A History of Feng ShuiFeng Shui, an ancient art related to the law and order of the universe and the power of nature, was first developed some 6,000 years ago. It's a system based on the combined elements of astronomy, astrology, geology, physics, mathematics, philosophy, psychology and intuition. Feng Shui works on the principle that everything is made up of energy. The art of Feng Shui is the balancing of energies through adjusting the relationships of particular items in the environment. This method has been used for centuries to improve the health, prosperity and wellbeing of people in the traditional Chinese culture.
The Scientific Background of Feng Shui Today
Most researchers and adepts of traditional Feng Shui know its definition and goals are compatible with those of modern science, which is a process of learning and discovery through systematic study of principles that govern observable phenomena. This modern concept is part and parcel of Taoism, which George Lewith in Acupuncture: Its Place in Western Medical Science characterizes as a philosophy that exalts "the art of detailed and accurate observations".
Premodern China gave the world several of the mathematical and scientific concepts we take for granted today, and mathematics and experiment have always been the backbone of Kan Yu. The magnetic compass was invented in China for use by Kan Yu practitioners. It was adapted from the "south pointing spoon", the Si Nan. Because of variations over time in the earth's magnetic fields (knowledge that is also employed by archaeologists using palaeomagnetism), three systems of compass use were superimposed one upon another over the span of half a millennium and established the compass that Feng Shui practitioners use today.
The original magnetic needle compass used for navigation was constructed in the seventh or eighth century with the needle floating in water. The true terrestrial north-south meridian was first set down by Chhiu Yun Han (c. 713-741) and known as the Cheng Chen. This was used until roughly 880, when readings were so far off the mark that immediate correction was required. In the eight or ninth century it was further refined with the discovery of magnetic declination. Yang Yun Sang added specialized compass points to compensate for the variation. The Feng Chen or "seam needle" fixed the Cheng Chen's variations. The compass was again adjusted in the 1100s when Lai Wen-Chun came up with the Chung Chen (the central needle). Chinese used compasses for centuries prior to even the most rudimentary use on European ships. As late as the seventeeth century, all Western compasses still pointed south just like the ancient south-pointing spoons they were built to imitate.
During the Cultural Revolution, the old ways came under scrutiny once more. While its sister-science, traditional medicine, received official sanction from the government, Feng Shui did not. It's not clear whether Chairman Mao's knowledge of Feng Shui played any part in its fall from favor (he came from a long line of practitioners, it is said), but it was not selected for further study and subsequently outlawed. Today, what little Feng Shui survives in China is under strict control of the Communist government.
Generally, the aspirant young Fang Shi began a long career by being apprenticed to a master. Fang Shi were not all men, either: there were notable women such as Hsu Teng—who was said to have "transformed" herself into a man—and Keng Xien-sheng who lived during the Song Dynasty. As seen from several histories, arcane knowledge was often a family affair, passed down like a family heirloom from generation to generation.
In traditional Feng Shui theory, life is thought to work in a specific order of descending influence:
Destiny (karma) – what we call personality traits or the "self-fulfilling prophecy"
Fate, luck, fortune – what you make of your life ("luck" being merely what you recognize as an opportunity)
- Feng Shui
Charity, good causes (pro bono work)
- Devoted study, hard work, knowledge
Feng Shui, third on the list, is not expected to override a person's inherent personality, or what they choose to make of themselves. Personal responsibility is paramount—no one can blame everything on "bad Feng Shui". However, sloppy or otherwise inaccurate Feng Shui readings portend trouble for the readers, who are held personally responsible for their prognostications and for whatever happens to the occupants of the buildings they analyze.