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Published on Jul 30, 2013 in Asia, China, Featured Articles, News

The Origin of Feng Shui

Feng Shui is one of those concepts that most people are sort of familiar with, but not quite. Most people know feng shui has something to do with how you orient things, various colors, shapes, and such. But when you drill down on exactly how you implement feng shui, the door usually slams shut. It did for me. Feng shui can be extremely complicated. It’s every bit as confusing as trying to understand how the politicians in Washington arrive at the decisions they do, or feeling that you have to take an advanced engineering degree before trying to put together one of your children’s toys. Let me try and break feng shui down for you.

fengshui_0The origin of feng shui is a little fuzzy as, according to Tiffany Connors, of the New York Post, both India and China lay claim to its ancestry. Archeologists in India have discovered that 5,500 years ago Indian mystics practiced vastu shastra or “building science” in its literal translation. This was a system of designing and constructing houses and cities so that every building is considered a living organism with its own energy. Designs were based on directional alignments according to the belief that the laws of nature affected human dwellings. Some historians believe that 3,000 years ago Indian monks crossed into Tibet, and then into China, and brought vastu with them. Vastu then went through its own evolution in China and eventually became feng shui.

Not surprisingly, the Chinese have a different version. They say that feng shui, which translated into English means “wind water,” began in Chinese villages in approximately 6000 BC, and that it was at first a method of burial site orientation that eventually evolved over time into the practice of feng shui that we know today.

The more modern form of feng shui was initiated in China in the West Han dynasty around 300 BC. In fact, in ancient China, cities were planned around feng shui. This practice transcended social classes and was implemented by both the poor as well as the rich. In ancient China, those who were considered experts in feng shui were given societal positions that would be on par with scientists in today’s society. The reason for this was because they were responsible, through their practice of feng shui, for protecting the health, wealth, and power of the ruling dynasties.

Whatever its origin, the basic concept of feng shui is that both cultural and social issues are influenced by natural, metaphysical, and cosmological factors. Feng shui adheres to the belief that the earth is a living thing with its own life and energy force. When you’re in a particular location the energy (qi – pronounced “chee”) that exists there connects a person with their environment as the qi is present in both the earth as well as in our bodies.

Central to the concept of feng shui is the Taoist idea of the yin and the yang, where seemingly opposite or contradictory forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world (such as light and dark, hot and cold, male and female, water and fire, life and death, and so on). Subsequently, when buildings were constructed the left side of the building represented the yang or the male force, which was connected to the forces of heaven, while the right side was the female force which was connected to the earth. In a building this meant that the yang side had sun lit roofs while the female, or yin side, had shadowed eaves and set back structures. Therefore, when the building was constructed, both these forces had to balance so that no one side dominated the other. Otherwise, there would be an imbalance of energies which would bring bad luck to the residents. If you look at ancient palaces in China you’ll be able to see this balance. For example, these palaces will have gardens with both water and hills – yin and yang – fluid and solid. The gardens would also have both curved and straight lines, as well as an openness and closeness to them. When the “polarities” cancel each other out, there’s equilibrium and harmony. Therefore, the alignment of a city, site, building, or object must be in equilibrium with their yin-yang force fields. In the Chou Dynasty (1030 – 772 BC) the Book of Ritual describes the plans for a capital city which gives the use of squares and the placement of gates at the four compass points. This is the basis for all Chinese city designs, including Beijing.

Rodika Tchi is a master in feng shui and illustrates the interaction of elements, colors, shapes, and directions important in the implementation of feng shui. For example, in feng shui there are five basic elements which interact with each other: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each of these elements is represented by a specific color. Knowing what color to use is an important factor in creating an energy balance.

wood corresponds to green or brown;

fire to red, bright yellow, orange, purple, and pink;

earth to light yellow, sandy, and light brown;

metal to white or gray; and

water to blue or black.


In addition to color, each element has an associated shape. Elements, colors, and shapes subsequently take on an interactive importance.

wood is rectangular;

fire is triangular;

earth is square;

metal is round; and

water is wavy.


In addition to elements, colors and shapes, the compass area, or direction, must be taken into account. Each of the 8 feng shui areas, or directions (compass headings), has a specific feng shui element, color, and life area associated with it.

North (337 to 22.5 degrees) is connected with the feng shui element of water, and the colors of blue and black, as well as one’s life areas of career and path in life.

Northeast (22.5 to 67.5 degrees) is connected with the feng shui element of earth, and the colors of beige, light yellow, or sandy, and one’s life areas of spiritual growth and self-cultivation.

East (67.5 to 112.5 degrees) is connected with the feng shui element of wood and the colors of brown and green, and also to one’s life areas of health and family.

Southeast (112.5 to 157.5 degrees) is connected with the feng shui element of wood, and the colors of brown and green, and one’s life areas of money and abundance.

South (157.5 degrees to 202.5 degrees) is connected to the feng shui element of fire and the colors of red, orange, purple, pink, and bright yellow, as well as one’s life areas of fame and reputation.

Southwest (202.5 to 247.5 degrees) is connected with the feng shui element of earth and the colors of beige, light yellow, and sandy, and the life areas of love and marriage.

West (247.5 to 292.5 degrees) is connected to the feng shui element of metal and the colors of white and gray, and one’s life areas of creativity and children.

Northwest (292.5 to 337.5 degrees) is connected to the feng shui element of metal and the colors of white and gray, and one’s life areas of helpful people, blessings, and travel.

If you think this is a lot to take in, you’re right. Feng shui can be complicated. But in practical applications, when you know which areas of your home or office you want to belong to specific areas of your life, you can start to apply feng shui accordingly. As an illustration, when looking to place a fountain (associated with the feng shui element water), you might place it in the areas which you feel would best suit your purpose or life area – such as north, east, and southeast, for example. Also, suppose you want to strengthen the love and marriage energy in your life and, to that end, you found the perfect sculpture that portrays this. You might put that sculpture in the southeast feng shui area, but also place it so that you can face it. Or, if you have a red piece of art, and red is the fire element, you might want to place it in the south area. Placement is personal, but given the interaction of the element, color, shape, and life area you can select a direction or location that best suits your purpose.


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