This month’s column is on psychogeography, namely the study and practice surrounding the effect of place upon the psyche and the importance of the psyche within the landscape.
Tag Archives: Feng Shui
The point of talking about cultural appropriation isn’t to tell people what they can’t and can’t do (often a futile effort anyways), but to remind people that their actions have consequences. Guan Sheng Di said:
However, if your heart is full of evil and you do not do good things, lust after other people’s wives and daughters, break up their marriages, destroy their purity, ruin their skills, scheme for their wealth, instigate lawsuits, harm others in order to benefit yourself, rail against Heaven and Earth, slander the wise and virtuous, destroy statues of the gods, cheat the gods, wantonly kill living things, destroy good books, rely on force, slander the good, use wealth to oppress the poor, separate people from their relatives and brother from brother, not believe in the true path, lust, steal, go whoring, swindle others, act extravagantly, waste grain, are ungrateful, go against your conscience, use crooked weights and measures, set up false teachings, lead on the simpleminded, falsely say that someone has died, extort goods, cheat others, talk obliquely, curse people in broad daylight, scheme to hurt others behind their backs, not follow Heaven’s way, not make others happy, refuse to believe in karma, entice others to do evil, and do not even a bit of good yourself — Those who do such things will have reason to regret it. They will suffer fire, flood, and bandits. They will suffer plague, give birth to idiots, be destroyed themselves, and have their family line extinguished. Their sons will become thieves and their daughters whores. Retribution will fall upon them, their sons, and their grandsons. The gods see everything and don’t miss things even as tiny as a hair. Good and evil are two paths. Disaster and fortune are separate things. If you do good, you will have good fortune; if you do evil you will suffer misfortune. I tell you this to encourage you to act. Although my words are simple they are of great benefit. Those who make fun of my words will be destroyed. [Emphasis added].
Guan Di is “the protector of the Chinese ecumene” (Duara 789), the Chinese people and their world.
Don’t fuck with our shit.
Feng shui isn’t housecleaning tips for bored suburban housewives, it’s a system for finding auspicious locations to bury one’s ancestors and build one’s house, and to mitigate the effects of not having access to the most auspicious locations. Feng shui led Chinese people to topple telegraph poles and rip up railroad tracks. Don’t fuck with what you don’t understand.
Qi gong isn’t for New Agers, it’s for warriors.
Edit: This post originally quoted a speech attributed to Chief Seattle, which I’ve since learned was written by a white man, and is not authentic. Accordingly, the quote has been removed.
The White Lotus Society was a syncretic Buddhist-Daoist-Manichean secret society (or series of secret societies) that participated in rebellions as early as 1352 and as late as 1804. Elizabeth J. Perry’s Worshipers and Warriors: White Lotus Influence on the Nian Rebellion examines the uncertain degree of their influence upon the Nian Rebellion of 1851-68. Perry begins by noting the geographical concentration of popular uprisings in certain regions:
In examining China’s two-thousand-year history of peasant revolt, one is struck by continuities in both location and organizational style […] the overriding impression is of a tenacious persistence of certain patterns of revolt in particular geographical regions. One such hotbed of peasant unrest was the Huai River valley, scene of the first great popular revolt in Chinese history […] in 209 B.C. (4)
She acknowledges the role of oral history in transmitting stories and memories of resistance before advancing her thesis that organizations such as the White Lotus Society provided an additional historical continuity between different rebellions:
It is sometimes claimed that peasants are unrevolutionary because they lack a sense of history. Modern revolutions, according to this argument, must be led by an educated class with a notion of historical mission. Actually, however, the peasantry too had its interpretation of the past and of its role in it. In the absence of a writing system, peasants depended upon oral history, reinforced in song, proverb, and verse, to preserve and perpetuate significant events. […]
At the same time, we must wonder if there was not a more formal institutional context through which such transfer occurred. A connection can be suggested between peasant unrest in the Huai River valley and the centuries-old existence of the White Lotus Society in that region. (5)
The White Lotus Society led a major insurrection between 1794–1804. As we will examine in more detail later, participants from both sides of the conflict are said to have formed/joined the “Nian” (gangs) that launched the Nian Rebellion half a century later.
The White Lotus Society
The original White Lotus Society appeared near the end of the Yuan Dynasty (the Mongol-ruled dynasty spanning the period between 1271-1368) and was instrumental in that dynasty’s overthrow:
Toward the end of the Yuan Dynasty a White Lotus adherent by the name of Han Shan-tang proclaimed the imminent arrival of the Maitreya Buddha. In the Huai valley, followers flocked to Han’s cause, declaring him the rightful emperor. An army of red-turbaned peasants was raised and revolt broke out. While this initial uprising was quickly suppressed, other aspirants arose to lead the so-called Red Army. Finally a Buddhist monk, Zhu Yuan-zhang, succeeded in overthrowing the Mongols and establishing the Ming dynasty.
The victory proved a mixed blessing for the White Lotus Society, however. Soon outlawed by the new emperor, Ming Tai-zu, the group found itself once again thrust into a role of opposition. (5-6)
Though primarily arising out of the tradition of Maitreyan Buddhism, the White Lotus Society syncretized Buddhism with Daoism and Manichaeism:
The White Lotus was a syncretic sect, combining elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Manicheanism. Its practices included medical healing, sitting and breathing exercises, martial arts, and the chanting of spells and charms. (6)
Perry notes that Marxist historians have been considerably discomfited by the centrality of religion to many of China’s most notorious peasant insurrections, but have sought to fit these rebellions into a Marxist framework nonetheless:
While characterizing religion as the “opiate of the people,” Marx also pointed out the inevitable importance of religion in feudal and Oriental societies. In such societies, mass struggles necessarily take on a religious tone; in fact religion may be the only means of instigating revolt under these conditions.
Many Chinese scholars have sought to overcome the apparent contradiction between these two views by distinguishing between the oppressive religion of the upper classes and the potentially dynamic creeds of the peasantry […] The theory is not entirely unlike that of traditional Confucians who also recognized “heterodox” (xie) doctrines as a serious political threat. (7)
Modern scholarship, such as that of Yang Shao-yun with regards to the Mahayana Rebellion of 515, has questioned the dichotomy between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, arguing that both established rulers and rebels actually used very similar language and concepts to justify their actions.
The White Lotus Society, however, was not only theologically “heterodox” but socially revolutionary as well, with proto-feminist tendencies standing out in particular:
According to the research of Richard Chu (1967), notions of equality also played an important role in the ideology and practice of the White Lotus Society. The theoretical basis for this equality lay in the sect’s creation myth. Legend held that life had been formed by the intervention of the Eternal Mother, Wu shen lao mu. The fact that all people were regarded as children of the Eternal Mother opened the way for equality between the sexes.
In many White Lotus movements throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties women were active as fighters and group leaders. The first sizable White Lotus uprising during the Ming was led by a Shandong woman, Tang Sai-er (Chu, 1967). Noted for her prowess in Taoist magical arts, Tang mobilized a revolt that swept across the province in 1420.
In addition to sexual equality, there is some evidence of cooperative economic activities among White Lotus members […] to aid the poorest participants in the struggles. (7-8)
The Nian Rebellion
Speaking of redistribution of wealth, Perry acknowledges that any ideological influence of the White Lotus upon the Nian rebels is hard to detect, but cites an interesting folk tale (re)told by the historian Fan Wen-lan that seems to advocate expropriation of the propertied classes:
Having established the potential usefulness of a secret society such as the White Lotus in inspiring mass revolt, what concrete support exists for the claim that it was in fact a source of inspiration to the Nian Rebellion? For the Nian we very little documentation of any developed system of ideology. The historian Fan Wen-lan (1962: 156-157) does point to one Nian myth as evidence of a rudimentary notion of class struggle.
According to Fan, members of the Nian orally transmitted a story dealing with a time when Confucius was in difficult straits. On the verge of starvation, Confucius is said to have dispatched his disciple to borrow grain from Fan Dan, a man known for his poverty who went hungry as a matter of course. Because Confucius’ life was at stake, Fan Dan generously lent out the meager amount of grain that constituted his family’s entire supply. Later Confucius became powerful and acquired wealth, but he did not acknowledge his debt to Fan Dan. The Nian claimed that all scholars (the landlord class) were offspring of Confucius, whereas the Nian were descendants of Fan Dan. The descendants of Fan naturally had the right to demand restitution for the old debt from the descendants of Confucius. […]
While Fan [Wen-lan]’s suggestion is an intriguing one, he cites no source for his conjecture. Furthermore, the anti-Confucian myth does not appear in any of the published Nian folk stories or songs. In short, with what little is known about Nian ideology, it is impossible to establish a definite connection with the White Lotus on this level. (8-9)
Perry suggests that the influence of the White Lotus upon the Nian rebels was organizational rather than theoretical. The term “Nian” essentially means “gang,” and at least one account suggests that the earliest “Nian” were comprised of former White Lotus Rebels:
Instead, it seems sensible to look for an organizational rather than an ideological linkage. Secret societies acted as meeting places for the destitute. They thus performed the important function of organizing peasants on a basis other than the family. Perpetuated by ritual, these groups managed to maintain their identity for generation upon generation, existing as potential pools of recruits for insurgent activities. This sort of continuity is similar to the role attributed by Engels (1966: 55) to mystic sects in Germany. He noted that groups such as the Scourging Friars and the Lollards were a latent bed of unrest, perpetuating a revolutionary tradition in times of suppression.
We do have documentation to support the conjecture of a Nian-White Lotus link on this organizational level. In terms of primary references, there are several accounts included in the materials on the Nian published in Shanghai in 1953. A description by Huang Jun-cai notes that the areas of Anhui and Henan harbored remnants of the White Lotus party who “plundered mercilessly” throughout the region. Because they dyed their whiskers red, they were called the “red-bearded bandits” (hong hu fei), each group (gu) of which was termed a “nian.” Small “nian” might be composed of a few individuals or several dozen. Large “nian” numbered in the hundreds. When harvests were plentiful, the bandits were scarce. In bad years, the Nian were everywhere. (9-10)
Perry proceeds to tell the story of a man named Gao Yung-qing, who was the leader of the village “Golden Tower Fort” and was a third generation adherent of the White Lotus sect. A Nian leader, Liu Gou, visited Gao and “agreed to spare Golden Tower Fort from Nian destruction” (10). Gao Yung-qing forged an alliance with Liu Gou and other Nian rebels.
There was to be an eclipse on August 1, 1861 [which I cannot actually find on this list; the closest date is July 8, which would also preclude this eclipse being a lunar eclipse]. Declaring this an auspicious omen, Gao determined to stage an uprising on the date. He plotted with various Nian leaders to launch a joint attack upon a nearby village. The news leaked out, however, and the would-be rebels were forced into retreat. After repeated encounters with the enemy, Gao was killed in battle and his sister-in-law succeeded him as commander of Golden Tower Fort. (10)
Gao’s sister-in-law rising to military command is an obvious example of White Lotus tradition in the Gao family. Women fought as warriors in other theaters of the Nian Rebellion as well:
Nian folk stories suggest an important role for women, another possible legacy of White Lotus influence. […] This image of active heroines is somewhat substantiated by scattered references in official documents. One such account […] describes the women in rebel villages as unusually fierce. Whenever government troops appeared, these women, armed with bamboo brooms and metal spades, killed fearlessly. (12-13)
Perry cites numerous other accounts of Nian women on the battlefield, which I have omitted for the sake of brevity alone. These stories can be found on pages 12 and 13 of her essay.
Perry emphasizes one more link between the White Lotus Society and the Nian Rebellion, which is the use of the Eight Diagrams (also used in feng shui):
The Eight Diagrams (ba gua) Sect was a major offshoot of the White Lotus Society, especially active in the Huai valley. In a 1962 collection of Nian folk stories there appears one tale dealing with the construction of an “Eight Diagrams Fort” in North Anhui (Nian jun gushi ji, 1962: 106-108).
According to the tale, this fort, commanded by the Nian leader Gon De, was designed in an Eight Diagrams pattern. There were sections corresponding to the eight categories of heaven, earth, wind, thunder, water, fire, mountain, and swamp. Ditches were dug and walls erected in accordance with an yin-yang design. The maze of ditches and walls was so complex that one had to know the secret marks in order to find one’s way about the fort. (11-12)
The entire Nian organization was based around five banners (military groupings) representing the traditional Five Elements, and the Eight Diagrams was added as a sixth banner:
Perhaps the most persuasive clue [for a White Lotus Society-Nian link] lies in the Nian organizational system. The use of five colored banners, corresponding to the five elements of Chinese alchemy, was an institution in the White Lotus Society. The further addition of a special Eight Diagrams banner points even more conclusively to an imitation of White Lotus precedents. The leader of this banner, Liu Gou, effected an alliance with White Lotus adherents in Henan, further strengthening the argument for a linkage. (17)
This is the same Liu Gou who allied with Gao Yung-qing of Golden Tower Fort.
Differences Between WLS And Nian
Perry acknowledges that whatever degree of influence the White Lotus Society may have had, the Nian Rebellion was an independent and unique phenomenon:
The Nian Army was not a secret, underground group but an openly anti-Qing movement. The Nian were not a religious society. While the White Lotus used religion to organize the masses and had a tight, hierarchical leadership, the Nian had neither sacred texts nor a unified organization. Their only creed was the chivalrous code of stealing from the rich to aid the poor. (14)
To show just how far these differences may have ran, one contemporary of the Nian says that the nuclei of the “Nian” gangs were actually veterans who participated in the suppression of the White Lotus Rebellion of 1794-1804:
It is interesting to refer to the account of an official who was a contemporary of the Nian, Fang Yu-lan. According to Fang […] the initial recruits of the Nian movement were not White Lotus adherents, but rather individuals who had fought on the government side in suppressing the rebellion.
According to [1950s historian] Jiang Di, of course, such elements were not necessarily anti-secret-society or anti-revolutionary. Being of peasant background, these people could rapidly change from a tool of the ruling class into a positive anti-Qing force. (14-15)
One clue to this apparent contradiction lies in the fact that Nian Rebellion did not rely exclusively upon secret society organization, but drew heavily upon familial ties and village self-defense forces as well. For example, the different colored banners often drew upon extended family affiliations, such that “those surnamed Zhang were generally under the yellow banner of Zhang Le-xing; those named Hou were with the red banner” (18), and so on.
Perry calls this a “localist orientation,” one more concerned with regional autonomy and independence from central Qing Dynasty control than with a larger political unity. Given the results of the first rebellion the White Lotus participated in, in which the newly-enthroned Ming Emperor promptly proscribed the group, perhaps this “localist” focus was an intelligent one:
A very strong localist orientation developed in which many members of the Nian were almost exclusively committed to protecting their own family units, with little conception of a larger collective. The Nian were like a myriad of independent kingdoms, each unit having its own fort, soldiers, and guards. (18)
Though the Nian Rebellion was eventually suppressed, it indelibly left its mark upon the insurrectionary history of the Huai River valley. Future rebellions would rely upon similar organizational forms:
These local organizations were important to subsequent uprisings in the Huai valley as well. The Boxers and Red Spears relied heavily on secret society, defense corps, and kinship support. (18)
I haven’t been doing research lately, but here are some excerpts I typed up a while back, from Willem A. Grootaers’ “Rural Temples around Hsüan-Hua (South Chahar), Their Iconography and Their History.” The field research was conducted in 1948, the article was published in 1951. Hsüan-Hua (Xuanhua) is located northwest of Beijing, in Hebei Province.
My apologies for the poor quality of the images: they are, of course, scans of copies of the photographs that Grootaers (or his assistants) took in 1948. The following quotes concern the worship of the Dragon King, Long Wang. Any emphasis added is mine.
First, a quote concerning the importance of the cult:
If the Wu-tao temple is the most popular, the Lung-wang temple is by its size and by the wealth of its images and of its lateral buildings (except for a few Buddhist monasteries) by far the most important temple of the region.
Therefore it is often chosen to be the seat of the official administrations recently introduced in village life: mayor’s office, primary school. It fulfilled a similar role, with greater influence even, under the Empire […]
The Lung-wang cult has always its own temple, this god being never used as an attendant image of another cult. (26)
There are certain patterns as to the temple’s location within the village:
In all villages of the Liu-ho plain, the Lung-wang temple is built in the southern part of the village, either southwest or southeast […] of the village.
But in the southeastern part of Hsuan-hua and in the south of Kalgan, the same temple is mostly (with half a dozen exceptions) north of the village.
This may be something similar to the case of the Lung-wang temples in Tatung, where the two types: southeast- northwest are separated by a clear boundary. (27)
Perhaps these arrangements have something to do with fengshui? They certainly don’t seem random.
Much better for our purpose [of determining historicity – HC] is the stone slab standing […] in what is now a school, and was till lately a Hu-shen temple. The stone is entitled: “ To commemorate the restoration of the Lung-wang sanctuary of Ning-yuan-pu 寧違堡 in 1493.”
The text goes on: “Ning-yuan is about 40 li northwest of Hsuan-hua; another day travel towards the west, there is a high mountain with a grotto. In this grotto a statue of the Dragon god was suspended by means of iron chains […] the statue had the date: first year of Chih-cheng 至正, 1341.
In the years of Yung-lo 永 樂 (1368-1398), a peasant gathering firewood on the mountain saw a heavenly manifestation…thereafter the people […] used to offer there incense on the 15th day of every moon…In the year 1470 there was a temple to this god in our village. Now we have been restoring it, the western building being a Lung-wang sanctuary, the eastern one a Tzu-sun 子孫 temple.”
The mountain indicated here is rather in a northwesternly direction, and was a favorite spot for pious pilgrims till the first year after World War II. The various temples on the slopes were then levelled by the Nationalist Army and the whole transformed into an advanced defense position, for the city of Kalgan.
This dated and detailed witness of the Lung-wang cult is the earliest yet noted in our travels. One must note the recurrence of the grotto motive in another Dragon King cult. (28)
The 15th day of every moon is, of course, the full moon. I’m not sure if the iron chains have any particular significance, but Grootaers is clear that “one must note the recurrence of the grotto motive in another Dragon King cult” (28).
There are actually multiple dragon kings, and they are often accompanied by their Mother:
Till now we have always spoken of the “ Dragon King”; this is a simplification, there being in reality at least four Dragon Kings, sitting on each side of the Mother of the Water, Shui-mu 水母.
There is a great variety possible in depicting each individual Dragon King. They are mostly distinguished by the colour of their face […]
Their number may vary from two to twelve; nobody could ever tell us whether they are supposed to have a name. The popular tradition in Hsuan-hua is definite however on one score: they are all the sons of the Mother of the Water.
Dragon King face colors include white, red, yellow and black. The Mother of the Water is usually white-faced, but in two villages her face is gilded. (29)
I find it interesting that the individual Dragon Kings may or may not have names. I’m not sure what exactly I should extrapolate from this fact, though. Perhaps a value of title and function over individual identity? That’s certainly an idea I’ve come across before, when I was researching the various local land gods, all known as Tu Di Gong.
In one case […] two Mothers were found, side by side, in the center, each having six Dragon Kings along her side of the wall. […]
A Male Dragon occupies the central place in six villages. There seems to be hardly any relation between this god and the Mother of the Water.
There remain four more villages […] where a sole white-faced Dragon King occupies the place of honor (see fig. 10 [above]), the temple being each time called Lung-wang temple. That is the reason why we hardly could list them under chapter 2b, which describes a White Dragon cult […] The latter is clearly considered as something quite distinct from the Lung-wang cult by the local people. […]
At Dv 176, the Lung-wang temple has all the normal features of such temples, except for the fact that they put a statue of the Ho-shen god of the river […] in the center, around which the usual Dragon Kings are ranged.
A last, but more important discrepancy was found at Dv 163a […] two of the Kings have the head of a Dragon on the body of a man. This is specially significant, as the Lung-wang in Peking and in other parts of Hopei is always represented under that shape (even the Mother of the Water is completely unknown in those regions). We have here probably the second indication hinting at an influence of eastern forms of worship that seep in to the Hsuan-hua region. (29-31)
We can see from these numerous examples that local variation is actually very common, which is a good reminder that the generalizations that Grootaers comes to regarding forms of worship in Xuanhua do not necessarily apply to other regions of China.
As we have explained in the beginning of this part both extremities of the main wall, especially in the Lung-wang temple are reserved for separate cult units. Their independence of the central image is stressed by the presence either of a painted partition between the images on the wall, or even by some wooden scrollwork which divides the temple into separate cubicles.
These lateral images have often their own heavenly court, grouped around them, with all their own paraphernalia of the cult. However some tenuous relation must exist between them and the cult of Lung-wang as not all gods may possibly occur in that place, but only a few, always the same. (31)
The most common is Ma Wang (the Horse God), who occupies this position in 39 out of 49 temples, which is more than twice as many as the god with the second-most number of lateral images (the aforementioned Ho-shen river god, image above). Given my previous post about Ma Wang, I’m very curious as to the roots of this association.
The most striking likeness with our frescoes however was found in some paintings of the Sung dynasty (960-1280) of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass. Their title is given as Chinese Taoist Pantheon, deities of Heaven, Earth and Water. […] The painting of the God of the Water is the direct ancestor of our Lung-wang frescoes.
The god, riding on a dragon on top of clouds beneath which some roofs are visible, is accompanied by attendants among whom we find many familiar personages: the pursuing devil in the lower part, the two genii sitting on a turtle (corresponding to our genii riding on fishes), the thunder god in the top left corner, with his wheel of drums; even the flag held behind the head of the god. (37)
I don’t see all of the listed elements on the fresco I’ve included above, but perhaps you have a better eye?
As to what conclusions (if any) can or should be drawn from this research, I don’t know. That’s up to you, I suppose.
The Western zodiac consists of constellations located along the Earth’s ecliptic, the apparent path of the Sun across the sky. The Chinese, too, have important constellations on the ecliptic, but they are not related to the Chinese twelve-year zodiac. Rather, these four massive constellations correspond to the four seasons, and four of the five elements (or phases) and directions.
Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara have produced several excellent star charts showing the major features of these constellations, and how they correspond to Western constellations. Traditionally, each constellation is broken into different “moon stations.” The brightest star of every moon station has been circled on these charts, and its astronomical name provided.
1. The Horns, perhaps Angle or Corner: Alpha Virginis (Spica)
2. Neck: Kappa Virginis
3. Root, perhaps Shoulder or Base: Iota Librae, sometimes Alpha Librae
4. Chamber, perhaps Breasts: Delta Scorpii, sometimes Pi Scorpii
5. Heart: Sigma Scorpii
6. Tail: Mu Scorpii
7. Basket : Gamma Sagittarii, sometimes Eta Sagittarii
8. Dipper, Measure: Phi Sagittarii
9. Cow: Beta Capricorni
10. Woman, perhaps Waiting Maid: Epsilon Aquarii
11. Emptiness: Beta Aquarii
12. Rooftop, perhaps Danger or Steep: Alpha Aquarii
13. Room, perhaps Encampment: Alpha Pegasi (Markab)
14. Wall: Gamma Pegasi
15. Stride, Foot: Delta Andromedae
16. Hill, Lasso, perhaps Bellows: Beta Arietis
17. Stomach: 35 Arietis
18. Stopping Place, United, perhaps “Getting Together:” 17 Tauri, sometimes 16 Tauri
19. Net, perhaps related to rain: Epsilon Tauri (Oculus Borealis, the Northern Eye)
20. Turtle Snout, perhaps Tuft on Owl’s Head: Lamda Orionis, sometimes Phi Orionis
21. Investigator, Three: Delta Orionis, sometimes Beta Orionis (Rigel, Orion’s foot)
22. Well: Mu Geminorum (Tejat Posterior, back foot of Castor)
23. Ogre, Devil, perhaps Ghost: Delta Cancri, sometimes Theta Cancri
24. Willow: Delta Hydrae
25. Stars: Alpha Hydrae (Alphard)
26. Stretched Net: Nu Hydrae
27. Wings: Alpha Crateris (Alkes)
28. Chariot Cross-board, perhaps Strings of Koto: Gamma Corvi (Gienah Corvi)
As you can see, the vast Azure Dragon formation spans the constellations of Virgo, Libra, Scorpio and part of Sagittarius. The Black Tortoise contains part of Sagittarius, Capricorn and Aquarius, and also includes part of Pegasus (which is not part of the Western zodiac). The White Tiger covers Aries and Taurus, and also includes part of Andromeda and parts of Orion. Finally, the Red Bird contains Gemini and Cancer, but drops below the ecliptic (skipping Leo) to include parts of Hydra, Crater and Corvus.
These four animals are some of the oldest themes found upon Chinese artifacts uncovered by archaeologists, and an important part of feng shui. The fifth element/phase and direction, by the way, is Earth and Center, and is represented by a Yellow Dragon.
I recently purchased anthropologist Ole Bruun’s Fengshui in China: Geomantic Divination Between State Orthodoxy and Popular Religion. According to the dust jacket, it is the “first in-depth academic analysis of fengshui.”
Among a myriad of interesting topics Bruun has researched, one that stands out is the association between fengshui and opposition to industrial development. In the late nineteenth century, fengshui “gradually acquired the guise of an anti-foreign discourse, a national emblem justifying an obstructionist set of practices” (Bruun 60).
I wrote about this previously when discussing the Boxer Rebellion, but the history of fengshui-inspired resistance to modernization goes back several decades before that uprising.
For example, the Shanghai-Wusong railway, which was completed in 1875, was specifically “built with an oddly winding track to avoid accusations of interference with the fengshui of the region and disturbance of graves and spirits” (Bruun 61).
Nonetheless, the railway was on its way out within the year, and dismantled entirely within three:
The railway operated at a profit until 1876, when the death of a Chinese on the line was announced by the Chinese authorities in Shanghai; this was followed by a number of official protests and disturbances along the line, openly supported by the local gentry, who accused the line of ruining fengshui.
As part of the Chefoo Convention the Chinese government agreed to purchase the line. But instead of continuing its operation the line was dismantled in 1878 and the rails and rolling stock sent to Taiwan, while the Chinese officials supervising the destruction work moved about in sedan chairs “as an expression of their abhorrence of mechanical locomotion” (Chang K.N. 1943: 24). (Bruun 61)
Obviously, the local gentry had other reasons aside from traditionalism and fengshui to oppose the rise of a new (industrial capitalist) ruling class, but Bruun reminds us that the local peasantry probably had its reasons to dislike the railroad was well:
It is possible, however, that practical considerations among the peasants were equally important to superstitious beliefs. The later nationalist Minister of Railways, Chang Kia-ngau, wrote of this incident [the dismantling of the Shanghai-Wusong railway] that the Chinese peasants, “like home-loving peasants everywhere,” were unwilling to suffer expropriation of their land for railroad purposes and the locomotives were feared as a danger to cattle and pedestrians” (Chang K.N. 1943: 25). (Bruun 61)
The resistance was widespread, and just as much (if not more) anti-foreign as anti-industrial; that is, no fancy new technology need be involved for Westerners to be told to leave: “From Sichuan in western China we hear of missionaries being turned away by local gentry when attempting to build summer cottages in scenic mountain areas (Service 1989: 105-107)” (Bruun 61).
Bruun retells another story, where the local villagers were the angry ones, and the gentry colluded with the telegraph company: “In Western Yunnan, a group of villagers saw the telegraph as a menace to the good fortune of their district and cut down the poles – and sold the wire in compensation for their trouble” (62). The retribution, however, was brutal:
An energetic magistrate […] had two men arrested, and charged with the offense. They were probably innocent, but under the persuasion of the bamboo they were induced to acquiesce in the magistrate’s opinion as to their guilt. They were sentenced to be deprived of their ears, and then they were sent on foot, that all might see them, under escort along the line from Yunnan City to Tengyueh and back again. No poles have been cut down since (Morrison 1895: 157). (Bruun 62)
As this case illustrates, “fengshui-based protests to railway and telegraph construction apparently died out soon after their nativization” (Bruun 62). However, this does not necessarily imply a widespread and immediate embrace of those technologies, since in the story from Yunnan, fear of having one’s ears cut off and being paraded publicly by the local magistrate probably had something to do with the cessation of resistance to the telegraph.
It was not, however, the end of resistance to Western influence as a whole:
Both Western teachings and particularly Western technology remained under heavy charge, the latter often compared to machine-breaking, or “Luddism” in industrializing Europe (Chesnaux 1973: 50). High factory chimneys were often opposed due to the polluting fengshui influence of smoke (Morrison 1895: 175).
Modern weaving and spinning machinery was destroyed in rural districts near Canton in the 1880s, and attacks on factories, now termed “factory-smashing” in Chinese (da chang) continued until the end of the century. Peasant resistance to modern textile industry was widespread in towns, which had attracted thousands of impoverished peasants in search of work. (Bruun 64)
Bruun contrasts the Chinese machine smashing with the Luddite movement of England, which as Thomas Pynchon reminds us, were first targeted at “knitting machines which […] had been putting people out of work for well over two centuries.” Again, the anti-foreign (and anti-Christian) element of the struggle was a strong one:
Unlike similar movements in England, motivated by purely economic aims, Chinese resistance typically combined a number of sentiments: modern technology was rejected because it was foreign as much as because it was seen to create unemployment. Factory-smashing and attacks on missionary property and personnel often occurred simultaneously.
In some cases, as for instance in the 1891 anti-Christian riots in the Yangtze valley, local gentry incited the peasants against the foreigners and provided both arguments and arms. When the Yellow River went over its banks in the late 1890s and impoverished thousands of peasants […] in the northeast, foreign churches and missionary personnel were accused of having cause the disaster by their malicious fengshui influence (Davis, F. 1971: 15). Revolts raged over the three provinces.
This increased tension climaxed in the Boxer Uprising in 1897-1900 aimed at destroying everything foreign. (Bruun 64).
In the forward to the book, Stephan Feuchtwang reminds us that “It may be of some interest to compare the difference between the nineteenth-century observers and Ole Bruun as a late twentieth-century observer of fenshui in China because it is also an indication of changes that fengshui itself has undergone” (vii-viii). We see that in the late nineteenth century, fengshui was used to mobilize anti-foreign resistance, including resistance to industrial development. How has that changed? Well, some things have gotten a little more extreme:
Bruun devotes an entire chapter to the way that Westerners in the late twentieth century have tended to think of fengshui as “environmentalist,” and whether that appellation is deserved or not. In short, no:
It is perfectly sound to explore the fengshui tradition’s role in resource management and its capacity for environmental protection. Too hastily, however, much Western literature conveys the simplified message that fengshui is an ancient tradition that moralizes harmony between man and environment. Taken as a conclusive statement this is an absurdity, fabricated for an environmentally conscious Western audience.
What fengshui means to the individual in its Western intellectual interpretation is not my concern, since any tradition is subject to change and reinterpretation. I shall emphasize, however, that if Chinese peasants destroy their environment but get rich in the process, they are most likely seen to have auspicious fengshui. And if mountain villagers make a fat living from selling endangered species […] they can look out from their south-facing doorways and praise the mountains for their generous fengshui.
Yet it is also clear that, for instance, serious pollution from a factory chimney or contaminated groundwater affecting people’s health may be interpreted as malicious fengshui. As a medium of expression, this holistic tradition may work both in favour of development at the expense of the environment and against environmental degradation. So far, however, fengshui as practiced in the People’s Republic has encouraged the former rather than prevented the latter. (Bruun 232).
Bruun notes that the anti-foreign sentiment of the late 1800s and early 1900s, as described in detail above, was later interpreted through an environmental lens:
It was such nationalistic sentiments, in their popular form frequently dressed up as concern for the fengshui situation of a local area with reference to the “living qi” or the “breath of the dragon,” which were later noticed by environmentally conscious groups and individuals in the West. (233)
In examining the historical texts published about fengshui, Bruun concludes that it was never historically seen as “environmentalist” at all:
Natural symbolism has no immediate impact on the concrete activities of resource management and environmental practices in general. […]
Early Western sources of fengshui reveal that protection of the “environment” (a term first really developed in the republican period) was neither a concern to Western onlookers nor to Chinese users. Nature was most commonly denoted as the resource base that should be brought under control in the service of mankind. (248)
From his fieldwork, Bruun notes that many species have been hunted to near extinction, DDT and other toxic pesticides are regularly sprayed on vegetables (leading to a scarcity of birds and butterflies, though not affecting “wasps and biting flies” at all), and efforts to spread information about the dangers of pesticides through the loudspeakers installed in every villages are routinely ignored as government propaganda.
When it comes to vegetation, Bruun acknowledges that “Trees around houses are still associated with good fengshui,” but also observes that “the material circumstances of life forbid most peasants to plant other than a few trees or a cluster of bamboos […] fengshui is not seen to inspire more vegetation than quite practical considerations will any way produce” (252).
He also notes that trees behind a grave are beneficial, while those in front are not. The reality of overcrowding of cemeteries had led to a leveling of trees:
Therefore, again in theory, if a grave is placed in solitude on a hillside it will contribute to the preservation of tres and greenery at least in some positions. In real life, however, favourable burial ground are scarce and almost any serviceable hillside will be sprinkled with graves, old and new higgledy-piggledy.
To obtain the best fengshui people scatter their graves (Freedman 1979: 197), and since the trees which are beneficial to the grave in front will be intolerable to the grave behind, the compromise is usually no large trees at all, but only shrubs and bushes. In some regions, for instance in Fujian, vegetation is commonly removed in front of graves, frequently turning hillsides into dreary wastes (noted in de Groot 1901: 945). (Bruun 252-3)
However, while the number of ecologically conscious individuals is miniscule, it is not entirely zero:
Still there are no rules without exceptions. Just a few individuals in the villages showed a genuine interest in the natural environment outside the cultivated domain. One was an elderly barefoot doctor, who deplored the disappearance of butterflies which he once had collected, and another was a fengshui specialist, who had developed a “professional” interest in vegetation around houses. (Bruun 253)
Helio Pires at Golden Trail recently wrote a post about local gods, specifically those of Alcobaça, Portugal. The post first looks into what evidence is available for deities historically worshiped in the locale of Alcobaça, then explores possibilities for finding a “local deity [or possibly a set of local deities] that stands out from the host of genii loci.”
I will utilize the same approach. There were a succession of Chinatowns in Santa Cruz, complete with temples, the primary deity of which appears to have been Guan Gong. All quotes are from local historian Sandy Lydon’s book Chinese Gold, unless otherwise specified.
Powder Works: notice “China House” in the SE corner of the cluster of buildings
California Powder Works
The “first sizable group of Chinese” in Santa Cruz, who arrived in 1864, worked at the California Powder Works helping manufacture gunpowder (235). The temple at the powder works served the entire Chinese population of the Santa Cruz area:
From the mid-1860s to the mid-1870s more Chinese lived at the powder works than in the small Chinatown in Santa Cruz. The Santa Cruz Chinese would hire the Pacific Ocean House’s large carriage and join their fellow countrymen at the powder works to celebrate the lunar New Year and the June birthday of the primary god in their temple, Kuan Kung [Guan Gong]. The temple was probably the primary reason that the Santa Cruz Chinese traveled up to the powder mill to celebrate their holidays. (236).
The temple was maintained by the Chee Kong Tong, or the “Extend Justice Society,” which was an anti-Manchu secret society and benevolent association (266). Strangely, the Masons theorized that the Tong was a long-lost branch of the organization and dubbed them the “Chinese Freemasons.”
The members of the Tong adopted the label and associated imagery; I would speculate that doing so provided protection against the anti-Chinese movement. This led to the rare occasion where “Several times white Masons were allowed to witness rituals generally never seen by non-Chinese” (266).
In an even weirder twist of events, the site of the powder works is now the Paradise Park Masonic Club. Coincidence? Or a mix of sympathetic magic and feng shui? There is a major bend in the river there, as you can see from the map above, probably due to an outcropping of granite or some other hard rock…
Anyways, at the height of the anti-Chinese movement in 1878, the California Powder Works company fired all of its Chinese employees, of whom there were 35 in the early 1870s (226-7).
Willow Street/Pacific Avenue Chinatown
The Chinatown, Santa Cruz’s first, that was contemporaneous with the powder works Chinese population lasted from 1862 to 1877, and was located on what in 1862 was Willow Street. Willow Street was then a secondary street were rents “were probably quite low” (227). Lydon writes that “the Chinatown included a temple” (227) which we can surmise was used for observances that were smaller than New Year’s and Guan Gong’s birthday, but doesn’t specify what deity the temple was dedicated to.
In 1866, Willow Street was renamed Pacific Avenue and designated the main business street is today; rising rents drove the Chinese to move during the 1870s. The Chinatown, which included “a collection of laundries” (227), was between Walnut and Lincoln, where GAP now sells clothes “Made in China.”
Front Street Chinatown
The next Chinatown, which lasted from the late 1870s until 1894, was located on Front Street on the block where the Post Office and (currently closed) Vets’ Hall and Comerica Bank are now. River Street extension had not yet been constructed, so Chinatown extended to the intersection of Cooper and Front, and backed up to the San Lorenzo River: therefore “most of the buildings were up on stilts to prevent flooding” (232).
The Chee Kong Tong headquarters and temple were adjoined to the rear of Wong Kee’s grocery store, which had a gambling parlor and opium den on the second story (248). The temple was about where the Vets’ Hall is today, judging from a map on page 232. Ernest Otto describes the temple from his recollections of when he was present for a New Year’s ritual:
. . . in the center of the altar was an alcove for the picture of the gods, a group of several . . . the picture was a couple of feet back from the frame of the alcove of green with carved letters, with a touch of an oriental finish. Hanging from the center of the shrine was the ever burning light held in a brass holder. A pewter holder in front of the picture was filled with burning incense, punks or red candles made of grease. On each side of the alcove were tall, pewter holders for large decorated red candles and the tall punks.
A couple of feet in front was a table-like altar. On this was a large pewter bowl for the burning of the fragrant smelling sandal wood by the worshiper. The altar cloth hanging along the front was of brightly embroidered red silk on which were many circular mirrors.
Along the front was a piece of white matting on which the worshipper [sic] knelt and in his hand had the incenses and candles which were placed in the bowl. He would pour out libations of wine and burn paper representing the next world, money and clothes.
Lydon paraphrases Ernest Otto as estimating “that before the 1911 Revolution in China (which rendered some of the tong’s political purposes moot), 90% of the Chinese men in Santa Cruz belonged to the Chee Kong Tong; only the Chinese Christians did not join” (268). There were an estimated five hundred members in the greater Monterey Bay area (269). Initiations of small groups of men into the Tong were held in a room adjoining the temple. Of this small room, there are two descriptions. The first is from a group of white Masons who visited in 1883 just before an initiation, and was published in the Sentinel:
[…] a number of bowls were ranged on matting in which there were several kinds of meat, with cooked rice, thin strips of cocoanut and sweetmeats, the whole being placed before maps on which were depicted Chinese characters. Near these bowls were placed lights, and two large knives were crossed, and before the whole arrangement stood a number of Celestials chanting in a manner peculiar to themselves. (269).
Lydon relays that they left before the initiation, and “heard the door slammed and bolted behind us” (269). The second description is from Ernest Otto, who witnessed the initiation itself. He described an ever-burning candle in front of a small altar (presumably to Guan Gong), and further wrote:
There was also a circular steel rim and sword . . . [and] when the oath was taken the queue which was a sign of subjection to the Manchus, was unbraided, and the neophyte knelt with the circular hoop over him and the sword across his neck. (269)
In 1894, the Front Street Chinatown, including the temple, burned to the ground. Some people blamed Guan Gong for not better protecting Chinatown; one interesting piece of information, though, is that he was credited for past protection from proposed anti-Chinese legislation:
The Chinese mourn the loss of their Joss, blaming him for not protecting them from the fire. For years they have escaped, and the Joss was the recipient of much favor. When a move was made some years ago to make the Chinese go outside of the city-limits the Joss was given the credit of making the move a failure. As he was burned in the fire, the Celestials have no one to whom they can go for comfort. (280)
By the way, the etymology of the word “joss” comes from the “early 18th century: from Javanese dejos, from obsolete Portuguese deos, from Latin deus ‘god.'” And the term “Celestial” as referring to Chinese most likely comes from a translation of the phrase Tian chao (天朝) or “Celestial/Heavenly Dynasty,” which was “used by the Qing court to refer to itself in its own official documents” (Matthew Mosca, quoted from linked page).
The history of Chinatowns in Santa Cruz, as well as an examination of the cult of local earth god Tu Di Gong, will be continued in Part 2.
Source: Lydon, Sandy. Chinese Gold: The Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region. Capitola: Capitola Book Company, 1985.