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 theoretical 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.


“Space clearing is the feng shui art of clearing and revitalizing energies in buildings. It’s as essential to the energetic maintenance of a place as physical cleaning is to the physical maintenance. The term “space clearing” has passed into the English language as a generic term for all kinds of energy clearing techniques, but originally it was the name I coined to describe the ceremony I have pioneered and developed since 1978.” – Karen Kingston.

Space Clearing as defined by Karen Kingston is not Feng Shui, the techniques and ceremonies she pioneered and developed since 1978 are her own creation, they have little to do with traditional Feng Shui.

The Chinese term used to cleanse the Sha Qi of a space out of balance is called Huajie, or Jiehua 解化, commonly known as a “cure” in the west. To chase away an evil spirit or to get rid of a ghost is called Bi Xie 避邪 or “Ward Off Evil Spirit” and Qu Gui 驅鬼 or Ghost Exorcism respectively, both involved special techniques and ritual passed down from the Chinese religious tradition and they are nothing like Karen Kingston’s own inventions. These ceremonies, especially the more powerful ones, are very often carried out by specialists invited by the Feng Shui expert.

Then there are the more popular and simple ceremonies, like “paying homage to the four quarters”, which every feng shui practitioner can learn, to help their clients to move in and to take possession of a new home.

At best Space Clearing is an add-on skill to Feng Shui, it is not Feng Shui itself in the traditional sense, but it has been adopted by New-Age Feng Shui in recent years and they claimed it is part of Feng Shui, which is not true.

1676269 (photo taken from

Below are three info-graphics (original graphic by Alan Chong) about the common Chinese parables that says:

1. Destiny
2. Luck
3. Feng shui
4. Good Deeds
5. Education.

The first black triangle at the top implied knowing our destiny and our luck is the most important, that is the Heaven factor controls the success of our life; the second implied doing good deeds and education is most important, that is the Human factors can make the difference and change our fate to make our life a success and the third implied feng shui could bridge the two through knowing and know-how, it is the in-between approach, using the Earth factor (our environment) to enable Heaven and Human to become One (Tairen Heyi 天人合一) to make our life a success.

Which one of the three makes most sense to you?


An open letter to Ying Li

October 10, 2013

Dear Ying Li,

Everything has Yin and Yang and they complement each other to form a whole.

In Feng Shui it is expressed as Xing 形 and Qi 氣, Xing has form and Qi is formless, Xing is tangible and Qi is intangible, Xing is manifested and Qi is un-manifested.

In Flying Star, Qi is expressed as a Star and it is not the physical star in the star, and because it is derived from the Trigrams in a Luoshu picture, it is also called a Gua Qi Star. A Star don’t do anything physically, it is not an energy that is capable of doing work. Instead it inspires us to think and to act. It makes us think of what needs to be done, where to do it and when to do it.

A Star does not make us sick, nor it can bring in the customers, it makes us think about sickness and how to bring in the customers instead. It is our resultant decision and our action that will do the work.

A ritual does not manifest a Star either, like a lot of people are promoting at the moment, a ritual makes us pay attention to a Star and its meaning instead, again it is our resultant decision and action that will do the manifestation and make the intangible become tangible and give form to the formless.

Failure to understand this will turn Feng Shui into a mess of superstition, destroying the valuable benefits of what our cultural heritage can offer.

I wish you well on your journey of discovery to the Mysterious.

Sincerely Yours,
Howard Choy.

The beautiful Ying Li

The beautiful Ying Li

Polish Summer Camp

July 25, 2010

Straight after our hectic building work I went to Lazy next to the Baltic Sea to do a summer camp for the Qigong and then after for the Feng Shui students organized by Lidia and Krzysztof Szarek. The weather was fantastic, hot and sunny, almost like Australia and the sea is not too cold. Konrad, one of our students,  gave a spectacular Fire Show in the square of the old town Darlowo for us one night, what a wonderful way to finish 10 days with friends and students.

“Fung Shui is not a universally accredited discipline being taught in our formal education system. As far as Hong Kong is concerned, any person can run a Fung Shui class or held himself out as a Fung Shui practitioner or master based on his or her own knowledge or understanding of Fung Shui. There is no independent objective assessment (and by the inherent nature of the subject I doubt if there can be such assessment) and thus no quality assurance whatsoever. Against such background, it is rather futile to debate whether a person is a good Fung Shui master or whether a particular Fung Shui theory or practice is sound.”

The above quote is part of the verdict given by the High Court Judge Johnson Lam (courtesy of Joseph Yu’s blog) on the role of the Feng Shui expert witness in the Nina Wang case, in his report Judge Lam gave us a very clear clue of what we, as educators of classical FS, should aim for in the future and that is to make FS an accredited discipline to be taught at the tertiary levels

Acupuncture was not accredited 20 years ago; now one can study it as a Health Sciences degree in an Australian university (that much I know, because I taught FS and Taiji/Qigong at UTS, Sydney, as an elective in the Acupuncture degree). TCM was not accredited up to 10 years ago either, but now the situation has also changed.

Given another 20 years, may be we can do the same for FS and make it one of the degrees that can be offered in the Environmental Studies to be taught at a university or a technical college.

At present Feng Shui is mixed up with all the other Chinese Metaphysics like Bazi Suanming, Face Reading, Palmistry and Yijing divination, etc. which deal more with human potentials than with man’s relationship to the environment. I am of the opinion we should distant Feng Shui from the esoteric practices and restore Feng Shui to its original character and that is a tool examine our relation to nature and how to modify our environment in a harmonious way.

Lee Sang-Hae, in his PhD thesis “Feng Shui: Its Meaning and Context”, 1986 defined Feng Shui as “the canonical sets of ideas of Chinese Architectural Planning. Its theory is based in Chinese natural philosophy and cosmology. It is a mediator relating Chinese ideational systems to the planning of traditional architecture. It is, at the same time, a device for ordering the environment”. All this is worthy of our study.

Instead of complaining about the charlatans, the marketing gimmicks and the superstitious nature of human kind, let us do something pro-active about it.  Otherwise Feng Shui will always remain in the shadow of superstition and continue to be corrupted to a point of ridicule by the public.

I think this court case is a wake-up call for all of us and we should heed its warning before it is too late.

Physics or Metaphysics?

October 16, 2009

Traditional Chinese culture has a different way of thinking and naming things. Trying to put Chinese studies into a western pigeonhole is always fraught with problems. Below is a question by Alexey and my reply that illustrated the difficulty.

Dear Howard.

Recently with some colleagues we had a discussion on the term “Chinese Metaphysics”.

The base of the discussion was the formula

Here, 形而上 (形而上學) corresponds with dao, shen 神 and metaphysics. While 形而下 corresponds to qi 器. In Chinese sciences we study more qi than shen, so we are more to 形而下 rather than 形而上, so “metaphysics” seems to be an improper term.

What do you think on that?

Best regards,

Hi Alexey,

Aristotle made the distinction between physics and metaphysics and we tried to find the Chinese equivalent in the Chinese sciences, which is never an easy task, because even in a binary relationship of this kind, between the Way (Dao 道) and the Vessel (Qi 器) (with the Way being prior in time and without substance and the Vessel being subsequent in time and has substance), it has a common base in the Form (Xing 形) and cannot be separated as two distinct entities.

Zhang Dai-Nian noted that Wang-Zhi did not accept that the metaphysical and physical are related as above and below form as quoted in the Great Commentary, but he affirmed that form is the basis of what is above form and the metaphysical is not prior to form but an expression of form.

Zhang also noted that Dai Zhen accepted that there is a distinction between what is above and what is below form. That the Qi of Yin and Yang that has not yet become things is the formless, and that is above form and not below it.

So the discussions that you are having with some of your colleagues are also reflected in the history of Chinese philosophy and the discussions that went on between the scholars over time.

My take is that since in the Chinese sciences, we study the form and what is above and what is below all at the same time with varying degrees of mix (not always more qi than shen), so if we have to use the Aristotelian terms, then they are both physics AND metaphysics; I agree with you in the sense that to say it is only “metaphysics” would negate the physical observation of forms in the practice of the Chinese sciences. For example: in the practice of Xiang Shu 相術 (the art of observation) where Feng Shui is one of the methods, it requires us to see the “qi/vessel”in and below the form as well as to contemplate the “shen/spirit”outside and above the form.


The way we relate to the Chinese arts is the same in the way we relate to the Chinese sciences mentioned earlier, Bada Shanren’s paintings below show when a painting has both vessel and spirit in the form, then it becomes a work of art and not just an ordinary painting any more. His work transcends space and time because it is not only physically beautiful but metaphysically enlightening and that is what a traditional gentleman/scholar would tried to achieve – to be practical and transcendental at the same time.



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