Prof. Wang Qi-Heng on Yinzhai Feng Shui
October 30, 2009
I had the good fortune of meeting Prof Wang Qi-Heng 王其亨 in his home three days ago before we flew out of Beijing to Berlin. Prof. Wang is a famous teacher from Tianjin University specialized in researching and teaching the history and philosophy of traditional Chinese architecture. He part wrote and edited one of the best source book on Feng Shui in Chinese called “Research into the Theories of Feng Shui” 風水理論研究, published by the Tianjin University Press (see book cover below). His university department is also responsible for many of the conservation planning around the major historical sites like the Forbidden City and the Ming and Qing Tombs.
During our three-hours meeting I asked him many questions on Feng Shui and architecture, especially about the Qing and the Ming dynasties of which he is an expert. The most memorable one for me was about Yinzhai Feng Shui and my question was, “Do you really think intelligent and capable rulers like the Qing Emperor Qianlong 乾隆皇帝 (1711-1799), would believe that if they bury their ancestors in the best Feng Shui spot, their family would rule forever?” He laughed and replied, “Of course not!”
Then he went on to say that if we research into the historical court documents like he did, then the imperial burial sites were chosen not for selfish gains or un-realistic expectations, but they are in fact imperial site selections and architecture with a strong sense of commemoration in memory of their ancestors, as required by the Confucian Rites.
He followed up by showing me an example in the commemorative tablet erected in the Qing Yu Ling 清裕陵 (Emperor Qianlong’s burial site), where these words were carved in stone:
Sacred-waters and deep ravines,
Spirit-mountains and shady retreats,
(We) set down a dwelling for a hundred million years,
(and continue to) build our great foundations.
There was nothing said about tapping into the right kind of earth energy to make the descendants more powerful, richer and happier. It is done to remain them of their heritage and responsibility as a ruler.
Some people actually blamed the Feng Shui of Qianlong’s tomb for the decline of the Qing Dynasty because although he was buried in a Meridian Spot, he choose to face a “Death and Empty Line”, so while his descendants continued to rule another 112 years, they were very mediocre and downright incompetent or died young. It is grossly unfair and downright superstitious to blame Feng Shui and Qianlong on the natural rise and decline of a dynasty and misunderstood the real purpose of Yinzhai Feng Shui.
When I pressed the point, Prof. Wang also pointed out in the official documents, no Feixing calculations were mentioned, the imperial Feng Shui experts selected the sites for burial mainly based on Xingshi 形勢 considerations.
Prof. Wang said the real purpose of a grave or a Mu 墓 is to have a place to admire (pay homage) the ancestors and the character to admire (mu 慕) has the same sound as for a grave although it is written in a different way and this was pointed out by Liu Xi 劉熙 of Eastern Han (25-220AD) in his book “Explaining the Terms and the Burial Rites” 釋名。釋喪制:
“A grave (has) the same (sound) as to admire, it is a place where a filial son can admire and remember (the dead).”
Prof. Wang said at the same time to bury is to hide from the wind (葬，藏也), to avoid attack by the ants and the worms and flooding by water, rotting the corpse.
Finally he said there is an educated understanding of Feng Shui and an un-educated one (Prof. Wang Yude 王玉德 used the terms “academic” and “folk” Feng Shui to say the same thing), to think that burial in a good Feng Shui spot will bring selfish gains to the descendants is to misunderstand the cultivated way of behaviour in a traditional Chinese society.
Confucian filial piety required a gentleman 君子 to find a good Feng Shui spot to bury, to remember and to pay homage to the dead and not to expect anything in return. Prof. Wang Qi-Heng said this is the real purpose of Yinzhai Feng Shui.