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China

Feng Shui: Timeless Philosophy Or Silly Superstition?

Feng Shui is making a come back in China - and its experts are more than happy to cash in on the boom.

Feng Shui experts said this Hong Kong building needed a hole (caspermoller)
Feng Shui experts said this Hong Kong building needed a hole (caspermoller)
经济观察报 E.O/ Chen Anqing

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Chiu Chengbin is one of China's most consulted Feng Shui masters. He provides 18 kinds of services including architecture or advice on residence and garden design, and he gives consultations on this ancient Chinese philosophy. Feng Shui, meaning "wind-water" is a form of geomancy – divination – used to promote prosperity, health and well-being by seeing how energy, or qi, flows through a room, building, or garden.

When I called up Chiu, he told me: "Our business covers all of China. I'm terribly busy. If you want to consult, come today. I'm going to another city tomorrow."

Chiu isn't the only Feng Shui master with a full schedule. His colleague, Yang Zhuocheng, also from Changsha City in central China's Hunan province, is just as busy. Yang is a member of the Chinese Urban and Architectural Culture Council and directs the Three Feng Shui Institute. He is also a particularly popular Feng Shui expert with real estate developers.

The real estate boom is one of China's economic motors, and Feng Shui consultation is an important part of the business. As experts are cashing in on this fad, Feng Shui has become one of the most sought-after professions. Its experts participate in land development deals and hold seminars and training courses.

Giving advice on a floor plan from a static view - without seeing the site in person - is charged around $160 by a senior master and $100 by a less senior one. The bigger the project, the higher the fee. Consulting fees start at $4,700 for a hotel and at $31,500 for the layout of an industrial park.

Chiu Chengbin and Yang Zhuocheng are just two of many Feng Shui experts – who all pay for massive amounts of advertising, have websites, and work in teams.

How did Feng Shui become so popular?

So why did an ancient philosophical practice, regarded as "wild metaphysics' since the May Fourth Movement in the late 1920s (an anti-imperialist cultural and political student movement) become so popular again in the past ten years? Some attribute it to the boom of the real estate industry, but the reasons are much more complicated.

According to a survey conducted in 2002 by the China Association of Science and Technology, 20% of the respondents admitted they lived their life by the words of fortunetellers. Another 49% said they wouldn't change their daily life because of fortunetelling but paid some attention nevertheless. 30% of the public believed Feng Shui was a superstition that needed to be controlled while the other 70% believed it should be encouraged.

An article entitled "An ancient alchemy's modern revival" was published in a popular Chinese magazine in 2004. The article showed how more and more Chinese - countrymen, businessmen and even university professors and low and high ranking officials - are deep into Feng Shui.

In 2005, Nanjing University advertised its first Architectural Feng Shui Class. It started a huge controversy and set off a debate as to whether Feng shui is a superstition or an important Chinese tradition.

Since then, quite a number of Chinese high schools as well as universities have joined the Feng Shui teaching bandwagon.

According to Zhang Gongyao, director of science and technology at the Social Development Research Institute of the Central South University, over 2,970 theses were published on Feng Shui between 1994 and 2007. "It has gone into the pulpit, into the classroom, into publications, into communities, into companies, into bookstores, into all aspects of Chinese people's daily life," comments Zhang.

Perhaps what is most worrying is not the "Feng shui economy" that has been created, but the fact that all these so-called Feng shui masters have become the guests of honor of the Chinese elite. "People have become psychologically dependent on it," Zhang says. And worst of all, it is taxpayers' money that pays for these governmental officials' and state owned companies' superstitions.

Read the article in Chinese in the Economic Observer.

Photo - caspermoller

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