Hong Kong goes its own ways. Not entirely, of course, and obviously much less so since 1997, but it retains a certainly cultural autonomy. One way in which Hong Kong has continued traditional beliefs and practices that have faded on the mainland is the degree of dedication to the practices of feng shui. There are several reasons why Hong Kong has maintained such traditions. Some of these arise from the fact that islands tend to be both conservative and independent, holding to traditions as a strength.
Mainland Chinese officials see their current and future strength as arising from their economic modernization, as essentially arising from their flight from tradition. Hong Kong, while certainly attached to economic prosperity and legally a part of China, has because of its geography also maintained an attachment to its past.
Hong Kong, no matter how many legal times it has to the mainland, will always be foremost an island. And a substantial part of its identity as an island (and its people as an island people) is a understanding of the relationship between people and land based on the principles of feng shui.
The concept and practice of feng shui can be applied anywhere, but it has special relevance to islands. The term itself refers to qualities of qi, which is an essential element of life. In a Jin Dynasty text on the proper rituals for the burial of the dead, the poet Guo Pu writes that qi is scattered by the wind but then retained or recalled when it meets the water. He wrote: "Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water" (Pu). This sense of balance in opposition is, of course, true throughout China and is represented not simply in the idea of feng shui but in any number of other oppositions.
Heaven is contrasted with earth, for example, for millennia in China, as have more abstract concepts like roundness and squareness. There is also the entire concept of yin and yang, although this is not precisely parallel to feng shui. Yin and yang represent a more complex relationship between growth and decline. Yin and yang contain each other, feeding into each other like the snake biting its tail that become the symbol for infinity.
Feng shui can also describe a state in which decline and growth can occur at different times, slightly out of phase with each other. Feng shui entails balance and harmony, but at a slight disconnect. Islands (for example) are built up and then later they decline, and sometime later near or far away another island is born from the same forces and then it too declines.
The following describes the ways in which feng shui and yin and yang run parallel to each other:
Since last month a number of preliminary feng shui studies have begun [for the Bank of China] and much of the news was not good. While the building will stand on the most propitious geological line in the colony, some masters believe the triangular elements of the structure spell bad luck. Reason: the acute, pointy edges would slice through the yin-yang, or cosmic balance, thus pricking and angering unwary spirits, who would then direct their anger at buildings toward which the triangles pointed.
Though the unauthorized feng shui readings seem to indicate that the Bank of China would gain at the expense of others, the psychic note of aggression was far from the comradeship Peking hoped to project. The building, in short, would anger not only the spirits but the neighbors. (Chua-Eoan, Stoner. & Wong, 1987).
The following describes the ways in which the centrality of the concept of complementarity runs through traditional Chinese culture, beginning thousands of years ago, possibly as long ago as the Neolithic.
Yin and Yang is at the very heart of Feng Shui and Chinese philosophy. It is the essence of nature, where everything is in a perpetual state of change, moving from one extreme to the other to create equilibrium or universal balance. To illustrate yin and yang as universal balance, we will say that yang is daylight and yin, darkness. Our planet is always half in sunlight and half in darkness and when the sun rises to its meridian, a yin/yang shadow is cast upon the Earth (Yin and yang).
That opposites and balance should be so important in Chinese culture and history should not be surprising. Balance as a fundamental concept runs through most and indeed arguably nearly all cultures. All of life is an experience of growth and decline, of endless births that lead to endless deaths.
The human body, as well as the energy that surrounds us in our homes and offices is also in a state of rise and decline; energy is never constant or fixed and Traditional Chinese Feng Shui takes this perpetual interaction into account (Yin and Yang).
Feng shui is linked to yin and yang in that both arise from and reinforce the essential dualism of Chinese society, in which the idea of balance between opposites always takes the upper hand. For people in Hong Kong, one of the most important cultural traditions or scripts that touches on the balance of opposites it the one that allows them to understand their land is feng shui.
The fact that Hong Kong is an island is essential to remember when trying to understand how it has helped nurture traditional beliefs and practices about feng shui not only because its geography makes its residents connect to the land in different ways but also because its island nature has set the history of Hong Kong apart from that of other regions of China. The practice of feng shui was suppressed during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s (as was so much of traditional Chinese practice). During this period of rejection of feng shui on the Mainland, Hong Kong was still British. While Hong Kong was never wholly British, of course, the relationship between Hong Kong and the more ancient aspects of Chinese culture was altered forever by its relationship with the British.
Both while Hong Kong has legal affiliations with Great Britain and since its return to full Chinese legal status, the part of it that has been and is British allowed its residents to define themselves more fully as Chinese. This sounds contradictory, but the experience of the residents of Hong Kong is not unlike that of many immigrants. They are affiliated legally with the country that they have emigrated to but they are always also aware of the fact that they are losing their original identity.
Hong Kong residents by the fact of their legal separation (however narrow) and their cultural separation (often wider and still ongoing) have been very much aware of the potential for each of them to lose her essential Chinese-ness. And just like the Chinese immigrant to America who makes sure that her children learn her mother tongue, the residents of Hong Kong have as a whole been much more conscious than those living in the Mainland about what it means to be Chinese.
Mainland Chinese residents never have to worry about how Chinese they are (or at least they have not had to until the most recent generation and the lures that are drawing them towards Western behavior, habits, and beliefs). Residents of Hong Kong have had to define what it means to be Chinese even as they have been perceived both by some on the Mainland and by residents of other countries as not really Chinese.
For some Hong Kongese, this marginal, between-the-lines status of Chinese but not-quite-really-Chinese has been something to be denied or ignored. But for others, this cultural position between China and the West, between the earth and the sea has provided important psychological room to combine old and new, East and West. One of the key areas in which such a blending has come about is in the Hong Kong way of practicing and preserving feng shui.
The fact that Hong Kong had a very different political status and far more freedom than did other regions in China during the 1960s through its return to China in 1997 meant that Hong Kong residents could continue traditional practices. However, it also meant that Hong Kong was more open to the West than were other parts of China during the second half of the twentieth century. This meant that while there was greater freedom in terms of the say that the Mainland government had in internal Hong Kong practices, these same traditional practices were coming into contact with the very different traditions of the West.
This contact with the West has affected the practice of feng shui in important ways that will be discussed later. However, for the moment it is important to note that while there is always give and take between two cultures whenever they come into contact with each other, when these cultures are very different there may actually be less…