What is Feng Shui, the History and the Types of Feng Shui


What is Feng Shui

What is Feng Shui? It is an ancient Chinese art practiced by people worldwide for over a thousand years. As a translation, “Feng” means wind while “Shui” means water or “the way of wind and water.” This focuses on chi or qi (life force)  to produce good fortune and robust health.  In addition, chi is made of yin and yang elements that need balance to hold the positive chi, including the five natural elements- wood, fire, earth, metal, and water- to drive away any negativities in one’s life. The principles of Feng Shui can be applied in different areas in the environment- home, workplace, etc. 

According to a Feng Shui master, Karen Frazier, “when you look at the different types of Chinese Feng Shui, you find they are not always consistent with one another.” This is because, like technology and civilization, Feng Shui has developed and assembled into clusters or usually called “schools.” 

To understand the history of Feng Shui, we have to travel a long way back in time to discover the rich practice and studies in this area.

How it all started 

The essence of this concept began as a means of survival. Back in the day, villagers have to study their natural lands to decide the optimal location for their land and crops, livestock, and homes. Villagers must make a careful, considered decision as a family’s livelihood depends heavily on their harvest and livestock. A good location or Feng Shui will lead to abundance in yield, which will, in turn, bring about a prosperous life. At the same time, natural disasters would destroy serenity leaving families hungry with destroyed crops and livestock.

Feng Shui services by a master were a royal luxury back then. It was a costly service that only the rich and powerful could afford. As time went by, Feng Shui became more and more accessible to ordinary people. Feng shui is also widely used in ancient Chinese culture to determine gravesites. This is evident from the discovery of “The book of Burial” Zang Shu (), written by Guo Pu, dating around 400-500 AD. The book highlights placements for burial sites using the concept of Qi that is imbued in our surroundings.

Qi rides the winds and scatters, but is retained when encountering water, and the whole earth receives the Qi.” – Guo Pu

This phrase is found in the book that is translated to English by Stephen L. Field. From this, we can see that the concept of Qi and Feng Shui has been long practiced, with the focus on searching for burial sites with good Qi. As Guo Pu states, 

 “Qi in the living will be carried in the bones when they die. It will encounter and interact with the Qi in the earth when buried”

This explains why a good Feng Shui burial site is highly regarded. The Qi bestowed upon the ancestors are believed to bless or bring misfortune to the living. The classic Book of Rites, Li Ji (礼记), compiled approximately during 200-300 AD, is also said to have inspired the precepts of Feng Shui.

Principles and Practice 

Evidence of Feng Shui being practiced can be observed through grave structures and the construction of capital cities such as the Forbidden City in Beijing or the Temple of Heaven Park. They seemingly follow a similar equation and pattern. For example, the city of Xi-An was chosen as a capital city for several dynasties. This was due to its auspicious location, recognized by masters as nine mountains and eight rivers surrounding it.

Asterisms (a pattern of stars) were also believed to be used in the past to determine the time for building capital cities. Books published in the ancient era also referenced Feng Shui beliefs and practices, suggesting that it was an integral part of life in the old days.

Feng Shui Masters

In 618-907 AD, one of the most significant Feng Shui knowledge contributions came during the Tang Dynasty. Master Yan Yun Sang is considered one of the crucial figures in this history. He compiled a manual with the principles for landform that became the integral text for one of the oldest schools of Feng shui –Form school. Because of his generosity in spreading his knowledge and studies on Feng Shui, this art form has become accessible to ordinary people. Before that, it was only a piece of knowledge for the upper class and rulers of the country back then. This study looks at the landforms such as mountains and the direction of water flow. It also considers mythological animals such as the dragon, white tiger, and phoenix as part of the reading.

Stemming from this, other people started to investigate and develop their research on Feng Shui, adapting it to their environment. For instance, those that lived in the flat plains without mountains created their guide based on their analysis that birthed another school of Feng Shui – Compass School. The practice started with a simple needle compass that slowly evolved and became the tool we are familiar with now – Luo Pan, The Feng Shui compass.

Other studies also evolved throughout the years. Master Sam Chuk Yin (1848 AD – 1906 AD) created the Eight Mansions School, which was actually derived from a false Feng Shui book. The ruler during that time deliberately spread this gimmick to prevent invaders from obtaining genuine Feng Shui knowledge that could, in turn, threaten the country. Unfortunately, this has also spread to the ordinary people in the country, believing that the book is legitimate teaching of Feng Shui. Master Sam Chuk Yin, however, later realized the inefficacy of this information from the experiences around him. He then devoted his studies to The Flying Star Feng Shui, which was able to answer his queries. 

Crisis in the 20th century

This art, however, nearly came to a crisis in 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded. During this time, Feng Shui and other superstitious beliefs such as fortune-telling were banned and deemed illegal. The nature of these practices was against the country’s ideals back then. Following this, the cultural revolution that took place from 1966 to 1976 brought further chaos to the people practicing these trades as they were tormented as part of the movement to remove the “Four Olds” which are customs, ideas, culture, and habits. 

However, this art stayed alive in Hong Kong and Taiwan (Republic of China) and other Chinese cultural communities in Malaysia and Singapore.

Throughout the eras, Feng Shui can be seen to embody astrology, cosmography and metaphysics. To a certain extent, it also adapts influences from various religions including Taoism and Buddhism. All these elements blended seamlessly as they transformed throughout the years, and refined into the Feng Shui we know in the modern world. The rich history and success of Feng Shui could be attributed to the studies of our masters. Their relentless investigations have developed this unique art form that we are able to practice in this day and age.  

School of Feng Shui

Feng Shui has been around for many years. The rich history of Feng Shui has birthed the many schools and principles of practice that we have now. The different schools available may bring about confusion when adapting Feng Shui in your life. In this article, we will talk about the various Feng Shui Schools out there. 

The schools can be categorized into three main types as follows.

Classic School of Feng Shui

This is the traditional form of practice that comprises the oldest forms of Feng Shui. 

Form School (San He)

This study of Feng Shui is first developed back in ancient China. It focuses on the location’s geography, studying landforms, mountains, and rivers. It also looks at the site of the heavenly animals, namely the White Tiger, Black Tortoise, Green Dragon, and Red Phoenix. These animals represent certain features or positions that determine the energy that it brings in. 

In a modern context, form school uses the ancient principles and applies them in a contemporary setting. It looks at the environment’s contours and symbolism for the heavenly animals. The idea is to create support from all directions, which can be represented by trees, fences, and water features.

Compass School (San Yuan)

This school is discovered after form school and is much more complex than the former. It has different subsets and techniques. It considers abstract elements, such as space, time, and numbers. The Flying Star Feng Shui and Eight mansions are some of the popular methods used in this school. It is based on calculations, which utilizes the Luo Pan, a Feng Shui compass with formulas to determine the exact location or object. 

In comparison, Form School takes on a more long-term approach focusing on external forms while Compass school uses a more balanced approach with short-term outcomes. 

Black Sect School of Feng Shui

This school uses a spiritual approach and combines different philosophies, including Tibetian Buddhism and Taoism. A practitioner uses a Ba Gua in practice that symbolizes the various aspects of a person’s life, such as career, wealth, and wisdom. Unlike in the previous schools, compasses are not used for readings. Instead, the Ba Gua is used as a floor plan at every room entrance to interpret the spot for certain elements. Some practitioners may also use objects or Feng Shui enhancers in the home to encourage positivity and focus.  

Modern School of Feng Shui

Western School of Feng Shui

This school is relatively new. It derived many of its principles from the previously more established schools of Feng Shui. It uses a Western Bagua, a modified version with “Health and Wellbeing” as the ninth additional center. It also uses color as one of the elements in the environment. The Western Bagua similarly acts as a map lined at the front door and identifies areas in the room where certain elements flourishes, such as the family or health corner. 

Pyramid School of Feng Shui

This is a modern form of Feng Shui that uses the individual as the center, considering the “essence” of a person. This includes a person’s psychology, values, and beliefs. It applies various scientific technology and discoveries such as biology, anthropology, and physics to identify different factors that affect one’s experiences with the environment. It takes on a flexible and holistic approach, not limiting itself to formal studies of Feng Shui.