In Feng-shui we have what may be called, from a Chinese point of view, a complete amalgamation of religion and science. Unfortunately, however, the religious element in Feng-shui was through the early disappearance of the ancient theism distorted into a form of gross superstition, half Tauistic, half Buddhistic, and what I have hitherto, by a stretch of charity, called Chinese physical science is, from a scientific point of view, but a conglomeration of rough guesses at nature, sublimated by fanciful play with puerile diagrams.
But however that may be, the fact remains nevertheless, that Feng-shui is at present a power in China. It is an essential part of ancestral worship, which national religion, neither Tauism nor Buddhism managed to deprive of its all-pervading influence. Feng-shui is, moreover, so engrafted upon Chinese social life, it has become so firmly intertwined with every possible event of domestic life (birth, marriage, housebuilding, funerals, etc.) that it cannot be uprooted without a complete overthrow and consequent re-organisation of all social forms and habits. The pious reverence which every Chinaman accords to whatever can claim the prestige of antiquity, is another element explaining the wide-spread influence of Feng-shui. Its origin can indeed be traced back, as I have shewn, to remote ages, but popular opinion connects the origin of Feng-shui with the ancient Hwang-ti, and looks upon this system as being as ancient as China itself. Another consideration gains for Feng-shui the respect and sympathy even of many educated and learned men. This is the fundamental connection in which Feng-shui
boasts to stand with the scheme of diagrams, as laid down in the Yih-king, and the fact that the whole system of Feng-shui is in perfect unity with the vagaries of Tauists and Buddhists on the one hand and Choo-he's modern philosophy on the other. Feng-shui is indeed the refined quintessence of Tauistic mysticism, Buddhistic fatalism and Choo-he's materialism, and as such it commands if not the distinct approval yet the secret sympathy of every Chinaman, high or low.
Of course highly educated and particularly intelligent Confucianists will not acknowledge that they believe in the crude apocalyptic utterances of an ordinary geomancer, but within their own walls these same intellectual Confucianists will after all regulate every single domestic affair in strict accordance with the most approved canons of Feng-shui. Of course the Chinese Government, as such, will not acknowledge the catholicity and orthodoxy of Feng-shui, and yet it publishes year after year, with expressedly Imperial sanction, an almanac containing all the tables and data, references and diagrams, that a geomancer requires as a daily vade-mecum.
Feng-shui has a legal status in China. When there is anywhere in China a dispute between people on the ground of alleged interference with and disturbance of the Feng-shui aspects of a grave or house, the judicial tribunals of China will entertain the claim, examine into its merits and decide the case on the presumption that Feng-shui is a reality and a truth, not a fiction. Feng-shui has even a political status in China. When a rebellion breaks out in any of the eighteen provinces, the first step invariably taken by the Government is not to raise troops, but to dispatch messengers instructed to find out the ancestral tombs of the several leaders of the rebellion, to open the tombs, scatter their contents and desecrate the graves in all possible ways. For this is supposed to be the surest means of injuring the prospects and marring the possible success of the rebels.
[paragraph continues] Again, when land had to be ceded to the hated foreigner up and down the China Coast, as a so-called foreign concession, the Chinese Government would invariably select a spot condemned by the best experts in Feng-shui as one that combined a deadly breath with all those indications of the compass which imply dire calamities upon all that settle down there and their children's children. If the spot had not to be ceded by treaty, it would be pointed out to the unsuspecting foreigner as the only one open for sale, and anyhow the ignorant barbarian sceptic would become the supposed dupe and laughing-stock of the astute Chinaman.
Witness, for instance, the views held by intelligent Chinese with regard to the island of Sha-meen, the foreign concession, so to say, of Canton. It was originally a mud flat in the Canton river in the very worst position Feng-shui knows of. It was conceded to the imperious demand of the foreign powers as the best available place of residence for foreigners, and when it was found that the Canton trade, once so prodigious, would not revive, would not flourish there, in spite of all the efforts of its supporters--when it was discovered that every house built on Sha-meen was overrun as soon as built with white ants, boldly defying coal tar, carbolic acid and all other foreign appliances--when it was noticed that the English Consul, though having a special residence built for him there, would rather live two miles off in the protecting shadow of a Pagoda,--it was a clear triumph of Feng-shui and of Chinese statesmanship.
Powerful, however, as Feng-shui is, it is by no means an insuperable barrier to the introduction of foreign civilisation in China. For it possesses an extraordinary amount of flexibility. It may be turned and twisted by skilful manipulation to suit almost any combination of circumstances. The most calamitous formation of country, the most portentous accumulation of deadly breath or ill-starred influences can be rectified by skill and unsparing exertion, so that all evil influences are either fended off or turned into instruments
of blessing. Money, therefore, will go a long way to remove obstacles or collisions with Feng-shui. But it is a dangerous weapon, and will, if once employed, call forth an endless array of claims for money to compensate Feng-shui damages.
The only powerful agent likely to overthrow the almost universal reign of Feng-shui in China I conceive to be the spread of sound views of natural science, the distribution of useful knowledge in China. There is one truth in Feng-shui, on which both this Chinese system of natural science and our Western views of physics are based. It is the recognition of the uniformity and universality of the operation of natural laws. There is one great defect in Feng-shui, which our Western physicists have happily long ago discarded. This is the neglect of an experimental but at the same time critical survey of nature in all its details. Let this defect be supplied by a full and popular exposition of the afore-mentioned uniformity and universality of the laws of nature; let correct views be spread regarding those continually interchanging forces of nature, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity and motion; let these views be set forth in as forcible and attractive but popular a form as Choo-he employed, and the issue of the whole cannot be doubtful. The fires of science will purge away the geomantic dross, but only that the truth may shine forth in its golden glory.
1 began with the question: what is Feng-shui? I may properly conclude by putting the same question again. What is Feng-shui? My readers will probably agree with me in the remark that Feng-shui is the foolish daughter of a wise mother. It starts with a few notions of astronomy or rather astrology, hazy and obscure, but respectable enough, considering that it was more than two thousand years ago that the Chinese took hold of them. It is based on a materialistic scheme of philosophy, which had studied nature, in a pious and reverential yet in a very superficial and grossly superstitious manner, but which, trusting in the force of a few logical formulae and mystic diagrams, endeavoured to
solve all the problems of nature and to explain everything in heaven above and on the earth below with some mathematical categories. The result, of course, is a farrago of nonsense and childish absurdities.
The whole system of Feng-shui may contain a bushel of wisdom, but it scarcely contains a handful of common sense. What is Feng-shui, then? It is simply the blind gropings of the Chinese mind after a system of natural science, which gropings, untutored by practical observation of nature and trusting almost exclusively in the truth of alleged ancient tradition and in the force of abstract reasoning, naturally left the Chinese mind completely in the dark. The system of Feng-shui, therefore, based as it is on human speculation and superstition and not on careful study of nature, is marked for decay and dissolution; for, as Wordsworth said--
To the solid ground
Of Nature trusts the mind that builds for aye.