Many Feng Shui students and practitioners nowadays think the Compass School is more important than Form Feng Shui, very few is aware that before the Song Dynasty, there were no Compass Schools at all because the Luopan compass was not yet invented.

During the Qianlong period of Qing Dynasty, the imperial court was so concerned that Feng Shui has deterioated to a point where the Compass School is beginning to overtake the Form School, that the members of the Imperial Astronomers Department, including the chief officer Gao Dabin 高大賓and his deputy Qi Kechang 齊克昌, banded together to write a book called, “Qin Tian Jian Feng Shui Zhen Lun 欽天監風水正論” – “The Imperial Astronomers’ Sound Arguments on Feng Shui”.

The aim was to point out and to correct the mistakes made by the prevant and fashionable Feng Shui practcices of the time and to make a distinction between the imperial court’s and the layman’s undestanding of Feng Shui. What do these imperial experts have to say about Form and Compass School of Feng Shui, which in Chinese are called Luantpou Pai 巒頭派and Liqi Pai 理氣派respectiveley?

The book repeatedly explained the real purpose to “Cheng Sheng Qi 乘生氣” or to “ride the Sheng Qi (that is to take advantage of the Qi that norishes and give life to things)” as mentioned in the first line of GuO Pu’s Zang Shu 葬書 or The Book of Burial, can be obtained by looking at the physical form of the land and not by calcualtions with a compass rerading.

I have translated the following line from their book to summarise their point of view in essence:

“The Liqi within the Yin and Yang and the Five Phase are to be found inside Luantou and not outside of it. Luantou (Form School) also has Liqi (Compass School) built within It”.

What they meant was the Sheng Qi mentioned by Gua Pu is hidden in the form, it is not in the Luopan compass, when the Dragon (mountain range) rises and falls vigoriusly it has Qi, and when it sinks low all the way and disperses, its Qi disappears; when the landscape floiws and meanders, it has Qi and when it become flat and stiff, its Qi is gone; lush vegetation has Qi and slow dying vegetation has no Qi. The Qi that was talked about by Guo Pu is this kind of environmental Qi with form and not the so-called Gua Qi 卦氣 (the Qi of the Trigrams), or Xing Qi 星氣 (Qi ofthe Qi of the Stars), or Shi Qi 時氣(the Qi of time) and Yun Qi 運氣 (the Qi of Cycle of Luck).

What the imperial astronomers wanted to say is the Form Schools had precedent over the Compass School, working with the tangible that has forms through observation and appearance is more reliable than working with the intangible that is formless by way of calculations. We tend to keep forgetting this and thinks that is the compass calculations that will give us the answers, whereas in practice form feng shui holds the key.


Eric Martell, an Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Milikin Univeristy explained Schrodinger’s thought experiment in quantum mechanic in this way, ” If you try to make predictions and you assume you know the status of the cat, you’re (probably) going to be wrong. If, on the other hand, you assume it’s in a combination of all the possible states that it can be, you’ll be correct.” (“The Physics Behind Schrodinger’s Cat Paradox”, by Melody Kramer, National Geographic.)

When I read this, I was surprised how similar this is to the definition of Qi as expressed In Zhang Dainian’s “Key Concepts in Chinese Philiosophy”, translated and edited by Edmiund Ryden (p45), “Qi is both what really exists and what has the ability to become. To stress one at the expense of the other would be to misundertsand Qi”.

To me this means until we can observe the outcome of an invisible Formless Qi 炁, like the Qi of our destiny(Ming Qi 命氣), the potential outcomne is all encomposing and it would be futile for us to try to make any accurate predictions. We have to “wait for our destiny”, as mentioned by the Confucian scholars, but meanwhile we can always try our best, so the potential outcome is a genuine one and not one predicted on paper by our Bazi or our Feng Shui or whatever a Chinese predictive method is used.

We often make the mistakes thinking that the correlations used in making predictions are causations, whereas the ancient Chinese is trying to use the formless Qi of the Trigrams, the Stems and the Branches and so forth, through correlations, metaphors and associations to get us to look at the potentials of a situation with Chinese correlative thinking to “read” the invisible Formless Qi 炁 through the apperance of the visible Form Qi 氣.

But we need to be mindful that they are potentials and tendencies only, we don’t know for sure and we should not pretend that we can know the future with certainty, we can only make an intelligent guess of what would likely to come, to help us to bring out into the consicous our longings and fears, so we can make an appropriate decision to do the right thing, at the right time and in the right place to be efficacious.

Like the modernday scientists, the ancient Chinese philosophers used the concept of Qi in its form and formless state, to try to come to terms with the quantum mechanic of living, not with scientific experiements, but with philosophical concepts (Ti 體) expressed in technical applications (Yong 用), using correlations with numbers and symbols.

We should keep Schroginger’s cat in mind, everytime we do a Feng Shui consultation or a Bazi reading, and not to pretend that we can tell the future but to use different modes of thinking to make an intelligent guess of the future to help us to handle the present.


From the way, Guo Pu defined the term Feng Shui in his Zang Shu or the Book of Burial (Translation by Stephen L Fireld):

‘The Classic says: Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water.  The ancients collected it to prevent its dissipation, and guided it to assure its retention. Thus, it was called fengshui.’

We can see Feng Shui puts a lot of emphasis on the idea of “Zang Feng De Shui” 藏風得水 (to store from the wind and obtain water) to gather the Qi to benefit a tomb or a dwelling and its occupant From this we can see Qi is an important concept in Feng Shui, yet very few people, including many Feng Shui practitioners, have a clear idea what is this Qi in Feng Shui.

With the advent of modern science, many Feng Shui theorists tried to use hard science to explain Qi, some think it is related to electromagnetism, while others to negative and positive ions and so forth, and the term “energy”, as used in science, is often equated to Qi, as though Qi can do work to fulfill our longings and desires, like wealth and happiness, with Feng Shui.

This sentiment is echoed in Dr. Jay Bulloch’s article “What is Qi?” (

“Most people in the West, including many authors, think qi means energy, but this “represents a basic misconception that is not supported by Chinese ancient sources” (Unschuld, 1985, p. 72). This common mistranslation has lead to many erroneous ideas and understandings with regards to Chinese medicine. The term qi is complex, multilayered, and at its core, profound. It is one of the most difficult terms in Chinese language to translate. Not only is there no equivalent word in the English language, there is also no all-encompassing, equivalent concept in Western thought or science.”

From my perspective, after studying and working with Feng Shui as a practicing Feng Shui architect, consultant and teacher for nearly 40 years, I think this is an inappropriate approach, because it is trying to explain a unique Chinese cultural heritage with a western world-view. To me, a better approach would be through a Feng Shui and a Chinese world-view, instead of a western paradigm. Look at Qi in Feng Shui not from a hard science point of view, but from a Chinese cultural and philosophical perspective instead.

Three assumptions are made in a Feng Shui paradigm, the first is everything under the sun, be it organic or inorganic, has Qi, the second is everything that has Qi has Yin and Yang and the third is because of this continuum, everything is interconnected. So right from the beginning the Chinese sees Qi as a continuum and as a component of Yin and Yang.

In p46 of Prof. Zhang Dainian’s “Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy” (translated by Edmund Ryden, Foreign Languages Press 2002), he wrote from the Pre-Qi to the Han, Qi is understood as intimately associated with Yin and Yang and then he quoted an extract from a speech by the Grand Historiographer of Zhou, Boyangfu. Yin and Yang are the two aspects of Qi and when the Qi of Heaven and Earth is out of balance, then an earthquake occurs.

In Prof. Zhang’s 8 pages explaining the concept of Qi (p45 – p63), Edmund Ryden at the beginning of his translation, has summarized the professor’s scholarly work with his understanding of what is Qi and I think it is a very good explanation and it echoes with the practice of Feng Shui:

‘In popular parlance qi is applied to the air we breathe, steam, smoke, and all gaseous substance. The philosophical use of the term underlines the movement of qi. Qi is both what really exists and what has the ability to become. To stress one at the expense of the other would be to misunderstand qi. Qi si the life principle but is also the stuff of inanimate objects. As a philosophical category, qi originally referred to the existence of whatever is of a nature to become. This meaning is then expanded to encompass all phenomena, both physical and spiritual. It is energy that has the capacity to become material object while remaining what it is. It thus combines “potentiality” with “matter”. To understand it solely as “spirituality” would be wrong, just as it cannot be translated as “matter.’

If we can accept as its definition:

‘Qi is both form and formless “matter” and it’s potential to become while remaining what it is, thus Qi combines “potential” with “matter” ‘

then we can see Qi, as a therectical construct, is a mean for the Chinese to link the Yin with the Yang as a continuum that would connect the Heaven above, the Earth below and the Human in us, to look at our relationship with the environment we live in, which is essentially what we do in Feng Shui.

Sheng Qi is a result when Yin and Yang come together in a harmonious and balanced way, while the complementary opposite Sha Qi happens when Yin and Yang are out of balance and the life-enhancing Sheng Qi is prevented from taking place. That is what Gu Pu was referring to when he wrote, “To bury is to take advantage of the Sheng Qi” in the first line of this Zang Shu mentioned earlier.

He was not talking about taking advantage of some geodetic force in the ground, he was referring to finding a balance between Yin and Yang of all sorts in their myriad of correlations, like high and low, mountain and water, front and back, left and right and so forth, all the physical attributes that would make up the Form Feng Shui school. But if there is form and everything has Yin and Yang, then there is also the formless in Feng Shui and to study the formless, we have the Compass, or the Liqi Pai – the formless Qi-pattern school.

In the Liqi Pai, a Luopan compass is used to measure the directions of a house or a tomb. This measurement is then correlated to a Trigram and through the Trigram correlations or associations, the practitioner would “read” the Qi of the Trigrams, which eventually will correlated back down to the Five Phase relationships, and with the Five Phase (Wuxing 五行) – the five “matters” (in this case the 5 Qi correlations) of Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal, and their potential to become, the practitioner can determine which relation is auspicious and which is harmful. As a result, we have the Wuxing Qi, or the Qi of the Five Phases to work with. Again, this Qi is not some sort of energy or force, but relationships that are either desirable or not, according to whether the relationship between the Five-Phase Qi is harmonious or out of balanced or otherwise.

Through this definition for Qi, we can also explain some of the unusual expression or mystical demonstrations of Qi we often see in Qigong and Kung Fu, a good example is the so-called Empty Force (Lingkong Jin 凌空勁) – the ability to move another person without touching that person. The so-called Qi (Jin is defined as dynamic Qi) is a continuum of Yin and Yang and a continuum needs a connection, so to demonstrate this Qi, one needs a sender and a receiver. When the student as a receiver, is under the influence of his or her master as the sender, then the Qi of mutual resonance can take place and the student gets pushed over. But if this teacher tries to push a stranger, who is not connected to the sender, or not able to receive his Qi (i.e. no mutual resonance), then if won’t work. Not knowing the true meaning of Qi and the working of Qi, we mistaken it as some sort of super-human power beyond our understanding.

The character for Qi is written with the radical “rice” below the radical for “vapour”. Rice is substantial while vapour is the opposite, when ric is cooked it sinks to the bottom while the vopou rises, so even the written word for Qi is associated with Yin and Yang. The term Feng Shui (wind and water) also expressed the same sentiment, with wind being the active and water being the passive agent in nature. Calligraphy by Wang Xi-Zhi (303-361 AD).

The other day, one of my students asked me about the future of Hong Kong, after 20 years of handover, from a Feng Shui perspective, so I took out a satellite map of the Pearl River Delta Region of which Hong Kong is located at the end of the same Dragon Vein embracing the region and said to him.

It is very obvious to me looking at the map, the greater Mingtang or the ideal Xue (FS Spot) is located to the south of the city of Guangzhou, thus in the long run, the prosperity of the region will shift north-west-ward from Hong Kong. This was not possible before the handover because Mainland politics have cut off the regional connection through Human Qi, but now the political situation has changed and the region is opening up and consequently the Earth Qi will re-exert its influence aided by the human desire to make the region into one big basin.

The shift will start with Shenzhen and it is already happening now, this shift is mirrored with Macao to Zhuhai on the White Tiger side, but Hong Kong will never die out because it is located on the Azure Dragon, the Yang side of the Four Animals model and she will continue to play an active part, but not the only part in the region any more.

That was the answer I gave my student with this map shown below.

The Chinese Luopan Compass with all its esoteric markings like the Yin Yang, the Wuxing, the Bagua, the 12 Life Cycles, the 24 Mountains, the 28 Lunar Mansions and the 64 Hexagrams etc., have always captivated the Chinese, who often felt that this instrument is magical and it has a supernatural quality unlike the ordinary compass. So, when the needle in the Tian Chi, or the Heavenly Pool, moves in an abnormal way, the Chinese would see it as a sign that the site is possessed by some malevolent spirits. Some practitioners would capitalise on this folk belief and promote the idea that they have the supernatural ability to see ghosts and spirits with the Luopan compass.

1) The Unstable Needle. 搪针.
The needle keeps moving, not able to remain still and it does not align with the middle. This indicates that the site has abnormal rocks below and whoever live there will encounter disaster and calamity. If the needle hoovers over the Xun, the Si and the Bing directions then there are antique remains to be found there and the site will attract wanton women, shamanic practitioners and lonely bachelors.

2) The Rising Needle. 兑针.
It is also called the Floating Needle, the head of the needle is tilted upward, this indicates a presence of benevolent Yin Qi and the source comes either from the deceased ancestors or from some protective spirits.

3) The Sinking Needle. 沉针.
The head of the needle is tilted downward, this also indicates that there is a presence of Yin Qi but in this case, it is neither protective nor harmful, instead it indicates the deceased has met with an unusual and an unjust death and felt uncomfortable being buried without a resolution.

4) The Turning Needle. 转针.
The needle cannot stop rotating, it indicates the presence of malevolent Yin Qi, the Qi of hatred and resentment will not dissipate and whoever live there will be physically harmed or emotionally hurt.

5) The Dropped Needle. 投针
The needle is half sinking and half floating, it tilts alternatively upward and downward, neither all the way to the top nor all way to the bottom. It indicates that there is a grave below and and whoever live there will experience sadness, gossip and lawsuits.

6) The Inverse Needle. 逆针.
The needle does not sit on the central line smoothly and the head tilts to one side or the other. This indicates that the place will produce a rebellious person and both the person and the wealth will decline; there is no good feng shui to speak about.

7) The Inclined Needle. 侧针.
The needle has stopped but does not return to the central line. This indicates that the site is suitable only for a temple or a religious alter and not for a residential dwelling.

8) The Proper Needle. 正针.
The needle leans neither to one side nor the other, it sits steadily and it aligns with the central line. This indicates that the site is a normal one and one may consider different aspects with discernment.

PS: Anyone who uses the Luopan compass long enough would know that it is not unusual for the needle to behave in an abnormal way occasionally. Some would prefer to look for a physical cause, while others would believe in a supernatural one. The choice is up to you.
The reference I used on the Qi Zhen Ba Fa comes from a Taiwanese Feng Shui teacher called Yan Shi 顏仕, he is the Principal of Dahan Yijing College. I understand he wrote about the 8 Abnormal Needles after doing his own research from writings of the past on the Luopan compass.

After a house is built, Liqi Pai 理氣派 or Compass School Feng Shui is concerned with how the building is engaging with the environment from a Gua Qi 卦氣 (Qi of the Trigrams) point of view and there are three ways to do this, according to the San Cai 三才 theory of Tian Qi, Di Qi and Ren Qi or the Three Abilities theory of Heaven Qi, Earth Qi and Human Qi:

1) To “ride” (Cheng 乘) the Earth Qi.
2) To “face” (Xiang 向) the Heaven Qi.
3) The “take in” (Na 納) the Human Qi.

For this reason, a compass method, like the Bazhai Mingjing 八宅明鏡 Eight Mansion School, would use the sitting direction, called the Fu Wei, to calculate the locations of the eight Wandering Qi through Yao line changes, the idea is to use the correlations of the compass readings to calculate how the house is “sitting on” or “riding” the Earth Qi.

Another system, like the Xuankong Sanyuan Feixing Pai 玄空三元飛星派 or Space-Time Three-Era Flying Star School, would use the facing direction to calculate the location of the flying stars, with its resultant sitting and facing star influencing health/relationship and wealth/officialdom respectively. The idea is to use the facing direction and its subsequent correlations of the eight Trigrams in the eight directions, to calculate how the house would face the Heaven Qi and whether a particular direction is auspicious or harmful (ji-xiong 吉凶) from a health and wealth perspective.

Still another method, like the Yangzhai Sanyao Bazhai Pai 陽宅三要八宅派 or the Three Essentials of a Yang Dwelling Eight-Mansion School, would use the front door as its Fu Wei, to calculate the locations of the eight Wandering Qi memorized by the Song of the Yearly Cycles (Younian Ge 遊年歌), namely Fu Wei 伏位, Sheng Qi 生氣 , Yan Nian 延年, Tian Yi 天醫, Huo Hai 禍害, Jue Ming 絕命, Liu Sha 六煞 and Wu Gui 五鬼, instead of using the sitting direction mentioned earlier.

When a house is not yet built, Feng Shui is concerned with its location to the landscape, so in systems like the four San He Water Methods, they use the incoming and outgoing water in front of the site, as well as the direction of the Coming Dragon of the mountains behind as their reference point, to set up the 12 Life-Cycle (十二長生訣), to calculate the auspicious and harmfulness of a location.

In Xuankong Dagua, the aim is match the siting of a house with its landscape (Shan Shui or Mountain and Water), so the direction of the “Coming Dragon” and “Going Water” of the land is matched with the Sitting and Facing of the house, according to the correlated numbers or Trigrams so the 4 numbers/trigram are either of the same, adding up to 5, 10 or 15 or they have Hetu pairing relationships to be ritually correct and auspicious.

Thus we can see the Compass Feng Shui Schools have different metrics to reflect the different way a house would engage its environment, and these are used as reference points for calculations, both before and after its construction, also internally and externally.

When this is understood, the compass methods may seem numerous and complicated, but they all have the same objective: how best to engage the Qi of the environment, so it can energize and nourish us in a meaningful and ritually correct way. Obviously, the best way would be for a house to be able to “ride”, to “face” and to “take in” the Qi of the environment in the most appropriate or auspicious way at the same time and this idea should be the core principles of any Compass school of Feng Shui.


The other day I was asked this interesting question about the annual flying star, which is a question of concern during this time of the year.

How big of an effect are the annual flying stars to a home’s Feng Shui? Or rather how should people be using this info to benefit their Feng Shui?

The annual flying star is based on the Luoshu, which is a general representation of the universe according to the ancient Chinese, where the even numbers represented the square Earth and the odd numbers represented the circular Heaven above (see picture below). Consequently the yearly flying star is a pattern language using correlations to represent space-time and the regular cyclical changes in Nature.

The annual flying star is not meant to be a specific picture of what would happen in the coming year in the 8 directions, it is there to stimulate us, using correlative thinking, to think about our relationship to our environment with our fears and longings in the present, so we can make plans for the new year.

The effects in the different directions suggested by the annual flying star of all sorts should not be taken literally, just like when we are born in a certain year we are correlated to a certain animal. This animal is only a metaphor of what we could and can be, we are not literally that animal.

But this information can be used to examine different space in our house, we can use the chart to reflect on our hopes and our fears for the coming year and also how to plan and manage another 12 months, knowing that things will always go up and down in cycles.

For example, if there is an indication of theft and robbery in the South-West because the 7 Red Metal “Broken Army” Star of Robbery has landed in this direction in 2017. Don’t panic, the 7 is not going to cause you trouble literally, it is just an indication that there could be some issues relating to the 7 and its correlations in this direction, so check what is there? Is the security sound? Is the security of the house a concern? Did you renew you household insurance for next year? And so forth and if it still worries you, put up a picture with blue colour or with a water scene there because Water can weaker Metal and in this way you begin to redecorate and to refresh your home for the new year as well. That is how it could be used to benefit our feng shui and enrich our life at the same time annually.



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