Feng Shui is almost universally described as an “ancient” practice. This is true, but the age of Feng Shui as it is practiced today tends to be less than is commonly described.
No one knows how Feng Shui originated. There is archeological evidence suggesting that some of the ideas and symbols used in Feng Shui theory were used in Neolithic times, dating back approximately 6,000 years ago. Specifically, a gravesite excavated in the Henan province in 1988 has the following characteristics, which are consistent with Feng Shui ideas:
The head of the gravesite is round, and the foot of the gravesite is square. The Chinese view of the cosmos is that heaven is round and earth is square.
- The gravesite is oriented along a north-south axis
- The gravesite has an outline of a dragon on the east side, and a tiger on the west side of the body. This corresponds to the Green Dragon and White Tiger landscape formations that are basic to Feng Shui landform theory.
- There is a representation of the Big Dipper outlined in the gravesite. The Big Dipper’s stars correspond to bodies of Qi in Feng Shui theory.
It is important to recognize that this symbolism covers more Chinese practices than Feng Shui, so its presence does not mean that Feng Shui itself was practiced that long ago, however. There are some written records that may reference Feng Shui practice dating back to the Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BCE).
What we can say with certainty is that the practice of Feng Shui was originally known as Kan Yu (the observation of forces between Heaven and Earth). Kan Yu was a method used to select burial sites, capitals and palaces. During this time period, the study of Feng Shui was not as developed as it later became. There was only one system, based upon the principles of Yin and Yang in conjunction with the Five Elements.
Through the later centuries, Feng Shui masters refined and passed down their collective knowledge to disciples. Every generation, new findings were added and old theories redefined. The arrival of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) was regarded as the prime era of Kan Yu. During these years, the system we know and use today as San He emerged.
The name Feng Shui came into use during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). It was only towards the end of this period that the term Feng Shui (which literally means “Wind Water”) came to be used unanimously to represent Kan Yu. The term came from Guo Pu’s classic “Burial Book” (circa 300 AD). A famous passage in this book notes that “Qi rides and scatters with the Wind, and gathers at the boundaries of Water”.