We now come to the third division of the system of Feng-shui, the doctrine of nature's breath. Nature, as I have had occasion to remark before, is looked upon by the Chinese observer as a living breathing organism, and we cannot be surprised, therefore, to find the Chinese gravely discussing the inhaling and exhaling breath of nature. 1n fact, with the distinction of these two breaths, the expanding breath, as they call it, and reverting breath, they explain almost every phenomenon in nature. Between heaven and earth there is nothing so important, so almighty and omnipresent as this breath of nature. It enters into every stem and fibre, and through it heaven and earth and every creature live and move and have their being. Nature's breath is, in fact, but the spiritual energy of the male and female principles. Thus at the commencement the congelation of the transforming breath of nature is the change from nothing into being of the male principle. The exhaustion of the transforming breath of nature is the change from existence to non-existence of the female principle of nature. When therefore in the beginning these two principles first issued from "the great absolute," it was then that nature's breath first went forth. But at first nature's breathing was confused and chaotic, so that for some time heaven and earth were not divided, but when nature's breath reverted, and exhalation and inhalation regularly succeeded each other, heaven and earth, the male and female principles, were divided and everything in nature was produced in its proper order. Even now,
whenever the breath of nature first advances or expands, something like an unshapen ftus is created, which constitutes the germlike beginning of future developments. This shapeless incipient origin of things being light and pure, but not yet possessing any determinate form, belongs to the male, and may be called the superior principle of nature; but when the determinate shape has been assumed, it manifestly presents itself to view, and constitutes the exact form of things, possessing body, colour, shape and manner. This, being heavy, gross and cognizable to human senses, belongs to the female, and may be called the inferior principle, or in other words, one advancing and one reverting breath, regularly succeeding each other, are the condition of the constant succession of growth and decay, of life and death in the physical world.
The two breaths of nature are, however, essentially but one breath. The male and female principles, uniting, constitute the beginning of things; when they disperse they cause decay, dissolution and death. Sometimes they disperse and again unite. Thus, after their termination they again commence, which constitutes the principle of reproduction, going on throughout nature without intermission. As to the breath that pervades human beings, the energies of nature must here also sometimes get exhausted, and death is that which no man can avoid. At death, the grosser parts of man's animal soul descend and return to earth, but the finer parts of his spiritual nature diffuse and expand throughout the world and become either a cloud or a light that appears occasionally, will-o'-the-wisps, or ignes fatui, or such like, or a fragrant vapour that sometimes, nobody knows how, affects men's senses and causes them to feel dull, sad and depressed.
Now, this breath of nature, with its constant pulsations, with its ceaseless permutations of expansion and contraction, shows itself in the varied conditions of the atmosphere
in a six-fold form, being the originating cause of cold, heat, dryness, moisture, wind and fire. These are sometimes called the six breaths of nature. These six breaths then produce, under the combined influence of the five planets and the five elements, the twenty-four seasons, which are therefore generally called the twenty-four breaths of nature. The breath of nature allied to the element wood, and guided by Jupiter, produces rain; combined with the element metal and ruled by Venus, the breath of nature produces fine weather; joining the element fire and influenced by Mars, the breath of nature produces heat; supported by the element water and ruled by Mercury, the breath of nature produces cold; and with the help of the element earth and influenced by Saturn, it causes wind. This is the whole system of Chinese meteorology.
But the question now arises, how can we, quite apart from the general working of nature's breath, determine, with reference to any given locality, whether there is a favourable or unfavourable breath there, or any breath at all?
Here, again, the Feng-shui system makes use of the allegory of the azure dragon and the white tiger. We have remarked above that the surface of the earth is but the dim mirror of the configurations, powers and influences of the heavens, that therefore every constellation of heaven has its counterpart on earth. We have also noticed (p. 12) that one of the four quadrants of the starry heavens, the one in the East or to the left of the looker-on, is ruled by a spirit called the azure dragon, embodying as it were the combined influences of seven constellations. The western or right-hand quadrant, comprising also seven constellations, is represented by a spirit called the white tiger. The azure dragon and the white tiger are therefore but emblems indicating the subtle influences, the vital breath of the eastern (male) and western (female) divisions of the firmament. Wherever there is nature's breath pulsating, there will be visible on
earth some elevation of the ground. Where nature's breath is running through the crust of the earth, the veins and arteries, so to speak, will be traceable. But nature's breath contains a two-fold element, a male and female, positive and negative, expanding and reverting breath, resembling, as we in modern English would put it, two magnetic currents, or, as the Chinese put it, the azure dragon and the white tiger. Where there is a true dragon, there will be also a tiger, and the two will be traceable in the outlines of mountains or hills running in a tortuous and curved course. Moreover, there will be discernible the dragon's trunk and limbs, nay, even the very veins and arteries of his body, running off from the dragon's heart in the form of ridges or chains of hills. As a rule, therefore, there will be an accumulation of vital breath near the dragon's waist, whilst near the extremities of his body the energy of nature's breath is likely to be exhausted. At a distance of twenty li, or six miles, it is said the breath becomes feeble and ineffective. But even near the dragon's heart, the breath of nature, unless well kept together by surrounding hills and mountains, will be scattered. Where the frontage of any given spot, though enjoying an abundance of vital breath, is broad and open on all sides, admitting the wind from all the four quarters, there the breath will be of no advantage, for the wind scatters it before it can do any good. Again, suppose there is a piece of ground with plenty of vital breath, and flanked by hills, which tend to retain the breath, yet the water-courses near the place run off in straight and rapid course, there also the breath is scattered and wasted before it can serve any beneficial purposes. Only in places where the breath of nature is well kept together, being shut in to the right and left and having a drainage carrying off the water in a winding tortuous course, there are the best indications of a permanent supply of vital breath being found there. Building a tomb or a house in such a place will ensure prosperity, wealth and honour.
As a general rule it is observed, that whenever one meets with doubtful ground which shows no clear indications of the dragon's veins, it is best to look for the most secluded retired corner, for in retirement it is that tiger and dragon are most closely intertwined, and there the breath is gathered most abundantly. And suppose ground has been found where both dragon and tiger are completely delineated, the rule is then to look near the junction of dragon and tiger for some little hollow or little mound, or in short some sudden transition from male to female or from female to male ground. For the body of the dragon and the surrounding hills should always exhibit both male and female characteristics up to the very point where the luck-bringing site is to be chosen.
I have hitherto only spoken of the natural and beneficial breath of nature. But there is also a poisonous deadly exhalation of nature's breath, and it is one of the supposed advantages of the Feng-shui system that it points out and warns people against a place where the erection of a tomb or house would entail loss of life and calamities over coming generations. Very frequently, it is said, there are places showing all the outward appearances of good dragon ground, and betraying no visible sign of the existence of malign influences, and yet the ground would bring untold calamities and utter desolation on any family that would venture to choose a site there for a tomb or a dwelling place. In such cases it is only the compass that will indicate the presence of a noxious breath, by marking the disharmony of the planetary influences and the discord of the elements.
But in general the existence of a pernicious breath will betray itself by outward indications. Wherever there is a hill or mountain, abruptly rising up from the ground, and running up in bold straight lines, or shows an exceedingly rugged rough appearance, without any gradual slopings, there is dangerous breath there. Generally speaking, all straight lines are evil indications, but most especially when
a straight line points towards the spot where a site has been chosen. Even suppose you have found a place where both the dragon to the left and the tiger to the right are curved each like a bow, but from the side of each, ridges are running down in straight lines, resembling each an arrow laid on a bow,--that would be an absolutely dangerous configuration. Or, suppose you have found a place abounding in good auspices, but some distance opposite you there is a straight running ridge or water shed, or say a railway embankment, by no means pointing in the direction of your site, but running across your frontage in a straight line,--there would be caused by this line a deadly breath, ruining all your fortunes and those or your descendants.
As straight lines of ridges or chains of hills are supposed to produce malign influences, thus it is also with creeks, canals or rivers, that run off in straight lines. Water is in the Feng-shui system always looked upon as the emblem of wealth and affluence. Where the water runs off in a straight course, it will cause the property of people dwelling there to run off and dissipate like water. Tortuous, crooked lines are the indications of a beneficial breath, and will serve to retain the vital breath where it exists.
Another indication of the existence of a malign breath are detached rocks and boulders, unless they are screened and covered by trees and bushes. There are many instances given in geomantic books of tombs situated near rocks and loose boulders, but the latter being screened by dense vegetation and shaded by high trees, the tomb in question exercised for generations the most beneficial influence, heaping rank, honour, wealth, longevity, progeny and so forth upon the families whose ancestors were buried there. But by and by, unbelief in Feng-shui, or avidity, or the hatred of a malicious enemy caused the trees to be felled and the shrubs which screened the boulders to be cut down, whereupon immediately sudden disgrace and misfortunes came upon those families; they were deprived of their rank, of their
emoluments, their wealth scattered, and their descendants had to go out upon the highways of life to beg and starve.
Hongkong, with its abundance of rocks and boulders scattered about on the hillside, abounds accordingly in malign breath, and the Chinese think our Government very wise in endeavouring to plant trees everywhere on the hill to screen these harbingers of evil. But the most malicious influence under which Hongkong suffers is caused by that curious rock on the edge of the hill near Wanchai. It is distinctly seen from Queen's Road East, and foreigners generally see in it Cain and Abel, Cain slaying his brother. The Chinese take the rock to represent a female figure which they call the bad woman, and they firmly and seriously believe that all the immorality of Hongkong, all the recklessness and vice of Taip'ingshan are caused by that wicked rock. So firm is this belief impressed upon the lowest classes of Hongkong that those who profit from immoral practices actually go and worship that rock, spreading out offerings and burning frankincense at its foot. None dares to injure it, and I have been told by many otherwise sensible people that several stonecutters who attempted to quarry at the base of that rock died a sudden death immediately after the attempt.
Now, all these evil influences, whether they be caused by straight lines of hills or water-courses or by rocks and boulders, can be fended off or counteracted. The best means to keep off and absorb such noxious exhalations is to plant trees at the back of your abode and keep a tank or pond with a constant supply of fresh water in front of your house. This is the reason why in South China every village, every hamlet, every isolated house has a little grove of bamboos or trees behind and a pond in front. A pagoda, however, or a wooded hill, answers the same purpose, and for this reason the Heights of Canton, with their five-storied pagoda, are supposed to fend off the evil breath of nature and to protect the whole city. Another device to keep off malign influences is to place opposite your house gate a shield or octagonal
board with the emblems of the male and female principles, or the eight diagrams painted thereon, and to give the pathway leading up to your front door a curved or tortuous direction. Lions carved in stone or dragons of burnt clay also answer the same purpose, and may be placed either in front of a building or on the top of the roof; but by far the best and effective means is to engage a geomancer, to do what he says, and to pay him well.