The (Misunderstood) Use of Colour in Feng Shui

July 12, 2011

Michael, one of my colleagues, sent me this reference to the use of colour in Feng Shui by Ulrich Wilhelm Lippelt in his book “Feng Shui Demystified II” and asked me for a comment:

Dear Howard

Enclosed are references to the books I mentioned. The author is Ulrich Wilhelm Lippelt. Enclosed is the back side of his second book, the table of content of both books, as well as his take on the use of color. Any idea where he got the idea, that color is the domain of wood? He is otherwise actually a pretty clever guy….

The following is the reply I gave Michael, I think it is worthwhile to share and risk being labeled too critical of others point of view:

After reading Ulrich Lippelt’s 3 pages you sent me on the use of colours in Feng Shui, I have no idea where he got his idea from but I think he has mixed up his correlative thinking with the Wuxing (Five Elements) theories.

First he grouped colour, odour, flavour, sound and liquid into one grouping and then correlated the Five Elements to them, this I have never seen it done before in the Chinese classics, so his claim that colour is the domain of Wood is an unusual one. Then he extended this correlative grouping mentioned to another grouping (this time colours) using Wood as the linking Element, which makes no sense because they are two entirely different sets of correlations.  It is like mixing up the correlation of the Earthly Heaven Bagua to the Luoshu numbers with the correlation of the Later Heaven Bagua to the Luoshu numbers, without knowing the same number doesn’t correlate to the same Trigram.

He then used Wood/green as the reference point and came to the conclusion that red is the most effective colour and blackish blue should never be used (how rigid)! On the way he mixed in the correlation of the Luoshu numbers to the Five Elements and further muddled the water, by making 3,4 the determining numbers and completely ignored the idea that the five colours used in the correlation of the Purple-White Stars are not the same as the five colours correlations first mentioned in the “Spring and Autumn Manual of the Lu Clan” back in the Warring States period of China (475-221 BC).

If we apply his way of thinking to the Five Flavours, then the sweet taste (Earth) is a manifestation of the Earth Element and then spicy (Metal) is the most effective flavour and bitterness (Fire) should never be used. One can carry this to its extremes by considering odour, sound and liquid in motion as well, and come to some similar ridiculous conclusions.

This is quite a reversal in Chinese thinking, because correlative thinking is no longer relative, it became deterministic which is exactly what correlative thinking tries to avoid. Besides the use of colours in Feng Shui should not be considered only on the symbolic level (Heaven Qi) like the interaction of the Five Elements, but also needs to take into consideration of the effects of the Earth and Human Qi, such as the functional requirements and the psychological use of colours.

The mistakes Mr Lippelt made are not uncommon with people who studied Feng Shui without understand the traditional way of thinking by the ancient Chinese. They mixed up the various correlations and take things too literally by mistaken correlative thinking with logical thinking, the result is they become quite deterministic rather than treating things in a relative manner in the process. 

One Response to “The (Misunderstood) Use of Colour in Feng Shui”

  1. Steve Says:

    Hello everybody
    Dear M .Choy. I would rather put the blame on the differences between static thinking and dynamic. It takes a lot for a westerner to change this. Probably a very ancient choice in civilisation development and way to use brains with highs and lows for both east and west.
    Thinking of WuXing as 5elements per se turns you into a dead fish. By the way: does Qi has eyes set like human’s to react to a very narrow band of EMwaves? What is the element and color of dung?
    One should better gain in 5 arts studying chinese ink paintings: they are physically monochrome but really full of Qi, properly flowing! Where is the green east white west in Shi Tao’s opera?
    Even in chinese adventures movies the background is complying with feng shui: for example in Zhang Yimou ‘s” Hero” there is a fine ya dao po jun formation in back ground of most army moves!
    Much better watch and SEE!

    With my best regards.
    Steve


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