A Sweet Briar College Learning Resource

H2O - The Mystery, Art, and Science of Water

Water in Classical Chinese Religion
Professor John Goulde

Geomancy (fengxue)

Another development of the Chinese in regard to water was the art of wind and water, fengxue, or geomancy. This practice was based on the pan-Chinese assumption that the earth is filled with energy and that there are certain sites on the face of the earth that are especially filled with energy and are ideal for human habitation. Fengxue was used traditionally to locate energy-filled sites for cities, marketplaces, temples, shrines, houses, and most importantly, the graves of the dead. The typical site was one in which the yang energy of the sun (fire) and the yin energy of flowing water was in abundance. The site was oriented towards the south with water flowing in the south, forming a natural protecting barrior of the spot chosen for building. To the north and west there should be mountains that protect the site from yin forces and keep energy enclosed. The east also had to have mountains, but smaller than those in the west and north. In such sites it was believed prosperity, good fortune, disease and accident free existence was possible.

While fengxue sites are important for the living, greater importance is given to the use such sites for the care of the dead. The souls of dead needed to be fed and nourished so that they could be settled among the dead and not haunt the living. They also had to be given energy so that they could persist among the dead and enjoy heightened social rank in a society of spirits, gods, souls that paralleled that of the living. The more energy that descendents could channel to the dead in the form of feeding rituals and gravesite energy, the more powerful they became (sometimes even becoming gods) and thus they could manipulate to the benefit of their descendents the powers of the universe. Confucianized justification of fengzue posited a cause effect relationship between dead and living. Descendents who provided continuing care of ancestors could expect from their practice of filial piety and respect good fortune, long life, and the assurance that they, in turn would be well cared for by their own later descendents. The yin soul of the dead associated with the bones interred within the earth became a conduit for channeling energy to the yang soul associated with the sky. Yin and yang energies from ritual feeding, yin earth, yang sunlight, and yin water added to the power and cohesiveness of the yang soul and in time, usually after six generations, could pass on to the highest realms of the universe and no longer needed either remembrance or and care.

Of special note is the role of earth and water - primary forms of yin energy. Since yin is conserving energy, it is not expansive or wasting, it carries within itself the potency of yang. Conserved and unexpended yang energy (sometimes referred to as "new yang") is the primary ingredient of longevity. In other word, the more yin that is accumulated, the less yang energy is lost through activity. Taoist treatises often point to the danger of too much yang which can readily expend itself and devotees are advised to increase their yin and thus conserve yang. The result is longer life.


H20 - The Mystery, Art, and Science of Water
Chris Witcombe and Sang Hwang
Sweet Briar College