The influence of Fengshui on the building of the city of Beijing in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
This thesis presents a study aiming to resolve the dispute over the role of geomantic fengshui in the building of the capital city Beijing. It argues that the complexity and diversity of the various elements that went into the formation of concepts concerning siting and building encouraged the use of fengshui ideas as part of retrospective interpretations of the capital city at the urban planning level. However, the inferior position accorded fengshui in orthodox cultural contexts prevented fengshui's being incorporated in the official, governmental ideology of creating imperial capitals.This study begins with a description of the historic and cultural background against which Beijing was built. It demonstrates that the ideology employed in the building of imperial capitals on the one hand, and fengshui on the other hand were each associated with entirely different socio- cultural contexts. Fengshui was more a body of loosely related ideas than a coherent theoretical system. Although the same cosmological symbols were used in both codes, whereas the orthodox ideology was held by the elite to be most important for legitimising the capital as a cosmic centre, fengshui was viewed by the elite with ambivalence, indeed sometimes fierce criticism, partly because of the heterodox nature of fengshui in challenging the Confucian concept of Heavenly Will.An inquiry into the specific circumstances of the capital city Beijing at the time when it was being built suggests that fengshui theory was not consciously taken into account in the choice of the city's site. Pragmatic considerations appear to have been paramount. Owing to the unique significance of the city as a capital, fengshui practitioners are not likely to have been employed in the city's siting, even though they were employed in the siting of imperial tombs. However, many factors caused fengshui ideas to be incorporated in the non -governmental interpretations of the siting of Beijing. First, the interpretations had their origin in an analysis by the seminal Neo- Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi (1130 -1200) whose sympathies were not entirely antagonistic to fengshui. Second, the concepts regarding geography had been established and were shared by fengshui and other realms of theory. Third, most importantly, the very fact of the city's having been built on that particular site stimulated the flourishing of post -hoc fengshui theoretical justifications of that site. Fourth, furthermore, essentially aesthetic concepts regarding features of the topography, which concepts may have been further developed through the widespread practice of fengshui, came to be part of the common notion of an ideal site. Concepts referring to xing (contours) and shi (dynamic form), which had been elaborated largely in fengshui, came to be shared by geography, landscape -gardening and painting. While these concepts were applied in the choice and interpretation of the site, they were not in general seen as ideas solely the preserve of fengshui.Finally, an investigation is made here into alleged fengshui features in the plan of the city of Beijing, and it is demonstrated that the cosmological symbols expressed in fengshui were seen as part of the traditional authentic imperial -capital symbolism, and not of fengshui. The plan of Beijing may, however, have been perceived by the general populace in fengshui terms, since the symbols could easily be associated with fengshui practice. It is stressed that the coincidence that the city structure was also in accord with what was commonly viewed as the ideal fengshui plan, left additional room for fengshui interpretation.