe and Water (shui).
The ba gua, or "Sequence of the Later Heaven," is the arrangement of the energy trigrams so that they exist in harmony and balance. Each trigram has a balancing partner that contributes to universal harmony. For example, Earth is balanced by the Mountain, Fire is balanced by the Water, Wind is balanced by Heaven, and Thunder is balanced by Lake. The ba gau is laid in a circular pattern with Fire at the top, followed by Earth, the Lake, Heaven, Water, the Mountain, Thunder, and Wind (clockwise). The Taiji (or yin-yang symbol) is located in the center of the trigrams, and represents the unifying force of the universe.
Practitioners of feng shui use the ba gua to determine the energy flow throughout the home and in other living spaces. By corresponding the trigram pattern to the different parts of a room, a practitioner determines whether the room is in harmony with the universe. For example, when analyzing a home office or workspace of a writer or artist, a feng shui specialist would pay particular attention to the portion of the room that corresponds to the Lake of the ba gua, because the Lake represents creative energy. If there is clutter or disorganization in the section of the room that corresponds to the Lake, or if the room is partitioned so that the Lake section is actually occupied by a bookcase or closet, then the environment would be considered to stifle creativity. A feng shui specialist might recommend moving the office to a more hospitable room in the house, or reconstructing the storage space to free up the creative energy in the Lake section of the room. Good health is said to be located in the Wind trigram of the ba gua, so maintaining this space and using it effectively is critical to practitioners of feng shui.
There are many other design tenets of feng shui, but some of the most commonly used and basic concepts include:
- Energy, or qi, enters and exits rooms through doorways. Doors facing each other encourage qi to move too quickly through and out of the room. Doors on adjoining walls encourage a circular movement of qi that is considered relaxing and "good" feng shui.
- Arranging chairs, beds, chaises, sofas, or other seating with their backs to the door and/or windows is not recommended in feng shui. It is considered "bad" feng shui to leave the back exposed to possible attack through the door.
- Homes located at the end of a cul-de-sac, across from a church or other spiritual center, at the end of a bridge, or near a freeway are not desirable to feng shui practitioners because these locations all have either too fast or not enough energy flow.
- When choosing a home site to build on, the ideal location according to feng shui principles is a rectangular plot of land, on a hill, with open space in front of the home.
- The front door of a home should be in proportion to the size of the house. Too large or too small an entrance will not facilitate proper qi flow through the home.
- Mirrors used in the home should not face chairs or beds.
- Windows should face only pleasing, natural views when at all possible. If a view is dreary, the feng shui of the room can be improved by using window treatments inside and/or window box plantings outside.
Individuals should observe basic building code and fire safety rules when redesigning a home according to feng shui principles.
Feng shui adjustments to living space should not be relied upon as a sole source of treatment for individuals with health problems. Although feng shui principles can be employed as an adjunct, or complementary, treatment, proper diagnosis and treatment from a qualified health-care professional is necessary in treating any chronic or acute physical disorder.
Research & general acceptance
Feng shui has been practiced throughout Asia for thousands of years, and has recently grown in popularity in the United States as a tool for home design. Although considered part of traditional Chinese medicine in Asia, it is not largely regarded as a healthcare tool in the United States, preventative or otherwise.
Training & certification
Certification and/or licensing is not required to practice feng shui in the United States. However, there are some national organizations that offer training and certification programs.
Henwood, Belinda. Feng Shui: How to create harmony and balance in your living and working environment. Pownal, VT: Storey Books, 1999.
Williams, Tom. The Complete Illustrated Guide to Chinese Medicine. Boston, MA: Element Books, 1996.
The Taoist art and science of creating balanced and harmonious surroundings, sometimes associated with geomancy, has been practiced for centuries in China. Feng-shui has been used by the Chinese to build homes and business offices, design cities and villages, and construct tombs for the dead. In recent years Westerners have begun to study and practice feng-shui.
Practitioners of feng-shui claim that the layout and arrangement of a home greatly influences the lives of all its occupants. The alignment of furniture, color schemes, and accessories all play a part in creating an environment that both relaxes and invigorates those who live there. Simply moving a few objects or repainting a room can have a significant impact. On the other hand, misfortunes such as poor health, financial problems, marital or relationship troubles, and infertility can be attributed to a house in which feng-shui principles have been ignored.
Feng-shui is also concerned with the location of a building because its position in an area may be adversely affected by the surroundings unless appropriate countermeasures are taken to deflect negative energy.
The Chinese developed feng-shui principles about four thousand years ago. The ancient Chinese recognized how the elements, particularly wind (feng ) and water (shui ), impacted life: gently flowing winds meant good harvests, stagnant water led to disease; buildings facing the north bore the brunt of dust storms that blew from Mongolia, while southern facing homes maximized the warmth of the sun. Likewise they realized how living harmoniously with surroundings made life easier: villages built among the hills were both protected from the elements and easier to defend from attackers. Legends says that the actual practice of feng-shui began with the shaman-kings who led the early Chinese tribes and understood the powers of wind and water, the changes in earth and sky, and the cycle of the seasons.
Over the centuries and throughout successive dynasties feng-shui organized and eventually was recognized as a professional skill during the Han dynasty (207 B.C.-220 B.C.E.). It was known then as K'an-yu. During the prosperous T'ang dynasty (618-907 B.C.E.) the Taoist arts flourished and K'an-yu, which involved understanding the earth's energy, expanded to en-compass the sciences of architecture, astronomy, geography, numerology, and surveying. Various schools of thought in K'anyu also developed during this dynasty.
After Kublai Khan invaded the central plains of China and established the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368 B.C.E.), Taoists were restricted from openly practicing their sciences and K'an-yu suffered a decline. The practice underwent a resurgence during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 B.C.E.). The feng-shui that is practiced today is most similar to that practiced during the Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1912 B.C.E.).
Chi is the key component of feng-shui. It is roughly translated as the invisible energy that circulates through the earth and sky. Chi travels best when it imitates nature by flowing in gentle curves, rather than along straight lines, where it can move too quickly, or against sharp edges, where it can be blocked, and cause sha, or bad chi.
The Eight Directions
The eight directions of the compass (north, east, south, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest) and the center, known together as the Nine Palaces, are basic components of feng-shui. Each direction is associated with a different kind of chi energy. Knowing the characteristics of these directions and their spheres of influence allows the creation of good feng-shui. It also used in making adjustments needed to correct bad fengshui.
The Five Elements
Each of the eight directions and the center is linked to at least one of what is known as the Five Elements: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. The Chinese are able to group all things into one of these five categories. Contact with the elements is a major part of feng-shui and the interactive nature of these elements is used in enhancing positive energies and reducing negative energies.
Each of the Five Elements is related to the other in a cycle of creation and destruction. When the elements are used to enhance one another, they follow the creation cycle. For instance in the creative cycle, metal in the earth nourishes water in the ground. Water sustains vegetation that creates wood. Wood feeds fire. Fire produces ashes, forming the earth. The cycle is completed when the earth forms ore, which becomes metal. Conversely, in the destructive cycle, fire melts metal; metal cuts wood; tree roots, or wood, choke the earth; earth muddies water; water extinguishes fire.
In practicing feng-shui, one of the most effective ways to create positive energy or remedy bad energy is to make good use of the five elements. Feng-shui is easily adjusted by mixing, separating and arranging the five elements at suitable compass points within the home. The elements interact in either a creative or destructive cycle and their presentation affects the balance of the environment.
Color and Numbers
Color is yet another important aspect of balance in fengshui. Color has an effect on the look and feel of a room, but colors also have associations linked to them. For example, to the Chinese red is a lucky color, associated with life, happiness, and warmth. Green and blue are associated with new beginnings, growth and family life.
Numbers also have meaning and some are more favorable than others. Nine is considered the luckiest, partially due to apparent mystical qualities: when 9 is multiplied by an single-digit number, the sum of the two digits of the product is 9. The number 4 is considered bad-luck because its Chinese pronunciation, "si," sounds similar to the word for death. As with the elements, color and numbers are also associated with the eight compass points.
Eitel, E. J. Feng-shui: The Rudiments of Natural Science in China. Bristol, England: Pentacle Books, 1979.
Lagatree, Kirsten M. Feng-shui: Arranging Your Home to Change Your Life. New York: Villard Books, 1996.
Rossbach, Sarah. Feng-shui: The Chinese Art of Placement. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1983.
Skinner, Stephen. The Living Earth Manual of Feng-shui: Chinese Geomancy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
Too, Lillian. Essential Feng-shui: A Step-by-Step Guide to Enhancing Your Relationships, Health, and Prosperity. Ballantine Books, Inc., 1999.
Wong, Eva. Feng-Shui: The Ancient Wisdom of Harmonious Living for Modern Times. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1996.
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese science of orientation premised on the belief that human habitation can be situated physically to take advantage of invisible currents of energy within the earth. This energy is called qi (ch'i), and is that ineffable force affected by the pierce of the acupuncture needle. The human anatomy is a microcosm of the Earth, and the blood veins of one correspond to "dragon veins" of the other. When the ground is broken and the well is dug for a new house, or when the excavation for a tomb is conducted, such action taps into these dragon veins just like an acupuncture needle. Two different procedures for locating this geophysical qi began to develop as early as the Han dynasty (206 b.c.e.–220 c.e.). The xingshi or form school is based on the idea that water collects and stores qi while wind captures and scatters it. Feng shui means "wind and water," which is merely shorthand for the principle of "hindering the wind and hoarding the waters." The liqi or compass school, on the other hand, is based on the theory of the five phases of qi. This correlative system analyzes qi as a force that alternates between the poles of yin and yang as it progresses through five elemental phases. In the yang or productive phase, earth harbors metal, metal condenses water, water nourishes wood, wood feeds fire, and fire burns to earth. In the yin or conquest phase, earth dams water, water quenches fire, fire melts metal, metal cuts wood, and wood taps earth. These phases are correlated with the eight directional trigrams of the Book of Changes, and a person's year of birth is thought to correspond to a particular trigram. It is thus possible to avoid destructive qi by orienting dwellings or arranging rooms in productive directions.
Feng shui became accessible to the English-speaking world only a hundred years ago when British missionary Ernest Eitel and Belgian missionary J. J. M. de Groot published their respective studies. But only in the past quarter century has the public at large discovered this ancient system. Chinese communities in the United States have always utilized their local feng shui masters, but owing perhaps to the popularity of Asian systems of thought in the era of New Age religion, every major city in America now has its own community of feng shui consultants. One of the earliest proponents in the United States was Thomas Yun Lin, who founded a temple for American Black Sect Tantric Buddhism in Berkeley, California, in 1986. His brand of feng shui dispensed with many of the traditional practices and relied instead on "intuition and mystical knowledge." The American Feng Shui Institute, founded by Master Larry Sang in Los Angeles in 1991, purports to transmit the scientific principles of feng shui without recourse to superstition. Two of its students, Elizabeth Moran and Val Biktashev, have recently collaborated, in consultation with Sang and Canadian master Joseph Yu, to write The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feng Shui (1999), the most comprehensive introduction to compass school feng shui currently available in English.
de Groot, J. J. M. The Religious System of China, vol. 3, ch. 12. 1892; repr. in Derek Walters, Chinese Geomancy. 1989.
Eitel, Ernest John. Feng-shui: or, The Rudiments of Natural Science in China. 1873.
Feuchtwang, Stephan D. R. An Anthropological Analysisof Chinese Geomancy. 1974.
Field, Stephen L. "The Numerology of Nine Star Fengshui." Journal of Chinese Religions (Fall 1999).
Moran, Elizabeth, and Val Biktashev. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feng Shui. 1999.
Walters, Derek. The Feng Shui Handbook. 1991.
Wong, Eva. Feng-shui. 1996.
Stephen L. Field
Jane Turner (1996);
The term is Chinese, from fēng ‘wind’ and shuǐ ‘water’.