Feng shui

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"Cannons" atop the HSBC Headquarters in Hong Kong balancing the bad feng shui of the knife shape of the nearby Bank of China building.[1]
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[Mumbles to himself] Still looks like shit.
—Feng shui master after completing his work, forgetting his mic was still on.[2]

Feng shui (literally meaning "wind water") is the ancient Chinese art of arranging buildings and their interiors in order to promote a favorable balance of qi.[3]

Feng Shui was (and sometimes still is) enormously important in architecture in Asia, spreading from China to surrounding countries such as Korea[4] and Japan.[5] Historically, temples, castles and cities were built with feng shui principles in mind to ensure the qi wasn't out of whack.

In recent years Feng Shui has been repurposed to create jobs for New Agers and former psychologists, to sell vacuous coffee table books, and as a way for people with more money than intelligence to correct that imbalance.

It's basically acupuncture for neat freaks.[6]

How it supposedly works[edit]

There are many competing schools of feng shui,[7] so it's difficult to pin down the "correct" way of applying it, but some general themes include:

  • Rearranging the contents of one's dwelling so that the flow of qi is improved - which should, in turn, improve the lives of the inhabitants. Make sure the place is tidy - unnecessary clutter might block the qi.
  • Using a ba gua map to divide one's home into eight/nine areas, with each area representing an aspect of the inhabitant's life: wealth, family, relationships, knowledge, etc.[3][8] Misfortune in one of these areas can be rectified by improving the feng shui of the building. Rearranging the furniture in the "family" section of the house, for example, will improve family relationships.Do You Believe That?
  • Paying attention to the five elements - water, wood, fire, earth and metal - which also have an effect on people's lives (somehow).[9] Not feeling grounded enough? The earth element can be invoked by placing clay pottery on a table,[3] or leaving some crystals on a shelf.[10] That should help!
  • The colour of objects also has an impact on the energy of a home. Painting a wall red, for instance, will invoke invigorating Fire energy - but be wary of using too much. It might become dangerously overwhelming![11]
  • Putting plants in the house can promote growth and help the inhabitants connect with nature. Dead plants and cacti give off bad vibes though, so avoid them at all costs.[12]
  • Water features such as ponds and fountains can also influence the flow of energy, provided they are placed in the correct locations. Bodies of water in the wrong place might hinder the flow of energy.[13]

Alright, been following along? How's it looking?

Nice. Good job!

Don't worry if the results don't look exactly like the example picture - Feng shui is a load of bullshit anyway.

Why it doesn't works[edit]

Some of the recommendations of feng shui practitioners are quite sensible. Having living plants is preferable to having dead plants in your house,[14] and having furniture blocking the doorways is kinda inconvenient.[citation NOT needed] And it's only natural that you want your bedroom to be cozy — it's where you'll be pulling all your best moves, after all.

But why should the arrangement of your furniture have an impact on your back account? In what way does the presence of wind chimes affect your physical health? What exactly is qi? How is it measured? What methodology did professional feng shui consultants use to find out that jade stone brings balance to a house? How do they know it doesn't do the opposite?

Most of the time a defender of feng shui will fall back to an appeal to ancient wisdom. They will reason that the ancient Chinese had great insight into the mysterious inner workings of the world, but this is merely passing the responsibility to people who have been dead for millennia and are unable to defend their assertions (not that they ever did that while they were alive, but anyways...). Feng shui believers of the here and now should present evidence to back up their claims. Endlessly repeating "It's ancient Chinese wisdom" is insufficient. Sometimes the word science will be invoked[15] and vague sentences concerning "vibration," "energy" and "quantum physics"[16] will be uttered, but this is empty rhetoric. If feng shui is a true field of science, then it should possess a connection to other well established bodies of science, carry out controlled experiments, demonstrate statistical significance and publish it's findings in peer reviewed academic journals - and since it doesn't do any of those things it is mere pseudoscience at best.[17]

See also[edit]

  • Chinese astrology - which feng shui has a close connection to.
  • Yin and yang - one of its guiding principles, apparently.
  • Fortune cookie - Some of the modern westernised forms of feng shui are about as Chinese as fortune cookies.

External links[edit]


  1. Norman Foster's Hong Kong HSBC headquarters tore up the rule book – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 45 The Guardian 28 May 2015
  2. Penn & Teller: Bullshit! — "Feng Shui & Bottled Water" (S01E07)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The Basic Principles of Feng Shui The Spruce 6 July 2023
  4. Good move? S.Korean president's home stirs feng shui furore Reuters 18 March 2022
  5. Imperial City: Kyoto’s Millennium as Japan’s Capital nippon.com 6 July 2021
  6. feng shui The Skeptic's Dictionary
  7. Feng Shui Methods and Techniques International Feng Shui Institute
  8. The Feng Shui Bagua International Feng Shui Institute
  9. The Five Elements - Wu Xing International Feng Shui Institute
  10. Feng Shui Crystals A-Z The Feng Shui Magazine
  11. The Meanings of Major Colors in Feng Shui The Spruce 2 September 2021
  12. The 14 Best Feng Shui Plants to Use In Your Home The Spruce 18 July 2023
  13. Feng Shui Water Features and Fountains International Feng Shui Institute
  14. Owning houseplants can boost your mental health – here’s how to pick the right one The Conversation 11 April 2023
  15. Why Wind and Water? International Feng Shui Institute
  16. Homepage Feng Shui Institute of America
  17. Open access journal article Fernandez-Beanato, D. Feng Shui and the Demarcation Project. Science & Education 30, 1333–1351 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-021-00240-z