Chinese Customs and Wisdoms 1.5

1.5 Want To Be Happy? Consult Wind and Water

People all over the world love their homes and desire a happy family life. Chinese people are no different, but have the enviable capacity to place and arrange their homes in a manner that guarantees auspiciousness for the whole family. This is know-how is based on the art or science of fengshui, literally wind and water.


Fengshui became a generally known term in the West about 20 years ago. Today it is a source of fascination to thousands, as may be seen from the shelves full of books on it in the “new age” section of any bookshop, and heavy patronage of courses on this ancient discipline. There is now overwhelming and widespread belief in the efficacy of fengshui. World famous developer Donald Trump consulted a Chinese fengshui master on one of his projects – the Western Gulf Building in New-York’s south Central Park. On following the advice and guidelines proffered, he immediately sold this former white elephant, and at a handsome profit too. This is just one example of what many people now acknowledge – that there are phenomena in life and nature that cannot be analyzed or explained by Western science. Within the realm of ancient Chinese wisdom, all that is needed to benefit from fengshui is an open mind.    


Fengshui combines astronomy, topography and environmental science with architecture, botany, ethics and divination. It has been an integral part of Chinese culture for almost 4,000 years. There is still debate as to whether it is a science or an art, and whether it requires specialized knowledge or just intuitiveness. In my view, it constitutes a set of guidelines on living. Sometimes they are just common sense, like wearing a safety helmet on a construction site. But the deeper one looks into fengshui, the more apparent its complexity.

The word fengshui consists of two parts. “Fen” means wind, as well as breath of life or style. “Shui” is water; it is one of the main elements of the Universe, the essential principle of life. River in the Taoist philosophy is embodiment of Tao stream which is the innermost essence of the objective reality. Chinese poet compared fengshui to water ripples in which the sage is able to see and read signs not evident to uninitiated. Fengshui master feeling presence of qi energy, invisible forces of nature in living and still objects, in rocks, water reservoirs and plants.



Fengshui originated in the Zhou Dynasty (1027–777 BC). Its purpose was to find auspicious sites for graves before being used to find appropriate dwelling sites for the living. This is how fengshui came to figure so largely in the building of houses and settlements.

As a code of principles and rules fengshui was formed in the 12th-13th centuries during the Song Dynasty when Wang Zi and other scientists formulated the conception. At the same time Fujian (school of compass) and Jiangxi (school of form) schools appeared. The main tool for the Fujian school was a special geomantic compass.


The Jiangxi school interpreted living forces of the earth analyzing landscape with special emphasize put on mountains and water sources as they have been considered to be the dragon’s blood arteries. This school is still very influential in the southern China.

The main fengshui principle is Taoist belief in a single whole: heaven, earth and mankind are in interrelation. The key to harmonious and happy life is coexistence of a man and nature in an ideal environment.

When applied to architecture, Chinese geomancy can appear somewhat reactionary. In the past, farmers cited fengshui when protesting construction projects in their territory. Chinese were suspicious of European-built railways and regarded the shadows of Christian churches as detrimental to the environment. Belief in the discipline was so strong that the direction of railroads was accordingly changed and the height of church spires adjusted so as to stay in harmony with the local fengshui.


Masters of fengshui were, and still are, consulted when choosing the appropriate date for wedding or funeral, and commissioned to write prayers that act as amulets.

Air, light, the angle at which the sun rises, level of noise together with five  Taoist elements (metal, wood, earth, fire and water), and the Chinese zodiac all relate to fengshui. When surveying the proposed site of any construction project, masters of geomancy take into account the local animal and plant life, subterranean caves and fault lines and the prevailing colors of the locality.

Each person’s relationship with the elements is dictated by the year of their birth. Masters of fengshui will tell anyone born in a year of fire that too much of the water element – the color black, fountains or other artificial water sources in the home – are inauspicious as water destroys fire. Positive features are the color green, plants and in particular a wooden dwelling as wood gives birth to fire. A fire element person should sleep in the southern part of their home. 

Those born in an earth year should not have too many plants, but other fire elements bring luck because according to Chinese cosmology, fire gives birth to earth. It is best for people born under this element to sleep at the center of their house. As members of a family are likely to be born under different signs, the ruling element is that of the householder.  

Compass points are also very important in fengshui. The North is associated with career; the Northeast with education, spirituality and intelligence; the East with masters of the family and the past; the Southeast with wealth and the South with fame. The Southwest is considered of great importance in social relationships and marriage, and the West for creativity, children and the future. The Northwest is of help when traveling. None, however, is associated with health. This may seem strange to Westerners, but within Chinese logic, good health depends on all aspects of a life, in particular harmonious relations with people and the environment.

The fengshui of a place is not immutable. In China it is generally believed that fengshui changes every 10 years. New elements in a landscape, like electric pylons, felled or planted trees, dried up creeks – all cause fengshui to change.  

One person’s good fengshui can be another’s ruin, as people react differently to the earth’s energy. When searching for solutions to personal problems Westerners visit a psychoanalyst, whereas people in China prefer to consult a fengshui master. According to one famous exponent: “The right fengshui is like a good friend who helps make reaching a goal easier”. Bad fengshui, on the other hand, is like a misguided advisor who creates obstacles to progress. Like many people, I believe each person has his or her own fate that eventually becomes obvious. Strokes of luck may seem to make life easier, but masters of fengshui are adamant that “Hard earned achievements bring more happiness than do easy gains”. Who am I to disagree?  


Book “Chinese Customs and Wisdoms” (translated into English by the author) was published in Beijing in 2007 by the Foreign Language Press

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