Originally published in Vol. 42, No 305 November 2009 issue of Dowsing Today, the journal of the British Society of Dowsers
Gardner’s World – Green Tea and Dragon Chi
Earlier this year I had the chance to visit China for the first time, when I accompanied Scottish Ballet on the first leg of a three-city tour. The schedule was hectic – fly to Shanghai, a travel day to Nanjing, two days and one night’s work, and then a free day for sightseeing before flying home – but I did get to briefly sample three of the largest cities in China.
Arriving late in the day at Shanghai, the dramatic sunset was barely visible through the forest of construction cranes and the pollution that blankets the entire area. I have heard it said that 50% of all the world’s cranes are in Dubai; it looked like most of the rest are in Shanghai! I have never seen a country in such technological transformation. Everything is big; very, very big. Each new building endeavours to be larger and more magnificent than its neighbour; LED advertising displays covering entire frontages of skyscrapers banish the night with their garish brilliance on a scale as yet unseen in the West outside of SF films like Blade Runner.
It’s sometimes hard to find the aesthetic in these giant monolithic structures, whose only design ethos seems to be “look like we have lots of money”. It’s architecture, but not quite as we know it. Often the buildings attempt to echo Western Classical traditions; but without the harmonious ratios and proportions that we are used to, the effect can be subconsciously unsettling. Corinthian columns and pagoda-style roofs make uneasy bedfellows.
Leaving Shanghai by coach is rather like being in the freeway scene in Matrix Reloaded, only much slower. The metropolis gradually gives way to mile after mile of warehouses, container depots and other industry sprawling out across the Yangtze basin, peppered occasionally with small remnants of paddy fields and shacks sandwiched between the rail tracks, flyovers and power lines that stretch into the distance in every direction. Tall concrete plinths marching in a straight line across the plain mark the route of the forthcoming Shanghai-Nanjing high-speed maglev track.
For a country with such a long tradition of geomancy, it was hard to perceive any geomantic intent in the placement of this modern infrastructure covering the countryside with its tangled web of steel and concrete. Nanjing was no better; another megapolis of towering glass edifices shrouded in a dense cloak of pollution. At least the hotel was nice, although you did have to wonder what artistic dysphasia possessed the artist who produced the matching pair of life-size black horses in the hotel foyer – complete with lampshades emerging from their heads! Still, they seemed very popular with wedding parties, who hire the hotel for the ‘Western-style’ photo shoot a few days before the ‘traditional’ Chinese wedding takes place.
It’s impossible to get a sense of scale in a strange city like this; and the map that the hotel gave out didn’t help much. I went out with some colleagues one evening in search of a vegetarian restaurant that I had Googled before leaving home. It looked like a walkable journey of two or three blocks on the map, but turned out to be a twenty-minute taxi ride! At least the taxis were cheap – a journey pretty much anywhere seemed to cost about one pound – and so the very next day a colleague and I took advantage of this cheap public transport and went off to do some sightseeing.
The Purple Mountain Park sits on the east side of Nanjing, and within its 20 square kilometre area are some 200 heritage and scenic sites to tempt tourists, including tombs of Chinese emperors (Nanjing used to be the capital), camping and walking trails, a chair lift, and the Purple Mountain Observatory, established in 1934. We opted for the observatory and, shunning the chair lift, walked up the winding path to the top of the mountain, where the views were… non-existent. Smog blanketed the city below and obscured the horizon. All we could see was the neighbouring mountain peak housing the chair lift station and a considerable cluster of radio masts. But at least the air felt a little fresher and the exercise was certainly invigorating.
The observatory houses a variety of historical observation instruments in its grounds that I found fascinating; sundials, gnomons for recording the sun’s shadow position to establish local noon time, armillary spheres for naked-eye star observations, and so forth. All are incredibly intricate bronze castings; foliage, animals and sinuous dragons cover the supports of the main observational device in a triumphant synthesis of beauty, form and function. You have to marvel at the skills of the master craftsmen of the time who produced them from sand moulds.
An intense three days of work later, it was time to leave. Due to what can only be described as an administrative cock-up, my flight home was booked from Beijing and not Nanjing, and so I found myself, very bleary-eyed, in an early morning taxi to the airport after having worked late into the previous night on the performance and get-out. Accompanying me was a colleague who was also returning home. As the sun rose, we landed in Beijing and, over breakfast in the airport, decided how to fill the meagre few hours we had before our flight home. Fortunately, my colleague had been to China before on several occasions, and decided that based on the time available, we could either see a bit of the Great Wall, or get a bus into Beijing and visit the Forbidden City. We chose the latter as I hoped to be able to get in a spot of dowsing; however when we got there, the attention my aurameter was attracting from the locals outside the main gate suggested that it might not be a good idea. I would have to rely on my other senses and work devicelessly.
As a city, Beijing is pretty flat. In order to bolster the excessively yin chi of such an area, the ancient Chinese geomancers tapped into the dragon chi of the mountains to the north-west of the city by building a chain of pagodas on high points in the landscape and linking them into the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City. A man-made hill to the north of the palace has one central pagoda and four others symmetrically placed to the sides as the final link of this geomantic chain.
The dragon energy is channelled southwards from here and flows through the buildings, halls and vast open courtyards of the palace, its route marked throughout by paving slabs and incredibly detailed carvings of dragons and mountains on giant white stone slabs, the largest of which is nearly 17m long, 3m wide and weighs over 200 tons. It was transported to the city by flooding the roads with water during winter, then sliding it along the frozen surface – an impressive feat of megalithic engineering prowess.
All the main buildings of the Palace are positioned centrally on this ley, including the Emperor’s throne, ensuring that the Imperial power was channelled efficiently out of the Palace into Tiananmen Square and the city beyond.
The Imperial colour was a rich golden yellow, and it is dominant throughout the City. For example, the roofs have golden yellow glazed tiles, palace decorations are painted yellow, even the bricks outside have a yellow colour. The only exception to this is the royal library. This was built with a black roof to manifest watery chi, as it was thought that this would make it less likely to catch fire.
Originally, the roofs were made almost completely from wood; even wooden pins were used instead of nails to hold the tiles on. However, there was always a high risk of catching fire from lightning strikes, leading the Imperial geomancers to add little statues of fish, seahorses and other mythical ‘lucky’ animals to the ridge lines of the roof to appease or deflect the lighting. The more important the building was, the more animals it had, up to a maximum of nine, which was the Emperor’s number, found on the Hall of Supreme Harmony where his throne sat. As far as preventing fires went this policy was clearly not terribly effective, and during the Ming and Qing dynasties 308 large water-filled bronze vats located throughout the palace provided a more practical fire defence system.
Even without a dowsing tool, I could feel the dragon energy underfoot when traversing the alignment in the Palace. A tingling in the feet, a subtle shift in balance when standing on the line, all indicated the presence of a strong energy flow. It would have been even stronger in the Imperial days before Chairman Mao reopened the thoroughfare between the Palace and the hill to the north, symbolically cutting off the energy. A similar thing happens to the south outside the main entrance, where the constant busy traffic seems to divert much of the energy away east and west into Beijing’s business districts, leaving Tiananmen Square feeling rather isolated; to such an extent that I didn’t feel any inclination to go and explore it. The massively ugly concrete mausoleum for Mao, insensitively placed by the Communist Party bang in the middle of the square where many leys cross, doesn’t help the energy flows either.
Before his death, Mao had arranged a quiet little grave for himself, properly sited with good Feng-Shui so that his descendants would prosper, but the Party had his body exhumed and placed in the custom-built mausoleum. This very powerful geomantic act ensured that Mao’s policies would continue to be disseminated across the country, thus maintaining their power base. This sort of political geomancy is quite common in the East and I’ve come across it before in places like Seoul where, after Japan forcibly annexed Korea in 1910, the Great Hall of the Imperial Palace was demolished and replaced with the Japanese central administration office, built in the shape of the Japanese Kanji character for ‘Japan’ – quite literally stamping their authority on the landscape.
But that’s another story.
© Grahame Gardner