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The San He Luopan

The San He Luopan
For The London International Feng Shui Conference 21-23 May 1999
Howard Choy, B. Arch. Feng Shui Architects Pty. Ltd. Sydney Australia

1.  Foreword

For the last three years, we have taken a group of Feng Shui practitioners from all over the world to study Feng Shui in mainland China. Apart from visiting sites with Feng Shui significance, we have concentrated our effort on studying the San He Luopan. This year we will again be going back to China to complete our study of the 13 rings of San He Luopan made especially for us by the Lao Wu Lu-Heng Luopan Workshop in Anhui Province.

The reason for our preference to take people into Mainland China instead of Taiwan, Hong Kong or other South East Asian countries is to use our influence to encourage and to support the mainland Chinese to continue with their Feng Shui research.

In the past, especially during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Feng Shui practice was forbidden under the Communist regime. Nowadays, Feng Shui is neither banned nor encouraged by the Chinese Government. It makes research difficult due to lack of support.

Another reason why we go into mainland China is that there tends to be more academics doing Feng Shui research there than in any other part of the world. Also, one needs to see China first-hand to appreciate Feng Shui properly.

From our own observations, there are two types of Feng Shui practitioners:

A. The serious-minded professionals and academics that treat Feng Shui as a subject worthy of study. Their aim is to seek the truth and to use Feng Shui to serve the community.

B. “The Jianghu Ren” or the “rivers and lakes” people whose sole aim is to make money out of Feng Shui. They often make extravagant claims about their lineage and their abilities.

Of course, there are people who are a bit of both. Because it is difficult to practise Feng Shui in mainland China, only the former tend to survive, so there is a safeguard there for us foreigners who wish to learn something of the Mysterious Culture of China.

With our encouragement, two of our teachers have written books on the Luopan:

1. Chinese Feng Shui Compass – A Step By Step Guide (in English) by Professor Cheng Jian-jun and Adriana Fernandes-Goncalves. Published by Jiangxi Science and Technology Publishing House, China 1999.

2. Luopan Tongsu Jiedu or Luopan Easily Explained (in Chinese) by Professor Wang Yu-de, to be published in Taiwan.

We are working on the English translation to be published next year

Professor Cheng is an architect based at The South China University of Technology in Guangzhou. Professor Wang is an historian based in Huazhong Normal University in Wuhan. Adriana is an interior designer from Perth, Australia.  She came with us twice to China and helped Professor Cheng put their book together.

The information I am passing on today is part of the knowledge we gathered in China during the past three years.

My talk today is on the theory of Feng Shui. On the coming Sunday, I will speak about the practice of Feng Shui by showing you three case studies of pro-active Feng Shui we have done in our Sydney office.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Stephen Skinner, the organiser of the conference, for inviting me here to share with you our experience and our “xin-de” (what the heart perceived).

2.  The origin of the Luopan

Before the invention of the magnetic compass, the Chinese used the sun dial to establish the direction and the time during the day and used the North Star at night to find out where north was located. From that they were able to establish the four cardinal directions and the four diagonals to form the Eight Trigram directions.

Although the magnetic needle was known to the Chinese for over 3000 years, it was not until the Warring States Period (475 –221 BC) that a kind of Luopan for divination called “Si Nan“ was invented.

The “Si Nan Luopan” has two components – a magnetised spoon and a square divination plate not unlike the design of the modern day Luopan. (Ref. Fig.1)

Fig. 1 Si Nan Compass

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD) another kind of divination plate called the “ Shi Pan “ made its appearance. It had a square base plate symbolic of earth (the Di Pan) and a round plate symbolic of heaven (the Tian Pan). The Heaven Plate pivots on a pin to enable it to rotate around the Earth Plate. The Heaven Plate is not magnetised. The two plates were used together to judge time and direction based on the constellation pattern in the centre. The pattern on the “Shi Pan” is the forerunner of the Flying Stars (Fei-xing) configuration. (Ref. Fig. 2)

Fig. 2 Han Dynasty Shi Pan

An increase in the maritime activities during the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD) led to further development of the magnetic compass. A Song Dynasty scientist called Shen Kuo wrote a book called “Ming Xi Bi Tan” (Recorded conversation of Ming Xi, or The Dreaming Spring). In it he wrote about 4 different types of magnetic needles:

- The Fingernail Needle
- The Wet Needle
- The Dry Needle
- The Hanging Needle
(Ref. Fig. 3)

Fig. 3 Four kinds of magnetic needles used in the Song Dynasty

A dramatic change in the design of the Luopan took place during the South Song Dynasty  (1127-1279AD). The Correct Needle was combined with the Seam Needle to create the forerunner of the San He Luopan.

During the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties the Luopan rings became more detailed and complex. Many Luopan classics like the “Qin Ding Luo Jing Jie Ding” (an Explanation of the Luo Jing Classified by the Imperial Order) were written during that period and passed onto us today. They outlined how to use the traditional Luopan ring by ring.

3.  Types of Luopans used today:

Since the Ming and Qing period, 3 distinct types of Luopan have emerged:
San He Pan
San Yuan Pan
Combination or Zong He Pan

The San He Luopan (San He Pan):
The San He Luopan is distinguished by having 3 Twenty-four Mountains rings. This type of Luopan was first used in the Tang Dynasty. It is said that Yang Jun-song, a famous Feng Shui master of the time, first set up the Seam Needle of the Heaven Plate and the 72 Dragons ring. Because he is attributed to be the founder of this school, the San He Luopan is also known as the Yang Kung Pan (Master Yong’s) Luopan. (Ref. Fig. 4 and 4a)

Fig. 4 Front and back view of a 15 ring San He Luopan made by Lao Wu Lu Heng Luopan Workshop.


Fig. 4a Lao Wu Lu Heng Workshop San He Luopan 18 Ring names.

The name “San He” (“Triple Harmonies”) refers to the harmonious coming together of the “San Cai” or the “Three Gifts” of Heaven, Earth and Human, symbolised by the Heaven Plate, the Earth Plate and the Human Plate of the Twenty-four Mountains rings in a San He Luopan.

The San Yuan Luopan (San Yuan Pan):
The San Yuan Luopan only has one Twenty-four Mountains ring (the Correct Needle of the Earth Plate). Its distinguishing feature is the 64 Trigram configurations based on the Yijing. The San Yuan Luopan can be used with the Yuan Yun time cycle to make a judgement of one’s fate. It is said that the famous Feng Shui master Jiang Da-hong first set up the 64 Trigram rings, hence it is also known as the Jiang Pan (Master Jiang's Luopan).  Another name for the San Yuan Pan is the Yi Pan because of its close association with Yijing. (Ref. Fig. 5)

Fig. 5 San Yuan Luopan, also known as the Jiang Pan.

The Combination Luopan (Zong He Pan):
As the name implies, it combines features of the San He Pan with the San Yuan Pan. It has the 3 Twenty-four Mountains rings as well as the 64 Trigrams rings. (Ref. Fig 6)

Fig. 6 21 ring combination luopan (Tongsheng Tang imitation, Hong Kong)

4.  Knowledge required studying the Luopan:

According to Professor Wang Yu-de, a person wishing to make a serious study of the traditional Luopan requires a study of the following subjects, which he has classified into eight categories composed of 36 items.

1. Knowledge related to the science of Feng Shui
1.1 The definitions of Feng Shui; its characteristics; the responsibility you have undertaken; its significance, and the correct approach.
1.2 Feng Shui and human society and life style.
1.3 Moral characteristics required to practice Feng Shui.
1.4 The working of ‘Xing-shi-pai’ (“Form” school) and ‘Li-qi-pai’ (“Compass” school).
1.5 Feng Shui literature and Feng Shui classics
1.6 Modern Feng Shui researches.

2. Knowledge related to the basic theories of Feng Shui
2.1 Yin/yang theory and the Yijing (I Ching)
2.2 Wuxing (the Five Agents or the Five Elements)
2.3 The Hetu and Luoshu diagrams
2.4 Qi energetics (Qigong and Qi teachings)

3. Knowledge related to Feng Shui Geography
3.1 The Long Mai  or Dragon Veins (topographical analogies)
3.2 The "Sha" or the “Sand” referring to smaller hills surrounding the site.
3.3 The Ming Tang or “Bright Hall” (interior and exterior)
3.4 Shui Kou or Water Mouth, referring to the direction and quality of the water courses
3.5 The Xue or the Lair (e.g. the Heart, the Golden Well and the art of pinpointing the Feng Shui Spot.)

4. Knowledge related to Feng Shui Astrology
4.1 The Big Dipper
4.2 The 28 Lunar Mansions
4.3 The 24 Stars
4.4 The 12 Animal Signs (or Houses) and the Tai Sui (Jupiter)

5. Knowledge related to the Feng Shui Calendar.
5.1 The 10 Heavenly Stems and the 12 Earthly Branches plus the 60 Jia Zi
5.2 The 24 Solar Terms and the 72 Pentads  (five days equals one Hou or one Pentad).
5.3 The Five Cycle (Wu Yun) and the Six Qi (Liu Qi).

6. Knowledge related to Feng Shui application
6.1 Najia
6.2 The Nine Stars and Fei-xing (Flying Stars)
6.3 San Yuan and Bazhai (the Triple Primaries and the Eight Houses)
6.4 How to select an auspicious direction
6.5 How to select an auspicious time.

7 Knowledge related to Feng Shui layouts:
7.1 Feng Shui arrangement for town planning
7.2 Feng Shui arrangement for districts and villages
7.3 Feng Shui arrangement for gardens and landscaping
7.4 Feng Shui arrangement for buildings
7.5 Feng Shui arrangement for the interior
7.6 Feng Shui arrangement for commerce

8. Knowledge related to popular (folk) Feng Shui
8.1 Taboos, portents, old local customs
8.2 Fortune-telling skills, including face reading, palmistry, the four pillars and eight characters.
8.3 Intuition and foresight (the intuitive approach).

5. The 13 rings of the San He Luopan

The 13 rings San He Luopan we used in our study is an abridged version of the 15-rings San He Luopan first made by Master Wu Lu-Heng (Ref. Fig. 7).

Fig. 7 13 Ring San He Luopan

Because of time constraints I can only go through in detail the first ring after the Heavenly Pool, namely the Eight Evil Spirits of the Underworld and the 3 Twenty-four Mountain rings which are unique to the layout of the San He Luopan.

The Eight Evil Spirits of the Underworld, or “Ba Sha Huang Quan”:

Professor Li Shi-cheng, a theoretical physicist from Dong-Nan (South –Eastern) University at Wuhan, has made an extensive study of this ring. He gave us a thoroughly enlightening lecture last year. I have attached at the end of my notes

The application as illustrated by Professor Li on the “Ba Sha Huang Quan” ring for your reference. 

According to Professor Li, the purpose of Feng Shui is to locate the best environment for the construction of a residence or a gravesite. We seek the “Dragon” (the “Long”), the “Sand” (the “Sha”), the “Lair” (the “Xue”), the “Water” (the “Shui”) and the orientation (the “Xiang”) in the environment we wish to build.

The Ba Sha Huang Quan ring deals with the direction of the watercourse coming towards the site. It calculates the various inauspicious directions of water- course to be avoided.

This ring is divided into eight sectors, the same as for the Bagua, with the character Wu in the Qian position on the Later Heaven Bagua configuration. Chen (+ Xu) in the Kan position, Yin in the Gen position, Shen in the Zhen position, You in the Xun position, Hai in the Li position, Mao in the Kun position and Si in the Dui position. (Refer Fig. 8)

Fig.8 The Eight Evil Spirits of the Underworld

Let’s take a look at the first character mentioned above as an example. Wu in the Qian position means that if your site is a Qian Dragon (that is, if the building or the gravesite is sitting on the Qian direction), then it is inauspicious to have the water coming from the Wu direction.

Then it goes on to read the rest of the 8 “Houses”. To use this ring you need to look up the Later Heaven Bagua diagram and relate it to the characters in the ring.

Prof. Li’s summary of the ring :
Qian Dragon should avoid water coming from Wu direction.
Kan Dragon should avoid water coming from Chen and Xu directions.
Gen Dragon should avoid water coming from Yin direction.
Zhen Dragon should avoid water coming from Shen direction.
Xun Dragon should avoid water coming from You direction.
Li Dragon should avoid water coming from Hai direction.
Kun Dragon should avoid water coming from Mao direction.
Dui Dragon should avoid water coming from Si direction.
The Twenty-four Mountains

Apart from discovering the magnetic compass, the Chinese were aware of the magnetic deviations and used it accordingly in their Feng Shui compass.

In “Feng Shui and Architecture” written by Prof. Cheng Jian-jun, he wrote:

“The Luopan uses the Pre-heaven Bagua as its Ji-zhao datum, it combines the eight Heavenly Stems and the twelve Earthly Branches to form the Twenty-four Directions. The early Kanyu Luopan was comparatively simple, later as the study of Kanyu became more popular and more complex and used the Yin-yang and the Five Elements for fortune telling, more and more rings were added on. However, no matter how many rings it has, all San He Luopans have the three basic plates – the ”Human Plate”, “Earth Plate” and “Heaven Plate” of 24 directions to form the so-called “Central Needle”, “Correct Needle”, and “Seam Needle”, respectively”.

1. The first basic ring uses the earth’s magnetic north as its point of reference to calibrate the 24 directions. It is called the “Earth Plate”. The needle points towards the magnetic north and is called the “Correct Needle”. It is used to measure the building’s orientation, and the surrounding form and topography (or “Xing-shi”). (Ref. Fig. 9)

Fig. 9 Earth plate correct needle 24 Mountains pure Yang and pure Yin.

2. The second basic ring also has 24 directions called the “Human Plate”. Its calibration reflects the magnetic deviation from true north, which is calculated to be 7.5o west of magnetic north. It is known as the “Central Needle”. This ring is used to locate the direction and judge the quality of the small hills (called “Sand” or “Sha”) in front of the Feng Shui Spot (Xue) using the Five Elements (Ref. Fig. 10).

Fig. 10 Human plate central needle 24 mountains and 
5 elements sequence.

3. The third basic ring (also made up of 24 directions) is called the “Heaven Plate”. Its calibration reflects the magnetic deviation from true north, which is calculated to be 7.5o east of magnetic north. It is known as the “Seam Needle”. This ring is used to locate the direction of a water-course - where it is travelling from or flowing to. Feng Shui Masters believed that water is auspicious if it comes from the vigorous direction. Water is also auspicious if it flows towards an unfavourable direction. Water is, however, inauspicious if it flows towards a vigorous direction.

It is said during the time of the Tang dynasty Kanyu expert Qiu Yen-han (713-741 AD), created the 24 directions of the Luopan used the magnetic north/south axis as its frame of reference. It was called the “Correct Needle”. By the time of Yang Yun-song (late Tang Dynasty), in order to take into consideration of the deviation of the magnetic north to the true north, an extra ring was added on to take into account the deviation. The magnetic deviation is assumed to be 7.5o east of true north. It was called the “Human Plate” using the “Central Needle”. During the 12th Century at the time of Kanyu master, Lai Wen-jun, the magnetic deviation shifted to 7.5o west of true north, so the third ring was added and was called the “Heaven Plate” using the Seam Needle.  As we can see, the Chinese were aware of the magnetic deviations and have taken them into account in a traditional compass.

Other experts, such as Pro. Wang Yu-de, maintained that the basic 3 rings of the Twenty-four Mountains are there to reflect the fact that directions can be measured in 3 ways. Namely, by using the movement of the sun during the day, by observing the position of the North Star at night and by the magnetic compass (Ref. Fig. 11).

Fig. 11 The basic Twenty-Four Mountains of a San He Luopan, 
located within the framework of a "Zheng-zhen-di-pan". 
Correct needle of the Earth Plate.

7. How To Use The Luopan
Translated from Professor Wang Yu-de’s latest book, “Luopan Tongsu Jiedu”

In the “Correct Interpretation of the Luojing”, it is said when using the (wet) needle, one must be earnest and sincere. Hold the Luopan on the palm of one hand and pick up the needle with the other. Click your teeth three times and silently say the following words/ prayer:

“Heaven has three Wonders. Earth has six Appearances. Demons, evils, noxious beings and impurities. Sand, earth, rubble and tombs. Within a circumference of a mile. Be exposed by the Compass.”

After saying your prayer, put the needle into the water at least three or seven times to be correct. Before using the needle, cleanse yourself with a bath. When using the needle, you must remain silent and concentrated.

When surveying the site, a Feng Shui expert would put the Luopan at the “Xue-wei” spot. The “Xue-wei” spot is usually located either at the centre of the house, the centre of a room or the centre of a door. The Luopan must be levelled and free from any magnetic disturbance. The red strings fixed in a cross-configuration are used to determine the four cardinal directions. The needle will always point to the north and south. The line 90 degrees perpendicular to the north and south is the east and west. Half way between these four cardinal directions (45 degrees) are the 4 corner directions together they make up the eight directions of the Bagua positions. Using the “Xue-wei” as the datum spot, you can measure:

1. The direction of the Long Mai (the Dragon Vein), to see the topography of the land
2. The direction of the Shui Kou (the Water Mouth) to see where the water course lies
3. Location of the large rocks, trees, and buildings external to the site.
4. The position of the front door, the bed, tables, your favourite spot and the altar, etc.

To do a Feng Shui reading, you need to obtain the “Xue-wei” spot first. The Xue-wei is the Tian-xin or the “Heavenly Heart”; that is, the centre. From the centre, we lay out the line of a cross pointing at the four cardinal directions. Since the cross shape is the same as the character for ten in Chinese, the setting out of the reference line is called “Shi-dao” or the “way of ten”. The centre and the cross must be accurately measured and obtained, otherwise your reading will be out of alignment (Ref. Fig 12).

Fig. 12 Different ways of operating the Luopan.

The direction from where the water is coming towards the front of the “Xue” is called “Tian Men” (Heavenly Door) or ”Tian Quan” (Heavenly Pass).

The direction from where the water flows away from the front of the “Xue” is called "Xia-quan" or Lower Pass. Water flowing away should be meandering and overlapping.

Within the Azure Dragon and the White Tiger, the water in front of the “Xue” is called “Yuan-chen-shui” or “Source Water”. It should be locked in to assemble the Qi.

With all the Luopan rings, the most important is the Twenty-four Mountains and the Bagua. It looks very complicated, but the wise Feng Shui expert only needs to memorise and use the Twenty-four Mountains. When the correct orientation is obtained, one can deduce the Yin and Yang Dragons, clarify the directions of “Sheng” (birth), “Wang” (prosperity) and “Mu” (tomb or death) to explain the enhancing and controlling cycle of the Wuxing (Five Elements). From what I know, Feng Shui experts from the villages often use the “Ming-li Bagua” to access Feng Shui. It is also known as “Open Door Bagua” (Kai-men Bagua).

This type of Liqi School of Feng Shui relies on the Bagua theories. It uses the “Nei-gua” or the Internal gua to assess the house and used the “Wai-gua” or the External gua to assess the people. By looking at the relationship between the “Nei” and “Wai-gua” and between the six Yao lines of a Yijing diagram, a Feng Shui expert can come to a conclusion whether the house and the people living it are in a harmonious relationship or not.

8.  Is Luopan study relevant to modern Feng Shui practitioners?

Although a Luopan is small in size, it has a large amount of information codified onto its tiny surface. The information involves geography, architecture, history, ethnology, biology, aesthetics, environmental studies, time and motion studies, psychology, philosophy, astrology, sociology and much more.

In order to study the Luopan well, we need to have a broad grasp of the subjects these subjects which Professor Wang has classified into 8 categories as seen earlier. The Luopan gives us a key to unlock the secret of Feng Shui in more ways than just understanding the calculations written in short hands on the rings.

Take the Ba Sha Huang Quan ring for example again. If you can read Professor Li’s research paper in Chinese, you will see that in order to understand how the ring works, you will need to know:

1. The history of Feng Shui – who, when and where the ring came from.
2. The concepts of “Long”, “Sha”, “Xue”, “Shui” and “Xiang” and how they affect our environment through “Sha” (Evil Spirits) and “Yao” (Illumination).
3. The Former and Later Heaven Bagua.
4. The enhancing cycle, the weakening cycle and the controlling cycle of the five types of qi dominating at different times (Wuxing)
5. The Wuxing theory as related to the Bagua, the Twelve Animals and the “Six Relations”.

Studying the Luopan will force you to go into the art of Feng Shui deeply. You may not need to use the Luopan in your Feng Shui consultations, often an ordinary compass would do the job well enough, although it may impress your clients greatly, if you are holding a Luopan when doing your reading!

However, if you want to improve your Feng Shui skill, somewhere along your journey, you have to make a serious study of the Luopan to gain the depth of understanding required for a successful practitioner of Feng Shui, irrespective whether you have a “new age” or a “traditional” approach.

To me, Luopan study can be liken to the “dotting of the eyes of a lion” - the learning process will allow you to obtain the Spirit and the Substance to make the art of Feng Shui come alive.


1. Workshop notes (unpublished) Feng Shui Study Tour of China organised by Feng Shui Architects Pty. Ltd. 1997 and 1998.

2. ”Chinese Feng Shui Compass – Step by Step Guide” By Professor Cheng Jian-jun and Adriana Fernandes-Goncalves Published by Jiangxi Science and Technology Publishing House, China

3. “Luopan Tongsu Jiedu” or “Luopan Easily Explained” (in Chinese) By Prof. Wang Yu-de. (Not yet published).

4. “Guanyu Longshang Basha” or “Concerning the Eight Evil Spirits of the Dragon”. Abstract of lecture delivered by Professor Li Shi-cheng at the 14th International Conference on Yijing study at Taibei, Taiwan. November 1998.