Chinese Architecture and Feng Shui: The Siamese Twins

Categories: Architecture

Chinese architecture and Feng Shui  are pronounced in the same breath as both have come a long way together since the last 4000 years, and now Feng-Shui (Air-Water, literally) has caught the mind all around globe. Feng Shui is, in fact, an ethnic philosophy of China dealing with the basic principles of living while extending its wings into astrology and other paranormal sources that people believe are associated with longevity and good luck. No wonder then, it continued to govern the Chinese society since its advent and also became evolved with time to match the stride of the civilization, thereby influencing the living of its believers in every strata.

Off late, Feng Shui has been seriously considered as an important tool in architecture around the globe.


Quin niao tse, an officer in the Yellow Emperor’s regime is believed to be the originator or the propagator of Feng Shui, and accordingly once it was called as the ‘Art of Qin niao tse’, though any documentation of his work is considered to be lost (Too, 1996).

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However, Feng Shui today  is known as the ‘art of placement’. The Feng Shui literature primarily describes the earth as a living being, having energy channels. They call them as the ‘veins of the dragon’ and earmark the convergence points of those channels as auspicious sites. It embedded Taoism[1] on its journey, and as an effect, Chinese people accepted its explanation and concretized its foundation by practicing it in the various spheres of their living, of which architecture had been heavily influenced.

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Incubating Period

Conforming with Taoism, it soon established two schools, viz., the ‘Direction School’ and the ‘Situation School’, with one complementing the other. They still exists, where The Direction School deals with the accurate alignment of the site and the building with the stars. It is based on the theory of five elements, eight characters of birth and eight triagrams of ‘I Ching’. The Situation School deals with the significance of shapes, height the mountains, speed and curves of the water bodies (Too, 1996).

This twin aspects of Feng Shui became popular enough to be spread out not only in the whole of China, but also in its neighboring countries. This generated an extended interest on further study and development of the subject as a whole, and that resulted into the birth of another branch that started to work on the dimension of timing, based on the belief that every piece of land goes through a cycle of good and bad luck. This idea influenced the monarchy to such an extent that they became choosy even about their burial sites; as that, according to the new branch, had some bearing on the longevity of the ruling dynasty. Ming Tombs of Beijing still stands as a proof of such belief beheld by the rulers of the Ming dynasty. (1368-1644).

Like every philosophy or idea, Feng Shui also had to face a great deal of upheaval. In its traced track of existence, it faced ban twice, once in the time of Yuan dynasty (Mongols invaders) and in 1949, when the communist government of China found it a superstitious practice (Traditional, 2006). But, as the wise says, old habits die hard; Feng Shui has gradually bounced back and at present is doing a roaring business all around the globe where the Chinese themselves have become a minor entrepreneur. Taking clue from the growing market, other ethnic ideas of China, like astrology or acupressure, have also been embedded with Feng Shui to create a  comprehensive living solution.

How Feng Shui Influences Architecture

Feasibility of certain requirements of living always determines the viability of any architectural project. At the first level it deals with easy accessibility to the site, height and shape of the land, easy availability of water, scope for proper sewerage, free flow of clean air etc. If the primary conditions prove conducive, then the architects emphasize on the second level, where they check and decide on the appropriateness of external and the internal structure of the proposed construction.

After that come the factors related to aesthetics or special features, which could enhance the scope to exploit the surrounding environment. All these levels of considerations are equally important for both the intended dwellers of the proposed constructions and its surroundings. Since Feng Shui claims to have better prescriptions for all those three levels of consideration along with its huge list of advices on actual living principles,  it has tremendous influence of architecture industry, as that is being proved even today.

The Basics of Feng Shui

Feng Shui claims to assess and identify the positive and negative aspects of a place through its system based on a theory of Yin(the feminine force) and Yang(the male force), the two opposite yet complementary forces which are believed to be the cause of life and death, where Yin is considered as earth and  Yin as heaven.

There is a symbolic representation of the duo as well, where a line of two dashes represents Yin and a continuous line denotes Yang, while each is being derived from a square and a circle, which represent the earth and heaven respectively.  Yin and Yang take a set of five elements like Earth, Fire, Metal, Wood and Water to assess and decide on the preconditions of living. Though it is difficult to summarize the huge connotation behind this dualistic philosophy of Yin and Yang, yet it can be said that it propagates to use the right quotient among divergent forces like Heaven, Human being, and Earth to achieve balance and harmony in life.

Yin and Yang theory is then joined by Bagua theory, which consists of eight triagrams, known by the names like Qian, Kun, Zhen, Xun, Li, Kan, Dui and Gen. Combination of these are used to draw a hypothesis about possible future events to take place in the house. In the end Tao, Yin-Yang theory and Bagua theory work together to enhance and maintain ‘Chi’, the vital life-force behind everything (Too, 1996).

Thus, encompassing the environmental, philosophical and spiritual factor, Feng Shui suggests about the best possible order and placement of the objects to attain peace or harmony or the other results as desired by the owner of a house. In the process it involves itself into further details like assessing the zodiacal placement of the prospective dwellers to present a tailor-made prescription for the design and lay-out for their house, covering both the interior and exterior of it.

How It Works

Feng Shui has a set of grammar to follow. It starts with prescribing the possible right directions of a site according to its surroundings (Fong). It identifies one direction as the attributors of certain elements and earmarks certain functions of the house-to-be to that direction. A quick glance on such a list would explain the subject further:

North East: The Area of Education: represented by Earth element;

North: The Area of Career Luck: represented by Water element;

Northwest: Area of Mentor Luck: represented by Metal element;

West: Area of the Descendants’ Luck: represented by Metal element;

Southwest: Area of Love Y Marriage Luck: represented by Earth element;

South: Area of Fame and Luck: represented by Fire element;

Southeast: Area of Wealth Luck: represented by Wood element;

East: Area of Health and Family Luck: represented by Wood element.

Various shapes and colors are also believed to be associated with the above directions along with numbers; they are calculated on the basis of the of the owner’s gender and zodiacal data. According to Feng Shui, the productive cycle of the elements work out in the following directions:

Earth > Fire > Wood > Water > Metal

Lucky Talisman

There are a few objects that are considered as the provider of luck and Chi according to the Feng Shui myths and legends (Tips, 2006). The most popular ones are: the artifacts like Three-legged toad with a coin in its mouth, bunch of Chinese coins tagged in a red ribbon, the wind-chimes, golden dragon fish, gem trees, crystal globe or other crystal artifacts, tortoises, fruit trees, ships, hens, Mandarin ducks, etc. They are advised to place in the strategic positions according to the need of the householders.


Applying calculations involving all these factors mentioned, Feng Shui determines the best possible living solutions for people. Starting from prescribing for a township, it can go down to the minutest details to determine even the placement of small items in a house. In all, Feng Shui’s utility value is great in the sense that creates awareness about healthy and prosperous living, which the modern world embraced and working on for the sustainable development of the societies across the globe.


Feng Shui Tips: 2006 retrieved March 14, 2007, from


Fong, H. What You Absolutely Must Know Before You Buy A House: pdf, retrieved     March 14, 2007, from

Too, L. (1996). The Complete Illustrated Guide to Feng Shui: How to Apply the Secrets             of Chinese Wisdom for Health, Wealth and Happiness. Element Books

Traditional Feng Shui: 2006, retrieved March 14, 2007, retrieved from   

[1] Tao (pathway to life), ancient Chinese philosophy on understanding of cosmology, astronomy, and the astrophysics.

Cite this page

Chinese Architecture and Feng Shui: The Siamese Twins. (2017, Apr 24). Retrieved from

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