The Ancient Chinese Practice of Fengshui

FengshuiTranslated as “Wind-Water”, fengshui is an ancient Chinese practice of becoming harmonized with your surroundings. Fengshui is an essential part of Chinese life and of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but its focus is on homes, businesses and other buildings, as opposed to the human body. Fengshui is still focused on Qi though, and the aim of this practice is to place a manmade environment on spots with strong Qi, and to ensure that Qi flows effortlessly through that environment.

History of Fengshui

Fengshui is said to have existed for around 6,000 years, which makes it older than many other practices in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Early practitioners believed that there was a connection between humans and the night-sky, which means that the stars played a big role in the building of cities and the organization of homes in ancient China. One of the earliest cities to have been built using fengshui was the Yangshao site, which is said to have been constructed between 3500 to 3000 BCE by a culture that dates back as early as 6,000 BCE.

Modern fengshui relies heavily on the magnetic compass, but it was practiced for thousands of years before this was even invented. This means that practicing fengshui in the ancient world would have required an extensive knowledge of astronomy, making it even more specialized than it is in modern times. This would have been helped by the fact that Chinese astronomy was one of the most advanced of the ancient astronomies. They mapped out the skies in great detail, and not until the Arabs many hundreds of years later would this knowledge be matched by another civilization.

Fengshui and Qi

Qi is a life force, an energy. It is the basis for all life and it applies to humans and to their environment. While meditation, Qigong, diet and acupuncture regulate the balance and the flow of Qi in the human body, fengshui applies the same effect to the environment. There are many different schools of fengshui and there are many different tools, techniques and methods used to assist with the flow of this life force. However, the end goal is usually the same.

Schools of Fengshui

Fengshui schools teach different methods. Fengshui has existed for thousands of years, so it’s only natural that there will be different methods and ideologies. These schools teach strict rules regarding the application of fengshui, and they have their own way of doing things. However, fengshui has also been passed down culturally, via both written and oral methods, so it is something that many people understand to a degree.

The schools of fengshui include:

  • Compass (Chinese): This school uses fairly recent techniques and is based on the 8 cardinal directions, which are the main points on a compass (North, South, East, West, North-East, North-West, South-West, South-East). It teaches that these points all have different properties and that they all have a unique life force.
  • Form (Chinese): This is the oldest school of fengshui, and one that was described in the era of the Han Dynasty, which began in 206 BCE. It looks at the flow of the land, whilst also studying important dates and events in order to find the place with the best Qi.
  • Aspiration (Western): Like the Compass school, this method focuses on the 8 cardinal directions, assigning an aspiration (such as fame, fortune and family) to each of them.
  • Black Sect (Western): This methodology was introduced to the United States in the 1970s, which is when many Chinese cultural practices really began to take hold in the West. It combines many aspects of eastern cultures and religions and has less to do with Traditional Chinese Medicine.

To many Westerners, when they think of fengshui they think of the Black Sect method. This is all about the interior of a building, about moving furniture and objects to create a balanced and harmonious space. This does have some things in common with other schools of fengshui, but it is far removed from the ancient practice that was first used many thousands of years ago and it is also quite different to the traditional forms of fengshui such as that taught by the Form School.

Fengshui Around the World

Fengshui has not achieved the sort of global following that acupuncture and other practices of TCM have. It experienced a great degree of popularity in 1970s America and from there it went someway to spreading to other Western countries, but it is something that came across as alien to many Western cultures and therefore something that was rejected on sight by the majority. However, it does have a small following, and practitioners can be found in most countries.

English speaking countries, including the US, Canada, United Kingdom and even Australia have perhaps adapted to it better than most (certainly in the Western world), and the Chinese people themselves have also taken fengshui with them when emigrating to these countries and others. The fact that it has had a turbulent history in its homeland and yet is free to practice outside of it, may have helped with this.

Suppression of Fengshui

Although fengshui has existed in harmony with the Chinese culture for thousands of years, when the Communist Party took control in 1949 it was suppressed. They saw it as a superstitious and ineffective methodology, and they did all that they could do to stop it from being practiced. This was the era of the Cultural Revolution, and while many cultural practices took a hit during this time, fengshui was one of the ones that suffered the most. Fengshui was sent into rapid decline on Mainland China, although it remained popular in Taiwan and in Hong Kong.

There were many incidents of fengshui practitioners being beaten by the Red Guards, a government led military police who enforced the law of the Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution. The fengshui practitioners had their work destroyed, and any buildings they used to practice this ancient art were burned down. This would have been a difficult thing to witness for these practitioners, but considering the Cultural Revolution took the lives of around 30 million people, they would have been thankful to escape with their lives.

This continued until the death of Chairman Mao, who had been instrumental in forcing these changes. The Communist party was still in control following his death, but without Mao they began to relax their position on fengshui. In modern China fengshui has struggled to return to the popularity it once had and some reports suggest that as much as 70% of the population no longer believe in it. However, this is still a historically important practice, and one that is very relevant for anyone with an interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine.