We have hitherto looked upon Feng-shui as derived chiefly from the teachings of Choo-he and other philosophers of the Sung dynasty. And certainly, when we regard Feng-shui as a recognized popular system of physical science, as a methodical combination of certain philosophical ideas for definite practical purposes, we can scarcely trace its origin beyond that period so justly called the Augustan age of Chinese literature. But the most prominent ideas and practices which go to make up this system of popular superstition can be followed up to very ancient times. The leading principles of Feng-shui have their roots in remote antiquity, and it would not be exaggeration to say, that, though indeed modern Feng-shui was not a distinct branch of study or a separate profession before the Sung dynasty (A.D. 960-1126), yet the history of the leading ideas and practices of Feng-shui is the history of Chinese philosophy.
The deepest root of the Feng-shui system grew out of that excessive and superstitious veneration of the spirits of ancestors, which, though philosophical minds like that of Confucius might construe it on an exclusively moral basis as simply an expression of filial piety, was with the mass of the Chinese people the fruitful soil from which the poisonous weed of rank superstition sprang up in profusion. Ancestral worship naturally implied the idea that the spirits of deceased ancestors could and would somehow influence the fortunes of their descendants. This superstitious notion, the existence of which can be shewn in the most ancient records of Chinese thought
that we possess, is the moving spring and leading instinct of the whole Feng-shui system.
The next step in the direction of Feng-shui, which the superstitious mind of antiquity took, was to connect this supposed influence of deceased ancestors with the locality of their tombs and the topographical character of the surroundings of each grave. In the most primitive ages of Chinese antiquity no such custom can be shewn to have been in vogue. But we have some distinct traces of the first budding of this idea. In the times of the early dawn of Chinese history, which I place not earlier than the Chow dynasty (B.C. 1122), ordinary people, it is reported, used to be buried in the plain, princes on low hills, emperors under a mound on the top of high mountains. Here we have the first indication of a degree of importance being attached not only to the general situation of the tomb, but also to its construction, viz., the erection, in the case of imperial tombs, of a high mound, supposed, no doubt, to protect the back of the tomb; the dragon, in fact, of future ages.
Again, it is reported, on the authority of Confucius, that in ancient times graves were so constructed that the head of the deceased should point towards the North. The words of the Li-ke, where the passage occurs, are "the dead have their heads placed towards the North, the living face the South"; and the Confucian commentator explains the reason of this mode of interment by saying, that the North was viewed as ruled by the female principle, the South by the male principle; that death and decomposition were considered to belong to the female or reverting breath of nature, life and vigour to the influence of the expanding or male energy. This indicates another step having been made in the direction of Feng-shui: the male and female energies of nature, and the compass distinctions of North and South, are brought to bear upon the position and construction of the tomb.
The mound over the grave, which originally was the prerogative of imperial tombs, was in course of time adopted by all classes of people. In the period immediately preceding the time of Confucius it appears that it was generally considered important to have a mound of earth on every tomb. The very attitude that Confucius, the admirer of primitive antiquity, assumed with reference to this custom, which he deemed an unwarrantable innovation, shews clearly that the ancient form of interment had been deviated from and that customs and ideas were in and before his time connected with the construction of tombs which he considered himself bound to protest against.
Taking all the above-mentioned indications into account, it would seem undeniable, that long before Confucius the attention of mourners was directed to the importance of carefully choosing the site for a tomb and constructing the tomb itself in a certain manner prescribed by custom. It is natural to suppose that this was done with a view to guard against calamities, or to ensure prosperity which might be caused, in the opinion of superstitious worshippers of ancestral spirits, by the spirit to whom the tomb in question was dedicated. In short, the elementary principles of Feng-shui appear to have been practised centuries before Confucius, unconsciously, as it were, by superstitious people. But there is nothing to prove that Feng-shui was reduced to a science, that it was practised methodically as a profession. As long as the ancient belief in a supreme personal God exercised any influence on the people, the afore-mentioned ideas floating about among those influenced by superstition could not form themselves into a system, which required the notion of materialistic fatalism for a centre round which they might gather to take the definite form and shape of a system like that of Feng-shui. Chinese devotees of Feng-shui try indeed to adduce proof
that in those earliest times Feng-shui was a recognized branch of science. The passage they rely on is, however, too vague to warrant such a conclusion. Speaking of the diagrams of Foo-he, the Yih-king says, "the sage looks up to heaven and (with the help of the diagrams) he observes all the celestial phenomena, he contemplates the earth and (using the same diagrams) examines the outlines of the ground." But the very sentence that follows shows that this passage does not refer to anything like Feng-shui--"he traces up the origin of all things and follows again their existence to the end; thus he comprehends the theory of life and death." It is clear therefore that this passage simply refers to the use of the diagrams as applied to the universe in general. There is not the slightest evidence to show that the diagrams of Foo-he or Wen-wang were ever applied, in those early times, to the geomantic position of tombs and the determination of the influence which tombs were believed to exercise upon the fortunes of men.
The second period in the history of Feng-shui may be said to extend from Confucius (B.C. 550) to the rise of the Han dynasty (B.C. 202). It was in the power of Confucius and his disciples, Mencius and Sun-tze, who exercised a strong influence on the minds of their countrymen during this period, to repress and rectify the superstitious notions already floating about among the people and tending towards a regular system of geomancy, by assuming a definite attitude, denouncing superstition and substituting an enlightened theory on the subject. But he and his disciples, though personally free from superstition, contented themselves with urging a reform of morality according to the pattern of the ancient sages, without venturing to grapple with the superstitions that were gathering round the ancient form of ancestral worship. In one word, they remained neutral, and the consequence was that superstition spread farther and farther.
[paragraph continues] The position which Confucius and his disciples took with regard to those early symptoms of geomantic superstition is characteristically illustrated by an anecdote the truth of which has never been impugned. Confucius, having with some difficulty discovered the grave of his father, had it opened and the remains of his mother buried together with those of his father. On this occasion it was suggested that, in accordance with the custom of the time, a mound should be raised over the grave. Confucius, though he remarked that this was not in accordance with the rules of the ancients, did not oppose it, but--it is said--soon after the mound had been raised, a sudden fall of rain washed it away and levelled the ground!
This little incident shows that he himself was no adherent of the geomantic superstitions of his time, but it also shows that he had not the spirit to attack and expose the absurdity and futility of a doctrine incompatible with the belief in one supreme and intelligent ruler of the universe. But he never explained clearly whether he held this belief, or whether his God was merely the physical heaven. Nor did his disciples assume a bolder attitude against superstition. They followed the example of their master and observed a studied neutrality, allowing the faith in the personal god of their revered ancient sages to be quietly supplanted by Tauistic speculations among the learned and polytheistic practices among the unlearned. They did not themselves believe in divination, but fully approved the application of the diagrams for purposes of divination. They did not believe in the cosmogonic speculations of their contemporaries, but they expressed no opinion on the question how the world was made. Thus they left the door open for all forms of superstition. No doubt the above-mentioned geomantic ideas spread far and wide under this studied silence of the guardians of ancient wisdom and knowledge, though
we have no data as to the extent or progress achieved by that earliest form of Feng-shui during this period. It is reported, however, that about the close of this period (B.C. 249) a scholar, called Shu-li-tsih, asserted that he had chosen his grave in a situation which would cause it at some future time to be flanked by an imperial palace; in other words, that he had found a place where he would have himself buried after his death, and that the geomantic affinities of that place were such as to cause one of his descendants to gain the throne of China.
The rise of the Han dynasty (B.C. 202) opened a new period in the history of primitive Feng-shui. When the law for the suppression of classical writings was repealed (B.C. 190), and every scrap that had escaped the incendiary mania of the despot of Tsin was eagerly collected, in order to re-publish the ancient classics, a new zest was given to Confucian studies, expounders of the classics multiplied, and Confucianism had another chance to reestablish the ancient faith. But again Confucianism was found wanting. The opening thus afforded, in the awakening of a national interest for literature, and the opportunity given to the expounders of Confucianism to set themselves and their ancient tradition right with the speculations and superstitions of their contemporaries, and to repress the absurdities of Tauist astrologers and alchemysts by popular expositions of the rationale of the ancient faith and further development of it by rational study of nature, this great opening was sacrificed by Confucianists to a pedantic study of the literal meaning of their ancient texts and a dry exposition of the ancient creed. But Tauism availed of the opportunity rejected by Confucianism and raised a literature abounding in the supernatural and the marvellous which filled the minds of the people with astrological and mystic speculations and swelled the tide of superstition so that Confucianists even remain imbued with it to the present day. The very
man, whose name is famous for his success in re-editing the lost Confucian classics, Lew-heang (B.C. 40), betrayed by a report he sent to the throne, as a public censor, that he believed in the geomantic superstitions, which, under the influence of Tauist astrology and cosmogony, naturally received a new impetus during this period. He reported to the Emperor, that, nefandum fas, on the grave of a man called Wong (king), a native of Tsie-nan in Shantung, two trees were so intertwined that even the leaves grew into each other, that the form of the grave resembled an erect stone or a willow whose branches grew upward. He insinuated that these were indications shewing that one of the descendants of this man would become Emperor of China, a broad hint to extinguish the whole family.
It was during this period that the first attempt was made to gather up the popular notions then current among the people concerning geomancy and to form them into a system. The first exponent of this system of Feng-shui is a book, published under the Han dynasty under the title Tseh-king (lit. the canon of the dwellings). To give the book the halo of antiquity it was asserted that the ancient Hwang-ti was its author, which assertion, though probably believed in at the time by many, was of course utterly unfounded. Even the catalogues of books published under the Han, Sui and Tang dynasties, which mention the book in question, do not mention Hwang-ti as its author. This book, however, is not only a condensation of the geomantic superstitions of former ages, but it carries the doctrine of Feng-shui farther by extending the geomantic influences, which were formerly ascribed to graves only, to the dwellings of the living. The latter were called "male dwellings"; tombs were styled "female dwellings." It also divided the diagrams, formerly only used for purposes of divination, into male and female diagrams, and applied them to determine the geomantic character of both graves
and dwelling houses. Of Wen-wang's eight diagrams those for wind (S. E.), fire (S.), earth (S. W.) and ocean (W.) were said to work in accordance with the female energy of nature, whilst the influence of heaven (N. W), water (N.), mountains (N. E.) and thunder (E.) was declared to be in accordance with the male principle of creation. The book distinguishes twenty-four different means of averting calamity and insuring prosperity by applying these diagrams according to as many different methods, and the compilers of the Imperial catalogue think there is some good sense in these manipulations with the diagrams of Wen-wang.
The next period in the history of Feng-shui includes the time of the Three Kingdoms (A.D. 221-277) and that of the so-called Six Dynasties (A.D. 265-618). The influence which geomantic ideas obtained at the very beginning of this period is sufficiently illustrated by an incident related in the records of the first of those Three Kingdoms, the so-called Posterior Han dynasty (A.D. 221-263). It is reported, as a matter beyond dispute, that one Yuen-ngan, desirous to find, on the occasion of his father's death, a suitable burial ground, went out to look for a place and happened to fall in with three learned men (adepts in the geomantic art), who pointed out a spot which, as they assured him, would secure for his family the highest official distinction and emoluments. He followed their advice, buried his father there, and, strange to say, soon after he was raised to a high office in the state, and his descendants continued for many generations to fill the highest and most remunerative posts in the service of the government. In that historical romance called the "Memoirs of the Three Kingdoms" occurs also a passage, which shows that in those early times geomancers had already learned to apply the four quadrants of the starry heavens, the azure dragon in the East, the sable warrior in the North, the white tiger in the West and the vermilion bird in the South, in order to express the varied
influences which the twenty-eight constellations were supposed to exercise on the earth. Kwan-lu, it is said, approached the grave of Wu-k'iu-kien and exclaimed, "Behold the white tiger holding a corpse in his mouth, and the vermilion bird dissolved in grief."
This reference to the twenty-eight constellations, which the Chinese, dropping the several names of the Nakchatras, borrowed from Hindoo astronomy, betrays already the rising influence of Buddhism. This foreign religion, officially recognized in China by one of the Han Emperors (A.D. 62), had been propagated for several centuries in different parts of China and slowly gained a foothold. But during the reign of the above-mentioned Six Dynasties, and especially in the course of the Tsin dynasty (A.D. 265-419), Buddhism became a power in the state, and gradually saturated the whole nation with its atheistic and fatalistic ideas. These doctrines naturally stimulated the progress and development of those geomantic vagaries, which had hitherto been wanting a centre and a rational basis on which they might be formed into a system. Buddhism, with its atheism, fatalism and its doctrine of the ceaseless rotation of cosmic destructions and re-constructions (Kalpas), supplied this want. Accordingly we find that Feng-shui received during this period, and especially under the Tsin dynasty, a new impetus, new allies, new expositors. A famous but somewhat mythical personage, Ko-po, is said to have collected all the ancient traditions concerning Feng-shui and published them in a book, still extant, the Tsang-shoo (book of interment), which is to the present day one of the principal sources of reference for the student of Feng-shui. Many geomancers call Ko-po the founder of modern Feng-shui, but they have no evidence to show in favour of this assertion beyond the simple fact, recorded in history, that Ko-po was an adept in geomancy and lived under the Tsin dynasty. Even the Tsang-shoo classic itself, which treats Feng-shui with special reference to the forms and outlines of nature,
cannot be satisfactorily proved to have been written by Ko-po. For it is not mentioned in the catalogues of the literature produced during this period. The Tsang-shoo is first mentioned in the catalogue of the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-905); but even here no author is assigned to it, no mention of Ko-po, to whom only the catalogue of the Sung dynasty (A.D. 960-1126) ascribes the authorship of this classic.
Still it remains more than probable that the Feng-shui superstitions received great attention and encouragement under the reign of the Six Dynasties. It is a significant fact that all the imperial annals of these several dynasties contain, among other subjects, separate chapters on felicitous geomantic influences. And history reports as a remarkable circumstance, that Wen-ti, the first Emperor of the Sui dynasty (A.D. 589) considered it worth his while to start an argument against the truth of Feng-shui. When he raised his standard, his enemies desecrated the tombs of his ancestors in order to bring upon him the calamities which Feng-shui teaches to be the natural consequence of a destroyed tomb; but notwithstanding this he succeeded in his endeavour to gain the throne, though he lost a brother on the battle-field. The words put into his mouth by the imperial historiographer of his dynasty are: "If the tombs of my ancestors are not in a felicitous (geomantic) position, why did I attain to the throne? but if their position is felicitous, why was my brother killed?" It was probably in consequence of this imperial dictum, that in after times the expositors of Feng-shui invented subtle theories, to explain how one and the same grave (or dwelling) might cause misfortunes to overtake one and showers of blessings to descend upon another member of the same family.
With the rise of the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-905), which is famous for its revival of literature generally and of poetical literature especially, which had hundreds of Buddhistic works translated from Sanskrit into Chinese, a new era
opened, particularly favourable to the propagation of mystic and fanciful doctrines assuming, as geomancy had learned to do, the garb of national as well as Tauistic and Buddhistic philosophy. The notion of five planets (Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, Mars, and Saturn) influencing the earth and every living being, made its first appearance about this time, and was eagerly taken hold of by the professors of Feng-shui. The above-mentioned "book of interment" became now a popular handbook, and various other books, among which the Han-lung-king (the canon on the art of rousing the dragon), the Ts'ing-nang-king (the canon of the green bag) and the E-lung-king (the canon on the doubtful dragon), are the most important. The Han-lung-king mentions also, in addition to the five planets, the above-mentioned nine stars, which some commentators refer to the constellation called bushel, whilst others explain them to be the seven stars of the Great Bear with two neighbouring stars, others again declaring them to be floating about in space. But the Han-lung-king bases on the influence of these stars a whole theory of selecting propitious sites for houses or tombs. The Ts'ing-nang-king opens with an exposition of the mystic properties of the combination of even and uneven numbers (1-6, 2-7, 3-8, 4-9, 5-10), and proceeds to lay down the rule, that everything in heaven has its counterpart (in corresponding numbers) on earth. The E-lung-king refers especially to those forms and outlines of nature where dragon and tiger do not prominently stand forth and are as it were concealed. The authorship of these three books is ascribed to Yang-kwan-tsung, who professed to be a disciple of Ko-po and who developed especially that part of the Feng-shui system which refers to the signs of dragon and tiger, to the direction and shape of watersheds and the influence of water-courses.
But it was not till the rise of the Sung dynasty (A.D. 960) that all the above-mentioned elements of the geomantic art gathered into one grand system, built up on a philosophical
basis and developed methodically, so as to combine every form of influence which heaven may be said to exercise on earth and which both heaven and earth were supposed to have on human affairs. This system is in fact but a practical application of the materialistic speculations for which Chow-leen-k'e, Chang-ming-taou, the two brothers Ch'ing, and most especially the illustrious Choo-he gained such general acceptation, that their cosmogonic theory of the universe, their speculations concerning the Great Absolute, the male and female principles and the two-fold breath of nature as the prime agents of all physical phenomena, became the national faith of China. No wonder then the devotees of Feng-shui, wisely adopting all that was popular and attractive in this grand scheme of natural philosophy, and promulgating their fantastic geomantic speculations in accordance with the favourite terminology of Choo-he, came in for a share in that national favour and national popularity which the great philosophers of the Sung dynasty so justly obtained. A scholar called Wang-k'e was the chief representative of the Feng-shui profession at this time. He is assumed to be a disciple of Ko-po, and claims the credit of having invented the theory of the mutual production and destruction of the five elements (p. 15). It was he that systematized, in the phraseology of the new philosophy, all the traditional ideas on geomancy and reorganized the Feng-shui art on the basis of Choo-he's materialism.
At the present day the adherents of Feng-shui are divided into two classes or schools, the Tsung-miau (ancestral temple) school, which took its rise in Foh-kien, and the Kwang-si school. In the preceding chapters I have explained the more prominent theories which these schools have in common, and I have therefore merely to add, that these two schools are chiefly distinguished by the comparative prominence each gives to one or other of four divisions of the Feng-shui system. The Foh-kien school of geomancers, claiming Wang-k'e as their founder, attribute the greatest
importance to the doctrines of the order of nature (Li) and of the numerical proportions of nature (Su). They are therefore specially attached to the use of the compass. The second school, called the Kwang-si school of geomancers, because it took its rise in the Kwang-si province, claim Yang-kwan-tsung as their founder, and lay the greatest stress on the doctrines of the breath (K'e) and outlines (Ying) of nature. They use the compass too, but only as a subordinate help in prospecting the country, for their principle is, first to look for the visible symptoms of dragon and tiger and of a good breath, and then to judge of the surrounding influences by consulting the compass.
These two schools have produced a very voluminous literature, which is, however, but an expansion of the above-mentioned ideas on the basis of the philosophy of Choo-he.
Having thus traced the history and literature of Feng-shui down to the present, it only remains for me to add a few words as to the extent of influence which this strange medley of superstition, ignorance and philosophy possesses at the present day.