Feng Shui is a Chinese philosophical system of harmonizing everyone with the surrounding environment. It is closely linked to Taoism. The term feng shui literally translates as “wind-water” in English. This is a cultural shorthand taken from the passage of the now-lost Classic of Burial recorded in Guo Pu’s commentary: Feng shui is one of the Five Arts of Chinese Metaphysics, classified as physiognomy (observation of appearances through formulas and calculations). The feng shui practice discusses architecture in metaphoric terms of “invisible forces” that bind the universe, earth, and humanity together, known as qi.
Traditional feng shui is an ancient system based upon the observation of heavenly time and earthly space. The literature of ancient China, as well as archaeological evidence, provide some idea of the origins and nature of the original feng shui techniques.
There is no replicable scientific evidence that feng shui’s mystical claims are real, and it is considered by the scientific community to be pseudoscience.
Historically, feng shui was widely used to orient buildings—often spiritually significant structures such as tombs, but also dwellings and other structures—in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of feng shui being used, an auspicious site could be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars, or a compass.
Beginning with palatial structures at Erlitou, all capital cities of China followed rules of feng shui for their design and layout. During the Zhou era, the Kaogong ji (simplified Chinese: 考工记; traditional Chinese: 考工記; “Manual of Crafts”) codified these rules. The carpenter’s manual Lu ban jing (simplified Chinese: 鲁班经; Lu ban’s manuscript) codified rules for builders. Graves and tombs also followed rules of feng shui, from Puyang to Mawangdui and beyond. From the earliest records, the structures of the graves and dwellings seem to have followed the same rules.
Partly because of the Cultural Revolution, in today’s mainland China less than one-third of the population believe in feng shui, and the proportion of believers among young urban Chinese is said to be much lower Learning feng shui is still somewhat considered taboo in today’s China. Nevertheless, it is reported that feng shui has gained adherents among Communist Party officials according to a BBC Chinese news commentary in 2006, and since the beginning of Chinese economic reforms the number of feng shui practitioners is increasing. A number of Chinese academics permitted to research on the subject of feng shui are anthropologists or architects by profession, studying the history of feng shui or historical feng shui theories behind the design of heritage buildings, such as Cao Dafeng, the Vice-President of Fudan University, and Liu Shenghuan of Tongji University.