The 15 Core Principles of Feng Shui 2

Core Principle 8
Determine the Amount and the Standard

Feng Shui thinking has an affinity with sustainable development; the idea is that the population density of a place should be in proportion to the capacity it can sustain. In Feng Shui, where the water comes in and goes out is called the “Shui Kou”, and there is a standard and a guideline we can adhere to so the resource can keep up with the population growth. Many of the traditional towns and villages kept to this standard to survive.

Chapter 7 of the “Rudiyan Tushuo” 入地眼图说 or “The Illustrated Earth Penetrating Eyes”, entitled “Shui Kou”, ives a rough guide for the type of development a place can handle, it says:

“From 1 to 60-70 miles or 1 to 20-30 miles, if there is an affectionate feeling in the landscape and the Qi is held back, then it should sustain a large to medium size city. If it is only 10 or so miles then it should sustain a large town, if it is 5 to 6 miles then it should sustain a small town and if it is only 1 to 2 miles then it is good for a village. The wealth of a place is determined by the distance (of an open space) and the amount of water (that is available).” [29]

The open space referred to above is called a “Ming Tang” in Feng Shui [30]. The Ming Tang is likened to the open space in front of the Emperor’s throne. This is where the ministers and the court officials are gathered, and their size and quality will determine the future of a kingdom. Likewise, the size and the quality of a Ming Tang can determine the auspicious and harmfulness of a site. The Ming Tang should not be over or under-sized, and it should have an amount appropriate to the number of dwellers and the functional requirements of the built form.

In other words, we should not waste the land or the resource, nor should we allow an insufficient land size to create unnecessary pressure on the occupants [31].

  1. Hong Kong is considered to have prosperous Feng Shui because the water of the Zhujiang River enters the harbor at the Tian Men or the “Heaven’s Door” to the NW Qian direction, where it is wide open and leaves at the “Di Fu” or the “Earth’s Gate” to the SE Kun direction where it is narrow and tight; thus holding a large amount of water with a deep harbor. Ref: “Kanyu Guanjian” 堪舆管见or “My Humble Opinions on Kanyu” by Michael Jiang.
  2. A Ming Tang is originally a sacred building where the Emperor paid homage to Heaven, to pray for a good harvest, but later on Feng Shui adopted the term to describe the open space in front of a site for a building, or a tomb, or even a town.
  3. Feng Shui standards and guidelines not only applied to site selection and planning, but they also applied to measurements and to the division of time, like the Luban 鲁班and the Yabai 压白Rulers.

Without a firm amount and a proper standard, no Feng Shui audit or analysis is possible. The major problem facing Feng Shui is that even after 2 – 3,000 years of development, there are no agreed standards between different Liqi Pai and Compass Schools of Feng Shui, thus making it a major impediment to the continued advancement of Feng Shui knowledge in this area. Fortunately, the same difficulty is not evident in the Xingshi Pai or the Form Schools.

Core Principle 9
顺 乘生气原则
Take Advantage of the Sheng Qi

The first sentence in Guo Pu’s 郭璞book “Zang Shu” 葬书, or “The Book of Burial” stated one of the main aims of Feng Shui: “To bury is to “ride” (that is to take advantage) of the Sheng Qi”. What is Sheng Qi and how can one identify it?

A Ming Dynasty Feng Shui master called Jiang Pingjie 蒋平阶, in his book, “Shuilong Jing” 水龙经or “The Water Dragon Classic” (reference) pointed out that the key to discern the moving “Sheng Qi” is to look at the water, he wrote:

“Qi is the mother of water, when water stops, Qi stops. Water in turn follows the Qi flow and when water stops flowing, Qi also. There is a mutual feeling between the mother (Qi) and son (water) and they pursue each other. What we can see on the surface is water, what we cannot see inside is Qi. What is showed and not showed go together and that is the magical effect of making and transforming between the two. So if we want to examine the movement of Qi on the ground, we can look at the coming and going of water and then we will know. The moving Dragon has water at its side (so) when water comes to a halt, Qi also”.

Thus we can see the relationship between the two – the visible form and the invisible Qi.
Another way to discern the Sheng Qi is to look at the mountains and valleys, the grass and the trees. According to a Ming Dynasty Feng Shui master called Liao Xiyong 廖希雍, who wrote in his book, “Zang Jing” 葬经 or “The Classic of Burial” (reference):

“Whenever the mountain air is full, the smoke rises, the cloud is steamy and the rocks moist and shining, then the (Sheng) Qi is present. When the cloud and the air are lifeless, the colors dark and dull, the rocks broken and fallen, the soil parched, the earth withered, there is little growth and the water courses all dried up, then the (Sheng) Qi has gone elsewhere’.

proportions and the Three Eras and Nine Periods for a standard to calibrate time, as well as the Twenty-Four Mountains to calculate the orientation of a dwelling, etc.

Thus we can see the Sheng Qi is the life force that makes things grows and Sha Qi is the negative opposite that halts the growth of life. Sheng Qi can be cultivated by adjusting the Yin and Yang balance of a situation, so they are in harmony and mutually supports each other [32].

The aim of Feng Shui is to locate a building or a tomb in places where there is Sheng Qi so the occupants can take advantage of it [33].

Core Principle 10
Suitably Located in the Middle and Residing in the Middle

This principle has 3 layers of meaning:

1) Suitably Located in the Middle.

The reason why the historical capitals in China were never located in the coastal cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai, or towards the borders like Harbin and Kuming, is because a capital needs to be centrally located. In Chapter 156 of “Taiping Yulan” 太平御览, the following advice is given:

“An Emperor is given the mandate to establish a new kingdom. To site a capital it must be located in the center of the land, so it can control the peace of the world, stabilize the Yin and Yang and control the 4 directions to rule the country properly”.
The same idea dictates that an urban business center is always located in the middle of a modern city and the best shops are always located in the middle of a shopping mall.

2) Stand out as the main body in a planning arrangement with the auxiliary buildings surrounding the host.

In a traditional Feng Shui landscape, the main buildings are often located along a central axis, which runs from north to south. The north axis is often extended into the mountain range behind and the south open out onto a generous Ming Tang in front, forming the

  1. Song Dynasty scholar Huang Miaoying黄妙应in his article, “Boshan Pian” 博山篇wrote:
  2. “(If) the Qi is not in harmony, then there is no growth and (it is) not a suitable place to “Dian Xue” (to locate the building site)”.
  3. One can do it in a passive way by sitting the built form in a Sheng Qi spot (the Xue), this is called “Cheng Sheng Qi” 乘生气 (to “ride” the Sheng Qi), but we can also do it in a more active way to “Na Sheng Qi” 纳生气 or “to take” the Sheng Qi by orientating and by designing the building so the form and the openings can receive the Sheng Qi in the most efficient way. That is why in Yangzhai Feng Shui, after sitting the building, the design of the internal and external layout becomes an important issue to consider, because it will determine the efficiency of a building to “De Qi” 得气 or to obtain the Sheng Qi to nourish the occupants.

character “Ding” (similar to the capital letter T). The secondary or auxiliary buildings are usually located to the east and west and there is always a meandering watercourse in front.

The ancestral temples, the burial complexes, the imperial gardens of the Ming and Qing dynasties were all planned according to this principle. See Figure 5 below:

3) Neither slanting nor lean against, the building is appropriately located at an advantageous position.

“Residing in the middle” in this case does not mean the building is located dead in the middle of a planning arrangement, but it is “centrally located” at the most beneficial position, so it can take advantage of its surrounding. The location should neither be too Yang nor too Yin, neither too high nor too low, and neither too large nor too small [34].

Striking a balance between the two extremes of a situation is an important core principle of Feng Shui and that is what we meant by “Suitably Located in the Middle and Residing in the Middle”.

Core Principle 11
Aesthetic Appreciations

Since we perceive both the Qi of the Form and the Qi of the Formless with our five senses and our mind, an aesthetic appreciation of a built form in its environment becomes an important part of Feng Shui. Because Qi can exist in the Form and the Formless, there is also the beauty of the Form and the beauty of the Formless.

Beauty of the Form can include the beauty of the natural landscape, the beauty of natural form and materials, the beauty of man-made objects and the beauty of applied colors and lighting. These are the externally beautiful (Wai Mei 外美)and we appreciate them with our five senses, with the eyesight being the most acute.

Beauty of the Formless can include the beauty of balance and harmony, the beauty of being at peace with the world, the beauty of being “Ziran”, the beauty of being true to one’s character or true to the character of a built form and the beauty of “Wuwei”. These are the internally beautiful (Nei Mei 内美) and we appreciate them with our mind.

“Guanshi Dili Zhimeng” 管氏地理指蒙 or “A General Guide to Guan’s Dili (Feng Shui)” has this to say about the location of a “Xue”:
“If it is to be located high, then it should not be too dangerously high,
If it is to be located low, then it should not be too inconveniently low.
If it is to be exposed, then it should not be too blatantly exposed.
If it is to be concealed, then it should not be too concealed that it becomes invisible.
If it is to be special, then it should not be too special that it becomes strange.
If it is to be artful, then it should not be too artful that it becomes cheap looking.”

The opposite of beauty is ugliness, and we need to know what constitute ugliness as well, [35] if we are to appreciate what is beautiful.

Just like Yin and Yang, the externally beautiful cannot exist without the internally beautiful and vice versa, [36] so in Feng Shui we need to aim for both. But if the resources are limited in a given situation, then it is necessary to take care of the “Nei Mei” first before spending money on the “Wai Mei”. Laozi said this very clearly in “Daode Jing” 道德经: “Everything has Form but Form comes from the Formless”, so without the beauty of the formless, and in Feng Shui, it means the beauty of the Spirit of a place, the beautiful physical form will always remain a hollow one [37].

Core Principle 12
Greening the Environment

The amount of trees and wood can give an indication of the quality of the Feng Shui of a site. The “Zang Shu” 葬书or “The Book of Burial” praised the greening of the environment with these words:

“The soil is thick and the water deep,
The grass is lush and the forest full.
The honored guests take advantage (of the site),
It is worth million ounces of gold”.

Trees and woods are the source of Sheng Qi (Life Enhancing Qi) and they can be laid out in such a way to assemble the Qi to nourish the occupants. [38] They can also protect the house from the cold wind and provide a solid back to the house while embracing the Qi at the front.

Trees can also absorb carbon dioxide, give out oxygen, reduce noise and provide the occupants with shade as well as fruit and vegetables. One can also use trees and woods to reduce dampness, improve the soil quality and generally improve the Feng Shui if they are located in the appropriate parts of the site.

  1. “When the world knows what is beautiful, ugliness appears” – Laozi in “Daode Jing”
  2. “The form cannot escape the eyes, the eyes cannot escape the mind.” – “:A General Guide to Guan’s Feng Shui”
  3. Over the years, the writer has developed a very rough and short checklist for aesthetic appreciation. Originally they were used to appreciate Chinese calligraphy, but the writer has found them to be very useful for everyday objects as well. A thing is consider beautiful when it has the SUISY quality: Simple, Universal, Imaginative, Suggestive, and has Yin/Yang contrast.
  4. Bixia Chen et al. gave a good example of how the planting of the Fukugi trees embraced the Qi for the Bise Village in Okinawa. “A Study on Village Landscape and Layout of Fukugi Habitat Embracing Trees in Okinawa”. Paper presented at the Second International Conference on Scientific Feng Shui and Built Environment, Hong Kong 2006.

The general guideline is not to plant them too close to the house; the distance should be proportional to the size and the height of a tree. On the sunny side it is more desirable to have deciduous varieties while on the shady side they can be evergreens [39].

Core Principle 13
Feng Shui can be Transformed and Improved.

The Feng Shui of a place can be remolded to improve its quality. Cai Yuan-Ding 蔡元定in his book, ”Fawei Lun” 发微论 has this to say about Man and Nature:

“The forging and the blending of the mountains and valleys are done by Heaven, but the tailoring and the fashioning of the landscape are done by Man.”

Cai Yuan Ding went on to say the proper way for us to transform Feng Shui is to realize that Nature does not arbitrary set out to fool us humans, nor should we humans set out deliberately to defeat Nature by our will and our prejudices. We should use our knowledge and our know how to mutually respond (Ganyin) [40] to Nature to ensure that any improvement is long term and viable.

In the process of enhancement, the natural environment should be respected at all times because if we take out more than what the situation requires and destroy nature in the process then whatever improvement we carry out will not benefit us in the long run.

There are many examples in Chinese history where the Feng Shui of a place was transformed and improved to suit human needs without destroying Nature. The Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing is a good case in point. Even though a large area of land was dug up and made into lakes and hills, the general ecology of the environment was preserved and the place was well planned, so after hundreds of years, we are still able to enjoy its beauty and good Feng Shui [41].

  1. Prof. Wang Yude mentioned in his book that during the early Qin period, the imperial court set the following rule of etiquette concerning trees surrounding a tomb site:
  2. Trees for the tombs of imperial members should be pine trees,
  3. Trees for the tombs of ministers should be cypress trees,
  4. Trees for the tombs of officials should be poplar trees
  5. Trees for the tombs of scholars should be locust trees,
  6. Trees for the tombs of ordinary people should be willow trees.
  7. “One who has “Ganyin” is one who follows the Way of Heaven (Tiandao)” – Famei Lun.
  8. Prof. Wang also gave another example in his book of how a village in Anhui Prtovince (Hong Cun) improved its Feng Shui by re-arranging the houses, re-directed the water course, repaired and built new road and plant trees and shrubs after engaging a Feng Shui expert called He Hede to do the analysis and suggestions. Afterward, the village prospered and even now the place is like a picture card paradise, with many tourists visiting the village each year.

Core Principle 14
Yin Yang Dialectics to Achieve Harmony

Prof. Wang Yude calls the Yin Yang Dialectics the soul of Feng Shui because without Yin and Yang contrast there is no potential for the Qi to flow and therefore no Feng Shui to speak about. To find the balance and harmony in our environment we first need to distinguish what is Yin and what is Yang in a given situation before we can adjust and integrate them to transform the situation.

To help us to do this with a checklist of various Yin and Yang classifications, Cai Yuan-Ding 蔡元定, a Song Dynasty Feng Shui expert, wrote a very useful classic called “Fawei Lun” 发微论or “A Discourse on the Gross and the Subtle” mentioned earlier, where he listed all the important complementary opposites we need to consider when we assess the Feng Shui of a place.

Instead of giving full explanations of these terms, which is not possible under the circumstances, I will list the terms below and suggest that it would be worthwhile for anyone deeply interested in Feng Shui to read this book thoroughly:

1) Yin and Yang 阴与阳.
2) Gang and Rou 刚与柔or Hard and Soft (sometimes translated as Substantial and Insubstantial).
3) You and Wu 有与无or Have and have –not (sometimes translated as Being and Non-being or Form and Formless).
4) Dong and Jing 动与静or Moving and Stationary (sometimes translated as Active and Passive)
5) Ju and San 聚与散or Gather and Dispersed.
6) Gan and Ji 干与技or Stem and Branch.
7) Xing and Shi 形与势or Form and Configuration.
8) Shan and Shui 山与水or Mountain and Water.
9) Wei and Zhu 微与著or Subtle and Stand out.
10) Shen and Qian 深与浅or Deep and Shallow.
11) Sheng and Si 生与死or Alive and dead.
12) Ci and Xiong 雌与雄or Feminine and Masculine (sometimes translated as the animated Yin and Yang).

In practice, when we observe and analyze a situation we can contrast and find the extremes, and by using the Yin Yang dialectics, we can find an appropriate solution lying somewhere within the bound of the two poles. Confucius referred to this idea as being “Zhongyong” 中庸or the Golden Mean and the Golden Mean does not lay dead in the middle but is appropriately situated so the Yin and Yang are balanced and in harmony with each other [42].

Core Principle 15
Being Timely and Affectionate

Being timely and affectionate also brings us to the last of the 15 core principles. It is also the one principle that unifies all of the previous ones we have mentioned.

Master Tan Yang-Wu 谈养吾who is also known as Tan Hao-Ran 谈浩然, had a seminally book on Feng Shui published in Hong Kong in 1948, entitled “Da Kuan Kong Liu Fa Ben Yi” 大玄空六法本义or The Original Meanings of Xuan Kong Liu Fa (Six Methods) where he summarized the essence of Xing Shi Pai (Form School) and Liqi Pai (Compass School) Feng Shui as being “Qing” 情 or “(being) affectionate” and “Shi” 时 or “(being) timely” [43], in a chapter called “Identifying the feelings and affection from mountains and rivers” 辨山情水意 (bian shan qing shui yi) [44].

  1. Prof. Wang Yude has pointed out further: “Everything has the two poles of opposite and one of unity, from the mutual transformation of Yin and Yang, from the beginning and the end of a life, from being and non-being, from difficulties to achievements, from the front to the back, from the extreme to being overturned, they all have their quality of auspicious and harmfulness, like Wuxing has generation and control (Sheng/Ke 生克), the landscape has beauty and ugliness, the directions have their suitability and avoidance, and the wind can be stored or released and so forth…these ideas are simple and plain, they came from direct observations, guessingly reflecting the objective world, even though they cannot reveal the “Original Character” of a matter fully, it nevertheless made a sizable attempt at looking at the real world we are living in”.
  2. While the “Form” School is concerned mainly with the tangible form of the natural landscape and the man-made environment, the “Compass” School is concerned mainly with the intangible Gua Qi 卦气 of time (Yuanyun 元运 or Cycles of Luck) and orientation. The main aim is to “Quji Bixiong” 趋吉避凶 or to “hasten the auspicious and avoid the harmful”, hence the concept of timeliness as mentioned by Master Tan and because the emphasis of this paper is on the “Form” School, I will not dwell on the meaning of “Shi” any further.
  3. “Mountains and rivers that face me are considered to have affection,
  4. (To) the back of me are considered to have no affection,
  5. I am the host (concerned).
  6. Places to establish a (burial) hole,
  7. Places to erect a dwelling all use me (as a reference).
  8. Facing the left then the affection is to the left,
  9. Facing the right then the affection is to the right,
  10. Like the four limbs of a person,
  11. They all face inward and not outward,
  12. The affection lies within the body.
  13. (Like) the branches and the leaves of a plant,
  14. (They) all sided towards their own body,
  15. (So) the affection also lies within.
  16. When speaking about “Xingshi” (Form School),
  17. There is no other word than “Affection”(Qing),
  18. When speaking about Liqi (Compass School),
  19. There is no other word than “Timely” (Shi).
  20. Being affectionate and timely is considered to be fortunate,

So according to Master Tan, the unchanging principle underlying the Form School Feng Shui is human feelings and affections, which enabled us to connect our body and soul to the environment we live and work in. To him and the writer agrees, Feng Shui in essence, examines and contemplates this intimate relationship between Man and Nature.


After writing a thick book of 542 pages on the philosophy and aesthetics of architecture(45), the author Zhao Xinshen 赵鑫珊has this to say in his Epilogue:

“In the writing process I cannot avoid the “Qing” word, therefore I often wrote with emotion. If architecture cannot get entangled with human feelings and affections, then it loses its life force, its enchantment and its meaning, as well as its reason for being; it becomes just an empty space of pure physics and geometry”.

Likewise, if we have to reduce the core principles of Feng Shui into just one word, then we cannot avoid the “Qing” word as well. In the final analysis, without a mutual response or “Ganying” 感应, between man and his environment – that is without “Qing” 情, there is no Feng Shui to speak about.

Perhaps the popular Chinese sentiment, expressed in this saying, “Sanshui Youqing, Renjian Youai” 山水有情,人间有爱 or “There is Affection in the Natural Environment and Love in the Human World”, is the best way to describe the well-spring that continues its supply of meanings to the core principles of Feng Shui.

Missing affection and time is considered to be unfortunate.
(Whether speaking) with Form Experts or with Compass Experts,
(Whether) speaking with thousands and thousands of words,
One should know they do not go beyond the scope of these two words “Qing” and “Shi”.
Large results follow generous affections,
Small results follow meager affections,
The size of the result,
Is related to the form and the configuration (Xingshi),
The extend of the development,
Is related to the management of the Qi (Liqi).
They are the unchanging principles”
45 “Man – House – World. Architectural Philosophy and Architectural Aesthetics”, by Zhao Xinshen,.Publiched by Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House, Tianjin 2004.


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Howard Choy, Feng Shui Architect

Howard Choy (Cai Hong 蔡洪b. 1949) is a qualified and practicing Feng Shui Architect. He graduated from University of NSW in 1974 with a B.Sc. (Arch) and a B.Arch. degree.
Howard was born in China and migrated to Australia at an early age, yet managed to keep his language and culture intact through his life long involvement with Tai Chi and Qigong. Feng Shui provided the perfect vehicle for him to combine his passion for Chinese qi energetics with his professional practice.

Howard has written 4 books on Feng Shui and Qigong and numerous articles for various magazines and journals worldwide. He has worked as the principal consulting Feng Shui Architect on the capital upgrading of the Chinese Garden in Darling Harbour, after having successfully completed the Feng Shui urban renewal for Sydney’s Chinatown in 2001 for the Sydney Olympic Games.

The 15 Core Principles of Feng Shui Part 1

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