Truth will sooner come out of error than out of confusion.
What do the science and scientists say about feng shui? What do the “non-feng shui-ists” think, what have they been thinking throughout the centuries?
Let’s look at the both sides of the coin.
- Architects study feng shui as an ancient Asian architectural tradition.
- Geographers have analyzed the techniques and methods to help locate historical sites in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and archaeological sites in the American Southwest, concluding that ancient Native Americans also considered astronomy and landscape features.
- Some landscape ecologists find traditional feng shui an interesting study. In many cases, the only remaining patches of old forest in the whole of Asia (so not just China) are the so called “feng shui woods”. These woods are associated with cultural heritage, historical continuity, and the preservation of various species of flora and fauna. Some researchers think that the presence of these woods which indicate “healthy homes”,environmental components and sustainability tell us that ancient feng shui should not be easily dismissed, especially not without thorough research.
- Environmental scientists and landscape architects research traditional feng shui and its methodologies.
Traditional feng shui
Traditional feng shui relies upon the compass to give accurate readings. Critics point out that the compass degrees are often inaccurate because fluctuations caused by solar winds have the ability disturb the electromagnetic field of the earth, thus determining a property or site location based upon Magnetic North will result in inaccuracies because true magnetic north fluctuates.
Matteo Ricci(1552–1610), one of the founders of Jesuit China missions, was probably the first European to write about feng shui practices. In the “De Christiana expeditione apud Sinas” he tells us about feng shui masters (geologi in Latin) studying prospective construction sites or grave sites “with reference to the head and the tail and the feet of the particular dragons which are supposed to dwell beneath that spot”.Ricci strongly criticized the “recondite science” of geomancy along with astrology as yet another “superstitioabsurdissima” of the heathens. “What could be more absurd than their imagining that the safety of a family, honors, and their entire existence must depend upon such trifles as a door being opened from one side or another, as rain falling into a courtyard from the right or from the left, a window opened here or there, or one roof being higher than another?“(China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals of Matteo Ricci”, Random House, New York, 1953. Book One, Chapter 9, pp. 84–85.)
Victorian-era commentators on feng shui were skeptical and derogatory of it. In 1896, at a meeting of the Educational Association of China, Rev. P.W. Pitcher raged at the “rottenness of the whole scheme of Chinese architecture,”and urged fellow missionaries “to erect unabashedly Western edifices of several stories and with towering spires in order to destroy nonsense about fung-shuy” (his loudly and publicly expressed anger tells us about both western views but also the Chinese ones on feng shui at that time).
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, fengshui was officially considered a “feudalistic superstitious practice” and declared social evil, according to the state’s ideology.Its practice was discouraged and sometimes even banned. Fengshui, however, remained (publicly) popular in Hong Kong, and also Taiwan. Then again, if you talk to Chinese from mainland China, with all the suppression of some of the traditional values, all of them, including fengshui, remained essentially intact in the Chinese being (“feng shui here is very bad” is a sentence I very often hear as a description of western buildings while working as a tour leader and tour guide for the Chinese).
Persecution was, of course, the most severe during the Cultural Revolution, when fengshui was classified a custom under the so-called Four Olds and the four olds (old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas) were to be wiped out. As many others feng shui practitioners were beaten and abused by Red Guards and their works were burned. After the death of Chairman Mao and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the official attitude towards feng shui became more tolerant. Restrictions on feng shui practice, however, are still in place in today’s China – it is illegal to register feng shui consultation as a business and advertising feng shui practice is banned too. There have been crackdowns on feng shui practitioners on the grounds of “promoting feudalistic superstitions” (one of the most notable ones was in Qingdao in 2006 when the city’s business and industrial administration office shut down an art gallery converted into a feng shui practice). Also, some communist officials who had consulted feng shui were terminated and expelled from the Communist Party.
According to some poles, partly because of the Cultural Revolution, in today’s China less than one-third of the population believe in feng shui, and the percentage of believers among young urban Chinese is said to be much lower (my personal person-to-person experience tells me differently). Learning feng shui is still officially considered somewhat of a taboo in today’s China. Nevertheless, a BBC Chinese news commentary in 2006 reported that feng shui has gained “believers and followers” among Communist Party officials.It is said that since the beginning of Chinese economic reforms the number of feng shui practitioners is increasing. A number of Chinese academics permitted to research on the subject of feng shui are anthropologists or architects.They study the history of feng shui or historical feng shui theories behind the design of heritage buildings.
To be continued…
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