Fengshui is an ancient art form that deals with the placement of buildings or other structures so as to attain the most auspicious prospect. The present form of fengshui practice was probably started in the first century for the siting of graves (yinresidence) and houses (yang-residence). The fundamental element of fengshui is the live spirit or energy (qi/breath) circulating in the physical environment that can be captured and contained for the benefit of the inhabitants of the house, or the descendants of the deceased. Fengshui principles were widely practised by all sectors of the society even after the May Fourth Movement of 1919, when its practice was branded superstitious alongside other folk religions and practices. After 1949, it was regarded as one of the poisonous remnants of the old society and thus prohibited. In the meantime, fengshui practices continued to be widely observed in Hong Kong and Taiwan, fuelled by the economic prosperity of the 1980s. Similarly, with the economic liberalization of China since 1979, fengshui principles have again been applied, particularly in the business community. The academic world began to publish studies of the ancient art of fengshui in 1989, particularly the research of Wang Qiheng of Tianjin University. Scholarly publications by Wang and others attempted to rationalize fengshui practice and exonerate its principles as scientifically and environmentally sensitive.
With the rampant economic growth in the 1990s, business ventures invariably consulted the growing number of fengshui professionals for good fortune that would result from the proper arrangement of office interiors and the design of office or factory buildings, much like their counterparts in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Not only is fengshui practised in business circles and even among the cadres of more remote regions, but fengshui practitioners are constantly consulted by individuals to ensure the incumbent a successful career. The major effect of the return to popularity of fengshui practices can be seen in the proliferation of fengshui literature and self-made fengshui experts. Traditionally, the transmission of fengshui knowledge was through an apprenticeship system. With the forty-year break in fengshui practice between 1949 and 1989, direct transmission was broken and many fengshui practitioners learned the craft by reading old manuscripts. With increasing demand of fortune seekers, these practitioners are often asked to provide a way to alter the living and working environments of the inhabitant in order to ensure either more wealth, examination success, harmonious marital relationships, security in life or good health. Some may approach these practitioners for a brighter future, while others hope to ameliorate immediate difficulties. With experience, some fengshui practitioners go on to write books on fengshui principles together with examples of successful cases. Some books list simple rules of thumb for fengshui placement, such as the orientation of the front door or furniture, while others start with first principles. With commercial activities increasing all over China, fengshui practitioners and literature will continue to be in great demand, and the proliferation of easy-to-use fengshui guides will allow more individuals to alter their living environment, usually just the furniture, in the hopes of a brighter future.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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