Feng Shui and Traditional Chinese Gardens

February 26, 2011

Many people think Feng Shui and Chinese Gardens do not have much in common, but that is not true because they shared a common objective and that is to respect nature and re-create nature in such a way that the objectivity of a “view” (“jing”) is connected to the subjectivity of an “affection” (“qing”), so we can create a man-made environment that is as though it is made by nature herself and we can relate to it and feel “loved” by it. There is no need to be neither vulgar nor try to be clever, a good Chinese Garden is like a good Feng Shui house, it is holistic, simple and pure (“qing tan”).

Holistic in the sense that the various components of a house or a garden do not stand on their own, they associated with each other and affect each other instead. They are the result of coming together of various contradictions.

Simple and pure in the sense that the device used to make a house or a garden is the result of looking for harmony and balance in the yin and yang forces of nature, it is not over or underdone, it is just self-thus (“ziran”). In order to do this, we need to observe and study a site not only from one point of view, but also from all directions both looking in and looking out, physically and metaphorically speaking.

Before the planning stage, we observed what is near and what is far, what is assembled and what is dispersed, what is substantial and what is insubstantial, what is broken and what is continuous, etc. so we can understand how the yin and yang forces support and influence each other, or to use a Chinese term, we seek the “ben xing” or the “original character” of a site, before we start to design, otherwise we will not be able to obtain “the spirit of the mountains and valleys” in a simple and direct way in our work.

So the Feng Shui way to create a Chinese Garden is first learn from nature and there is a pattern to her formation. By learning from nature we can recreate the beauty of nature, but first we must understanding what is meant by “beauty” from a Chinese perspective:

1)   Beauty is rest in the form and the spirit. We observe objects through our senses with the eyes being the most acute. The eyes determine our directions and we can differentiate the “spirit” (“shen”) of an object through the observation of its “form” (“xing”). Only by catching the spirit that we can catch the basic characteristics and the beauty of an object. The relationship between “form” and “spirit” or “xing” and “shen” is one of the crucial topics of traditional Chinese aesthetics. Here are some Chinese sayings concerning form and spirit to help us understand more of their relationship: “Have both form and spirit”, “Use form to write the spirit”, “Create the form to pass on the spirit”, “Form is easy to achieve, spirit is difficult to obtain”.

2)   Beauty rests in the artistic conception of the place (body) and mind (perception). To the Chinese, an artistic conception is the product of the integration of the objective “views” with the subjective “feelings”. A Feng Shui garden should feel alive, healthy and contagiously delightful and there is the delight of the mind, delight of the spirit, delight of the form and the simple delight of feeling alive while walking through the place.

3)   Beauty has a constant principle (“cheng li”) and it can be found in the regular patterns of the landscape. If we can thoroughly investigate what is visible in nature, then we can proceed to recreate her beauty. Su Tong-Po, a famous Chinese poet said once, “Mountains and rocks, bamboos and trees, waves and rocks, although they don’t have a regular shape, they have a constant principle”. The core idea behind Feng Shui architecture and garden is to abide by the constant principles, then recreate them in various forms to transmit the spirits.

Therefore in the Chinese theory of beauty, there is a tripartite relationship between Li (Principles), Qu (Delights) and Fa (Methods). Li is to understand the constant unchanging principles of nature, Qu is to understand the endless changes and the rhythms of life and Fa is to combine the two to reflect them in the form of our creations. Having the methods but no principles – not it and having the principles but no delights – again not it.

To the Chinese, true beauty has the form and the spirit that are the result of having the principles and delights in the methods. A good garden layout should know the limitations of a site and express its advantages. The layout should follow what is naturally there and we should study the environment thoroughly before we come to a solution that fits in with the context of the site and the needs of our clients and their budget.

We have a Feng Shui and Chinese Garden workshop coming up in Zurich from 26-29 August 2012, in this workshop we will investigate these traditional methods and techniques used in a Chinese garden. The aim is not to make a Chinese looking garden, but a comp temporary garden that has the spirit of a tradition. No prior Feng Shui knowledge is required, as we will teach the creative techniques of the art of a Chinese garden step by step, culminating in using the theories we have learned and apply them in practice, by planning a garden on a real site with a real client.

All are welcome, please come and join us! The workshop will be conducted in English and translated into German as required, you can download a pdf file with details of the workshop and registration HERE

If you cannot join us in Zurich, you can go into our ECOFS website and download a file on The Practical Application of Chinese Garden Feng Shui in the West (click on link to get to the page) – a talk given by me in Sydney, during the World Feng Shui Day in 06 February 2011.

View Chinese Garden in Darling Harbour Sydney.


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