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Qi Yingjie, a feng shui master, prays for good fortune at his Beijing office. Wang Jing / China Daily
The area outside the Lama Temple in Beijing is known as "The Street of Fortune Tellers", and has become a gathering place for the city's diviners, palm readers and feng shui masters. Luo Xiaoguang / Xinhua
Zhang Xuedong in his study in Beijing. Kuang Linhua / China Daily
Rich increasingly seeking answers to questions of destiny, report Peng Yining and He Na in Beijing.
In a classroom at Peking University School of Economics, the students pored over their calculations, just as countless preceding generations had done. But the people in this class were not regular scholars - instead, they represented China's business elite, including chief executive officers of major companies, entrepreneurs and financiers.
All were busy divining their destinies in a feng shui class. They hoped to gain insight into the ancient Chinese method of geomancy, which has become an important part of the school's Executive Master of Business Administration program.
Using a set formula in conjunction with their dates of birth, the students were attempting to discern their ming, or fate, including career and marriage prospects, and also attempting to attract greater fortune by learning how to decorate their offices and align furniture in accordance with the basic tenets of feng shui.
The 43-year-old lecturer, Qi Yingjie, introduced himself via a slideshow as a "feng shui master" and, dressed in a traditional black tunic suit, he strolled between the desks as the students added, subtracted, multiplied and divided according to the formula.
"Use the formula and you will discover your destiny," intoned the former farmer and vegetable vendor, as he lectured the class of executives.
During a break, the students surrounded him, firing off questions: "Would it be bad feng shui to place a cupboard beside my bed?"; "My son loses his temper at home for no reason, can feng shui help solve the problem?"; "My wife and I often fight. Do I need to reconsider the feng shui of our apartment?"
Frowning with concentration, the master scanned the sheet of paper and announced: "The door is fine, but you have to move the bookshelf from the northwest corner, because your chart shows that it will suppress your future development."
"Goldwatch" wanted to ask more questions, but a fan who wanted to take a photo with the master dragged him away.”
Forget about the shabby sidewalk stalls of feng shui experts, the ones fighting for space next to the psychics, palm readers and fortune tellers. The ancient art believed to unlock riches, power and control of one’s life is now targeting China’s newly rich and has become a "must-have" for many high-end individuals.
Qi said his expertise in providing auspicious names and arranging feng shui for companies brings three to five clients a day. "Most of them are accomplished businesspeople and high-ranking officials," he said.
Born in a village in Hebei province, Qi was influenced by his grandfather, also a "master", and has been interested in the mysterious and ancient art since he was a teenager.
In 1995, he founded his first consultancy in Hebei's Tangshan city, before expanding the business to Beijing in 2010.
The company's website provides a detailed breakdown of the price list: Naming newborn babies or changing existing names costs up to 38,885 yuan ($6,246); choosing the right time for a cesarean birth to ensure the child is born at a propitious moment costs 1,685 yuan to 8,885 yuan; the price for advising real estate agents, companies and the location of tombs ranges from 500 to 50,000 yuan.
Qi said that when he first started out, he charged just 10 yuan to name a newborn baby. "But now, too many people are asking for my help. I had to raise the price to limit the numbers," he said. "I do lower my prices for poor families, but those businesspeople make millions or even billions, so it would be ridiculous if they were to pay just a couple of hundred yuan for the service."
He said the most frequent inquiries from businesspeople include the decoration of offices and apartments to encourage positive developments, investment advice, the pros and cons of entering into partnership or working by oneself, and how to choose the right subordinates.
"I provide answers based on their names, their dates of birth and the feng shui arrangements in their immediate environment," explained Qi.
Running alongside the Lama Temple in Beijing is a 500-meter-long strip known as "The Street of Fortune Tellers", which has become a gathering place for the city's diviners, palm readers and feng shui masters. The sidewalks bristle with people hawking their services and "magic" accessories, including bracelets, necklaces and blessed Buddha figures.
However, unlike his peddling peers, Qi has eight employees. His office, situated close to Beijing's second ring road, faces south and stands in front of a river. In short, it is a textbook feng shui office location.
The office is decorated in strict accordance with the rules, and a statue of Lao Zi, the founder of Taoism, is enshrined in the main hall, surrounded by flickering candles. However, the front door faces a second door inside, an arrangement believed to bring bad luck. Qi solved the problem by hanging a crystal curtain between the doors.
The lower sections of the French windows are covered by opaque plastic film. According to feng shui principles, large, uncovered windows can result in the loss of money. A fish tank has been placed by the window for the same reason, to stop Qi's fortune from flowing away.
Location, location, location
Tang Zhijun, 47, general manager of Beijing Changfeng Innovation Science and Technology Co, said some of his business friends from southern China are strong believers in feng shui.
"They constantly urged me to learn more about it, saying it has immense influence in enterprise development and the prosperity of our families," he said. "They even moved their ancestors' tombs because the master told them the deed would benefit their family."
As the owner of a company that makes scientific and high-technology items, Tang was disinclined to believe in the ancient practice. However, when the aficionados claimed that a few minor adjustments to the layout of his office would improve the company's performance, he decided to act on their advice, reasoning that even if it proved ineffectual, the move was harmless.
He began by rectifying a long-standing "problem". Tang often sat with his back to a north-facing window. "I changed it recently," he said. "The master said the window behind me represents a hole and that the money I earned would flow away through it," he said.
Following the master's suggestion, Tang placed a screen wall between his back and the window.
"Although the business hasn't made huge progress since then, I'm still surprised because I've been feeling better since I put the screen in place. Before, I often felt that eyes were watching me from behind."
Tang now wants to learn more about the basic techniques concerning the location and decoration of homes. "Even now, we're unable to provide convincing explanations for lots of things in the world. If feng shui can provide a solution, why shouldn't we try it?" he said.
Most EMBA programs in China's major business schools, including the China Europe International Business School which charges a hefty 560,000 yuan for its part-time, two-year course, provide lectures on I Ching, The Book of Changes, feng shui and related issues.
Li Juanjuan, a student at Peking University's EMBA program, likes reading books about feng shui and watching related videos. The 32-year-old manager at Beijing Capital International Airport said she will invite a master to help decorate her new apartment. "It's all to provide a better life for my daughter. I've already changed her name to promote better feng shui," she said, declining to provide details to protect her daughter's privacy.
People who have recently become wealthy are fearful of losing their fortunes and the prospects of making another. Feng shui provides a means of easing that tension, according to Zhang Xuedong, a researcher and lecturer on Tsinghua University's EMBA program.
Although he teaches ancient Chinese culture and philosophy in the program, the most frequently asked questions concern feng shui, said Zhang. He admitted that some people seem to miss the point.
"The students asked if I could predict their futures or use my knowledge to help them make more money," he said. "I advised them to be patient and to search for inner peace, but they asked for short cuts to finding inner peace, such as donations to temples or rearranging their offices,"
Chinese people have only recently become wealthy and have yet to learn how to deal with the pressures associated with large fortunes. Because it is part of ancient Chinese culture, people mistakenly believe that feng shui can provide an easy solution, according to Zhang.
"If simply moving your tables and installing a fish tank could help you make more money, everybody would try it," he said, and warned that it might not be wise to ask the so-called masters for business advice.
"The laws of economics may help you, but not the laws of feng shui," he said. "The 'masters' certainly do care about making money, but only for themselves."
He said the practice undoubtedly does contain many ancient wisdoms, but they are often commonplace or simply self-evident. For example, feng shui principles state that windows in Chinese houses should face south, but that's hardly a mystical revelation - the country's geographical location means that south-facing windows allow natural light to illuminate rooms for the optimum period every day.
"It's part of a rich heritage of traditional culture and folklore. To some extent, we should research and protect it," he said. "But it shouldn't be seen as an infallible way of living your life."
Jiang Xueqing contributed to this story.
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(China Daily 01/10/2013 page6)