On the Straight Dope Front Page, the staff report What’s the story with feng shui?, which was written by SDSTAFF Dex, is incorrectly attributed to SDStaff George and SD Staff Doug. Perhaps this should be edited.
It would seem that the feng shui is just a mere belief. After all is it really the difference between good and bad luck to locate one’s home on a hill versus a flood plain or is more like having one’s head where the sun shines versus where it doesn’t.
I really appreciated the way the feng shui article was written. It acknowleged that surroundings can have an inexplicable yet hard-to-ignore influence on people’s moods. It would have given me a headache if someone from Skeptical Inquirer had written it.
The attribution was fixed, thanks, Billdo. An occasional hiccough in the system.
And thanks for the comments, kung. I actually approached it from a skeptical point of view, but when you find things like “Pay attention to the traffic flow” – even if expressed in different terms – you gotta sit up and take notice.
This was a very good article. One small nit, though. Feng shui is pronounced “fung shway” rather than “fung shoy”, at least in Mandarin Chinese.
Dex: What I know about feng shui isn’t much, but you did an excellent job explaining the concepts involved. Thanks! Keep up the good work. I have a similar “practical origins with an overlay of mysticism” spiel about acupuncture. I wonder if the place in the house where I do acupressure (I don’t use the needles) could be affected by feng shui…
This must be one of things you either believe or don’t. But it’s hard for me to buy as factual a system where somehow North = death, career, water, tortoises and the human ear. It just doesn’t seem to answer the ‘is this real?’ question. Yes, it’s real because North equals ear? Okay, I’m being snarky, but how can this be anything but arbitrary?
I understand that some people are better at spatial relationships and design than others, and that they can make a room feel more comfortable or more energetic or whatever. But codifying that ability into astrology-type “energy” relationships sounds like hooey to me.
I’m going to have to go looking, but I’m pretty sure the ‘ancient’ art of Feng Shui was Geomancy, and this ‘modern’ version (applying it to indoors) was ‘invented’ in the '70s.
It was brought to the attention of the West in the 1970s, Cheap, and I’m sure there was much adaptation at that time, but I found no one who contended that the basics were not ancient.
If nothing else, I know that Chinese restaurants had aquariums in them, way way before the 1970s.
Interesting indeed, Bastid, thanks. I didn’t do an internet search, because I found thousands of hits and no way to scramble through them for basics. I prefer books and libraries, frankly.
Anyway, for those without the patience to read through it, the link Bastid provides is to a site that damns the Black Sect of feng shui as a modern, western invention. My researches did indicate that different schools of feng shui took very different attitudes, and were somewhat hostile to each other. The Black Sect (or Black Hat Sect) was the one more “adapted” to Western ideology. I did not find any other reference that suggested that it was a new invention, though. And I note that none of the authors I used are on the “condemned” list from the source you site.
I did find some of the resources spent a great deal of time on “magnetic lines,” which seem in line with your link. And I did say that some schools put more emphasis on the compass than others. Frankly, most of that came across as such total mystic nonsense (and completely incomprehensible) that I excluded it. There was a limit to my attempt at even-handedness.
Also, I thought it was fairly obvious that lots of feng shui is new. For instance, the notion that ugly plastics or electronic equipment produce unhealthy chi is obviously not from centuries old tradition, but is a modern adaptation.
Of course, one of the more amusing bits at the site Bastid linked to is the hearty condemnation of “phony” and “crank” feng shui practitioners. Reminds me somewhat of those who condemn phony mediums and psychics and say that you should only use the real thing.
Feng shui is big business in Asia, since there has been mucho development there in the last few decades, and since the superstitions of feng shui hold great sway, I can certainly appreciate that there has been an opportunity for tricksterism.
Around my house “feng shui” usually means “I get to put more of my husband’s crap in storage.” IMHO, feng shui is full of chi, or something that certainly sounds like chi.
I had a series of chinese housemates at one point. 5 of them, actually, to me being the only whiteboy. This arrangement eliminated most of my preconceived notions about asian people – for example, my ex-roommate is TERRIBLE at math, and the other four spoke english perfectly – they just never spoke it unless they wanted to complain to me or him (he spoke mandarin, not cantonese, and they used to tease and exclude him because of it).
I have difficulty believing there’s any real spirituality to feng shui as a result of this arrangement. It’s really more of an acceptable excuse to throw ones weight around and get out of a bad situation. Because I moved in a week before they did, I sort of set everything up in the main rooms, including all the furniture and several posters. One of the posters was a souvenir from my job as an intern with the department for criminial justice: a pistol target with a snarling pit bull on it. I know, not very PETA friendly, but it was an AWESOME poster.
One day, one of my housemates confronted me on the subject of the dog. “The dog is angry,” he explained, “and sitting directly across from the door, it gives people an angry feeling when they come in the room. It is causing the house to be full of much rage and is very dangerous. Maybe you could move it into your room, or into the bathroom hallway.”
I took down the poster, and later my roommate “Oh, I see you took down that stupid dog poster. Gary’s girlfriend was bitching about it last night.” He could have just mentioned she didn’t like it. Now I think he’s an amazing creep.
We get serious articles on improving the Feng Shui in the local papers & such.
IMHO it is like a serious article in the Real Estate sect on how to bury a statute of a saint in order to get a fast sale.
Centuries of trial and error might lead to some good practices sneaking through without anything valid in the techniques. Superstitions are like that. Something happens, and you attribute it to whatever you last did, assuming there is a connection when in fact there probably wasn’t. But every once in a while, there was a connection and you just happen to find it.
And Dex, aquariums in Chinese restaurants before the '70s proves something. Like maybe aquariums were invented before the '70s.
<< Centuries of trial and error might lead to some good practices sneaking through without anything valid in the techniques. >>
Sure enough, Irishman, and the Staff Report made that point without being so explicit, in the comments about the historical location of houses on hillsides vs in valleys, facing north vs facing south.
And I meant the universal (well, as universal as I could tell) presence of aquariums in Chinese restaurants. I noticed way back in the 60s that every time I went into a Chinese restaurant, there was an aquarium … and NOT in any other restaurants, except perhaps lobster tanks in seafood restaurants. A Chinese-American friend back then told me it was for “good luck.”
Just to add to the general jollity.
The pronounciation given was correct in Cantonese as spoken in Hong Kong. The pronounciation as given in the correction is also correct Mandarin although, in both cases, we are talking approximations of a tonal language.
Fish tanks in Chinese restaurants were there in the fifties - certainly in Hong Kong. Of course, many of the fish tanks held fish which the customer could point to, have cooked and eat.
I knew two feng shui priests very well. It is wrong to say they were a pair of con artists but there was quite a lot of nonsense in what they had to say.
The escalators in Hong Kong hotels - you almost always check in on the floor above ground - have nothing to do with fung shui. During the riots of the fifties and sixties you stood a good person with a shotgun at the bottom of the escalator and the guests were undisturbed.
If you were an architect and you told a fung shui priest that the building had to be built in a specific way because of, normally, goverment regulations, you could lob them what was in effect a bribe and they would give you a good report.
On the other hand, if you cut away the mysticism and nonsense with which it is wrapped most of it makes quite reasonable sense.
And, no, I am not that convinced about acupuncture either.
Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, Gazza. Thanks for the comments, it’s always good to hear from someone who has experienced this stuff first hand.
Dex . According to Arthur Anderson *, you have caused 273 lurkers to post, with Gazza being the most recent. Congratulations!
Gazza. Keep posting. We need more first-person cites here. We usually get third-hand responses.