Chinese History is dominated by ‘the dynasties’ and here I have attempted to overlay the history of Feng Shui in a chronological fashion with that of the dynasties:
Pre Qin History
Before the “Qin Dynasty”, the ancient art of Feng Shui was then known as “Xiangdi” (meaning the observation and appraisal of the earth).
This helped the Chinese to select correct settlement sites, temple sites, locations for shrines and indeed the location of fertile lands. It is from this period of time that the basic principles of Feng Shui were postulated.
The choice of where to site buildings was influenced by the location of local rivers, the buildings themselves were built on high ground or raised platforms. They were oriented in a North/South fashion with the back of the house facing North which usually afforded protection from the cold northerly winds (by a mountain, a hill or some trees).
Also during this time (during the Zhou Dynasty – 11th Century B.C. to 246 B.C.), a system of divination known as ‘Zhan Bu’ was used to determine the auspiciousness of a settlement site. From 475 to 221 B.C., the I Ching was studied in detail by ‘feng shui experts’ and it’s influence brought to bear.
In addition to the influence of the I Ching, Taoism and Confucianism started to meld with Feng Shui theories and the principles of the Five Elements, Yin/Yang and the trigrams of the Bagua were assimilated as well. (Related article: “Understanding Feng Shui In a Few Words”)
The Qin Dynasty (221-207B.C.) heralded the study of ‘Dimai’ (this is the concept of the arteries and veins of the earth – which means the study of the ridges and valleys of mountain ranges) by the ancient geographers.
During this time some of the most massive building projects of mankind were undertaken (such as the Great Wall of China and various palaces). It was during this time that the people of In developed the ritual of burial and selected sites for their ancestors based on auspicious criteria. The dead were buried, their heads facing west and the grave itself facing east.
One theory puts forth the idea that this was because the Qin Dynasty tended to spread eastwards to the coast and hence they buried their dead pointing in the direction of their ancestral homeland as a mark of respect. Additionally, at the Yin/Yang level, east represents the newborn (Yang) energy and the west represents older life (Yin) and move towards the next world.
The living is related to the North/South orientation, hence an auspicious location for a bed is facing north (toward the north pole). The converse is true if you live south of the equator (i.e. the bed should face toward the south pole). The Yin/Yang theory of burial site alignment holds more sway with myself as a dynasty although important is of a transient nature whereas Yin/Yang is eternal and therefore of eternal significance.
The Western Han & the Xin Dynasties
During the Western Han (206B.C – 9A.D.) and Xin (9 – 24A.D.) dynasties, the combined study of geography and astrology – known as the study of heaven and earth in relationship to man – began.
This study was also known as ‘Kanya’. More and more detailed study of the Chinese mountain ranges was undertaken and this is where the term ‘Dragon Veins’ was born. Detailed maps and drawings of peaks, ridges, valleys, and rivers were constructed.
The Eastern Han Dynasty
During the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220A.D.), many techniques and customs were developed and passed on from one Feng Shui master to the next.
It was during this period of time that the roots of Feng Shui really took hold. Cornerstone ideas such as burial site placement and living accommodation sited for maximum family prosperity were further elaborated upon (such as the notion that a good housing site was backed by mountains, close to a stream had an open vista to the front and also contained trees in the surrounding area.).
The Three Kingdoms Period And The Southern Dynasty
The Three Kingdoms period spans 220 – 280 A.D. This is comprised of the
- The Wei (220 – 265A.D.) period
- The Shu (221 – 263A.D.) period and
- The Wu (222 – 280A.D.) period
As can be seen from the dates above, these periods overlapped in time due to the differing and disparate reigns. During this time, the ‘Shui Jing’ (Book on water) was written.
The Southern Dynasty
The Southern Dynasty (420 – 589 A.D.) was also concerned with burial sites and the associated rituals. During this period, the ‘Shui Jing’ was further added to including more details on the many waterways of China, providing a vast array of information for Feng Shui masters on the harmony between the land and the buildings built thereupon. (Related reading: “Chinese Good Luck Charms To Bring Good Fortune” -Opens in new tab)
Sui, Tang and the Five Dynasties
During the Sui Dynasty(581 – 618 A.D), Tang (618 – 907 A.D) and the Five (907 – 960 A.D.) Dynasties, the art of Feng Shui became more rigorous and scientific and the various constituent disciplines became more differentiated.
Different views were voiced from within the Feng Shui community stimulating much debate and discussion. The use of Feng Shui at gravesites was now commonplace. This was a time when the cultural arts were held in very high regard and Feng Shui’s influence was now being felt at the peripheries of the empire itself.
Circa 600 A.D., the seminal text on the positioning of a site nestling among watercourses – The Water Dragon Classic – was written. And during the Five Dynasty period, the practice of feng shui became differentiated into 2 distinct areas: ‘Yinzhai’ – the residence of the dead and ‘Yangzhai’ – the residence of the living.
The Song Dynasty – comprised of the Northern Song (960 – 1127 A.D.) and the Southern Song (1127 – 1279 A.D.) – heralded the advancement of scientific and geographic technology and knowledge.
Feng Shui now effected decisions such as building sites, burial sites and the irrigation of the land which together had an enormous impact on the prosperity of a family.
The patronage of the various Song emperors was not always in evidence as some believed whilst others did not in the practice of feng shui. The emphasis on this time was on the external surroundings of a settlement, the internal arrangement was seen of secondary importance. However, the combination of both in a harmonious fashion would lead to increased health and wealth. As well as auspicious locations for buildings, the idea of auspicious dates for the commencement of construction was also known and utilized which indicated a certain amount of superstition pervaded Feng Shui.
Also during this time, Feng Shui divided itself into two major schools:
- The Form School (Deals with evaluating topographical, geographic and waterways)
- The Compass School (Aka ‘Li Qi Pai’ – Regulating the form of energy)
The Form School
The Form School was further enhanced and refined (circa 888 A.D.) through the teachings and practice of Yang Yun Sung, who at the time was an advisor to the Emperor. Leading on from his work with the Form School, Sung laid the foundations for the Compass School. His works were further refined some 100 years later by Wang Chih (who’s work is now regarded as crucial texts upon which modern Compass School has been built).
The Compass School
The Compass School, as the name suggests, used a type of compass – the Luo Pan – (the compass itself was invented by the Chinese in the fourth century B.C.) to help determine Feng Shui positioning. In addition, this school used astrological patterns and numerology to determine the auspicious location for a new dwelling.
Starting during the 10th century, precise mathematical calculations relating to the compass points evolved. From ancient times, Chinese sages had known of the relationship between the earth’s gravitational field and it’s effects on animals and humans alike.
The Luo Pan was constructed as a ‘ready reckoner’ (a time-saver) aiding the feng shui expert determine the relationship between man, the earth and the heavens. The Compass School originated in the North of China (where the relatively flat nature of the terrain necessitated the development of a different method to that of the Form School).
Ming Dynasty And The Qing Dynasty
During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 A.D.), Feng Shui was also popular with the literary intelligentsia. The practitioners were known at this time as Yin-Yang experts and numerous scholars worked on Feng Shui related subject matter. The Ming dynasty founder (Zhu Yuanchang) sought the help of Yin-Yang experts for the construction of his capital city in Beijing.
During the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 A.D.), all buildings built in the North of China were constructed in agreement with the principles of feng shui, for example: All front doors of courtyard houses were located on the front left corner of the courtyard (This is known as the ‘Green Dragon Door’).
The Qing Dynasty Imperial court even named a city after one of Guo Pu’s (Feng Shui Master 276 – 324 A.D.) poems and indeed all building construction carried out by the court was in accordance with Feng Shui principles.
Throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties and through the Republic of China years (1911 – 1949 A.D.), many Feng Shui techniques were further developed. Amongst these methods are included some of the most popular systems in use today:
- The Flying Star Method (aka ‘Fei Xing’)
- The 8 House Method (aka ‘Ba Zhai’)
- The Triple Combination School (aka ‘San He’)
- The Destiny Number School (aka ‘Ming Kwa’)
- The Chinese Horoscope (aka ‘4 Pillars of Destiny’) and
- Purple Palace Astrology (aka ‘Tzu Wei’)
The Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976 A.D.) witnessed great upheaval in China and during this time, old order belief systems such as Feng Shui were forbidden.
Naturally, the death of Feng Shui (looking back with hindsight, this could be viewed as Feng Shui enjoying a ‘yin’ period during the Yang revolution) did not occur and in China today, there are departments in various learned establishments conducting ongoing research into Feng Shui.
A relatively recent example of the application of Feng Shui relates to a government building in the Guangdong province which in 1990 was said to have bad Feng Shui due to a number of accidents and deaths. With the help of Feng Shui experts, many alterations were affected.
Today, Feng Shui has gained a lot of supporters across the globe and is playing an ever-increasing role in the world of business where consultations for ensuring the Feng Shui of a building is correct flourish. From Hong Kong to New York, the city skylines constantly evolve but more and more under the watchful eye of Feng Shui masters
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