- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

BEIJING — The art of feng shui, the spiritual approach to home design beloved of fashionable classes from London to Los Angeles, is under assault in its homeland.

A decision by one of China’s leading universities to promote a course in feng shui and architecture has opened a furious debate.

The row concentrates on what skeptics in the West have long since given up trying to ask: Is feng shui superstitious nonsense or a mysterious part of an ancient culture?

Feng shui — literally “wind and water” — was banned by the communists as an element of “feudal superstition.”

But it lived on in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the overseas Chinese community and became popular in the West in the 1980s and 1990s.

It has returned to the mainland along with many other elements of ancient Chinese culture since the beginning of economic reforms 25 years ago.

Seventy percent of real estate projects in the former capital, Nanjing, are said to be built in accordance with the orders of feng shui masters.

But when Nanjing University’s architectural culture institute offered courses in “architectural feng shui,” it came under fire from the old guard of Chinese architecture — egged on, it was reported, by the Communist Party.

“Feng shui only fills the wallets of charlatans,” said Chen Zhihua, professor of architecture at China’s premier science and engineering university, Qinghua. “As far as I can tell, feng shui had very little influence on architecture. It is all about the location of the house and facing south, isn’t it? But let’s face it, even an ant or a mouse knows to dig in north and face the south.”

But the institute will not bow down.

“China’s reconstruction is rapid, and if we copy only Western architecture and ignore Chinese culture, that is no good,” said professor Xu Xixian, who is to teach the course. “Many buildings have ignored feng shui, and the effects will be felt.”

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