Feng Shui: Traditional vs The West

For my final project, I decided to research traditional feng shui and how it has been interpreted in western societies. I wrote a paper comparing the meanings of feng shui to the different cultures. Before doing research, I only understood the western beliefs of feng shui. But traditional Chinese feng shui is complex and full of different meanings to help bring balance to an environment. Feng shui is about creating harmony and balance within a space to help support you. The goal of the paper is to give a clear understanding of what traditional feng shui and how it has been changed to fit the needs of other cultures in the west.

Feng shui is a Chinese tradition that roots back thousands of years. It is the Chinese art of placement. Today, feng shui has been modernized to fit a westernized society. Feng shui’s original concepts and uses are altered to create a design element that is said to help people prosper in life.

Feng shui translates to wind and water. It was originally used to help families find safe places to live where they would be able to thrive. It was also used to decide on optimum burial locations for family members. People wanted to make sure that the burial sites were not affected by typhoons, which represents wind and floods, which is water. It was later used to determine locations of government buildings, public monuments and even entire cities using main feng shui concepts: Qi, yin and yang, and the five elements which are water, wood, fire, earth and metal.

Feng Shui was introduced and become popular in the West between the 1960s and 1970s. But not for it’s original intentions, it’s been interpreted to fit western societies. The new interpretation removes the origins of finding the right burial site, it focuses almost completely on the design of the home and other buildings.

Modernized feng shui focuses on the aesthetics of a space almost entirely to provide benefits to someone’s life. It takes original Chinese feng shui beliefs and compiles them into one, removing tradition from it. The term feng shui is almost borrowed from China, to create a new meaning in the west that fits with western culture. New popular manuals and utilization of feng shui in the west mixes Chinese feng shui and western ideas. In the west, people want a cure all quick fix, meaning they want to bring luck and prosperity to themselves but they don’t want to wait for it. The manuals promise results, instead of sustaining harmony of the space for a long time.

The west uses feng shui to create remedies and cure the bad in someone’s life and bring them luck. In traditional feng shui the five elements may be placed in a space where there is imbalance. In the west, the five elements become symbols, and can be something as simple as a picture of water instead of placing something with water in a space.

Others use feng shui for their businesses in hopes of drawing in new customers to help the business grow. But those hoping feng shui will help them become wealthy don’t fully understand what feng shui means. They hope that a “good design” of the space will help customers feel welcome and add value to their business. In the modern interpretations of feng shui, the value of design appears to be a common theme.

This is far from traditional Chinese feng shui where changes were made both in the interior and exterior of the home to support the family who lives there better, and to help the family flourish. The west also completely leaves out one of its origins of finding a proper burial place for family members. There is a clear distinction in the way in which feng shui has been interpreted to fit within the larger framework of western society, and the roots in which it came from. Traditional feng shui has always been a part of Chinese society even when suppressed. Today it still exists and has become a global connection that is interpreted in cultures all over the world.

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