Feng shui is an ancient Chinese practice believed to utilize the Laws of both Heaven, (astronomy), and Earth, (geography), to help one improve life by receiving positive Qi. The original designation for the discipline is Kan Yu.

The words 'feng shui' literally translates as "wind-water"in English, which is a cultural shorthand taken from the following passage of the Zhangshu (Book of Burial) by Guo Pu of the Jin Dynasty:

"Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water."

Most of today's feng shui schools teach that it is the practice of arranging objects, (such as the internal placement of furniture in an environment,) to achieve harmony with one's environment. It is also used for choosing a place to live, for plotting a burial site, and still others use it for agricultural planning. Proponents claim that feng shui has an effect on health, wealth and personal relationships; critics consider it a pseudoscience.

Early feng shui relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe and it is inseparable from an understanding of political power in premodern China.

Chinese often used the celestial poles determined by the pole stars to determine the north-south axis of settlements. This technique explains why Shang palaces at Xiaotun lie 10° east of due north. In some cases, as Paul Wheatley observed, they bisected the angle between the directions of the rising and setting sun to find north. This technique provided the more precise alignments of the Shang walls at Yanshi and Zhengzhou.

Currently Early Yanshao and Hongshan cultures provide the earliest evidence for feng shui. Professor David Pankenier and his associates reviewed astronomical data for the time of the Banpo dwellings (4000 BCE) to show that the asterism Yingshi (Lay out the Hall, in the Warring States period and early Han era) corresponded to the sun's location at this time. Centuries before, the asterism Yingshi was known as Ding. It was used to indicate the appropriate time to build a capital city, according to the Shijing. Apparently an astronomical alignment ensured that Banpo village homes were sited for solar gain.

The grave at Puyang (radiocarbon dated 5,000 BP) that contains mosaics of the Dragon and Tiger constellations and Beidou (Dipper) is similarly oriented along a north-south axis. The presence of both round and square shapes in the Puyang tomb, and at Hongshan culture ceremonial centers, suggests that the gaitian cosmography (heaven-round, earth-square) was present in Chinese society long before it appeared in the Zhou Bu Suan Jing.

All capital cities of China followed rules of Feng Shui for their design and layout. These rules were codified during the Zhou era in the Kaogong ji. Rules for builders were codified in the carpenter's manual Lu ban jing. Graves and tombs also followed rules of Feng Shui. From the earliest records, it seems that the rules for the structures of the graves and dwellings were the same.

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Feng Shui. The Official Guide to Feng Shui is P.K. Odle.

P.K. Odle is a widely recognized Classical Feng Shui consultant, speaker, author, publisher and internationally respected instructor for the renowned American Feng Shui Institute, since 1998. Her consulting firm, The Feng Shui Advantage was founded in 1997 and specializes in working with Solo-preneurs... from chiropractors to info-preneurs, restaurateurs to retailers, artists to attorneys, interior designers to graphic designers, engineers to architects, from start-up to existing businesses.

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