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Reviewed by:
  • The Culture of Fengshui in Korea: An Exploration of East Asian Geomancy
  • Ole Bruun, Associate Professor
The Culture of Fengshui in Korea: An Exploration of East Asian Geomancy. By Hong-key Yoon, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006, 332p.

In this vibrant new world of ongoing cultural exchanges between East and West, Chinese fengshui is fast becoming a globally known and practiced art of placement, introduced to the public through popular articles, endless books and manuals, study centers and training courses, and not least a growing mass of consultants, therapists and Masters. Apart from the common associations people have with fengshui, few readers of the contemporary literature have any understanding of the historical evolution and social significance of fengshui practices in their native, East Asian setting. Moreover, as the vast majority of studies relate to Chinese societies, it is easily forgotten how important fengshui was and continues to be in Japan, Vietnam and Korea.

Yoon's work puts fengshui culture in Korea into focus in the most outstanding way. As one of the key writers in the rising ecological interpretation of fengshui back in the 1970s, and himself a Korean who grew up in a village community, no one was a more obvious author of such book than Yoon. He was tutored by the famous scholars Clarence Glacken and Wolfram Eberhard at UC Berkeley at a time and place that inspired the rising environmentalism in the West and became instrumental for the transfer of fengshui to Western environmental studies, before eventually disseminating into popular culture; Yoon was where it all began and part of it.

His present work is dedicated to the study of fengshui in Korea, resembling the Chinese case and drawing on the same classical material, yet deeply embedded [End Page 107] in Korean history and culture. Yoon traces the way fengshui was part of the historical placement of palaces and construction of cities and famous sites in Korea, as well as how it was ingrained in family and lineage histories. It is a very comprehensive work, dealing with all relevant aspects of fengshui in Korean culture, including parallels to fengshui applications in China and Japan, the origin and evolution of fengshui, its interaction with established religion and its various principles and practices. Even though he does not find the old English term 'geomancy' an appropriate translation, he still tends to use it in lack of a better one to distance himself from popular Feng Shui.

There are several theoretical contributions to ongoing debates in the book. First, considering the origin of Chinese fengshui Yoon's perspective is, in opposition to writers like J.J.M. de Groot who see its origin in grave geomancy, that it first started as cave and house geomancy in ancient Chinese settlements in the Loess Plateau. Driven by an instinctive approach to the environment, it only later evolved to include dwellings for both living and dead. Secondly, Yoon's work has special significance for the study of fengshui as an approach to nature. Yoon identifies three interacting images of nature contained in fengshui, images which he at the same time proposes to form the essence of East Asian conceptions of nature (p. 137–142). These consist of: the Magical Image, implying that nature has magical and mysterious powers that influence humans; the Personified Image, attributing human or animal-like characteristics to individual components of a landscape such as mountains (best known from the dragon and tiger concepts); and the Vulnerable Image, implying that animate and inanimate landscapes are vulnerable systems that embody the flow of vital energies and which may be destroyed or remedied by people in their interaction with nature. Far too often, cultural perceptions of nature and the environment are forced into a unified and exclusive terminology. Just like the fengshui tradition agglomerates a range of diverse elements, East Asian perceptions of nature are as diverse and fragmented as in any complex cultural context; popular comparisons between East and West easily reach simplified and emotional conclusions as to their views of nature.

Still taking a clear stance in cultural comparison Yoon argues that there is no concept equivalent to fengshui/geomancy in the West, nor can it be understood in...


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pp. 107-109
Launched on MUSE
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