Diplomate Perspectives
11 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 300
Alexandria, VA 22314

Re: Response to letter by Chung-Hwei Chernly

November 29, 1998


I am responding to Ms. Chung-Hwei Chernly’s letter on the topic of whether Feng Shui should be considered a part of Oriental medicine. Her letter, published in the fall/winter 1998 issue of Diplomate Perspectives, spoke emphatically against this supposition, stating that Feng Shui is “fortune telling” akin to “witch craft and voodoo,” that “traditional Chinese medicine does not reference Feng Shui,” and that acupuncturists who practice Feng Shui are “outside professional ethical boundaries.” I would like to argue differently.

Both the term and the concept of Feng Shui appear frequently in classical Chinese texts that traditionally were considered to have an intimate relationship to the practice of medicine. Feng (wind) stands for movement and thus the dispersing influences in nature, while Shui (water) symbolizes the palpable aspects of reality and thus the congealing effects in nature. Feng Shui, therefore, is the familiar concept of movement and stillness, matter and non-matter, and qi and blood applied specifically to the realm of the earth. While the Book of Change (Yijing) defines the principles of Chinese medicine on a cosmic level (“diagnosing the yin/yang of the heavens”) and the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine (Huangdi Neijing) applies them to a human level (“diagnosing the yin/yang of the body”), Feng Shui is the art and science of diagnosing the yin/yang of the earth. The authoritative voice of the Neijing itself is abundant with references to heavenly and earthly cycles, and how it is imperative for a physician to be thoroughly acquainted with the macrocosmic ramifications of yin/yang and the five elemental phases prior to applying them in the microcosmic realm of the human body.

Throughout the ages, many scholar physicians have reemphasized that Chinese medicine is a holistic science, which by definition cannot consider humans without honoring their creatrix, Heaven and Earth. As Laozi’s Classic on the Relationship Between the Whole and the Parts (Dao De Jing) states programatically for all Daoist sciences, including the medical arts: “Human beings follow the laws of the earth, the earth follows the laws of the heavens, and the heavens follow the laws of nature that we call the Dao.” The Ming Dynasty master physician, Zhang Jingyue, even felt compelled to proclaim the notion of Yijing Medicine (yi yi xue), claiming that every aspect of medicine is Yijing science (yi yi xue)–which, utilized in an earthly dimension, is Feng Shui science–and that “no one should become a physician without having studied the natural philosophy of the Yijing first.”

Yijing scholarship (sky knowledge) and Feng Shui lore (earth knowledge) thus are the defining traditions that identify Chinese medicine (body between heaven and earth knowledge) as the holistic, dynamic, multi-layered, and complex science that it is. For readers familiar with political affairs in the People’s Republic of China, any proposal to separate the “scientific elements” of the traditional record from the “snake oil” and the “witch craft” resonates uncannily with the slogans of mainland Chinese “TCM.” As I have shown elsewhere (see my recent article, “Chinese Medicine in Crisis: Science, Politics, and the Making of ‘TCM,’” (California Journal of Oriental Medicine, Spring 1999), this approach has essentially gutted the nature and the spirit of the traditional art of Chinese medicine in China, and gradually replaced it with the parameters of Western science. Projects of this kind are part of the underlying belief that Chinese medicine is not really a science in its own right, and therefore not entitled to its own scientific culture and discourse.

I am sharing Ms. Chernly’s concern that certain people may practice “Bagua fortune telling” and “Feng Shui geomancy” in superficial ways that smack of superstition. However, instead of discarding the baby along with the bath water, I urge that we work toward the restoration of the traditional depth of our art by revitalizing the fundamental principles outlined in the heavenly and earthly precursor sciences of Chinese medicine. It is them that define the unique character of our metier–whether we choose to incorporate Feng Shui practices into our clinical approach or not.


Heiner Fruehauf, Ph.D., L.Ac.
Chair, Department of Classical Chinese Medicine
National College of Naturopathic Medicine
Portland, Oregon