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The Religious System of China. Volume III (1897)
Extrait: The Professors of Fung-shui

Une édition électronique réalisée à partir du texte de l'ouvrage de Johann Jacob Maria de Groot, The Religious System of China. its ancient forms, evolution, history and present aspect. Manners, customs and social institutions connected therewith. Volume III : Disposal of the Dead : The Grave (second half). Édition originale, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1897, 640 pages + illustrations. Réimpression : Literature House, Ltd, Taipei, Taiwan, 1964. Une édition réalisée par Pierre Palpant, bénévole, Paris.


The Professors of Fung-shui.


Every member of the educated class who, by learning to read and write, has picked up a smattering of knowledge of the classical words and the principles of philosophy, is in China, to some extent, a geomancer ; nay, even men and women with no literary education at all pretend to know much, if not all, about Fung-shui. But the true professor of this art, who earns his living by it, is distinguished from those dilettanti by many characteristics.

He assumes all the airs of the literati and the gentry, dresses, as they do, in a long gown, wears a pair of large spectacles, though not short-sighted, and awes his patrons into admiration and respect by scarcely ever opening his mouth, except to utter a few wise words, or a classic phrase borrowed from the books. Others on the contrary establish and keep up their reputation by loquaciousness, overawing everybody by speaking a mystifying, learned jargon, and by apocalyptic utterances of which the ordinary Chinaman understand next to nothing. Many professors are very dignified in their habits, wear a grave and haughty look, and strut about like peacocks among the ignoble fowl around them. About all their movements there is an air of classic decorum ; and it is no wonder, therefore, that the masses regard the geomancers as fountains of wisdom, marvels of learning, capable of fathoming all the mysteries of heaven and earth.

Yet, truth to say, scarcely any of them have acquired their skill by profound and serious studies of the books written by the sages and philosophers of the nation. A geomancer has, as a rule, learnt to read and to write at school ; but, for the rest, he has picked up almost all his wisdom by strolling about in the open country for a few years at the heels of some professor who had adopted him as his disciple, catching from his lips a large supply of empty phrases about dragons, tigers, branches and other mysteries of the compass. Though he has the name and outward appearance of a literary man, yet he is, like Chinese scholars in general, quite ignorant of his national history and literature, nor does he possess the slightest knowledge of the history and literature of the art of which he tells himself an expert. At best he may have consulted one or two handbooks badly printed ; but he seldom looks into these products a second time, finding it easier to rely upon his own inventiveness and eloquence, which both he himself and others are readily enough inclined to regard as wisdom and innate genius. But his ignorance casts no shadow upon his reputation. For, after all, he knows more about the art than the bulk of the people ; moreover, he is extremely smart in bewildering his employers by bullying them, whenever he thinks fit, with a flood of technical expressions and hazy utterances about tigers and dragons, branches and kwa, elements, and spiritual influences of all sorts and descriptions.

Clever Fung-shui professors are accustomed to resort to other devices, in order to keep up the reputation of their calling and that of their. own persons. The names of the ancient sages and sovereigns, revered by the whole nation as the holiest and most perfect of creatures the Universe ever produced, are constantly on their lips, especially those of the reputed inventors of the kwa and the authors of the Yih king, viz. king Wen, and the Prince of Cheu, his son ; frequently also they appeal to the illustrious Chu Hi, the father of modern philosophy and an ardent votary of good, orthodox Fung-shui. Thus they ably contrive to get themselves associated by the people with great and famous names in history. They further enhance the general admiration of their wisdom by concluding each flow of words from their lips with this refrain :

— Yet many other arguments could I adduce, were they not too numerous to be summed up.

The people are perfectly aware that geomancers are not only useful, but also dangerous. Indeed, these men can supply them with graves and dwellings which establish the prosperity of whole families ; but they have also the power of plunging families into woe and misery by undoing graves and houses of good Fung-shui by their cunning artifices. The professors themselves take good care to keep up this double reputation by steadily spreading tales and anecdotes which illustrate their twofold power, and by which the people are constantly reminded how advisible it is to cultivate their friendship and to propitiate their good will in all circumstances of life. They frequently relate that, once upon a time, there lived a family, which was rendered very rich and prosperous by the influence of a grave sought out for it by a geomancer of great renown. He, on discovering this priceless spot, had become aware that it would cost him his eyesight if anybody were buried in it ; and yet he had not hesitated to assign it to that family, on condition they should lodge, clothe and feed him to the end of his days, and give him a decent burial after his death. So he lived with them, quite blind, but happy, and free from worldly care, leading an enviable life of leisure and idleness. One fine day it came to pass that a kid belonging to the family fell into an open privy and was suffocated. The Chinese are a thrifty people, and even the wealthy classes are averse to throwing useful things away. Hence the family, as none of them chose to eat of the kid, resolved to cook it for the professor, who, being blind and not aware of the circumstance, would certainly enjoy the savoury food. This was done ; but, unfortunately, a loquacious matron of the family told him in secret how ignomiously the others had abused his helpless condition. Our readers can guess the end of the story : — the professor without mercy destroyed the good Fung-shui of the grave by giving wrong advice regarding it, and so he brought the family back to the same dire poverty from which he had extricated it. We are not, however, told whether he recovered from his blindness, after having thus avenged himself.

In spite of such professional tales, and numerous accounts about graves that have rendered their owners prosperous for many generations in succession, accounts which, whether or not illustrated by woodcut figures, are appended to many handbooks ; — in spite, also, of the fact that many a geomancer is so sharp and clever as to be able to make out at a glance from the moss or weather-beaten spots on a grave stone whether the Fung-shui of the grave is good or bad — yet there are many persons bold enough to refuse implicit trust in all they say. Such sceptics are, perhaps, more numerous now than they were in times gone by. To none among them does it ever occur to doubt the perfectness of the principles of the system, these forming the chief corner stone of natural philosophy as expounded by the holiest and wisest men. But the bare fact that many who, in the hopes of buying a grave that must render them rich and prosperous, pour half their wealth into the lap of the professors, and yet become poor, while others, not wealthy enough to employ a professor, rise to wealth and distinction, acts as a great check upon the credulity of the public. Among the educated classes it is an open secret that the predictions of geomancers are all guess-work, and that all they have to dispose of is a little experience collected in the course of their practice. It is no wonder then that, in Amoy, people often make fun of their geomancers, and deride them in the following quatrain :

Professors of geomancy are accustomed to telling nonsense,
They point to the south, north, west and east ;
But, if they can really find places in the mountains which produce princely dignities,
Why then do not they immediately bury their own elders there ?

A Fung-shui professor would be a nonentity among his colleagues if he had not an amount of wise sophistry in store wherewith to counteract the popular prejudice. We, geomancers, thus he argues, can in reality thoroughly fathom, by profound study, the secrets of the Ti li or natural influences pervading the earth (see page 940), and thus we can discover means to lead human happiness into any desired channel. But these influences are in every respect dominated by those of the heavens, viz. the T‘ien li, the earth being swayed by the supreme celestial powers embracing it. Hence it is that our calculations must necessarily fail, unless backed by two direct emanations from the heavens, which human power cannot control, viz. the happy destiny of the individual who invokes our services, and, secondly, the factor which, through the hand of heaven, bestows such a destiny upon him, to wit, a virtuous character, manifesting itself by meritorious deeds. Is it not set forth as a golden principle by all the authors of geomancy : ‘Nobody should neglect to cultivate secret virtues, the accumulation of virtuous deeds being the only firm base for all searching after felicitous grounds ?’ Should a man without virtue acquire the most propitious graves for his dead, and the best possible dwellings for himself, their Fung-shui can profit him nothing, seeing it is doomed to impotence and inactivity because of the refusal of the T‘ien li to co-operate in making him happy. From which we see that Fung-shui is not a creator of happiness, but merely the indispensable medium through which a happy fate, held in store by the heavens, is forwarded to its destination.

Of course it seldom occurs to anybody to investigate his own merits and inner qualifications before squandering away his possessions in search of spots for building or grave making. What man in this world ever entertains the least doubt of his own excellence? Who would presume to anticipate, even by a humble investigation of his own demerits and unworthiness, the decrees of the high heavens in respect to his destiny? Not until the working of a grave or dwelling has been watched for some time can it be decided whether the virtues, required to make it yield profit, are present or absent in the persons concerned. These theories, the logic of which no Chinaman ever contradicts, has the advantage of discharging the professor from all blame in case places selected by him bring no blessings. He can, moreover, make use of them to explain the fact that children sometimes rise to wealth and distinction who have buried their parents, for want of money to pay a professor, in a site decried as valueless from a geomantic point of view, or even in a bad spot from which others, by the advice of clever experts, have removed their dead. In such a case it is the T‘ien li who, moved by the virtues of the persons in question, virtues which they themselves were probably unconscious of possessing, have compelled the Ti li to set to work in their favour with all their energy. Even the doctrine of the transmigration of souls is here brought to bear, as events such as the above are often declared to be rewards for deeds performed in some previous incarnation. But most generally they are ascribed to long forgotten merits of some ancestor, it being a settled doctrine that good acts are not seldom requited in the offspring of the individual who performed them, just as his crimes and sins must be atoned for by them.

From the above our readers will perceive that the Fung-shui doctrines, when handled with dexterity and eloquence, can explain all the phenomena of human life and fate. Thanks to the sage and useful theory of the supremacy exerted by the T‘ien li over the Ti li, no smart professor can ever be brought to bay. When asked why he did not bury his own relations in the excellent graves he boasts of having found for others, he is humble enough to confess that they would be of no avail to him, his virtues being so few and insignificant, his natural fate consequently so bad, and his chance of prosperity in this world so small ; neither have his ancestors laid up a store of merits large enough to enable him to reap the profits of his geomantic attainments himself. This shows that geomancers can also assume the airs of humility, when it serves their turn. Again, when asked how it is. that former generations have not used up all the good grounds, they having produced so many myriads of perfect and virtuous men, the answer is : The T‘ien li do not nowadays reward the virtuous any less than they did in bygone times. As in days of yore, they imbue on their behalf sundry parts of the Earth with benignant influences, thus continuously creating anew favourable sites for building and burying purposes. It often occurs that entire valleys, quite devoid of good geomantic influence, are converted into inexhaustible mines of Fung-shui by the T‘ien li, when an alteration in the windings of a waterstream is made by a shower of rain, or by a small earth-slip, or the downfall of a rock through the action of the wind and rain. How then can there ever be a question of the exhaustion of the supply of burial sites? — In the neighbourhood of every village and every town there are in fact numerous unknown spots, the favourite dreams of the inhabitants, which promise an income of ten thousand gold coins, and promotion to the very highest literary degree into the bargain, to whomsoever buries his father or mother there. But no professor, even were he the incarnation of Kwan Loh or Kwoh Poh, can detect those grounds, unless set to work by such men of virtue as are appointed by the T‘ien li for the enjoyment of so much bliss. Is it then to be wondered at that every man with common sense on the death of his parents applies to the best professor his purse can afford, in the hope that he may be among the number of the elect?

By so much verisimilar reasoning the popular scepticism in regard to Fung-shui and its professors is not lulled to sleep. It is encouraged by many of the best authors, and even by the government. Hardly a sixty years ago, Wu Yung-kwang, the high statesman wrote :

« Its poison (viz. of Kwoh Poh’s Book of the Blue Bag) subsequently deluged the whole Empire. T‘ai Tsung of the T‘ang dynasty ordered Lü Ts‘ai to publish a treatise in which geomancy was subjected to profound criticism, but even this measure could not check its influence. Sons and grandsons, misled by the talk about felicity and mishap, invited the grave professors to search after propitious grounds, and these men then set themselves to work, hacking and hewing into the pulses of the earth, reasoning about forefronts and backs, and selecting auspicious years, months, days and hours. The poor could not afford to select any grounds at all ; the rich selected them with too much precision ; and the result was that grandfathers and fathers were cruelly left body and soul unburied under the open sky. There were men who performed no burial during their whole lives ; nay, some people even neglected interring their dead for many generations in succession.

In the ‘Memoirs concerning Amoy’ we read :

« The poor among the inhabitants of Amoy Island are accustomed to bury their dead after ten or fourteen days, because their dwellings are narrow and small. The well-to-do class, however, have frequently an open ear for the adepts of the Blue-Raven School , and all of them, the wise as well as the stupid, are deluded and led astray by these latter, placing full confidence in whatever they say. These men are vulgarly called Geomancers. The greatest confidence is placed in their indications and selections, and, moreover, much importance is attached to auspicious years, months, days and hours ; and as sundry branches of a family usually live in discord, and each puts its trust in its own professor, the one professor always vindicating whatever the other rejects, it frequently comes to pass that encoffined corpses are stored away and remain unburied. Though beginning with a mere desire to acquire auspicious burial sites, the end is that the interment is for many days postponed, during which the family is gradually ruined.

Likewise by reason of its constantly preventing timely burial, a very severe judgment is pronounced on Fung-shui and its professors by the present Code of Laws. Our readers may see this in two extracts given on page 133. That the high authorities for the same reason sometimes caution their subjects officially against the cobwebs of delusion, is shown by the proclamation reproduced on page 134, wherewith the Tao T‘ai at Amoy in 1882 interdicted any further postponement of burials within his jurisdiction.

In spite of popular suspicion and official denunciation, parties of men, headed by a geomancer, may be seen every day in the open country ; strolling about in search of favourable sites for burying the dead. The geomancer is scarcely ever allowed to do this work alone. For, as our readers know, every right principled man is pretty familiar with Fung-shui matters, as filial duty prescribes that for the sake of his parents he should be able to control the professor in his choice. If the family be wealthy, such strolls are made several times ; for, searching out a grave which must secure the welfare and fortunes of a whole family for many generations is certainly not a task to be performed in a day, unless the family be too poor to pay the professor high wages. All the expenses entailed by such excursions have of course to be defrayed by the family. They must also procure palankeens and bearers for the professor and themselves, as walking is vulgar work, unbecoming people of distinction who possess the means of avoiding bodily fatigue.

While wise discussions are being held on the contours of the country, and the hands are continuously moved up and down and in all the directions of the compass, the party keep themselves under the shade of umbrellas of paper or silk ; for around most towns scarcely a tree or shrub affords a shelter against the scorching sun, all vegetation having in course of time been radically destroyed under the direction of geomancers. Now and then the professor brings forth his compass from a linen bag hanging from his shoulder, and lying full length, or creeping on the ground, he takes the bearings by placing over his instrument a so-called hun-kim soàn, ‘thread for subtle measurement’, which is a red cord, from each end of which dangles a copper coin to keep it stretched. His judgment with reference to every given spot he pronounces in a learned jargon ; and though his decisions may sometimes be objected to by those who accompany him, yet they are, as a rule, received with respectful awe and superstitious dread.

At length, after the professor has pocketed many bountiful remunerations for his pains, a spot is discovered upon which good geomantic influences are concentrated to any extent, and which accordingly promises to realize the boldest wishes of the family. Many days are now lost in bargaining, through an agent or broker, with the owner of the ground. But in the end this man is prevailed upon to accept a small sum of earnest money, in exchange for which he allows the family to make an experiment as to the properties of the soil, and binds himself not to sell it to anybody else until they have declined the purchase. Without delay a small quantity of pig’s bones are bought at the butcher’s, and interred on the spot in a small box of wood or earthen jar. After about a year, the family exhume and examine them. If they come forth hard, dry and white, the soil is approved of, as showing that it possesses sufficient preservative power to keep the osseous remains of the dead in a good condition for a very long time to come and, consequently, to attach his manes for good to the spot. A shorter experiment is to bury some duck’s eggs and afterwards examine them, to see whether they dry up or rot away. Pieces of charcoal are also used, for, being hygroscopic, they soon tell whether the spot is dry enough to serve for burying purposes.

In Amoy, there proceedings are called ‘hiding experiments’, or ‘sounding experiments’. Should the soil be found to be bad, it is, in some cases, resolved to improve it by digging away the earth around the place where the coffin must lie, and supplying the void with earth of a better quality.

It is by no means rare that a family, after having made the experiments, consult a second professor, in order to verify the decisions of the first. In nine cases out of ten, this new marvel of wisdom with a flow of astute critical remarks contradicts everything his colleague has done, for, though Fung-shui professors are dignified in their demeanour, they are subject to the influences of professional jealousy just like the rest of mankind, and constitute by no means a mutual-admiration Society. The new adviser of the family is not long in discovering, for instance, that there is a dangerous bed of stones or solid rock under the soil, through which it will be impossible for the Terrestrial Breath to break its way and reach the corpse ; some diggers are set to work immediately, and no sooner do they find a couple of stones than.... everything has to be done over again from the beginning. The earnest money is lost ; the outlays for the numerous excursions into the mountains have been made in vain ; nor can either the payments made to the professor, or the advances he has obtained, be recovered. Even the expenses the family made to propitiate the dangerous man with dinner parties, now become a dead loss ; indeed, they still bounteously regaled him many a time, for fear he should counteract their whole future destiny by putting them off with a grave entirely valueless from the geomantic point of view.

Now the new marvel in turn puts the family to expense. He borrows money of them whenever an opportunity presents itself, claims payment for every trifle of work he does, and is most likely to intrigue with the proprietor of each plot of ground he declares to answer the purposes of the family ; for why should he despise his honest share in the purchase-money which he enables this man to squeeze out of the family? In short, there is probably not much exaggeration in the assertion of the Chinese themselves that many well-to-do families, unable to restrain their passion for Fung-shui, are either ruined, or brought to the brink of poverty by geomancers.

Pending the acquisition of an auspicious grave, the deceased parent remains unburied, either in the house, or somewhere in a shed or temple. Although, as our readers know, public opinion decries long postponement of burial as the height of unfilialness, and both law and government threaten it with severe punishment, yet these three mighty factors combined stand powerless in the matter, and regularly every year thousands of dead are deprived of a timely burial because of the exigencies of Fung-shui. Up to a certain point this phenomenon may be explained from the circumstance that postponement of burial was a legal custom in ancient China, based on the then prevailing ideas of a resurrection, so that the Chinese cannot but regard it as perfectly defensible on the grounds of orthodoxy and fashion. It may be also explained from the fact that the ancients used to depose the dead for some time in their dwellings before conveying them to their last resting place, and that this custom has been transmitted to posterity by so venerable a book as the I li, and sanctioned by many dynasties as a legal rite of the state religion.

Cases of long postponement of burial have undoubtedly been numerous in China ever since Fung-shui bore sway there. Many have been entailed by the acknowledged necessity of selecting auspicious dates for burials, which custom, as our readers know, is most closely connected with the Fung-shui doctrines. We read, for instance, of Ho Siün, a statesman who lived in the third and the beginning of the fourth century, that

« when he was finally invested with the governorship of Wu-khang (a part of modern Chehkiang), it was very usual among the people to bury their dead at great expense, and there were also those who, entertaining a superstitious dread of years and months in which certain things ought not to be done, stored up their dead, not committing them to the earth. These practices were forbidden by Ho Siün once and for ever.

With the object, probably, of putting a check to the evil in question, several dynasties have formally excluded from the state-service those of their subjects who postponed the burial of their parents. It is stated that

« under the Wei dynasty and the House of Tsin, the only reason for excluding a man from an official post was the fact of the corpse of his grandfather or father being kept uncoffined or unburied.

This rule prevailed also during the T‘ang dynasty, for we read in the biography of Yen-chen-khing, who lived in the eighth century : When he held a high post in the country of Ho-tung,

« there was living there one Ching Yen-tsu, who after his mother’s death had left her corpse unburied for twenty-nine years within the walls of a Buddhist monastery. Chen-khing reported the case to the Throne, with this result that the said man and his brothers were not registered among the office-bearers for thirty years, and the whole empire was alarmed and moved.

Still later, in 952, during the short-lived Cheu dynasty, the emperor T‘ai Tsu issued a decree, stating that

« henceforth, in each case of a paternal grand-parent or parent not having been committed to the earth after his demise, the elders of the family at the head of which he had stood during his life, should not be entitled to solicit for official dignity, nor would the officers already sprung from that family be granted any promotion or transference to another post ; but these rescripts did not apply to the inferior or junior relations, nor to the members of the family still lower in rank.

Sze˘-ma Kwang, the famous statesman and ethical philosopher whose acquaintance our readers have already made elsewhere in this work, stands foremost in the ranks of those who, during the Sung dynasty, turned their sharp pen against Fung-shui, because it deprived so many of the dead of a decent and timely burial. In A. D. 1084 he wrote :

« The people nowadays do not bury the dead more luxuriously than they did anciently, but the importance attached to the prohibitions created by the Yin-and-Yang system has become much greater ! The treatises on burial now in circulation investigate the influences of the forms of mountains and water-courses, rocks and fields ; they examine the Branches and kan which indicate the years, months, days and hours, considering the low or high rank of the offspring in the social scale, their wealth and poverty, late or early death, intelligence or stupidity to be entirely bound up with those factors, so that burials cannot be performed unless in such-and-such grounds and at such-and-such times. The whole nation is bewildered by these theories and places belief therein, in consequence of which it frequently occurs that those who lose their parents postpone their burial for a considerable time. If asked the reasons why they do so, they say : `Year and month are not yet propitious’, or : `We have not yet found a felicitous plot of ground’, or : `Some of our family reside far from here in the service of the State and have not yet found an opportunity to come home’, or : ‘We are so poor that we are not yet able to procure the requirements for the burial’. These are the causes of there being people who do not perform one single burial during their whole lives, nay, during many generations in succession, in consequence of which encoffined corpses are abandoned and lost sight of, so that it becomes unknown where they are. Oh ! how is it possible that such things do not make a man sigh and lament from the bottom of his heart !.

With a view to the life to come, a man sets great value upon having posterity, that they may properly bury his remains. But if his offspring act in the above way, a man is worse off than if he died on the road without leaving any son or grandson, for then some benevolent creature, on beholding him, would throw something over his remains to hide them from view.

According to the ceremonial rules enacted by the ancient sovereigns, the period within which their burial must take place did not exceed seven months, and the present dynasty has ordained that every one, from the Imperial princes downwards, shall be interred ere three months have elapsed. Those rules also demand that the children shall not make any change in their mourning dress before the burial, that they must eat gruel and live in sheds built against the wall, for grief that their parents are homeless, and that they shall gradually diminish their mourning after the interment. But people nowadays turn a deaf ear to these rules, and openly transgress the rescripts. They put off their mourning dress ere the burial is over, occupy official posts in any part of the realm, eat rice, dress in ornamented garments, drink spirits and make music. Can their hearts be at ease when they do so?

The social standing of any man, his wealth and the length of his life depend on the heavens, and his mental development on himself ; but these matters stand in no connection whatever with burials, nor are they pre-influenced. thereby. If nevertheless everybody follows the advice of burial professors, mankind must come to suffer under a concurrence of events entailing grief and misery. And how is it to be borne that people do not refrain from cruelly exposing their parents to wind and weather, merely for the purpose of establishing their own wealth and fortunes?

Formerly, when my own forefathers were buried, my family were too poor to procure proper vaults and coffins, and they did not use these until one of them was raised to the dignity of Generalissimo. Not the slightest quantity of gold, silver, pearls or jade was ever placed in their graves. When the Generalissimo was to be buried, my clansmen unanimously said :

— A burial is an occurrence of great significance in a family ; may we therefore abstain from consulting geomancy? Certainly not!

My elder brother Poh-khang was compelled to comply with their desires, and said :

— I assent to advising with geomancy ; but where shall we find a good burial professor to consult?
Upon which a clansman replied :

— In the village close by there lives one Chang, a clever professor, employed by everybody in several districts.
My brother called this man and promised him twenty thousand copper coins. On hearing him mention such a sum, the geomancer was greatly delighted, for he was a simple rustic, and the geomancers being at that time looked down upon by the people as mere rustics, he had never received more than a thousand coppers for a burial. Still my brother laid :

— I will entrust you with the burial on condition that you follow my instructions ; otherwise I shall employ another professor.

— I will do nothing else but what you order me, was the reply.

My brother himself now selected such a burial place as pleased himself best, fixed the month, year, day and hour of the interment, the depth and dimensions of the grave, and the road along which the procession should pass, making everything agree in the best way with the circumstances. He then ordered Mr. Chang to control his work with the help of his books of burial, and the man declared everything to be highly felicitous. Which, being communicated to the clansmen filled them all with delight, none of them raising objections or expressing any other opinion.

(In spite of all this), my brother is now seventy-nine years old, and his official career has raised him up to the dignity of Minister of State. And I am now sixty-six and, though unworthy of the honour, I am invested with the dignity of minister in immediate attendance upon the Emperor ; moreover, twenty three clansmen of mine are office-bearers. And now behold how people who carefully employ the books of burial, are unable to surpass my family ! Two years ago my wife died. No sooner was her coffin made than we placed her in it ; no sooner were the preparatives finished than we carried her away ; no sooner was her grave dug than we buried her, nor did we waste a single word in consulting an expert in Fung-shui matters. And yet, nothing infelicitous has up to the present befallen me, unless by other palpable causes. Geomancers have founded false systems with which they delude the multitude ; they cause woe and misery to prevail for many generations in families which are visited by death. But still worse, the proposal lately made by me to the Throne in my capacity of a Censor, to the effect that the books of burial in the Empire should be forbidden, has not been agreed with by any of those who hold power under the government! This disquisition is made by me, in the hopes that sons and grandsons may in future bury their dead at the proper time. If they wish to learn that the requisites for burial need not be costly, let them consider what has found place with my forefathers ; and if they desire a proof that the books of burial deserve no belief, show them what has occurred in my family !

In another piece from his hand, Sze˘-ma Kwang laments over the same subject in a somewhat different key.

« The people, placing trust in the gossip of burial professors, are wont to seek for good influences from the forms and contours of mountains and water-courses even after they have selected felicitous years, months, days and hours for the burial, considering the wealth and social position of their sons and grandsons, their mental faculties and the length of their lives to depend thereon in all respects. But there prevails so much diversity of opinion among those proficients, and they confuse matters by their quarrelsome discussions to such an extent, that no decision can be arrived at with regard to a date for the burial, so that some people do not bury any of their dead during their whole lives, nay, during several generations. It also occurs that the offspring do not bury their dead because a decadence of their fortunes causes them to forget or lose sight of the place where they have cast away the remains. Supposing for a moment that burials could virtually render man happy and prosperous, would it even then be tolerable that sons and grandsons should cruelly leave the decaying remains of their nearest relations exposed to the open sky, with the object of reaping profit for themselves? Such acts are the worst sins against the rites, the worst violations or human duty that can be.

The sorrowful resentment a bereaved filial son bears in his heart is profound, and his grief extends far. Hence he fears that, if he does not bury the remains deep enough, others will exhume them, and that, if he places them too deep in the ground, they will become wet and moulder away quickly. Consequently, he certainly searches out a place where the earth lies thick and the water is deep beneath the ground, and there he buries the corpse ; in this respect he must certainly select a proper place.

When Sze˘-ma Kwang thus tried his wits upon improving the customs of the nation at a time when the ascendency of his authority and influence had reached its height, the ruling Son of Heaven was endeavouring to put a stop to the postponement of burials by sterner measures.

« In the fifth year of the period Yuen fung (1082) he decreed that those who did not bury their dead relations without postponement, should be banished for two years, and that those who retained such men in official employ should incur punishment.

About the same time, thus the Histories of that time recount, one Wang Tsze˘-shao, a functionary in Hunan of very high position,

« was denounced by the censor Chang Shang-ying for not having buried his parents, and he was dismissed from his office on account thereof.

A few years later,

« Liu Ping, who, while in charge of the government of Ch‘en-cheu, had with his younger brother Hwan been raised to the dignity of Minister in immediate attendance on the Throne, was deprived of this dignity as a punishment for not having buried his deceased parents, and dismissed from his prefectship.

The Ming dynasty likewise decreed that punishments should be inflicted upon those who rendered themselves guilty of such execrable deeds.

« In the fifth year of the period Hung wu (A. D 1372) it was decreed by the emperor that, whereas there were often people who, led astray by Fung-shui, left encoffined corpses unburied for more than a year, not setting them at rest in a grave, the ministers in the departments of the central government should meet in council and draw up a law against this evil ; this law should be everywhere promulgated and properly observed, and punishments be pronounced against those who should presume to violate it.

This decree was duly obeyed, for we find an article in the Code of the Ming dynasty, threatening with eighty blows with the long stick those who, led astray by Fung-shui, kept a corpse unburied for longer than a year. It is worded exactly like that of the present Code of Laws, which we have cited, so that the now reigning dynasty has simply copied it. As we have stated on the same page, it has little practical effect on the evil, as written laws in China are generally a dead letter, unless it suits the mandarins to put them in force for the maintenance of their authority and that of their Imperial master.

Much time is lost in seeking a grave especially when the dead man leaves many children. Our readers know that six of the kwa are identified by the Yih king both with six points of the compass and with sons and daughters. Consequently, the fortunes of all the members of a family cannot be insured by the grave of their father or mother unless the forms and contours of the surroundings are perfect on six sides thereof ; and as such a perfect sepulchre is hardly ever to be acquired, even by the ablest professors, it follows that some of the children are excluded from the benefits yielded by the grave. It is unnecessary to say this gives rise to domestic discord, especially when the children thereby prejudiced are the offspring of a jealous second wife or of concubines, for these women instigate the dear fruits of their loins not to stoop to such wrong, but rather to oppose it vigorously to the end. Happily, family quarrels arising from such Fung-shui questions are moderated to some extent by the fact that the interests of the daughters are little attended to, they being destined to enter another clan by marriage, after which their own fate and that of their children will be entirely bound up with the graves of their parents-in-law.

The theory that a grave can seldom send forth blessings to all the sons equally, is one of the grandest inventions of geomantic sages. It safeguards their system from some of the most dangerous attacks of scepticists, as it imposes immediate silence upon all those who might ask :

— Showers of blessings descend upon my brother’s house because, as the professors say, the position of our father’s grave is extremely felicitous ; why then am I, though likewise his son, overwhelmed by poverty and misfortune?

Remarks of this sort are readily disarmed also by the following argument :

That the one brother is poor and the other is rich, is simply a consequence of the latter’s neglecting to give the former his fair share in the profits the grave produces him. To share those profits with his brother is his moral duty ; but instead of fulfilling his duty, he keeps everything for himself, even at the risk of ruining his own fortunes, for he is thus stupidly amassing a store of demerit by which the indignation of the T‘ien li will be aroused in the end. They will inevitably punish him by withdrawing their protecting hands from the grave, and so cause its Fung-shui to flow away, which will render him poorer than he ever was before.

The doctrine that a grave may yield great profits to one member of a family without advantaging the others, is by no means a modern invention. Already in the histories of the emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty we read :

« When the lady Ting, the emperor’s concubine of the first rank, had breathed her last, the heir-apparent (her son) had delegated some men to find a propitious place to bury her in. When they were about to cut away the plants and shrubs from that spot, some individual who had a plot of ground for sale tried to sell it through the medium of the eunuch Yü San-fu, promising him one million if he managed to get three millions for it. San-fu secretly applied to the emperor, telling him that the ground the heir-apparent had secured could by no means ensure the imperial felicity to the same degree as the plot he himself had now found. The emperor who, being in the last years of his life, entertained sundry superstitious fears, gave him orders to purchase it.

After the corpse had been buried in it, a Taoist priest, versed in the discovery of felicitous graves, declared :

— This grave shall not profit the heir-apparent, but the sphere of its good influences may perhaps be widened by certain repressive measures.

So he made a goose of wax, and with some other things buried it at the side of the grave, at the point of the compass corresponding to the eldest son.

At that time there were two Palace Inspectors, Pao Moh-chi and Wei Ya, formerly in high favour with the heir-apparent. Moh‑chi having espied what had happened, he apprized Ya of it, and privately told the emperor that this latter was the man who had thus suppressed the felicity of the spot on behalf of the heir-apparent. On this, the emperor secretly dispatched somebody to dig up the earth and see whether the affair was real, and the goose and the other things were actually found. Much frightened, the emperor would have the matter thoroughly investigated ; but Sü Mien firmly withheld him from any such measures, and the priest alone was put to death. To the heir-apparent the business was a cause of deep remorse to the end of his days, and the consequences were that his offspring never occupied the throne.

We read also in the biography of a certain Wen Ta-ya, a high statesman and the corypheus of filial conduct and fraternal devotion who lived in the first part of the seventh century :

« When he transferred the remains of his grandfather to another grave, a diviner who calculated the properties of the spot said :

— It will be felicitous for your younger brother, but of no advantage to yourself ; what do you intend to do?

— Should your prophecy be realised, was the reply, I will enter the ground with a smile on my lips.

After that year had elapsed, he died.

From what has been adduced in the foregoing pages it is sufficiently manifest that the possession of sons and money is not an unmitigated blessing, for the consequences may be fatal to a Chinaman after his death. Indeed, if each son is anxious to secure through his father’s grave his own fortunes in particular, and money enough has been left them to provide what they believe to be a perfect Fung-shui, discord arises, whereby the burial of the old man is postponed for months and years, to the prejudice of his manes. No wonder therefore that many a well-to-do father, if blessed with numerous sons, endeavours to elude this calamity by having his grave made during his lifetime, with the observation of all the rules of geomantic science.

This custom may be placed on a level with that of procuring, during life, one’s own grave clothes and coffin. It saves many a poor soul from the gloomy fate of hovering about in the other world as a homeless paria, an outcast without a shelter into which it can retire from the evils and nuisances of the spirit world. Moreover, it is considered very grand in this present life to possess one’s own grave, especially if it has been built by the care of the sons under the guise of filial devotion.

A grave made during the life of the person who is to occupy it, is called in Amoy a siu hik, ‘longevity region’. This term owes its origin to the same idea as ‘longevity garments’ and ‘longevity boards or longevity wood’, which are terms respectively denoting grave clothes and coffins made before death.

To prepare one’s own grave during life is a custom of very ancient date. The emperor Shi Hwang started the works for his mausoleum shortly after his accession to the throne, and the same line of conduct was followed by the sovereigns of the Han dynasty, for which reason their sepulchres are often denoted in the annals of their reign as ‘longevity mausolea’. That the custom was then in vogue among the official class also, is proved by the Histories of that epoch, which relate that the grandee

« Heu Lan, having on the death of his mother in the second year of the period Kien ning (A. D. 169) returned home and there built a large sepulchre, the Judge of the Circuit, Chang Kien, impeached him in a memorial addressed to the Throne of having prepared for himself a longevity sepulchre with a vault of stone, a gate with two entrances, and high side buildings of a hundred feet.

And of the minister Chao Khi we read :

« In the sixth year of the period Kien ngan (A. D. 201) he died, having previously built a longevity tomb for himself.

Also after the Han dynasty instances of this same custom are regularly recorded. So, for instance, at a time corresponding to about the year 480 after the Christian era, a high office-bearer, named

« Ch‘en T‘ien-fuh ordered his family to build a longevity tomb for him.

Never have geomancers such a grand opportunity of showing off their ability and astuteness as when a siu hik is being made. There is then plenty of time for the family to consult any number of them and to admire that display of profound learning wherewith each of them can frustrate what the other has projected and executed. Of course in the end the one is chosen who manifests more erudition than all the others by uttering ambiguous nonsense and at the same time shows a good deal of deference to the views expressed by the male and female members of the family, who, indeed, feel sure they know all about the art. An experiment with pig’s bones having produced good results, the grave is finished under the auspices of that wisest of the wise, the tumulus made, and an inscribed grave stone erected in front of it. If the mater-familias be still alive, a sepulchre is in general at the same time made for her on the right hand side, the left appertaining to her husband, as it is considered the place of honour, both in life and death.

When the grave is ready, it is necessary to prevent it from emitting influences of untimely death over its future occupant. To this end, a piece of red paper is pasted over his name which is carved in the grave stone. This sheet need not be replaced by a new one after time and rain have destroyed it, the influences of the grave, geomancers say, having by that time blended harmoniously with those of the Universe and, so to say, become one with it, thereby losing their dangerous character. Now the old man feels perfectly at ease, and greatly enjoys the happy prospect of being committed to the Earth with promptitude after his death. The sons too cheerfully await the future and the wealth and fortune it is sure to bring them. Still, in many cases, everything goes wrong. Unrelenting, insidious death may strike the old man in a year when the line in which his grave is made is not felicitous, thus enforcing a long delay of the burial ; or — and this is much worse — the professor under whose auspices and directions the grave has been made, may in the mean time have departed this life or removed to another part of the country, and his colleague, whom the family intrust with the burial, will tell them the Fung-shui is not worth a brass farthing. Struck with consternation, the men give vent to their sorrowful resentment in hot discussions, the women by loud vociferations and utterances of wrath ; but as this does not remedy the evil, the coffin is kept at home and another burial site sought for. The siu hik, so dearly paid for, is sold to others, or employed to bury a slave or unmarried daughter in, or a person who has no offspring desirous of deriving profit from his earthly resting place.

Of course not every siu hik turns out such an unlucky business ; otherwise people would long ago have given up making them.

Fung-shui often preventing people from burying their parents with suitable promptitude, it becomes a great nuisance especially to those who cannot afford to buy coffins good and substantial enough to permit of their keeping them in the house without suffering from the nauseous smell. In the island of Amoy, such families, as also those who, desirous of escaping the blame of unfilialness, will not adjourn burials, but neither wish to give up their chances of deriving profit from the graves through the intermedium of Fung-shui, often have recourse to a provisory interment, which they call t’ao tai‘ or t’ao tsong, ‘a stealthy or clandestine burial’. Under escort of a plain funeral cortege, they take the coffin into the mountains or into the open country, depose it somewhere on the ground and cover it with earth, without having the properties of the spot examined by a Fung-shui expert ; neither do they erect a grave stone, thereby indicating that the coffin is not there in a definite grave, but is to be removed afterwards to a resting place under propitious geomantic influences. Now it may occur that, ere the new grave is found, the family begins to prosper. Such unexpected bliss can, of course, only be ascribed to the good Fung-shui of the provisory grave. They laugh in their sleeve because the great lot in the lottery of life has become theirs by pure accident or undreamt-of merits of their own or their ancestors ; and now they are certain not to transfer the corpse, nor do they convert the spot into a sepulchre worthy of the dead man, for fear the Fung-shui, sensitive as it is, might be splintered asunder by a false blow with a hoe, or be dispelled for ever by one single brick applied in the wrong place. Thus the dead man is forced to live, like a pauper, in a miserable dwelling, unworthy of his rank and station. But this causes no plaints of conscience, for the blessings he bestows upon his family are strong proofs that he feels himself perfectly happy and comfortable where he is.

Though the poorer classes cannot, of course, afford great outlays for their dead, yet they seldom neglect consulting a Fung-shui expert when they have to bury their father or mother. This man does not take long to find a suitable site when he knows there is not much money to be made out of his patrons ; and he has quite a stock of second-rate plots in store for them, which he constantly increases when in search of good burial places for the rich. The poor know very well that they can hope to buy but little Fung-shui for the small sums they are able to pay. Hence they are moderate in their demands, merely seeking graves that are screened from the worst æolian influences and located on a slope which is not unfavourably situated ; and they employ a professor specially to insure the placing of the coffin in the grave in the felicitous line of the current year.

As hinted above, the Fung-shui of even the best grave or dwelling is considered to be a fragile combination of imaginary influences fitting into and acting upon each other like the different parts of a machine, the slightest defect in which may bring the whole to a standstill. It is no small boon to the professors that such ideas prevail. Indeed, Fung-shui being of such a delicate nature, no man, however economical or avaricious he be, is bold enough to dispense with the guidance of an expert ; and this ensures them an everflowing source of income. Besides, Fung-shui being so easily disturbed, professors have always a ready excuse at hand if their prophecies are not realized : — the Fung-shui they say, was perfect at the outset, but it has been ‘wounded’ by some accident, or by some malicious act of a bad neighbour.

Such wounds may be inflicted by a mere trifle. A stone carelessly thrown away, or set up somewhere in the neighbourhood, by a person wishing to improve the Fung-shui of a grave of his ; the erection of a stone boundary mark ; the building of a hut or shed at some distance from the grave or on a. visible mountain brow ; in short, anything may prove fatal. But nothing is so perilous for a grave as the construction of another grave in the adjacent grounds. In general it is the professor who discovers the impending danger. He does not delay for a moment to open the eyes of the family to the sorrowful fact that the new grave will intercept the influences of a water-course, or that, being made higher up, just in the pulse through which the beneficial influences of the tail or leg of the Tiger or Dragon hitherto used to flow, it ‘cuts off their effective operation’ : chan ling. At the same time he convinces the family that only prompt and severe measures can heal the wound, and that, if these be not at once taken, the beneficient Animal will bleed to death and the Fung-shui be for ever destroyed.

Therefore everybody sets to work immediately. Negotiations are opened with the owners of the murderous grave, but without any good result, as they zealously stick to their good right of retaining a spot obtained at the cost of much science and money. Geomantic measures satisfactory for both parties are hardly possible, for what is good for the one grave is generally pernicious to the other, and the learned combinations of factors to which both must answer almost inevitably collide. Hard coin may perhaps lead to a better result. But the suffering party as a rule rebounds from the high demands of the other, who is certain to demand an excessive sum, especially if any of them are graduates or rich and influential men who, being on good terms with the local mandarins, feel sure of gaining their cause if the offended party should invoke the intervention of these latter to redress the wrong. In such cases nothing remains for the family but to beat a humble retreat. Making a virtue of necessity, they gulp down the wrong and let things remain as they were, resolving, however, to remove their grave as soon as any decadence in their fortunes reminds them they cannot expect any more blessings from the wounded Fung-shui.

But, should the two parties possess an equal, or nearly equal, amount of social influence, or have no influence at all, a complaint is soon lodged with the chief local magistrate. Our readers might doubtless suppose that this worthy will simply dismiss the case, written law and the Government, as we have stated, having denounced modern Fung-shui in contemptuous terms as a farrago of nonsense, and its professors as a set of deluders. However, in respect of geomancy, theory and practice in China are two different things, for should a mandarin refuse to hear such cases, his secretaries, constables, policemen and other hangers-on would be deprived of many a nice opportunity of making money in an easy way. These underlings by leaving the accusation unattended to after it has been entered, compell the plaintiff, who is anxious to save his Fung-shui from impendent death by loss of blood, to bribe them to make haste ; but however hard this may render his lot, that of the defendant is still harder. If he has any money to lose, he lives in constant fear of being taken into custody, for the common people, though ever so innocent, are always liable to immediate imprisonment if an accusation has been lodged against them with the authorities. And as the Yamen officials take good care to remind the defendant of this danger, he fees them liberally, and fees them over and over again. And yet all these fees are not always sufficient to secure him from a terrible dungeon, a very hell of cold, filth, starvation and torment.

Not until they have wrung the last penny out of their victims do these underlings arouse the magistrate from his lethargy. He is then carried in state to the graves in his official palankeen, escorted by his usual attendance of soldiers, retainers, and lictors. Arrived at the spot, maps of the locality, put in by the plaintiff, are unrolled and collated with the deeds of sale of the property ; with a dignified air the mandarin surveys the country, and mostly he is in a few moments convinced that his subordinates were quite justified in persuading him that the party which paid them best is in the right. Otherwise judgment is usually given in favour of the plaintiff ; but many mandarins obstinately refuse to do this when the distance between the two graves exceeds a certain number of paces beyond which they believe no serious damage to the Fung-shui of a grave is possible. Still, most of the magistrates are imbued with too much respect for the noble geomantic art to decide grave questions in such an off-hand easy way.

Such a ‘Fung-shui inspection’ or kham hong-sui, as the Amoy Chinese call it, has of course to be defrayed by the party on whose behalf it is made. A good sum is squeezed out of them for the men who have accompanied the magistrate and carried his sedan-chair. Furthermore, the same party have to offer refreshments and delicacies to the great man while making his inspection, and to spread a piece of red cloth over the top of his palankeen, in order to protect him from noxious influences, which cloth is retained. Last, but not least, they must send him a sum of money, together with a selection of costly presents, lest their ship should be wrecked, in sight of the harbour, by the mandarin ultimately changing his mind in favour of the other party.

It follows from the above that poor people, the Fung-shui of whose graves has been disturbed, have to gulp down the wrong in silence. The Amoy Chinese are quite right when they say : ‘Mandarins’ offices stand open quite as wide as the character eight ; but those who have no money need not enter’.

The abuse of litigation by petty officials for money-extorting purposes is very common in China, and is systematically tolerated in all cases, both criminal and civil. We say systematically ; for, whereas the Government, as our readers know, acts on the principle that each individual or family should have their affairs regulated by their own clan and not trouble the higher authorities with them, those who are imprudent enough to call for interference may expert to suffer, and chiefly in their pockets. This method is very practical in the moral education of the people, teaching them to be mild and forbearing, and to avoid litigation. Mandarins are sometimes honest enough to issue proclamations in which those evils entailed by litigation are depicted in striking colours, thus openly confessing that extortions by police-officers and clerks are as a matter of course inseparably connected with lawsuits.

Retour au texte de l'auteur: Jean-Marc Fontan, sociologue, UQAM Dernière mise à jour de cette page le samedi 10 novembre 2007 7:17
Par Jean-Marie Tremblay, sociologue
professeur de sociologie au Cégep de Chicoutimi.

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