Fengshui in China

Geomantic Divination between State Orthodoxy and Popular Religion

by Ole Bruun

320 pp., illustrated
Man and Nature in Asia # 8
Available from NIAS Press worldwide except North America

Hardback - 2003, Available
ISBN 978 87 91114 79 3, £50.00
Paperback - 2011, Available
ISBN 978 87 91114 57 1, £18.99

For well over a century, Chinese fengshui - or 'geomancy' - has interested Western laymen and scholars. Today, hundreds of popular manuals claim to use its principles in their advice on how people can increase their wealth, happiness, longevity, etc. This study is quite different, approaching fengshui from an academic angle. The focus is on fengshui's significance in China, but the recent history of its reinterpretation in the West is also depicted.

The author argues that fengshui serves as an alternative tradition of cosmological knowledge, which is used to explain a range of everyday occurrences in rural areas such as disease, mental disorders, accidents and common mischief. Although Chinese authorities have opposed the tradition for centuries, nonetheless it has been used by almost everyone as an aspect of popular cosmology. Opposing the Chinese collectivist ethos and moralizing from above, fengshui represents an alternative vision of reality, while interpreting essential Chinese values in a way that sanctions selfish motivations and behaviour.

The study includes a historical account of fengshui over the last 150 years augmented by the results of anthropological fieldwork on contemporary practices in two Chinese rural areas. Aiming to eschew Western intellectual preconceptions and to penetrate the confused mass of old texts and divergent local practices, the book will be of interest to all scholars seeking to understand an undercurrent of modern China's transformation.

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