Making money gets the mystical touch
Updated: 2013-01-11 09:46
By Peng Yining and He Na (China Daily)
Qi Yingjie, a feng shui master, prays for good fortune at his Beijing office. Wang Jing / China Daily
The area outside the Lama Temple in Beijing is known as "the street of fortune tellers", which is a gathering place for diviners, palm readers and feng shui masters. Luo Xiaoguang / Xinhua
Zhang Xuedong is a lecturer with Tsinghua University. Kuang Linhua / China Daily
Wealthy Chinese are increasingly calling on the powers of feng shui to help them make, and keep, their fortunes
In a classroom at Peking University School of Economics, the students pored over their calculations, just as countless preceding generations had done. But the people in this class were not regular scholars instead, they represented China's business elite, including chief executive officers of big companies, entrepreneurs and financiers. All were busy in a feng shui class divining their destinies. They hoped to gain insight into the ancient Chinese method of geomancy, which has become an important part of the school's Executive Master of Business Administration program.
Using a formula in conjunction with their dates of birth, the students were trying to discern their ming, or fate, including career and marriage prospects, and to attract greater fortune by learning how to decorate their offices and align furniture in accordance with the tenets of feng shui.
The lecturer, Qi Yingjie, 43, introduced himself through a slideshow as a "feng shui master" and, dressed in a traditional black tunic suit, strolled between the desks as the students added, subtracted, multiplied and divided according to the formula.
"Use the formula and you will discover your destiny," the former farmer and vegetable vendor says, as he lectured the executives.
During a break, the students surrounded him, firing questions: "Would it be bad feng shui to place a cupboard beside my bed?"; "My son loses his temper at home for no reason. Can feng shui help solve the problem?"; "My wife and I often fight. Do I need to reconsider the feng shui of our apartment?"
One particular question aroused Qi's attention. "The door of my apartment faces southwest and I put a bookshelf in the northwest corner of the room. Is that good feng shui?" asked a middle-aged man as he showed the master the results of his calculations, an ornate gold watch glistening on his wrist.
Frowning with concentration, the master scanned the sheet of paper and announced: "The door is fine, but you need to move the bookshelf from the northwest corner, because your chart shows that it will hinder your future development."
The questioner wanted to know more, but the master was dragged off by a fan who wanted a photo taken with him.
Forget about the shabby roadside stalls of feng shui experts, the ones fighting for space next to the psychics, palm readers and fortunetellers. Now the ancient art, believed to unlock riches, power and control of one's life, is targeting China's newly rich, and has become a must have for many rich individuals.
Qi says his expertise in providing auspicious names and arranging feng shui for companies brings three to five clients a day. "Most of them are accomplished businesspeople and high-ranking officials."
Born in a village in Hebei province, Qi was influenced by his grandfather, also a "master", and has been interested in the mysterious and ancient art since he was a teenager.
In 1995 he founded his first consultancy in Tangshan city, Hebei, before expanding the business to Beijing in 2010.
The company's website provides a price list: Naming newborn babies or changing existing names costs up to 38,885 yuan ($6,246; 4,783 euros); choosing the right time for a cesarean birth to ensure the child is born at a propitious moment costs 1,685 yuan to 8,885 yuan; the price for advising real estate agents, companies and the location of tombs ranges from 500 to 50,000 yuan.
Qi says that when he first started out he charged just 10 yuan to name a newborn baby. "But now, too many people are asking for my help. I had to raise the price to limit the numbers. I do reduce my prices for poor families, but those businesspeople make millions or even billions, so it would be ridiculous if they were to pay just a couple of hundred yuan."
He says the most frequent inquiries from businesspeople include the decoration of offices and apartments to encourage positive developments, investment advice, the pros and cons of entering into partnership or working by oneself, and how to choose the right subordinates.
"I provide answers based on their names, their dates of birth and the feng shui arrangements in their immediate environment."
Running alongside the Lama Temple in Beijing is a 500-meter-long strip known as "The Street of Fortune tellers" that has become a gathering place for the city's diviners, palm readers and feng shui masters. The pavements bristle with people hawking their services and "magic" accessories, including bracelets, necklaces and blessed figures of the Buddha.
However, unlike his peddling peers, Qi has eight employees. His office, close to Beijing's second ring road, faces south and stands in front of a river. In short, this is a textbook feng shui office location.
The office is decorated in strict accordance with the rules, and a statue of Lao Zi, the founder of Taoism, is enshrined in the main hall, surrounded by flickering candles. However, the front door faces a second door inside, an arrangement believed to bring bad luck. Qi solved the problem by hanging a crystal curtain between the doors.
The lower sections of the French windows are covered by opaque plastic film. According to feng shui principles, large, uncovered windows can result in the loss of money. A fish tank has been placed by the window for the same reason, to stop Qi's fortune from flowing away.
Tang Zhijun, 47, general manager of Beijing Changfeng Innovation Science and Technology Co, says some of his business friends from southern China are strong believers in feng shui.
"They constantly urged me to learn more about it, saying it has immense influence in enterprise development and the prosperity of our families. They even moved their ancestors' tombs because the master told them the deed would benefit their family."
As the owner of a company that makes scientific and high-technology items, Tang was disinclined to believe in the ancient practice. However, when the aficionados said a few minor adjustments to the layout of his office would improve the company's performance, he decided to act on their advice, reasoning that even if it proved ineffectual, the move was harmless.
He began by rectifying a long-standing "problem". Tang often sat with his back to a north-facing window.
"I changed it recently. The master said the window behind me represents a hole and that the money I earned would flow away through it."
Following the master's suggestion, Tang placed a screen wall between his back and the window.
"Although the business hasn't made huge progress since then, I'm still surprised, because I've been feeling better since I put the screen in place. Before, I often felt that eyes were watching me from behind."
Tang now wants to learn more about the basic techniques concerning the location and decoration of homes. "Even now, we're unable to provide convincing explanations for many things in the world. If feng shui can provide a solution, why shouldn't we try it?"
Most EMBA programs in China's major business schools, including the China Europe International Business School, which charges 560,000 yuan for its part-time, two-year course, provide lectures on I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, feng shui and related issues.
Li Juanjuan, a student in Peking University's EMBA program, likes reading books about feng shui and watching related videos. The 32-year-old manager at Beijing Capital International Airport says she will invite a master to help decorate her new apartment.
"It's all to provide a better life for my daughter. I've already changed her name to promote better feng shui," she says, declining to provide details, to protect her daughter's privacy.
People who have recently become wealthy are fearful of losing their fortunes and the prospects of making another, and feng shui provides a means of easing that tension, says Zhang Xuedong, a researcher and lecturer in Tsinghua University's EMBA program.
Although he teaches ancient Chinese culture and philosophy in the program, the most frequently asked questions concern feng shui, but some people seem to miss the point, he says.
"The students ask if I can predict their futures or use my knowledge to help them make more money. I advise them to be patient and to search for inner peace, but they ask for short cuts to finding inner peace, such as donations to temples or rearranging their offices."
Chinese people have only recently become wealthy in large numbers and have yet to learn how to deal with the pressures associated with big fortunes. Because it is part of ancient Chinese culture, people mistakenly believe that feng shui can provide an easy solution, Zhang says.
"If simply moving your tables and installing a fish tank could help you make more money, everybody would try it," he says, and warned that it might not be wise to ask the so-called masters for business advice.
"The laws of economics may help you, but not the laws of feng shui. The 'masters' certainly do care about making money, but only for themselves."
The practice undoubtedly does include many ancient wisdoms, but they are often commonplace or simply self-evident, he says. For example, feng shui principles state that windows in Chinese houses should face south, but that is hardly a mystical revelation - the country's location means that south-facing windows allow natural light to illuminate rooms for the optimum period every day.
"It's part of a rich heritage of traditional culture and folklore," Zhang says. "To some extent we should research and protect it. But it shouldn't be seen as an infallible way of living your life."
Jiang Xueqing contributed to this story.
Contact the reporters at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
(China Daily 01/11/2013 page24)