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Understanding Feng Shui’s Qi by visiting Yin Yu Tang House (Part I)

Qi is a core concept of Chinese Feng Shui. What is Qi? Put simply, Qi can be translated as "breath" - the very breath of life itself. Chinese ancients believed that cosmos, earth and humans each possess (exists in) their respective energy fields. They also believed that a complete or optimal level of human lived experience can only be attained when the energy fields of humans and those of cosmos and earth are in communication and equilibrium. In philosophy, this state is referred to as “cosmos and humans as one.”

While it may sound somewhat mysterious, Qi can be “sensed.” Practitioners of Qi Gong (the study and practice regulating one’s breathing) can sense the energy fields within their own bodies.

Contemplating classical Chinese architecture may help us develop a finer understanding of the concept of Qi. In this article, I introduce readers to a two hundred year old Chinese historical site as a way to gain more experience with the concept of Qi. This site is close to Bostonians, it is the Yin Yu Tang House within the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, an hour from the city. The website of Yin Yu Tang house is

The Yin Yu Tang house is a typical commoner’s dwelling built in China’s Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911), and is emblematic of Hui architectural style. Hui style refers to that which was developed in ancient Huizhou area construction, and is one of the major classical Chinese architectural schools. Huizhou, itself, refers to contemporary southern Anhui Province in China.

Classical Chinese construction is guided by Feng Shui, which has at its core the purpose of consolidating nature’s (both of cosmos and earth) Qi. Ancients believed that this consolidation is best accomplished in an environment wherein mountains and waterways form an enclosure, providing the most opportunity for equilibrium among the energy fields of heaven, earth, and human beings. This concept of an “enclosed condition” for preserving or containing Qi was adapted by ancient architects in their construction practices, giving rise to the foundational Chinese architectural style of using walls and walkways to create an enclosed living space. In the Huizhou area of southern China, the small open courtyard enclosed on four sides by the residential structure is known as the “sky well”.

Lidong (Stanley) Yu


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