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The 15 Core Principles Of Feng Shui


Howard Choy (蔡洪Cai Hong)[1]


The increasing corruption of Feng Shui in modern times has been partly due to practitioners moving away or forgetting the basics of Feng Shui. By examining what are the core principles, we can work towards establishing a set of guidelines for the sound practice of Feng Shui to arrest the corruption and the danger of Feng Shui becoming a real superstition.

There are many references by modern scholars and experts on the subject, such as Prof. Wang Yude 王玉德 of Central China Normal University in Wuhan, who has written about the basic principles of Kanyu (Feng Shui), and a collection of excellent research papers edited by Prof. Wang Qiheng 王其亨of Tianjin University, in a book entitled “Research of Feng Shui Theory”, in which the Classics are cited and traditional buildings are researched for an answer to the correct practice of Feng Shui.

This paper will attempt to examine some of these citations for a preliminary investigation of what constituted the core principles of Feng Shui.



Core principles, appropriate response, yin and yang balance, the spirit of the site, topography, Feng Shui standards, Chinese aesthetics, dialectics and methodology.



The Chinese have been using Feng Shui for the past 6000 years[2], yet we are still debating whether it is a science or a superstition worth preserving. Prof. Yu Kong-Jian 俞孔坚 made the following comment in the conclusion his book, “In Search of an Origin for the Ideal Landscape – the Cultural Significance of Feng Shui”:

“Is it a science? Is it a superstition? Merciful Buddha! Why bother passing judgment on it? Feng Shui is a cultural phenomenon, its true meaning lies in what it reflects in its ideal landscape – a kind of blue print for a cultural and living model for us.”[3]

Prof Yu is right; instead of trying to put Feng Shui into a pigeonhole, it is far more productive to study it seriously and see what it can offer us, otherwise Feng Shui will always remain a puzzle to us and open to continual fraud and further corruption.

What better place to start than to examine its core principles. These principles came about because the Chinese have used Feng Shui to manage their environment over hundreds and thousands of years, and this allowed them to collect many valuable experiences and insights.

The following paper uses Prof. Wang Yu-De’s work as a starting point[4]. Prof. Wang first wrote about the 10 core principles of Feng Shui in his book, “Zhonghua Kanyu Shu” 中华堪舆术or “The Chinese Art of Kanyu”, published in Taiwan in 1995, to which I have added a further 5 principles based on my own research and experience, working as a Feng Shui architect and teacher[5].




Core Principle 1



An Integrated and Holistic System


In the Feng Shui paradigm[6], our environment is considered to be an integral system as a whole, with Man at the center, including all things “under Heaven and on Earth”. Each of the individual components does not stand-alone; they are mutually connected, mutually restrained, mutually dependent, mutually opposing and mutually transforming.


Because everything is inter-related, Feng Shui enable us to use such ideas as the theory of Yin and Yang 阴阳, Wuxing 五行 (Five Elements) and the concept of Qi 气 to observe and to describe the relationship between the parts and the whole. When there is synergy between these, the Chinese say it has Sheng Qi[7], and when the synergy is missing or out of balance, it has Sha Qi 煞气or Blocked Qi.


The inter-relationship between the macrocosm of the environment and the microcosm of the body is clearly stated in the “Huangdi Zhaijing’ 黄帝宅经 or “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Dwellings”:


“The terrain is the body, the spring is the blood, the soil is the skin, the grasses are the hairs, the house is the clothing, and the doors are the accessories. If they are properly related to each other in a dignified way, then it is considered most auspicious.”


Qing Dynasty Feng Shui Master Yao Ting-Yi 姚廷奕 in his book “Yang Zhai Ji Cheng” 阳宅集成or “The Complete Collections for Yang Dwellings” also emphasized the functional character of an integrated approach to Feng Shui, where all of the components of a house and its environment are related to each other in an appropriate way[8].


The idea of an integrated and holistic universe is expressed in the Chinese saying “Tian Ren He Yi” 天人合一 or “Man and Heaven combined into One”. The authors of the book, “Geomancy and the Selection of Architecture Placement in China” summarized the development of this philosophical concept from the Zhou to Song Dynasty and concluded that it has three relevant implications for us to consider: 1) Man is part of Nature; therefore we are responsible to each other. 2) Nature has its universal laws and Man should follow them. 3) Human nature and the Dao are the same, so we should be “Ziran”[9] in our behavior.


In Feng Shui terms, this means that we should work with Nature rather than against her, it also means that we not only need to consider the individual parts but also their relationship to each other and to the whole, so our actions are always integrated and holistic in principle and in practice. The Daoist called this “Wuwei” 无为[10], which is at the core of Feng Shui practices and it also brings us to the second principle:


Core Principle 2



Being Suitable and Appropriate to the Restriction and Limitation of the Site


Every site has its limitation and advantages. Some places are only suitable for residential use while others are more suitable for commerce or manufacturing, so there is a need to determine what a site is best suitable for, to allow the resultant development to be “Ziran” and not forced or out of balance with its neighbor.


In the “Book of Zhou Yi” 周易 (The Book of Change), under the commentary for the hexagram Da Zhuang 大壮, it is suggested that in a given situation it is always best to “Shi Xing Er Zhi” 适形而之or “aim for an appropriate form” (literally: “stop at a suitable shape”) and the “Shi Ji” 史 记or “A Record of History”, tells the story of how Jiang Taigong 姜太公, the Duke of Qin, used this principle to overcome the limitation of a site[11].


The landmass of China is extremely large and the topography as well as the weather pattern varies markedly from place to place, so there are many building forms to fit in with the local conditions. Prof. Cheng Jianjun 程建军 in his book, “Fengshui yu Jianzhu” 风水与建筑or “Feng Shui and Architecture” illustrated a variety of residential building types one can find all over China. 


When the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Taizu 朱太祖wanted to develop Wudangshan as a Royal and Daoist temple prescient, he forbade any excavation or removal of trees or soil from the site. Subsequently all the buildings were designed to fit in with the topography of the land to follow the slope of the ground, without any damage to the environment[12].


Within the same site, the location to “Dian Xue” 点穴, or to pin point the exact spot to build, should also be done according to the terrain and the usage. Prof. Wang Yude quoted the “Shuilong Jing” 水龙经 or “The Water Dragon Classic” to support this “Contextualist” approach to site selection:


“Site selection is not easy because the “wind” and the “earth” of the four directions are all different and the terrain of the land is not the same. One can locate the “Xue” half way up the mountain or deep into the valley, or on a flat ground or between rock formations, or even under water…”


Core Principles 3



Bound by Mountains and Near Water


This principle has evolved through two different considerations: one is physical, as mentioned in Prof. Wang Yule’s book, “The Chinese Art of Kanyu” and the other is cultural, as mentioned in Prof. Yu Kongjian’s book, “In Search of an Origin for the Ideal Landscape”.


Physically, mountains are the “skeletons” of the land, they not only provide us with protection from the weather and from our predators[13]; they also provide us with food and resources. Water is the source of life and means of transportation, without water we cannot survive, so from as early as the Neolithic times, Chinese have preferred to live in a place, which is “bound by mountains and near water”. Much of the archeological evidence of primitive settlements in China shows this tendency.


Culturally, the Chinese prefer a landscape strategy that is hidden in nature and is a part of it rather than being exposed and set oneself above nature. Prof Yu’s diagram below (Figure 2) clearly showed the Chinese preference of being bounded by mountains and not locating his house right on top of a hill.


Most of the ancient and modern cities in China are also “bound by mountains and near water”; the larger cities like Shanghai and Wuhan are either near the sea or near the junction of two or more rivers. In Feng Shui terms, it is said where the “Shui Kou” (“Water Mouth”) meets, it is also a place where it is “De Qi” or where the Sheng Qi is obtained, so naturally people will want to settle there.[14]


In the “Chengma” 乘马 chapter of “Guanzi” 管子 (reference) it is written:


“Whenever we locate a capital, it is either at the front of a mountain range or on a broad plain. It must be elevated and near a sufficient source of water supply. The drainage must be clean and respond to the natural conditions of the site and the terrain of the land. Therefore, the layout of the city need not be too regular, and the roads need not to be too straight.”[15]


Core Principle 4



Carry the Yin and Embrace the Yang


A Feng Shui house should be protected from the cold wind and facing the warm sun The phrase “Cang Feng Ju Qi” 藏凤聚气or “Hide from the Wind and Gather the Qi” is often used in conjunction with the phrase “Fu Yin Bao Yang” (Carry the Yin and Embrace the Yang) because both aim to find an ideal Feng Shui spot (Xue) where the Yin and Yang are balanced and where the Sheng Qi is assembled. This gives rise to the Siling” 四灵or the Four Mythical Animals” model (Figure 3), where the embrace of the four sides of the Azure Dragon to the left[16], the White Tiger to the right, the Red Bird in front and the Black Turtle at the back, gives the occupants a sense that the environment is embracing them and protecting them. The site is then considered to “You Qing” 有情, that is it has feeling and affection, and is most desirable.


Some writers[17] have also called this principle “Zuo Bei Chao Nan” 座北朝南or “Sitting on the North and Facing South”, because China is located in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is recommended that a house should sit on the shadier side to the north and facing the warmer side to the south, so that it can take advantage of China being generally higher to the NW and lower to the SE, to protect the house from the cold wind coming from the higher directions.[18]


He Guangting 何光廷, a Feng Shui master of the late Qing period, wrote in his book, “Dixue Zhizheng” 地学指正 or “The Correct Guide to the Study of Dixue (Feng Shui)”:


“Wind cannot be avoided in the flat plain, but it has Yin Yang difference. Those that face east and south will receive the warm and hot wind (and) we called it the Yang Wind; those that face west and north will receive the cool and cold wind (and) we called it the Yin Wind. If there is no protection nearby, then the wind will penetrate the bones, and bring the owners increasing defeat and fewer off-springs.”


Core Principle 5



Observe the Form and Examine the Configuration


Feng Shui is derived from the earlier art of “Xiangdi” 相地or “Observing the Land” and “Xiangzhai” 相宅or “Observing the Dwellings”[19], so observation and investigation of the landform to locate the correct site for a dwelling is one of the core principles of Feng Shui.


The procedure to “Xiangdi” was described in a “Luan Tou” 峦头 or “Moutain Tops” (another name for the Form School) method called “Dili Wujue” 地理五诀or “The Five Formulae for Dili (Feng Shui)”[20] These are namely: the “Long Fa” 龙法or the “Dragon Method”, the “Sha Fa” 砂法or the “Sands Method”, the “Xue Fa” 穴法or the “Acu-point Method”, the “Shui Fa” 水法or the “Water Method” and the “Xiang Fa” 向法or the “Facing Method”[21].


The procedure to “Xiangzhai” was described in “Xing Fa” or the “Form Method” of looking at the “Six External Matters” and the “Six Internal Matters” of a house.[22]


The “Six External matters” are road and laneway, pond and well, toilet and urinal, animal enclosure, temple and alter, and bridge and overpass. Nowadays, the toilet and urinal is no longer outside and we seldom see an animal enclosure, pond or well. Instead we are more concerned with our privacy and disturbance from our neighbors.


The ‘Six Internal Matters” are gate and door, Ming Tang or light well and courtyard, living space, sleeping area, the kitchen and stove and the rice-grinder. Again, we do not have a rice-grinder any more and we are more concerned with our study and working from home. Moreover, the toilet and urinal with the utilities area have become an internal concern rather than an external one[23].


However, according to Prof. Wang Qiheng in his article, “The Xingshi Principles in the Feng Shui Theory and Design of Exterior Space of Old Chinese Buildings”[24], the Xingshi principles[25] are in fact an old Chinese theory of design of exterior space. They are systematic and scientific and have high theoretical and practical value. As Prof Wang said at the end of his article, “…the “Xingshi” theories not only can be used for reference in the study of the history and philosophy of traditional Chinese architecture and planning but they could also be used to explore the possible development of a theory on the practice of modern architecture with a Chinese characteristic.”


According to Prof. Wang Qiheng, “Xing” refers “Form” and “Shi” refers to “Configuration”[26]. They are the complementary opposites such as the near and the far, the small and the big, the individual and the group, the parts and the whole, the visible and the invisible, that make up a space. In practice they are mutually opposing and mutually generating at the same time.


“Xing” and “Shi” co-exist in a complex spatial arrangement, and by observing the Form (Xing) and examining the Configuration (Shi) in their various layers of relationship, we can begin to understand the “Original Character” (Benxing) of a site, and thus be able to create a building that will fit in naturally, and in a holistic way. That is being “Ziran” and “Wuwei” at the same time.


Prof. Wang Qiheng summarizes his approach with the following saying: “Ju Qiaoxing ye Zhanshi” 聚巧形而展势or “Gather the (individual) Form skillfully to show off the (whole) Arrangement”. By doing so, he says that there are not only “Space for Man” (“Rende Kongjian” 人的空间) but also “Space for the Spirit” (“Shende Kongjian” 神的空间) in a piece of architecture or planning.


Here the practical application of Feng Shui for an environmental designer is at its most beneficial, for we can use Feng Shui to look deeply and holistically at a situation and this allows the designer to have a comprehensive appreciation of what he or she is dealing with[27].


Core Principle 6



Examine the Geology of the Land


According to Prof. Wang Yude, the Chinese had a means of examining the geology of the land as early as 2000 years ago. This was called “Tu Yi Fa” 土宜法or “The Method to Test the Suitability of the Soil”. In “Si Tu” 司徒chapter of the “Zhou Li” 周礼or “The Rites of Zhou”, it was written that one should: “Use the method of” Tu Yi” to distinguish the 12 types of soil, in order to know their advantage and harmfulness, so as to benefit the people and the domesticated animals, the plants and the vegetables.”


In “Shen Bao Jing” 神宝经or “The Classic of Spiritual Treasures”, a Ming Dynasty Feng Shui book, it is recommended that: “The soil should be firm and not loose; the Sheng Qi will not return to a soil that is stubbornly hard and the True Yang (the essential ingredients) will not reside in a soil that is loose and dispersed.”


The ancient Chinese reckoned that there are four ways in which the geology of the land could affect the inhabitants:


1)    The soil could contain certain trace elements such as zinc, molybdenum, selenium and fluorine that could be exposed to the light and air to form chemical compounds that could adversely affect the health and well being of the inhabitants. This type of occurrence was recorded as early as 1000 years ago in the “Shan Hai Jing” 山海经 and in later books such as the “Er Tan” 耳谈or “An Earful of Conversation” by Wang Tong-Gui 王同轨of Ming Dynasty, which states that a: “Place where tin is produced is not suitable for agriculture, therefore the inhabitants are usually poor and has to emigrate to survive”.

2)    Places with excessive dampness and rotten smell will affect people’s joints and cause rheumatic illness, also heart disease and skin irritations. Mildew and rot is a natural breeding ground for gems and is a source of various types of sickness, therefore it is not suitable for human habitation.

3)    The influence of harmful radiations could also cause discomfort for the inhabitants. According to some Feng Shui practitioners, within 3 meters below the surface of a house, if there are underground streams, junctions between two or more subterranean water courses, hollow cavities or if the ground is composed of intricate layers of geology, then these unusual formations could radiate disturbing long-length waves, contaminated radiations and harmful particle streams that could affect the inhabitants and give rise to headaches, insomnia and even the lost of the function of some internal organs.

4)    Geomagnetic influences could also affect the well being of the inhabitants. Our planet is enveloped in a field of magnetic radiation; we do not physically feel its presence but it affects us nevertheless. A strong magnetic field could cure but it could harm as well. Generally speaking, it is better to avoid sitting or facing a strong magnetic field of influence.[28]


“Examine the geology of the land” is not the same as geomancy or dowsing in the west even though the two often get mixed up. Feng Shui practitioners rely on observation of what is above to make an assessment of what is below. They carry out physical testing, instead of using a dowsing rod or a pendulum to do their work.


Core Principle 7



Analyze the Quality of Water


The quality of water (especially drinking water) often determines the quality of life because plants need to be watered and humans need to drink constantly. Water can also bring disease and sickness, as well as being used for defense and transportation.


In the “Jin Shu” 尽数chapter of the “Lushi Chunqiu” 鲁氏春秋or “The Spring and Autumn Annals of the Lu Family”, it is written:


“Running water is never stale and a moving door hinge is never worm eaten, because they are always active…

(Places with) soft water tend to have more bald and infantile people,

(Places with) heavy water tend to have more cancerous and injured people,

(Places with) sweet tasting water tend to have more refine and beautiful people,

(Places with) pungent smelling water tend to have more ulcerous and paralyzed people,

(Places with) bitter tasting water tend to have more distorted and disabled people.”


In other words, different kinds of sickness are often associated with the different qualities of drinking water available and when the quality is good and free flowing, then the inhabitants will tend to be healthy and well. The quality of water can also have a curative benefit because of the trace elements and the mineral content in it. Hot springs and health spas often attract human settlements nearby and they are considered to be places with good Feng Shui.


Core Principle 8



Determine the Amount and the Standard


Feng Shui thinking has an affinity with sustainable development; the idea is that the population density of a place should be in proportion to the capacity it can sustain. In Feng Shui, where the water comes in and goes out is called the “Shui Kou”, and there is a standard and a guideline we can adhere to so the resource can keep up with the population growth. Many of the traditional towns and villages kept to this standard to survive.


Chapter 7 of the “Rudiyan Tushuo” 入地眼图说 or “The Illustrated Earth Penetrating Eyes”, entitled “Shui Kou”, ives a rough guide for the type of development a place can handle, it says:


“From 1 to 60-70 miles or 1 to 20-30 miles, if there is an affectionate feeling in the landscape and the Qi is held back, then it should sustain a large to medium size city. If it is only 10 or so miles then it should sustain a large town, if it is 5 to 6 miles then it should sustain a small town and if it is only 1 to 2 miles then it is good for a village. The wealth of a place is determined by the distance (of an open space) and the amount of water (that is available).”[29]


The open space referred to above is called a “Ming Tang” in Feng Shui[30]. The Ming Tang is likened to the open space in front of the Emperor’s throne. This is where the ministers and the court officials are gathered, and their size and quality will determine the future of a kingdom. Likewise, the size and the quality of a Ming Tang can determine the auspicious and harmfulness of a site. The Ming Tang should not be over or under-sized, and it should have an amount appropriate to the number of dwellers and the functional requirements of the built form.


In other words, we should not waste the land or the resource, nor should we allow an insufficient land size to create unnecessary pressure on the occupants[31].


Without a firm amount and a proper standard, no Feng Shui audit or analysis is possible. The major problem facing Feng Shui is that even after 2 – 3,000 years of development, there are no agreed standards between different Liqi Pai and Compass Schools of Feng Shui, thus making it a major impediment to the continued advancement of Feng Shui knowledge in this area. Fortunately, the same difficulty is not evident in the Xingshi Pai or the Form Schools.


Core Principle 9


顺 乘生气原则

Take Advantage of the Sheng Qi


The first sentence in Guo Pu’s 郭璞book “Zang Shu” 葬书, or “The Book of Burial” stated one of the main aims of Feng Shui: “To bury is to “ride” (that is to take advantage) of the Sheng Qi”. What is Sheng Qi and how can one identify it?


A Ming Dynasty Feng Shui master called Jiang Pingjie 蒋平阶, in his book, “Shuilong Jing” 水龙经or “The Water Dragon Classic” (reference) pointed out that the key to discern the moving “Sheng Qi” is to look at the water, he wrote:


“Qi is the mother of water, when water stops, Qi stops. Water in turn follows the Qi flow and when water stops flowing, Qi also. There is a mutual feeling between the mother (Qi) and son (water) and they pursue each other. What we can see on the surface is water, what we cannot see inside is Qi. What is showed and not showed go together and that is the magical effect of making and transforming between the two. So if we want to examine the movement of Qi on the ground, we can look at the coming and going of water and then we will know. The moving Dragon has water at its side (so) when water comes to a halt, Qi also”.


Thus we can see the relationship between the two – the visible form and the invisible Qi.


Another way to discern the Sheng Qi is to look at the mountains and valleys, the grass and the trees. According to a Ming Dynasty Feng Shui master called Liao Xiyong 廖希雍, who wrote in his book, “Zang Jing” 葬经 or “The Classic of Burial” (reference):


“Whenever the mountain air is full, the smoke rises, the cloud is steamy and the rocks moist and shining, then the (Sheng) Qi is present. When the cloud and the air are lifeless, the colors dark and dull, the rocks broken and fallen, the soil parched, the earth withered, there is little growth and the water courses all dried up, then the (Sheng) Qi has gone elsewhere’.


Thus we can see the Sheng Qi is the life force that makes things grows and Sha Qi is the negative opposite that halts the growth of life. Sheng Qi can be cultivated by adjusting the Yin and Yang balance of a situation, so they are in harmony and mutually supports each other[32].


The aim of Feng Shui is to locate a building or a tomb in places where there is Sheng Qi so the occupants can take advantage of it[33].


Core Principle 10



Suitably Located in the Middle and Residing in the Middle


This principle has 3 layers of meaning:


1) Suitably Located in the Middle.


The reason why the historical capitals in China were never located in the coastal cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai, or towards the borders like Harbin and Kuming, is because a capital needs to be centrally located. In Chapter 156 of  “Taiping Yulan” 太平御览, the following advice is given:


“An Emperor is given the mandate to establish a new kingdom. To site a capital it must be located in the center of the land, so it can control the peace of the world, stabilize the Yin and Yang and control the 4 directions to rule the country properly”.


The same idea dictates that an urban business center is always located in the middle of a modern city and the best shops are always located in the middle of a shopping mall.


2) Stand out as the main body in a planning arrangement with the auxiliary buildings surrounding the host.


In a traditional Feng Shui landscape, the main buildings are often located along a central axis, which runs from north to south. The north axis is often extended into the mountain range behind and the south open out onto a generous Ming Tang in front, forming the character “Ding” (similar to the capital letter T). The secondary or auxiliary buildings are usually located to the east and west and there is always a meandering watercourse in front.


The ancestral temples, the burial complexes, the imperial gardens of the Ming and Qing dynasties were all planned according to this principle. See Figure 5 below:


3) Neither slanting nor lean against, the building is appropriately located at an advantageous position.


“Residing in the middle” in this case does not mean the building is located dead in the middle of a planning arrangement, but it is “centrally located” at the most beneficial position, so it can take advantage of its surrounding. The location should neither be too Yang nor too Yin, neither too high nor too low, and neither too large nor too small[34].


Striking a balance between the two extremes of a situation is an important core principle of Feng Shui and that is what we meant by “Suitably Located in the Middle and Residing in the Middle”.


Core Principle 11



Aesthetic Appreciations


Since we perceive both the Qi of the Form and the Qi of the Formless with our five senses and our mind, an aesthetic appreciation of a built form in its environment becomes an important part of Feng Shui. Because Qi can exist in the Form and the Formless, there is also the beauty of the Form and the beauty of the Formless.


Beauty of the Form can include the beauty of the natural landscape, the beauty of natural form and materials, the beauty of man-made objects and the beauty of applied colors and lighting. These are the externally beautiful (Wai Mei 外美)and we appreciate them with our five senses, with the eyesight being the most acute.


Beauty of the Formless can include the beauty of balance and harmony, the beauty of being at peace with the world, the beauty of being “Ziran”, the beauty of being true to one’s character or true to the character of a built form and the beauty of “Wuwei”. These are the internally beautiful (Nei Mei 内美) and we appreciate them with our mind.


The opposite of beauty is ugliness, and we need to know what constitute ugliness as well,[35] if we are to appreciate what is beautiful.


Just like Yin and Yang, the externally beautiful cannot exist without the internally beautiful and vice versa,[36] so in Feng Shui we need to aim for both. But if the resources are limited in a given situation, then it is necessary to take care of the “Nei Mei” first before spending money on the “Wai Mei”. Laozi said this very clearly in “Daode Jing” 道德经: “Everything has Form but Form comes from the Formless”, so without the beauty of the formless, and in Feng Shui, it means the beauty of the Spirit of a place, the beautiful physical form will always remain a hollow one[37].


Core Principle 12



Greening the Environment


The amount of trees and wood can give an indication of the quality of the Feng Shui of a site. The “Zang Shu” 葬书or “The Book of Burial” praised the greening of the environment with these words:


“The soil is thick and the water deep,

The grass is lush and the forest full.

The honored guests take advantage (of the site),

It is worth million ounces of gold”.


Trees and woods are the source of Sheng Qi (Life Enhancing Qi) and they can be laid out in such a way to assemble the Qi to nourish the occupants.[38] They can also protect the house from the cold wind and provide a solid back to the house while embracing the Qi at the front.


Trees can also absorb carbon dioxide, give out oxygen, reduce noise and provide the occupants with shade as well as fruit and vegetables. One can also use trees and woods to reduce dampness, improve the soil quality and generally improve the Feng Shui if they are located in the appropriate parts of the site.


The general guideline is not to plant them too close to the house; the distance should be proportional to the size and the height of a tree. On the sunny side it is more desirable to have deciduous varieties while on the shady side they can be evergreens[39].


Core Principle 13



Feng Shui can be Transformed and Improved.


The Feng Shui of a place can be remolded to improve its quality. Cai Yuan-Ding 蔡元定in his book, ”Fawei Lun” 发微论 has this to say about Man and Nature:


“The forging and the blending of the mountains and valleys are done by Heaven,

But the tailoring and the fashioning of the landscape are done by Man.”


Cai Yuan Ding went on to say the proper way for us to transform Feng Shui is to realize that Nature does not arbitrary set out to fool us humans, nor should we humans set out deliberately to defeat Nature by our will and our prejudices. We should use our knowledge and our know how to mutually respond (Ganyin)[40] to Nature to ensure that any improvement is long term and viable.


In the process of enhancement, the natural environment should be respected at all times because if we take out more than what the situation requires and destroy nature in the process then whatever improvement we carry out will not benefit us in the long run.


There are many examples in Chinese history where the Feng Shui of a place was transformed and improved to suit human needs without destroying Nature. The Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing is a good case in point. Even though a large area of land was dug up and made into lakes and hills, the general ecology of the environment was preserved and the place was well planned, so after hundreds of years, we are still able to enjoy its beauty and good Feng Shui[41].


Core Principle 14



Yin Yang Dialectics to Achieve Harmony


Prof. Wang Yude calls the Yin Yang Dialectics the soul of Feng Shui because without Yin and Yang contrast there is no potential for the Qi to flow and therefore no Feng Shui to speak about. To find the balance and harmony in our environment we first need to distinguish what is Yin and what is Yang in a given situation before we can adjust and integrate them to transform the situation.


To help us to do this with a checklist of various Yin and Yang classifications, Cai Yuan-Ding 蔡元定, a Song Dynasty Feng Shui expert, wrote a very useful classic called “Fawei Lun” 发微论or “A Discourse on the Gross and the Subtle” mentioned earlier, where he listed all the important complementary opposites we need to consider when we assess the Feng Shui of a place.


Instead of giving full explanations of these terms, which is not possible under the circumstances, I will list the terms below and suggest that it would be worthwhile for anyone deeply interested in Feng Shui to read this book thoroughly:


1)    Yin and Yang 阴与阳.

2)    Gang and Rou 刚与柔or Hard and Soft (sometimes translated as Substantial and Insubstantial).

3)    You and Wu 有与无or Have and have –not (sometimes translated as Being and Non-being or Form and Formless).

4)    Dong and Jing 动与静or Moving and Stationary (sometimes translated as Active and Passive)

5)    Ju and San 聚与散or Gather and Dispersed.

6)    Gan and Ji 干与技or Stem and Branch.

7)    Xing and Shi 形与势or Form and Configuration.

8)    Shan and Shui 山与水or Mountain and Water.

9)    Wei and Zhu 微与著or Subtle and Stand out.

10) Shen and Qian 深与浅or Deep and Shallow.

11) Sheng and Si 生与死or Alive and dead.

12) Ci and Xiong 雌与雄or Feminine and Masculine (sometimes translated as the animated Yin and Yang).


In practice, when we observe and analyze a situation we can contrast and find the extremes, and by using the Yin Yang dialectics, we can find an appropriate solution lying somewhere within the bound of the two poles. Confucius referred to this idea as being “Zhongyong” 中庸or the Golden Mean and the Golden Mean does not lay dead in the middle but is appropriately situated so the Yin and Yang are balanced and in harmony with each other[42].


Core Principle 15



Being Timely and Affectionate


Being timely and affectionate also brings us to the last of the 15 core principles. It is also the one principle that unifies all of the previous ones we have mentioned.


Master Tan Yang-Wu 谈养吾who is also known as Tan Hao-Ran 谈浩然, had a seminally book on Feng Shui published in Hong Kong in 1948, entitled “Da Kuan Kong Liu Fa Ben Yi” 大玄空六法本义or The Original Meanings of Xuan Kong Liu Fa (Six Methods) where he summarized the essence of Xing Shi Pai (Form School) and Liqi Pai (Compass School) Feng Shui as being “Qing” 情 or “(being) affectionate” and “Shi” 时 or “(being) timely”[43], in a chapter called “Identifying the feelings and affection from mountains and rivers” 辨山情水意 (bian shan qing shui yi)[44].

So according to Master Tan, the unchanging principle underlying the Form School Feng Shui is human feelings and affections, which enabled us to connect our body and soul to the environment we live and work in. To him and the writer agrees, Feng Shui in essence, examines and contemplates this intimate relationship between Man and Nature.




After writing a thick book of 542 pages on the philosophy and aesthetics of architecture[45], the author Zhao Xinshen 赵鑫珊has this to say in his Epilogue:


“In the writing process I cannot avoid the “Qing” word, therefore I often wrote with emotion. If architecture cannot get entangled with human feelings and affections, then it loses its life force, its enchantment and its meaning, as well as its reason for being; it becomes just an empty space of pure physics and geometry”.


Likewise, if we have to reduce the core principles of Feng Shui into just one word, then we cannot avoid the “Qing” word as well. In the final analysis, without a mutual response or “Ganying” 感应, between man and his environment - that is without “Qing” 情, there is no Feng Shui to speak about.


Perhaps the popular Chinese sentiment, expressed in this saying, “Sanshui Youqing, Renjian Youai” 山水有情,人间有爱 or “There is Affection in the Natural Environment and Love in the Human World”, is the best way to describe the well-spring that continues its supply of meanings to the core principles of Feng Shui.




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Yu, Kong-Jian 俞孔坚 (1998). “Lixiang Jingguan Tanyuan” 理想景观探源 – Exploring the Origin of an Ideal Landscape – the Cultural Meaning of Feng Shui. 商务印书馆Beijing, China.

Zheng Jun-Wei 郑钧蔚 (1996). “Yang Zhai Xing Ju Duan Yan Pian” 阳宅形局断验篇or “A Piece of Writing on the Examination and the Judgement of the Form and the Arrangement of Yang Dwellings”. Sunny Books, Woolin Publications, Taiwan.
















Howard Choy, Feng Shui Architect.


Howard Choy (Cai Hong 蔡洪b. 1949) is a qualified and practicing Feng Shui Architect. He graduated from University of NSW in 1974 with a B.Sc. (Arch) and a B.Arch. degree.


Howard was born in China and migrated to Australia at an early age, yet managed to keep his language and culture intact through his life long involvement with Tai Chi and Qigong. Feng Shui provided the perfect vehicle for him to combine his passion for Chinese qi energetics with his professional practice.


Howard has written 4 books on Feng Shui and Qigong and numerous articles for various magazines and journals worldwide. He has worked as the principal consulting Feng Shui Architect on the capital upgrading of the Chinese Garden in Darling Harbour, after having successfully completed the Feng Shui urban renewal for Sydney’s Chinatown in 2001 for the Sydney Olympic Games.


[1] Practising Feng Shui Architect, director of Feng Shiui Architects Py. Ltd. Sydney and Berlin. Brunnenstr. 181, 10119 Berlin Germany.  +49/30/28385-855, Fax –857. Email: Websites: and

[2] This assumption is based on archeological excavation of the Banpo Neolithic Village near Xian built more than 6000 years ago, showing evidence of the use of Feng Shui in the location and the layout of the settlement.

[3] The writer has done all the translations from Chinese to English using the Chinese (Simplied) – Microsoft Pinyin IME 3.0 program.

[4] Principles 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13 are based on Prof. Wang work.

[5] The emphasis of this paper is on the Xingshi Pai or the Form School of Feng Shui, for those who are interested in the core principles relating to the Liqi Pai or the Compass School of Feng Shui, please refer to Liqi books like the ones written by Nanhai Zhuren 南海主人called “Kanyuxue Yuanli” 堪舆学原理or “The Principles of Kanyu Study”.

[6] For a more detail explanation of the Feng Shui paradigm, please refer to my paper, “Towards an Inter-cultural Approach to Modern Architecture and Planning using Feng Shui” presented at the Second International Conference on Scientific Feng Shui and the Built Environment, Hong Kong 1996.

[7] More explanation on the concept of Sheng Qi will be given in Core Principle 9.

[8] “Yang Dwellings need to select the (right) topography,

Back to the mountain and facing water is called “Renxin” 人心 (the will of the people),

The contour of the Coming-Dragon holds its head high and graceful,

The water should embrace to form a ring shape,

A “Ming-Tang” 明堂is prosperous when it is large and generous,

The wide-open “Shui Kuo” 水口can store 10,000 ounces of gold,

The “Door Sha” 门 煞 (should be) free of obstacles, (and)

A bright and airy courtyard brings prosperity to the house.”

[9]What is “Ziran” 自然? Dai Jianye 戴建业in his book, “Laozi – Ziran Rensheng” 老子- 自然人生or “Laozi – the Ziran Way of Life” told an interesting fable to explain the meaning of being “Ziran”:

       “The Spirit of the Rivers was like us, he did not know what is “Ziran“ 自然, so one day he decided to ask the Spirit of the Northern Ocean for an answer. The Spirit of the Northern Ocean explained by making a comparison between the behavior of animals and human. He said the horses and the cows are born with four legs and that is “Ziran”. But when man came along and put a bridle on the horse’s head, and a rope through the cow’s nose, and metal shoes on their feet, then that is not “Ziran”. Man being selfish destroyed “Ziran”, and only when man ceases to be greedy and pretentious, and carefully observe the Way of Heaven (Tiandao天道), can he return to his innate character (“Benxing” 本性) and being “Ziran”.”  

[10] “Wuwei” doe not mean do nothing, but doing with appropriate and responsive actions.

[11] “The Duke looked at the surrounding environment, realizing that the land is exhausted and the people are poor, so he suggested to Nu Gong 奴功, to abandon farming and concentrate on handicraft, fishing and making sea salt instead.”

[12] Wudangshan is an interesting example of how conservation and ecology played an important part in Feng Shui. Since the Daoist followed the principle of “Daofa Ziran” 道法自然or “The method of Dao is Ziran”, so to find the “Original Character” (Benxing) of a site and not to destroy it but to work with it is very similar to ecological principles.


[13] “Bound by mountains and near water” also has a military advantage, it can take the initiative to attack but it can also be easily defended. During the Warring States period, the kingdom of Jin moved its capital 11 times and each time is was “bound by mountains and near water”, therefore we can see this criteria for site selection is of paramount importance to the prosperity of a nation.

[14] Master Wang Tingzhi 王亭之, a famous Feng Shui master from Hong Kong, once wrote these words in his book, Feng Shui Pingtan” 风水平谈 or “A Casual Conversation on Feng Shui”: “Not knowing the “Shui Kuo” is not knowing Feng Shui”. Since he is the current grandmaster of Zhongzhou Pai Xuan Kong Feng Shui 中州派and their birthplace was in LuoYang 洛 阳where the three rivers meet, they placed a high regard on “Shui Kou” and has a unique Liqi formulae called “Pai Long Jue” 排龙诀 to calculate the influence of a “Shui Kuo” on a dwelling.

[15] Prof. Wang Yude also pointed out that “bound by mountains and near water” can have two meanings, it can be “Tu Bao Wu” 土包屋or “Earth Wrapping the Houses” and the “earth” can be man-made like planting trees behind the houses. It can also be “Wu Bao Tu “屋包土or “Houses wrapping the Earth” and the “wrapping” can be done by the houses or the houses “wrapped’ in such a way that they become a mountain.

[16] Unlike the west, which tends to look in, the Chinese often describe his orientation by imagining he is standing on the spot looking out.

[17] An example is the writer Hui Yuan 慧缘, who wrote the article, “The 10 Major Principles of Landscape Feng Shui”.

[18] Prof. Wang Yude said when people live in a place like this, it is beneficial to health and well being, he said in a situation like this, the occupants can receive the “Ling Qi” 灵气or the “Wondrous Spirit” of the mountains and valleys and the light and warmth of the sun and moon, What more can one ask for?

[19] Ref:  He Xiaoxin, 何晓昕 “Fengshui Tanyuan” 风水探源, or “The Source of Feng Shui”, p10 and p66.

[20] Ref: “Zhongguo Gudai Fengshui yu Jianzhu Xuanzhi” 中国古代风水与建筑选址or “Geomancy and the Selection of Architectural Placement in Ancient China” by Yi Ding 一丁, Yu Lu 雨露and Hong Yong, 洪涌who were all PhD students of Prof. Yu Xixian 于希贤from Beijing University.

[21] This is also known as the landscape techniques of how to “Mi Long” 觅龙 (to seek the Dragon), how to “Cha Sha”[21] 察砂 (to examine the Sands), how to “Dian Xue” 点穴 (to pin-point the Feng Shui Spot or the Acu-point for burial or building), how to “Guan Shui” 观水 (to observe the Water) and to “Zhai Xiang” 择向 (to select the facing) respectively.

[22] Ref: “Sanyuan Xuankong Lilun yu Shizheng” 三元玄空理论与实证 or “The Theory and Case Studies for Sanyuan Xuankong Feng Shui” by Qin Ruisheng 秦瑞生 of Taiwan.

[23] These are all concerns covered in the Xingshi Pai 形势派or the Form School of Feng Shui, the other being the Liqi 理气派or Compass School of Feng Shui, where it is more concerned with the effect of direction, time and the cycle of luck in a building.

[24] Ref: “Fengshui Lilun Yuanjiu” or “Rsearch of Feng Shui Theory”, edited by Wang Qiheng and published by Tianjin University Publications, 1992.

[25] When we look closer at Prof. Wang’s Xingshi theories, they are generally very similar to some of the Feng Shui core principles being considered in this paper.

[26] “A distance of a thousand feet represents the general configuration and a distance of a hundred feet represents the concrete form.” (“Qianche Weishi, Baiche Weixing” 千尺为势, 百尺为形)

[27] This is something worthwhile for the architects and the environmental designers interested in Feng Shui to investigate further. Perhaps one day in the near future, as hinted by Prof. Wang Qiheng, we can use Feng Shui as an inspiration, to make a breakthrough and create a new holistic modern Chinese architecture, not unlike the influence of Zen Buddhism in the creation of a modern Japanese architecture. Let us hope it will not be just another stylistic trend from the Orient, but a genuine innovation with its root firmly based on the sound traditional Feng Shui principles.

[28] Yang Jun-Song 杨筠松of Tang Dynasty wrote in his “Shier Zhangfa” 十二仗法or “The Methods of the 12 Rods” (some translated it as “The 12 Methods of Burial”): “Directly rushing at or sitting on the middle of a Sha (that is a strong magnetic field) is not recommended. The suitable Qi is often located to the two sides. It is most essential to “open the rod” (that is to bury) slightly to two or three feet either side of the vein”. A strong magnetic field often attracts thunder and lightning as well, so even if the soil is lush, it is not a suitable place for settlement.


[29] Hong Kong is considered to have prosperous Feng Shui because the water of the Zhujiang River enters the harbor at the Tian Men or the “Heaven’s Door” to the NW Qian direction, where it is wide open and leaves at the “Di Fu" or the “Earth’s Gate” to the SE Kun direction where it is narrow and tight; thus holding a large amount of water with a deep harbor. Ref: “Kanyu Guanjian” 堪舆管见or “My Humble Opinions on Kanyu” by Michael Jiang.

[30] A Ming Tang is originally a sacred building where the Emperor paid homage to Heaven, to pray for a good harvest, but later on Feng Shui adopted the term to describe the open space in front of a site for a building, or a tomb, or even a town.

[31] Feng Shui standards and guidelines not only applied to site selection and planning, but they also applied to measurements and to the division of time, like the Luban 鲁班and the Yabai 压白Rulers for proportions and the Three Eras and Nine Periods for a standard to calibrate time, as well as the Twenty-Four Mountains to calculate the orientation of a dwelling, etc.



[32] Song Dynasty scholar Huang Miaoying黄妙应in his article, “Boshan Pian” 博山篇wrote:

“(If) the Qi is not in harmony, then there is no growth and (it is) not a suitable place to “Dian Xue” (to locate the building site)”.

[33] One can do it in a passive way by sitting the built form in a Sheng Qi spot (the Xue), this is called “Cheng Sheng Qi” 乘生气 (to “ride” the Sheng Qi), but we can also do it in a more active way to “Na Sheng Qi” 纳生气 or “to take” the Sheng Qi by orientating and by designing the building so the form and the openings can receive the Sheng Qi in the most efficient way[33]. That is why in Yangzhai Feng Shui, after sitting the building, the design of the internal and external layout becomes an important issue to consider, because it will determine the efficiency of a building to “De Qi” 得气 or to obtain the Sheng Qi to nourish the occupants.


[34] “Guanshi Dili Zhimeng” 管氏地理指蒙 or “A General Guide to Guan’s Dili (Feng Shui)” has this to say about the location of a “Xue”:

“If it is to be located high, then it should not be too dangerously high,

If it is to be located low, then it should not be too inconveniently low.

If it is to be exposed, then it should not be too blatantly exposed.

If it is to be concealed, then it should not be too concealed that it becomes invisible.

If it is to be special, then it should not be too special that it becomes strange.

If it is to be artful, then it should not be too artful that it becomes cheap looking.”

[35] “When the world knows what is beautiful, ugliness appears” – Laozi in “Daode Jing”

[36] “The form cannot escape the eyes, the eyes cannot escape the mind.” – “:A General Guide to Guan’s Feng Shui”

[37] Over the years, the writer has developed a very rough and short checklist for aesthetic appreciation. Originally they were used to appreciate Chinese calligraphy, but the writer has found them to be very useful for everyday objects as well. A thing is consider beautiful when it has the SUISY quality: Simple, Universal, Imaginative, Suggestive, and has Yin/Yang contrast.

[38] Bixia Chen et al. gave a good example of how the planting of the Fukugi trees embraced the Qi for the Bise Village in Okinawa. “A Study on Village Landscape and Layout of Fukugi Habitat Embracing Trees in Okinawa”. Paper presented at the Second International Conference on Scientific Feng Shui and Built Environment, Hong Kong 2006.

[39] Prof. Wang Yude mentioned in his book that during the early Qin period, the imperial court set the following rule of etiquette concerning trees surrounding a tomb site:

Trees for the tombs of imperial members should be pine trees,

Trees for the tombs of ministers should be cypress trees,

Trees for the tombs of officials should be poplar trees

Trees for the tombs of scholars should be locust trees,

Trees for the tombs of ordinary people should be willow trees.

[40] “One who has “Ganyin” is one who follows the Way of Heaven (Tiandao)” – Famei Lun.

[41]  Prof. Wang also gave another example in his book of how a village in Anhui Prtovince (Hong Cun) improved its Feng Shui by re-arranging the houses, re-directed the water course, repaired and built new road and plant trees and shrubs after engaging a Feng Shui expert called He Hede to do the analysis and suggestions. Afterward, the village prospered and even now the place is like a picture card paradise, with many tourists visiting the village each year.

[42]Prof. Wang Yude has pointed out further: “Everything has the two poles of opposite and one of unity, from the mutual transformation of Yin and Yang, from the beginning and the end of a life, from being and non-being, from difficulties to achievements, from the front to the back, from the extreme to being overturned, they all have their quality of auspicious and harmfulness, like Wuxing has generation and control (Sheng/Ke 生克), the landscape has beauty and ugliness, the directions have their suitability and avoidance, and the wind can be stored or released and so forth…these ideas are simple and plain, they came from direct observations, guessingly reflecting the objective world, even though they cannot reveal the “Original Character” of a matter fully, it nevertheless made a sizable attempt at looking at the real world we are living in”.  

[43] While the “Form” School is concerned mainly with the tangible form of the natural landscape and the man-made environment, the “Compass” School is concerned mainly with the intangible Gua Qi 卦气 of time (Yuanyun 元运 or Cycles of Luck) and orientation. The main aim is to “Quji Bixiong” 趋吉避凶 or to “hasten the auspicious and avoid the harmful”, hence the concept of timeliness as mentioned by Master Tan and because the emphasis of this paper is on the “Form” School, I will not dwell on the meaning of “Shi” any further.

[44] “Mountains and rivers that face me are considered to have affection,

 (To) the back of me are considered to have no affection,

I am the host (concerned).

Places to establish a (burial) hole,

Places to erect a dwelling all use me (as a reference).

Facing the left then the affection is to the left,

Facing the right then the affection is to the right,

Like the four limbs of a person,

They all face inward and not outward,

The affection lies within the body.

(Like) the branches and the leaves of a plant,

(They) all sided towards their own body,

(So) the affection also lies within.

When speaking about “Xingshi” (Form School),

There is no other word than “Affection”(Qing),

When speaking about Liqi (Compass School),

There is no other word than “Timely” (Shi).

Being affectionate and timely is considered to be fortunate,

Missing affection and time is considered to be unfortunate.

(Whether speaking) with Form Experts or with Compass Experts,

(Whether) speaking with thousands and thousands of words,

One should know they do not go beyond the scope of these two words “Qing” and “Shi”.

Large results follow generous affections,

Small results follow meager affections,

The size of the result,

Is related to the form and the configuration (Xingshi),

The extend of the development,

Is related to the management of the Qi (Liqi).

They are the unchanging principles”

[45] “Man – House – World. Architectural Philosophy and Architectural Aesthetics”, by Zhao Xinshen,.Publiched by Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House, Tianjin 2004.