The Politics of Feng Shui :  Volume 1

Feng Shui in rural China

Nantai : 1851

Client : 

I want loads-a-rice and a girlfriend

Consultant :

I place the compass in the centre of your house and …

The Rozzers :

Yer both nicked !

Nantai : 2006

Feng Shui is central to Chinese thought & culture, and forms an integrated and coherent way of looking at the world.

Not according to the intriguingly named Ole Bruun, an academic who has just produced a crucial study1 on :

v      How Feng Shui really operates in China now

v      How Feng Shui’s profile in China was dramatically raised by European imperialism and its Opium Wars, around a hundred and forty years ago2

v      Feng Shui under the Cultural Revolution, and

v      How China is re-importing Feng Shui from people like us

v      The role of hospital closures, and…

v      Why the Chinese authorities have opposed the tradition for centuries


I’m (not) in Heaven…

Traditional Feng Shui : Yang.  Top Down.  An ordered universe.  Made up of…

1.      Heaven

2.      The Will of Heaven

3.      The Emperor (where 2 and 3 are the same, and)

4.      Everyone Else (…is completely unimportant).

Conformity is all.  Having the temerity to engage a Feng Shui consultant implies you’ve made the cardinal error of thinking that your existence, thoughts and aspirations have any value whatsoever.  Having a consultation almost becomes a subversive act3.

So for a very long time Feng Shui was heavily sat on.  And then along came the Imperialists, and their religious chums.  The Jesuits were there first, and as the western powers strengthened their hold over the country the local squirearchy became somewhat narked about the influence of the pinkoes.  They looked for something that would incite the locals to become revolting, along the lines of “they’re stealing our jobs/women/culture”, and Feng Shui was chosen as the icon, rather like a fight for the defence of the Welsh language, or the image of the Spitfire circling lazily above the cornfields whilst the sound of Jerusalem echoes across the landscape.

This is the period when many western projects were stymied because the railway and/or the telegraph poles were cutting through the landscape and killing the dragon.  Whatever the geomantic truth of such statements, they served their purpose.  Feng Shui became a point of resistance around which the troops rallied.  It received official blessing.


The Feng, it Fengeth every day

Fast forward to the twentieth century and the movement for independence.  Feng Shui flourished.  And then came The Commies.  Book Burnings. Mass liquidations.  Nothing that was not in line with the line was tolerated.  Popular religion was wiped out.  Feng Shui practitioners were subjected to terrible times…

…but barefoot doctors came, and health for all…

…but then The Feng changed again.  The market was not such an evil thing after all.  In fact, its all quite, er, progressive.  Rural health provision collapsed, and all sorts of quacks emerged to fill the gap.  Of course that’s China and nothing like that could happen here.  In the market place Feng Shui has begun to flourish once again.


Mountain Man

Bruun undertook extensive fieldwork in two Chinese provinces.

“Longquan, meaning Dragon Spring, is an area southeast of Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan…where the fertile Chengdu plain borders the scenic Longquan mountains

“The houses now commonly (being) built have much the same layout as many traditional wooded houses, only the rooms are likely to be bigger.  The main entrance, which is not necessarily facing south in the ‘forms’ school of fengshui dominating here.

All the practitioners are chaps.  The consultation ~ Seeing FengShui ~  is clearly described by Bruun (p148) and I have now incorporated the killing of a cock and associated blood-sprinkling into all my consultations. Grave location remains a serious matter.


The House of Flying Compasses

Bruun’s other field study was in Jiangsu, where…

“The (compass) ‘directions’ school of Fengshui practised here allows for less flexibility in housebuilding and tends to give rise to much more serious conflicts” (than in Longquan).

Bruun emphasises the differing elements of Fengshui, and quotes the top practitioner in Jiangsu as saying ~ when asked why a particular consultation was successful ~

‘Oh, I cannot tell you, there are so many things.  You know, fengshui is like poetry ~ it has symbols, classics, people, nature and more ~ you cannot know exactly how it works…But of course, it takes a long time to learn, and still you see only the surface’


The unwritten books

Bruun points out that there have been a negligible number of studies of Feng Shui by academia, even within China. The existing studies are listed in his book and are, like the book itself, essential reading for anyone with a real interest in Feng Shui.

Ole Bruun has done us all a fantastic service.  His book has over 300 pages, and only a flavour can be conveyed here. But it tastes wonderful.



1   ‘Feng Shui in China : Geomantic Divination between State Orthodoxy and Popular Religion’ by Ole Bruun. 300 pages. Hardback. Nias Press. (ISBN 87-91114-79-9)   Forty Nine imperialist dollars from


2fengshui gradually became a convenient weapon in the struggle against foreign penetration (p 40)


3…Chinese state ideology has customarily placed the strongest emphasis on a collective spirit as the basis for an orderly society and demanded that the individual submit himself to a society’s grand scheme and work for its common good.  Fengshui, on the other hand, is really designed as a celebration of the self.  It depicts a discrete, personalised and anthropocentric universe, in radical opposition to any communitarian ideology (p220)




Ced Jackson


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