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Feng shui

The history of feng shui covers 3,500+ years before the invention of the magnetic compass. Its origins are in 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).

(traditional Chinese: ??; simplified Chinese: ??; pinyin: feng shui; pronounced fehng-shway in English) is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to utilize the Laws of both heaven (astronomy) and earth (geography) to help one improve life by receiving positive Qi.  The original designation for the discipline is Kan Yu (traditional Chinese: ??; simplified Chinese: ??; pinyin: kanyú; literally: Tao of heaven and earth).


The words 'feng shui' literally translate as "wind-water"in English. This is a cultural shorthand taken from the following passage of the Zhangshu (Book of Burial) by Guo Pu of the Jin Dynasty:

Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water.

Many modern enthusiasts claim that feng shui is the practice of arranging objects (such as furniture) to help people achieve their goals. More traditionally, feng shui is important in choosing a place to live and finding a burial site, along with agricultural planning.


Currently Yangshao and Hongshan cultures provide the earliest evidence for Feng Shui. Until the invention of the magnetic compass, apparently Feng Shui relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe.

In 4000 BCE 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 BCE) 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. 3000 BCE) that contains mosaics 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 culture 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 BCE. 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 (traditional Chinese: ???; simplified Chinese: ???; "Manual of Crafts"). Rules for builders were codified in the carpenter's manual Lu ban jing (traditional Chinese: ???; simplified Chinese: ???; "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.

Early instruments and techniques

The history of feng shui covers 3,500+ years before the invention of the magnetic compass. Its origins are in 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.

The oldest examples of instruments used for feng shui are liuren astrolabes. These consist of a lacquered, two-sided board with astronomical sightlines. Liuren astrolabes have been unearthed from tombs that date between 278 BCE and 209 BCE. They show the cord-hook diagram and some models include the magic square of three. They were commonly used to chart the motion of Taiyi through the nine palaces. The markings are virtually unchanged from the astrolabe to the first magnetic compasses.

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 (zhinan zhen) -- though a conventional compass could suffice if one understood the differences. A Feng Shui ruler (a later invention) may also be employed.

Modern techniques
Classical feng shui is typically associated with the following techniques. This is not a complete list; it is merely a list of the most common techniques.

  • Bagua (relationship of the five phases or wuxing)
  • Five phases (wuxing relationships)
  • Xuan Kong (time and space methods)
  • Xuan Kong Fei Xing (Flying Stars methods of time and directions)
  • Xuan Kong Da Gua ("Secret Decree" or 64 gua relationships)
  • Xuan Kong Shui Fa (time and space water methods)
  • Zi Bai (Purple-White Flying Stars methods)
  • Ba Zhai (Eight Mansions)
  • San Yuan Dragon Gate Eight Formation
  • Major & Minor Wandering Stars
  • San He Luan Dou (24 Mountains, Mountain-Water relationships)
  • San He Shui Fa (water methods)
  • Qimen Dunjia (Eight Doors and Nine Stars methods)
  • Zi wei dou shu (Purple King, 24-star astrology)


 All text of this article available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).


Feng shui

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