Necropolis Immortal blends two particularly Chinese genres: xianxia, and tomb raiding. It’s not quite the tomb raiding one associates with Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, as Etvo explains in our interview.
Feng shui: Chinese geomancy, or the philosophy of striking a balance between the natural world and one’s living spaces and work environment. It’s a pseudo-science originating from ancient China and is classified as physiognomy—observation of appearances through formulas and calculations. The characters translate literally to wind-water.
Please note that this article is a very generic primer meant for readers of Chinese fantasy. It is in no way exhaustive or comprehensive in scope. Thank you Wikipedia for compiling all this information!
The Yangshao (5000-3000 BC) and Hongshan (4700-2900 BC) cultures in ancient China record the earliest use of feng shui. Until the magnetic compass was invented 3,500 years after this use of this system, feng shui relied on astronomy to find correlations between humans and the universe. It’s widely used to orient buildings—often spiritually significant structures such as tombs, but also residences and other buildings—in an auspicious manner.
The astronomical history of feng shui is evident in the development of its instruments and techniques. Chinese used circumpolar stars to determine the north–south axis of settlements, and would use angles of the setting and rising sun to determine north.
The oldest examples of feng shui instruments are liuren astrolabes, also called shi. These are lacquered, two-sided boards with astronomical sight lines. The earliest examples of liuren astrolabes were found in tombs that date between 278 BC and 209 BC.
Traditional feng shui instruments now are the luopan compass and the feng shui ruler. Since the luopan‘s invention, its use has been required in direction finding. Feng shui formulas are embedded in ~40 concentric rings on the surface, which is known as the heaven dial. The circular metal or wooden heaven dial typically sits on a wooden base known as the earth plate. The heaven dial rotates freely on the earth plate. Red wires that crosses the earth plate and heaven dial at 90-degree angles is the Heaven Center Cross Line, or Red Cross Grid Line. This line is used to find the direction and note position on the rings.
Qi, Polarity, and the Bagua
Qi is a positive or negative life force that plays an essential role in feng shui. When it comes to tombs, the goal of feng shui is to take advantage of vital qi by appropriate layouts of graves and buildings. Some people destroyed the graveyards of enemies to weaken their qi.
Polarity is what wuxia/xianxia readers will know as yin and yang. The two forces balance and counter each other; one pushes and the other pulls. The polarity theory and the five elements (metal, wood, earth, fire, water) are also linked to astronomical observation of sunspots.
While the goal of Chinese medicine is to balance yin and yang in the body, the goal of feng shui is described as aligning a city, site, building, or object with yin-yang force fields.
Bagua is known as the Eight Trigrams and are a significant part of feng shui. Each trigram is a symbol used in Taoistcosmology represent the fundamental principles of reality and consists of either broken or unbroken lines. The trigrams are also related to the five elements.
There are many schools of thought in feng shui, also known as ‘branches’. The two main branches are the Form Branch and Compass Branch.
The Form Branch is the oldest branch of feng shui and originally concerned with the location and orientation of tombs (yin houses), then progressed to the consideration of homes (yang houses). The “form” in Form branch refers to the shape of the environment, such as mountains, rivers, plateaus, buildings, and general surroundings. It analyzes the shape of the land and flow of wind and water to find a place with ideal qi.
The Compass branch is a collection of more recent feng shui techniques based on the eight cardinal directions, each of which is said to have unique qi. It uses the luopan to determine direction.
There is no contemporary agreement which of the traditional branches is most correct. Therefore, modern practitioners of feng shui generally draw from multiple branches.
Feng Shui in Day-to-Day Life
For normal, everyday folk who aren’t practitioners, feng shui exhibits itself as a list of do’s and don’t’s for setting up your home and workspace. Personally, I call it fancy common sense, or rules that help people get into a good mental space. From stuff like placement of certain objects to not installing the stove right next to the sink, there’s varying degrees of intensity that one can take this to.
For instance, when looking for a new apartment rental, I skipped over any units with front doors directly in front of another door. In feng shui, having doors open directly into each other means good fortune will flow out of your house. Or, in practical usage, it’s really annoying to have a major egress such as the elevator right in front of your front door. Apartment living doesn’t exactly have great soundproofing or smell-blocking for trash.
One shouldn’t have a mirror facing the bed—sound familiar from one of NECRO’s layouts in chapter one? Not only is it bad feng shui, but honestly, I might just scare the bejeezus out of myself when getting up at night.
The spot at a 45 degree angle to the front door is where fortune gathers in the house, so generally we place something that collects wealth in that spot. Or, who wants to see a load of trash/dirty laundry as soon as they come in the front door? Best first impression ever. Though, I’d probably want to leave cookies and milk there if I were in the west. Santa would maybe skip the coal and give me presents instead?
Feng shui can also factor into naming—people might go to a feng shui master to get a second opinion on what name will best further their career. Celebrities do this a lot, as having an appropriate name is very important to building name recognition. Similar to how immigrants might change their names upon arrival in their new country, folks want to change their relationship with their surroundings.
But really, these are nice guidelines and a belief system that only impacts you if you buy into it, much like religion or the Tooth Fairy. As I once saw on a talk show, “City apartments are only yea-big! If you want to have good feng shui in everything, then go pitch a tent in a field because nothing’s ever going to be perfect.”
Honestly, there’s probably a feng shui master out there who will somehow identify bad feng shui in a field as well.
Back to NECRO and Comparisons to Western Culture
In modern days, feng shui is something that permeates many aspects of Chinese culture, just like avoidance of black cats and the number 13 in American culture. Or when it comes to nuptials, bridal/baby showers/gender reveal parties or the wedding tradition of “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue”. It seems a common refrain that all cultures have something that just makes sense to people living and breathing it, but quite foreign to those not a part of it.
If feng shui still seems hokey to you, that’s perfectly fine too! For our purposes, it’s one of them cultural things that’s been turned into a power system in a fantasy novel. And really, that’s what it is in NECRO.
As Lu Yun says in chapter 12, formations and feng shui are two sides of the same coin. Formations are the yang side, and feng shui the yin. To utilize the full potential of a formation, imbuing it with the qi of heaven and earth is necessary. However, there’s no such qi on Earth. That’s why layouts there can only demonstrate the feng shui side of things, but not the power of a formation.
TL;DR Frankly, this article was inspired by numerous instances of feng shui being called bullshit/crap/crazy in NECRO comments, reviews, and elsewhere. This write-up first originated as the most massive translator thought I’ve ever had at the end of a chapter, and continued reaction gave birth to this article. I hope it peels back some of the mysticism!
In NECRO’s world of immortals, formations and feng shui are two sides of the same coin. Formations are the yang side, and feng shui the yin. To tap into the full potential of a formation, the qi of heaven and earth is required. However, there’s no qi on Earth. Therefore, we’re left with only the trappings of formations and the theory principles behind it. Hence, feng shui.
For an in-depth look at the world of web novels, please check out the MoonQuill Podcast, of which I’m a regular cast member of. Wuxia Selections is a special feature selection of the podcast hosted by yours truly, in which I dive in-depth on what is wuxia, xianxia, and the like.
Running through the weekend of May 16 is a Twitter Q&A session for Wandering Sparrows/譯派湖燕/译派湖燕: a Chinese diaspora women translators group founded by Yilin Wang. Get to know the group and our takes on how we approach work!
— Yilin Wang (she/they) @Flights of Foundry, 5/16-17 (@yilinwriter) May 17, 2020
And finally, Necropolis Immortal reading on Sunday, May 17 @ 11pm GMT+8/5pm GMT+2/11am US EST/8am US PST on the Wuxiaworld Discord server. A Q&A will follow, in which I’ll try my darndest not to give any spoilers!