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.


Feng Shui students often have trouble working out the sitting and facing (or the orientation) of a complex housing developments like The Interlace in Singapore (showed in the first photo below) because they are not aware of the Feng Shui principle “Yiwu yi Taiji” 一物一太極 (“One Item one Taiji”) and how the Form School of feng shui is written in Chinese.

Form School in Chinese is called “Xing-Shi Pai” 形勢派, literally means the Form and Configuration School, which implied that when we look at the feng shui of an environment, we are looking at the form of the individual components and how they would configured together as a whole.

From the outset the Interlace looks like the architect has been playing with his Jenga blocks to come up with his design; with each individual item being one Jenga block and he configured them together so when stacked up they would look like a 888 figure made of Trigrams when viewed from the air (showed in the second photo below).

So from the whole development point of view, the individual item is the singular Jenga block and we can look at its orientations separately, based on one Jenga block being one item with its own form and its own Taiji, along the saying, “Yiwu yi Taiji”.

However, within each individual block there are many units (showed in third photo below), and each unit houses one family or one group of occupants, so from each unit point of view it is one “item” within a block, so we can also work out the orientation of each residential unit being one item under consideration within the configuration of one block within the development.

The orientation of each individual unit is easy to work out because the architect has grouped the yang areas (the living room, kitchen and dinning) at the facing and the yin areas (bedrooms and utilities) at the sitting. However, for each “Jenga” block as an item, the orientation is ambiguous, it can be either of the longer sides because the architect has designed units of similar size and layouts on both sides.

For the whole development as one item, then the orientation is even more difficult to ascertain, because the layout is very erratic because it is based on a pre-conceived “look” from the air, and there is no Yin Yang clarity from a ground level to speak of. The facing could be anywhere along the 360 degrees.

What this means is the quality of the environmental qi pattern is clear for the occupants of each individual units, but it is not so for each block and even less for the whole complex. This could lead to the correlative thinking that the communal spirit for each family is good, for each block it is not strong and for the whole complex it could be erratic. Alternatively, it could be a place where the units are mostly rented out and there are very few owner-occupants.

But we have to bear in mind, correlation is not causation, and this is only a correlative metaphor used to express a certain uneasy feelings when observing the form and configuration of the project from the outside looking in, the residents living inside might have different experience to contradict what we can observe. The correlation we used here is based on the assumption that an ambiguous environment (or qi pattern) will often lead to ambiguous behaviors, consequently the residents living there will find it hard to come together.




Climbing up the West Tower of the Minster Cathedral in the middle of Freiburg im Breisgau, one can look to the east and see the Longmei (the Dragon Vein) of the Schlosssberg Mountain feeding the Diqi (the Earth Qi) into this wonderful old town founded in 1120.



























Freiburg has the classic Feng Shui location of having a mountain at the back (located at the foothill of the Black Forest mountains) and facing the Rhein River to the front with a generous Mingtang in between.

In an old and well-preserved town like this, the church tower is still the urban marker, visible from all directions, and functioning like an Accupoint of the land to mark the Xue (the Feng Shui Spot) for the town.











The square outside the Minster is the heart of the old town and the open space on both sides (a double Mingtang) draws the visitors and the locals like a magnet with its potent mix of commerce and religion, there is a market everyday except Sunday and church services everyday. 

The Minster is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so it is consecrated to the “Yin Qi of Creation’, according to the Chinese, and when one looks at the West Portal with its Yang Tower soaring into the sky (116M high) and the Yin Gothic entry porch like a Yoni, one cannot but feel the creative power of Yin and Yang coming together to give life to this vibrant old town.














To me, the act of creation is further accentuated symbolically by the 3 vertical columns located in front of the West Portal, 3 being the Yang number that give rise to 10,000 things (from the ground up).

But death is always present in the midst of life and one can see in some of the sculptures inside the church, so do enjoy every living moment we have and this was how I felt as we drove towards the French border this morning on our way to Provence….


Qi and Yin and Yang

April 29, 2009

Qi and Yin and Yang

(Extract taken from Gyda Anders’ paper presented at the 4th International Conference on Scientific Feng Shui and the Built Environment, entitled “Feng Shui Criteria for Planning and Design”)

The principle of Yin and Yang forms the basis for Feng Shui. “ Once Yin, once Yang is called the Dao, the Dao of Kan Yu can not be separated from Yin and Yang”. Yin and Yang generate each other. In within Yin there is Yang, in within Yang there is Yin. If Yin reaches source for all being “ The so called dragon is enabled by the mutual transformation, the mutual transformation is enabled by Yin and Yang.” (Wang Yude 王玉德 (1995). “Zhonghua Kanyu Shu” 中华堪舆术. 文津出版社. Taiwan, p78ff)

All being derives from and is defined by the interplay of Yin and Yang. The balance of Yin and Yang define the quality of Qi. To investigate the Qi structure of a place, the qualities and tendencies of a given situation, its Yin Yang balance has to be recognized. To distinguish Yin and Yang 分陰陽 is the premise for the understanding and development of a place and by that for any building activity. Referring to Chinese Classic like the ”Zhou Yi”, the” Dao De Jing” or the Song Dynasty work “地理發微“(Gross And Subtle Principles Of Earth resp. Feng Shui by Cai Yuanding 蔡元定 1135 – 1198, picture showed below) Prof. Wang Yude and author Zhong Yiming 鐘義明 point out the most prominent aspects of Yin and Yang (辯陰陽) to be distinguished

1. Investigate hard and soft 推刚柔

2. Distinguish between substantial and unsubstantial 辯有無

3. Understand movement and stationary 明動靜

4. Distinguish between mountain and water 辯山水

5. Observe gathering and dispersing 觀聚散

6. Distinguish between form and configuration 辯形勢

7. Examine front and back 審向背

8. Distinguish strong and weak 變強弱

9. Differentiate the going along and going against 分順逆

10. Be aware of alive and dead 識生死

11. Inquire the subtle and prominent 察微著

12. Distinguish between stems and branches 辯秓幹

13. Study carefully the parts and the whole 究分合

14. Analyze appearance and essence 別浮沉

15. Determine shallow and deep 定淺深

16. Adjust abundance and reduction 正饒減

17. Particularize the accelerating and avoiding 詳趨避

18. Know about the diminishing and completing 知裁成

19. Regard female and male 觀雌雄

20. Ascertain the origin of mutual resonance 原感應

A system of variance gets established, serving as a frame or structure for the differences. The two complementary antipodes are opposed to each other. They constitute the extreme wherein everything develops. A meticulous inventory of the diversity is raised. With endless patience the being of the situation gets investigated, to find out the essence (本性) to draw its secret.

With this typology, a downright system of coherence is captured. This system is based on the oppositional- complementary relations of yin and yang. Each item or aspect is designed in reference and answer to another. Relevance evolves from their (inter)relation. The objective/aim is to make the specific potential perceptible and operant through grouping and configuration by developing and diversifying the interplay of Yin and Yang.


Many student shave trouble working out the directionality (Sitting and Facing) of a building, often it is not because of their lack of abilities but it is caused by the house location and internal layout not responding appropriately to the context of the site. I have devised a checklist of 16 points for consideration to help them in the process.

From outside looking in – consider how the environment is affecting the building:

1) Consider the direction of the coming dragon, the coming side is the sitting and the going side is the facing.

2) Consider the topography of the land, the higher side is the sitting and the lower side is the facing.

3) Consider the location of the nearest watercourses; closer to the waterside is the facing and further away is the sitting.

4) Consider the nearest roadwork, closer to the road is the facing, further away is the sitting.

5) Consider the nearest open space (mingtang) and view, the more open and the better view is the facing, less open and lack of a view is the sitting.

6) Consider vehicular and pedestrian movements, the more active side is the facing and the more passive side is the sitting.

7) Consider neighbouring buildings, the taller and closer side is the sitting and the lower and further away is the facing.

8) Consider tress and shrubs, the side with higher and denser planting is the sitting and the side with shorter and sparser planting is the facing.

From inside looking out – consider how the building is responding to the environment:

9) Consider the different heights that made up a building, the taller side is the sitting and the shorter side is the facing.

10) Consider the proportion and shape of a building, the longer side is the facing and the shorter side is the sitting.

11) Consider the different levels within a building, the higher level is the sitting and the lower level side is the facing.

12) Consider sunlight and shade, the more sunny side is the facing, shadier side is the sitting.

13) Consider the internal spatial arrangement, the more active side (e.g. Living area) is the facing and the more passive side (e.g. sleeping areas) is the sitting.

14) Consider windows and openings, the side with more is the facing, the side with less is the sitting.

15) Consider the connection from inside to outside, the side with more connection is the facing and the side with less connection is the sitting.

16) Consider the location of the front door, where it is located is the facing and the opposite is the sitting.

By considering these 16 ways of contrasting the yin and the yang, we can better determine the directionality of a building, the general guideline is the more active and less substantial is the facing and the less active and more substantial is the sitting.


According to Prof. Ge Zhao-Guang 葛兆光 of the Department of History, Tsinghua University Beijing, the two Talismans shown above with their accompanying inscription are the two earliest known specimen excavated by archaeologists in China so far.

They were written in red Mercury Sulphide (Zhu Sha 朱砂 or Cinnabar) on a “Jie Zhe Ping” 解謫瓶, a ceramic bottle/vase that is suppose to have contained the deceased’s Yin soul which is to be taken up to heaven to rejoin with his Yang soul and his living sins absolved by the talismans (為死者解謫, 生人除罪過) (refer note at the end on Chinese concept of the soul)

The discovery was made in an Eastern Han 東漢 tomb in a village called Zhujiabao 朱家堡 in Huxian County 戶縣 Shaanxi Province 陝西 in 1972. The deceased’s surname was Cao and the inscription on the vase next to the talismans said he was buried in the 8th Moon of the Second Year in the Reign of Yang Jia 陽嘉二年 (133 AD) when Liu Bao 劉保 was the Emperor.

Experts like Prof. Ge and Prof. Wang Yu-Cheng 王育成 have made attempts to decipher their meanings and below are some of their findings:

The first talisman to the right is composed of the characters Tu (earth), Ri (sun), Yue (moon), Wei (tail) and Gui (ghost).  The Tu (earth) with the five Ri (sun) have the implication of being a Dou , representing the Big Dipper in a commanding position of the Chinese sky. The Ri (sun) and the Yue (moon) together form the boundary of the entire heaven and the Wei (tail) with the Gui (ghost) could refer to the “life” and “death” parts of the 28 Lunar Mansions. They all have to do with the heavenly bodies and hidden within the characters and difficult to see is the character Shi or time (as in being timely).

So the aim of this talisman could have been drawing on the power of the heavenly bodies and the heavenly spirits to assist the world in regulating matters of life and death, fortune and misfortune. (凭借天上星辰以及天上神鬼的力量对世间生死祸福进行调节) When the time is right, the Yin and the Yang are again harmonized by the power of the talismans, so the dead will continue to live in peace in the other world.

The second talisman to the left is less obvious in its writings, one can recognize the character Yun (to allow and to permit), covering the whole talisman. In the middle below is a star formation in the shape of a Y, with the characters Tai , Tian and Yi recognizable at the top of the Y figure. Tai Tian Yi can be read separately as Tai Yi and Tian Yi 天一, which are two stars in the Purple Palace Constellation above the Big Dipper, according to Prof. Qian Bao-Cong 錢寶琮.

However, Prof. Wang Yu-Cheng was more inclined to link the Y star formation and the characters Tai Tian Yi to a military formation called Tai Yi Feng 太一鋒 (“feng” is the cutting edge of a sword) to evade the enemies, except in this old illustration to avoid the enemies (Bi Bing Tu 避兵圖 discovered in another early Han archeological dig ) the Y figure is reversed.

The characters Zhu (a master), Zhu (chase, expel), Sha (evil spirit) and Gui (ghost) are also recognizable with three others uncertain below and to either side of the Y.  The general conclusion the experts drawn is this talisman ws used to protect the burial site 鎮安塚墓, but they also realized within the Daoist religion, only the initiated of the time are capable of fully understanding the symbolic meanings of these figures written during the funeral rite. They are written under strict spiritual guidance and strict ritual rules with deep inner sincerity to communicate with the Daoist Deities above. At the time of the writing, the Daoist priest is in a state of total communion with his counterparts in Heaven.


The Heart is in harmony with the Spirit, the Spirit is in harmony with the Qi, the Qi are truly harmonized (with each other), (thus) the Yin and the Yang are in peace, (while) the sun illuminated the Yang and the moon illuminated the Yin.


Using the Essence and the Qi of the Dao, to pacify and to protect the Five Directions. 


葛兆光 神授天书不立文字


“In the…bodily existence of the individual…are…two… polarities, a p’o soul (or anima) and a hun soul (animus).  All during the life of the individual these two are in conflict, each striving for mastery.  At death they separate and go different ways.  The anima sinks to earth as kuei (gui), a ghost-being.  The animus rises and becomes shen, a spirit or god.”

[Cary Baynes, ed.; Richard Wilhelm and C.  G.  Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower, (Harcourte Brace Jovanovich, 1962), p.64]


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