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The Chinese term “feng shui” is a form of shorthand for a quote from the Book of Burial (third c. BCE):

The qi that rides the wind stops at the boundary of water.

Notice there’s no mention of placement, laws of nature, symbolic language, spirit, potential, et al. Those words identify 20th-century American concepts that have been grafted onto feng shui by commercial interests.

Feng shui is a protoscience that began in China more than 6,000 years ago. It began as an adaptive response to the local environment that combined (at least) home building and astronomy — and often much more.

Taipei was the last Asian city consciously designed under Feng Shui principles in the 19th century. The system refers to the figure of the mystic dragon. The old city was located on a carefully selected dragon’s vagina-like basin area between the dragon’s tail-like mountain flank and riverside. This kind of area is considered safer and probably less prone to seismic activity, as earthquake records show. — Chi ti-nan

Basics

The site that attracts water is optimum, followed by the site that catches the wind. In the Eranos Yearbooks (Man and Time, 1957) Professor Max Knoll provided intriguing research that traditional feng shui tracks space weather in the form of ion radiation and contrary cyclical effects, including climate changes and induced earth currents. A practitioner using a Luopan (compass) observes geomagnetic field anomalies (low-amplitude, localized magnetic irregularities in space-time). Those observations are the basis for analyses of open land and structures.

None of this applies to modern types of feng shui — Black Sect, Pyramid, Western, and all the rest — because their methods are completely different. On this site the modern variants are called McFengshui.

History

The earliest evidence is dated at 4000 BCE, but considering how it was practiced, and what is now known about Neolithic Chinese astronomy, it is much older than that. Early Yangshao houses at Banpo were oriented to the asterism Yingshi (“Lay out the Hall” as it was known in the Warring States period and early Han era). Yingshi corresponded to the sun’s location shortly after the winter solstice.

Environmental science

Aligning the houses with Yingshiprovided the people at Banpo with environmental efficiency because the arrangment sited the houses for solar gain. This astronomy-derived alignment of homes enabled people to enjoy warm houses in winter because of the orientation. People also enjoyed cool houses in the summer because the orientation kept the sun out.

Yingshi was known as Ding in the Zhou era. When Ding was overhead it was time to build a capital city, according to the Shijing. Yingshi (Ding) continued to be used to orient all capital cities in China up to and including Beijing. Today, whenever possible, Chinese still build their homes facing south.

Exploding the Myth

Feng shui works only for settled cultures. It has similar names throughout Asia in the cultures that adapted it for their use (Vietnam, Korea, and Japan, for example). Although some people claim that all cultures use some form of feng shui, there is no evidence for the claim.

Because people are the heart of the universe they should be able to determine their own fate.
— from the Yijing

Feng Shui is not an excuse to lay on the couch and expect that a mirror or wind chime can fix everything in your life. In Chinese tradition, Feng Shui is third on the list after what you were born with and what you do with your gifts — that means your life is still your responsibility.

… the art of laying out grounds after the Chinese manner is exceedingly difficult, and not to be attained by persons of narrow intellects.
— William Chambers (1723-96)

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