Feng shui is also known as 'Kanyu' which is the art of placing and situating a building so that it is in harmony with its surroundings. According to feng shui, cultural and social issues are influenced by natural, metaphysical and cosmological factors. To use feng shui one needs to understand the influence of cosmology on earth, should have knowledge of how astronomy and astrology influence the placing of buildings. It is important to understand the Confucian classics, understand the weathering process and understand the forces of nature acting on buildings and their environment. It is also essential to have knowledge on magnetic fields and how they influence man, knowledge on how to place buildings in order to tap chi or the energy of the earth, understand the geographical land forms like hill, valleys, flat land, etc. One must understand how environmental factors influence buildings externally and internally and must know where to build buildings and which part of the structure should face which direction.
The ancient practice of feng shui began in the West Han dynasty around the third century BC in China. Feng shui believes that the earth is a living thing and has life and energy. The energy or chi of a site depends on its topography and its physical surrounding. A site with revitalizing energy is healthy and a site with bad energy could be damaging to those who lived on it. Ever since then it has been incorporated into traditional Chinese architecture and has been followed by the rich and poor alike. In ancient China, a city was planned in concentric rectangles surrounded by walls surrounded by lakes, hills, valleys, gardens, courtyards and parks. The Chinese tried to ensure that both the natural and the built environment were planned to enhance already present positive energies. These were then landscaped according to Taoist ideas of Yin and Yang, void and solid, water and hill.
Buildings were constructed in such a way that they enhanced harmonious relationships between members of the family and even improved international relationships of the country. People organized the structures in and around the buildings according to feng shui. The left of the building represented Yang or the male force and was connected to the forces of heaven and the right of the building represented Yin or the female force and was connected with the energies of the earth. Built areas, sun lit roofs and elevation in the front was considered Yang. Empty areas, shadowed eaves, set back structures and elevations at the back were considered Yin. When a structure was built, both Yin and Yang had to be balanced and if the building leaned towards any one of these principles it would have caused imbalance in energies and bought bad luck to the people residing there.
The Emperors of the Shang dynasty (1711-1066 BC) and other Chinese Kings too followed feng shui sincerely as they considered it the harbinger of prosperity. This explains why most of the ancient buildings and palaces in China are built according to the principles of feng shui.
These palaces were surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. These were incomplete without water and hills, a contrast between Yin and Yang, fluidity and solidity. The garden had to be a contrast between openness and closeness and curved and straight lines. The elements of the landscape were placed in such a way that Yin (negative) and Yang (positive) were in harmony, balance and continuity. These palaces and their gardens are proof of what the practitioners of feng shui achieved in ancient China.