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A Brief History Of Feng Shui
Feng Shui (pronounced as “fung schway”) literally translated means “wind and water.” It is an ancient Chinese art and science of placement and arranging objects and space within the environment so as to achieve harmony and balance. The object is promote and nurture the flow of good Chi (pronounced “chee”,) which is a Chinese word similar to “energy” in English.
Feng Shui is not simply a decorating style. In fact, it is a discipline with rules and guidelines that can be adapted to fit with many different decorating styles. Truly it is a belief system which combines many different religious, geographical, astrological, mathematical, and philosophical ideas, as well as aesthetic values.
The origins of the term Feng Shui have been said to come from the Jin Dynasty (265-420.) In the Burial Book written by Guo Pu, Chi rides the wind and stops at the boundary created by the water. Ancient Chinese believed in manipulating the Chi so that it was directed with purpose and not wasted. Since this art and science was based on the wind and water, the term Feng Shui was born.
Today, it is a widely held belief that all Feng Shui books were burned during the Qin dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC.) One of the most authoritative works on the subject was written by Huang Shi Gong and given to Zhang Liang during the latter part of the Qin dynasty. Later, in the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907,) Yang Yun Song and his disciples wrote several books on the subject. Those particular works are the most authoritative work used by all Feng Shui schools. Unfortunately, the books were very cryptic and used knowledge largely passed down through the oral tradition.
Feng Shui is also believed to be intuitive and derivable from our own common sense and our sense of what is natural in our environment. Eitel, a German Missionary in China in the latter half of the 19th century, wrote in his work, Feng-Shui, Or, The Rudiments Of Natural Science In China(1873), that the origin of Feng Shui is a belief system that is unique to the writings of Chu His and other writers from the Song dynasty (1126-1278.) Chu His is more well known for influencing Confucianism, and while his writings and commentaries may have become the foundation for Feng Shui, Feng Shui’s roots truly go back as far as original Chinese Philosophy.
By the mid 19th century, Feng Shui had become such a part of life that the Chinese government published all the materials necessary for use in the practice of Feng Shui. In fact, as English speaking settlers came to China in the mid 19th century, they had a difficult time adapting to the way of Feng Shui. Much like modern day contractors have to conform to building codes and other community rules and regulations, the English settlers had difficulties in construction and renovation because their design ideas did not conform to the Feng Shui principles, and were therefore rejected.
Further early introduction of Feng Shui to westerners did not go well either. When foreigners wanted to purchase land, and those foreigners were not welcome, they would be directed to land that did not lend itself to good Feng Shui. Early western writings on the subject of Feng Shui were equally as unkind. In 1885, one author wrote that “if any one wishes to see what a howling wilderness of erratic dogmatism the human mind can arrive, when speculation usurps the place of science, and theories are reverenced equally with facts, let him endeavour to fathom even the elementary principles of that abyss of insane vagaries, the science of Feng-Shui.”
Over the last few decades, many English books have been published on the topic of Feng Shui. They usually focus on interior design, decorating, architecture, or landscape design. Reception from English audiences has often been skeptical, particularly towards the use of crystals, wind chimes, fountains, and mirrored balls. Claims that Feng Shui can improve one’s life, finances, and relationships are dismissed by some as mythology and new age mysticism. Still, others in the west have adapted Feng Shui to their own lives and report overwhelming positive benefits.
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