The Landscape Guide

Feng shui: winds (feng) and waters (shui)

Landscape and Garden Product Directory

Feng shui (or kan yu) is a traditional Chinese practice which retains its popularity in Chinese culture.The words may be translated as:

  • feng: winds
  • shui: waters
  • kan: hills
  • yu: valleys

The basic principle of feng shui is that a 'vital spirit' or 'cosmic breath' (ch'i in Chinese) runs through the earth in a manner which is dependent on topography. The path of the cosmic breath influences the fortunes of individuals and their descendents. Since topography is adjusted in the process of designing a garden, feng shui becomes a significant influence on garden design.

The nearest equivalent of fent shui in western culture is the belief in a genius locii. The idea of a genius locii, which derives from ancient Greek and Roman civilisation, was given a new importance by the poetry of Alexander Pope and the rise of empiricism in England during the eighteenth century. This produced a visual, thematic intellectual parallellism between English gardens and Chinese gardens.

Feng shui principles resulted in a complex set of rules. They are set forth in one of China's oldest literary works, a biography of the feng shui expert Qu Yuan. It influenced garden design. Before the design process could begin, a feng shui expert was consulted. He would check the site and its relationship with the surrounding landscape. This included the flow of water and the orientation:

  • East was symbolised by the Blue Dragon, and spring
  • West was symbolised by the White Tiger, and autumn
  • South was symbolised by the Crimson Bird, and summer
  • North was symbolised by the Black Turtle, and winter

Gardens were surrounded by walls to preserve their peace and the good influences drawn from the site. Old trees are repositaries of ch'i.

Feng shui consultants are also concerned to establish a relationship with the key materials:

  • fire: materials, colours, shapes, patterns
  • wood: materials, colours, shapes, patterns
  • water: materials, colours, shapes, patterns
  • earth: materials, colours, shapes, patterns
  • metal: materials, colours, shapes, patterns

Note: the pronunciation varies according to the Chinese dialict. It is 'foong shway' in Mandarin 'fung shoy' in Cantonese.

Feng shui frog

British frog (in yellow)