on Feng Shui
on Feng Shui

Article FS00/6
Origins of Feng Shui: Huang Di Feng Shui Battles.

Prof. Dr. Ong Hean-Tatt September 2000

Feng Shui is real!!! Find out how Feng Shui really affects wealth, success and health!



The truth is that the earliest use of Feng Shui was actually in military wars! Feng Shui was originally applied as a fighting art.

Yellow Emperor Huang Di, circa 2600 B.C., was credited with the invention of the compass, which he used in his eventual victorious battles against the arch rebel Ch'ih Yu. Huang Di was also credited with the invention of the magic square of 9 squares, the Lo Shu fighting design used in all Taoist magic and ultimately Feng Shui.

Logically, it would be impossible for Feng Shui to begin until the compass was invented. The evidence is that Huang Di was also the creator of Feng Shui! As the compass was invented to be used as a military weapon, Feng Shui's earliest origins would be in the military science back in those ancient days of Yellow Emperor Huang Di, circa 2600 B.C.

The Ancient Battles of Huang Di

According to ancient history, there was no wars until the time of Huang Di, around 2600 B.C. Around 2600, certain events occurred which caused wars to begin in the history of mankind. These wars were well known in the ancient cultures, for the different cultures recorded these wars in different and often stirring ways.

The Hindus knew these wars as those of the Ramayana. The Greeks, Romans and Vikings knew them as the Wars between the Gods and Titans (the later led by Typhon the Great Serpent). The Middle East called these wars the Battles of Teshub the Storm God against the Illuyanka Serpent. The Holy Bible hinted of this stirring period as the time of Nimrod the arch rebel associated with Satan the Serpent. The Chinese knew these wars as those of Huang Di against Ch'ih Yu the Mountain Serpent, or, as known to the gret Taoist masters, the battle of Lao Chun the Human Sovereign against the Serpent.

The ancient records commented on the origins of Taoist magic:

  • "As the modern high priest repeats the combat of Chang Tao-Ling, so did Chang Tao-Ling imitate that of the Human Sovereign. The Human Sovereign (Lao Chun) also called Lao-Kuei, Old Demon, having won his battle with the demons of the Six Heavens." (Lagerway 1972, p.28).

  • "All Thunder Magic sects attribute the founding of the method to Hsu Hsun, a legendary Taoist said to have died in A.D. 374.. but the legend about Thunder Magic and the slaying of a great serpent do not occur in Taoist writings untul the mid-Sung about 1100.." (Saso 1978 p.35).

The term "Human Sovereign" was the title of Huang Di. The Three Sovereigns were the Heavenly Sovereign Fu Hsi, Earth Sovereign Shen Nung and Human Sovereign Huang Di.

The Chinese characters for the name of Ch'ih Yu shows "Ch'ih" refers to the "mountain serpent" (Hsu and Ward 1984 p.25,85, 123, 138, 154, 376).

How and why did the wars start? And how are these wars related to Feng Shui?

The "Four Cardinal Directions" Formation

One of the more discernible influences of the I Ching on Feng Shui is the Feng Shui guidelines based on the orientations and directions of a place. It gives rise to one of the two major schools of Feng Shui, viz the Compass School (the main school being the Form School). The Compass School determines Feng Shui by the orientations according to the Four Cardinal Directions. As the compass was invented by Yellow Emperor Huang Di, it would be wondered if Huang Di had anything to do with the Compass School Feng Shui.

Some say that Feng Shui proper began in the Sung dynasty (circa AD 1000), when both the Compass School and Form School were formally established. However, obviously, Feng Shui had been practised long before. Evidence is that the cultural themes alluded to in Feng Shui existed long before the Sung dynasty and went back as far as the Hsia dynasty of circa 2205 B.C. Houses in the Shang and Chou dynasties (respectively circa 1700-1120 and 1120-220 B.C.) had orientations with main entrances facing the south, a feature of Compass School Feng Shui. What we will see here is that Feng Shui went back even further to the time of Yellow Emperor Huang Di in 2600 B.C.

Indeed, there is a remarkable ancient reference that it could be so - from the famous world oldest strategy war manual Sun Zi's Art of War!:

  • 1. Sun Tzu said: We come to the question of positioning the army and observing the enemy. Pass quickly over mountains and stay close to valleys. 2. Position in high ground facing the sun. Never climb heights to attack. This is mountain warfare. 3. After crossing a river,go far from it. 4. When the invaders cross the river, do not engage him in mid-stream. It will be best to wait until half of the enemy troops are ashore, and then attack. 5. If anxious to fight, do not confront the enemy near the river. 6. Move crafts higher than enemy, facing the sun. Never move upstream to confront the enemy. This is river warfare. 7. In crossing salt-marshes, do so quickly and without delay. 8. If forced to fight in marshes, keep close to grass and have the trees to your rear. This is swamps warfare. 9. In dry level ground, choose an easily accessible position with higher ground to the right and the rear, danger in front and safety to the rear. This is warfare in level ground. 10. These are the four useful methods of positioning armies used by the Yellow Emperor when he conquered the four neighbouring countries. Sun Zi 9:1-10.

The ancient military strategy was to attack an enemy from the north. Thus, the army would often endeavour to move to the north of the enemy's position and attacked from that north. It was believed to be good Feng Shui for the army to do that! Some military analysts pointed out that often the chief aggressors in the wars the world had known down the ages were nations found in the north. This was what the passage of Sun Zi 9:1-10 quoted above confirms.

Thus, it appears that the earliest recorded use of Feng Shui was actually in military, as recorded in the famous world oldest military manual Sun Zi's Art of War!

Military Feng Shui as Origin of the Compass School Feng Shui

The ancient military Four Cardinal Direction Feng Shui transformed into the modern more readily recognised major Feng Shui influence of the orientations and directions of the place, viz:

  • East - Rivers flow from the more hilly areas in the West to the lower lands in the East. The plains are where the lowlands would be and hence where cultivation is more likely. The Feng Shui guideline is that there should be a water course flowing from the West to East in front of the house. This makes good sense in that if there is no such water course, the area would be drier and less healthy for plants. The house would lack the cooling green of plants and would be more hot, dry and dusty. This is connected with the Chinese cultural saying that "Water is Life", a saying also true in many other cultures.

  • South - The main door of house should face the south. Presumably, this is to receive the rays of the sun, which comes from the south in the latitudes of China. This way, the house is readily warmed by the solar radiation. Also, the sun's rays brighten up the interior of the house.
    As such it is bad Feng Shui to have a large tree in front of the main door, as the tree would block the entry of the sun's rays into the house.

  • West - The effects of "Rivers flow from the more hilly areas in the West to the lower lands in the East" has already been noted with respect to the East.

  • North - The main door and front of the house should not face the north. In China, north is where the cold winds would blow from. These cold winds would easily enter the house if doors and windows are placed facing the north.
    If the main door faces the north, then the house would miss the rays of the sun. The interior of the house would be dark and gloomy and therefore depressing.
    Feng Shui guidelines include having a wall at the north or planting a groove of huge trees at the north.

One could see that there is a good measure of common sense in the Feng Shui guidelines of the Compass School. There are other spin-off Feng Shui principles akin to those found in the passage of Sun Zi 9:1-10:

  • In dry level ground, choose an easily accessible position with higher ground to the right and the rear, danger in front and safety to the rear. This is warfare in level ground. Sun Zi 9:9.

    This verse reflects the Feng Shui principle for the layout of a home, in that the hills should be at back and the plains should be in front. That is, the house should be located on a slope.

  • In dry level ground, choose an easily accessible position with higher ground to the right and the rear, danger in front and safety to the rear. This is warfare in level ground. Sun Zi 9:9.

    Looking at the verse more closely, we will find that higher ground on the right (i.e. West) means lower ground to the left (i.e. East). The river would thuse flow from the higher ground on the right (West) to the lower ground on the left (East). Hence, the Feng Shui principle that the house should have a river flowing in front of it, from West to East.

  • Position in high ground facing the sun. Never climb heights to attack. This is mountain warfare. Sun Zi 9:2
    The Sun Zi 9:2 verse is associated with another verse: All armies prefer high ground to low; sunny places to cold wet shades. If you care for your soldiers, camp on hard grounds so that they are free of hundreds of diseases, and this will ensure victory. When near hills or embankments, take up the position that faces the sun and have higher ground to the right and rear. This is to benefit the soldiers with the natural advantages of the ground.Sun Zi 9:11-13

    Both verses show that low swampy places are bad for health and therefore bad Feng Shui. Such swampy areas are generally considered as demon areas. Eventually, some take low swampy areas as bad Feng Shui sites for locating graves, as the moisture would cause the coffins to rot.

Why did Huang Di invent the compass to assist him in his battles against Ch'ih Yu?

It means that there were conditions where the directions could not be determined by natural landmarks and by the sun or stars. Natural landmarks would be useless in a vast plain, where there would be hardly any hills or outcrops to serve as landmarks. Or, if an area is foggy and misty it would also be difficult to look at landmarks.

In fact, the ancient history stated that Ch'ih Yu's place was in the south-east swampy plains, where natural landmarks would be useless as guides for directions, and this was compounded by the tendency of the swamps to produce fogs. Hence, it was under such conditions that a compass would be extremely useful as a direction indicator. The legend stated that Huang Di moved to the south-east to attack Ch'ih Yu - the last of the "four useful methods of positioning armies used by the Yellow Emperor" mentioned in Sun Zi 9:1-10.

So, the intriguing thing, as strongly indicated by the passage of Sun Zi 9:1-13, is that these Compass School Feng Shui principles had associations with the battles of Huang Di against Ch'ih Yu the Mountain Serpent. The battles of Huang Di against Ch'ih Yu the Mountain Serpent involved the physical terrain and environment. Hence, the discussion also points to that Feng Shui originated as an environmental science laying out the principles by which the environment affects the well being of human beings.

Feng Shui possibly began as environmental guidelines for the positioning of military camps and troops. It evolved to apply to the living quarters of the ordinary people.

So The Legend Begins

The ancient legend shows that, initially, Huang Di and Ch'ih Yu were close friends. Huang Di had became the Yellow Emperor and supreme ruler of the world. [Huang Di was to be the third and last of the world emperors, the first being Fu Hsi and the second being Shen Nung]. Ch'ih Yu was the field marshal of Huang Di and used to lead the military procession before Huang Di.

But, somehow, Ch'ih Yu plotted to supplant Huang Di as the supreme ruler. The legend stated Ch'ih Yu's rebellion was discovered and he fled south.

So began a series of titanic battles. Ch'ih Yu was initially victorious in early encounters with Huang Di. But, finally, through the aid of certain quarters, Huang Di finally overcame Ch'ih Yu. The whole incidence makes a great romantic tale of mighty feats, valor, love and tragedies, which the ancient cultures remembered and recorded in various forms. Therein were the ancient origins of Feng Shui!

Huang Di moved from the northern mountains down towards the direction of the south-eastern swampy plains to confront Ch'ih Yu. Huang Di had to use the compass to guide his army. Ever since, the conditions of the "four useful methods of positioning armies used by the Yellow Emperor" mentioned in Sun Zi 9:1-10 grew into Feng Shui lore of the Compass School.

In the next articles, we will look at the famous stirring legends about Yellow Emperor Huang Di and understand more of the origins and principles of Feng Shui.