Why you should care
Because some say feng shui can bring much-needed order to our lives.
The ancient practice of fortunetelling in China may conjure up images of white-bearded sages on misty mountaintops, but there’s no crystal ball in Lee Shing Chak’s cramped office. It’s the Year of the Monkey, and those born as “roosters” like me can look forward to plenty of sex and romance in the coming months, Lee announces. If I argue with others, though, he warns, my “joints, bones, fingers and muscles may ache.”
The bearer of this hallowed wisdom is an urbanite from Hong Kong. The 47-year-old Lee looks recklessly young, like a K-pop star, but his boyish appearance belies his decades of feng shui experience. Lee sees his work through a “scientific perspective,” and he’s on a mission to bring the timeworn philosophy into the 21st century.
Lee is among the best-known feng shui masters in Hong Kong, with a growing roster of both local and international clients. He enjoys media attention and rarely shies away from a camera. For the past 15 years, his sculpted face and soulful sloe eyes have graced magazine covers and TV screens; he’s appeared on the biggest stations and channel news networks, including TVB’s Hong Kong Enigmata. Lee also lectures at everything from financial institutions to land developers, and pens articles for media publications like Sing Tao Daily and the Hong Kong Economic Times. He abides by the 3,000-year-old art of feng shui — a belief system about far more than organizing your room: It purports to spread good qi (life force) by balancing yin (dark energy) and yang (light energy) across your life. The goal, Lee says, is to bring people closer to the natural and invisible pulse of their environment. Lee wants to make something clear: He isn’t pulling rabbits out of a hat or using smoke and mirrors. Rather, he’s drawing from millennia of expertise in metaphysics, statistics, astronomy, sociology and a whole host of other disciplines to bring balance into the world.
Every lunar year, Lee relays his prophecies of doom and nuggets of wisdom with “scary accuracy” to the world, says fellow fortune teller Thean Nang. Lee claims to have published accurate predictions, with empirical data, in a yearly prophecy almanac on the 2014 World Cup winner, Osama bin Laden’s death, the birth of Prince George and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa — all months, or even years, ahead of the curve. Which explains how Lee has cashed in on millions in book sales, though he was too stately to go into specifics (“I try not to boast,” he says).
It helps that Lee’s growing roster of clients pays big bucks for him to divine the future, pick the best burial spots or choose a baby name that will bring good luck. Lee says that real estate companies and corporations like Citibank and Samsung seek his counsel on everything from the ideal office location to the best paint color for walls (both companies declined to comment for this story). Lee declined to name specific price tags; other feng shui services typically cost anywhere from $25 to $3,000 in China. The more involved and time-consuming the service, the more expensive.
Banned as superstition for 60 years and counting in mainland China, feng shui is making a quiet comeback, with families and businesses alike seeking spiritual guidance in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, where newly middle-class mainlanders with more disposable wealth have been crossing the border to seek supernatural guidance and spiritual shortcuts to success. Perhaps the verboten nature only increases the appeal — the Communist Party forbade feng shui books in 2013 as part of an anti-superstition campaign; it certainly isn’t hurting business abroad. Hong Kong’s distance from the Communist Party has allowed feng shui to flourish, says Lee. During our interview, a handful of businessmen stop by his office anxious for guidance on big financial decisions. Meanwhile, expectant mothers are lining up at nearby hospitals hoping to deliver on so-called auspicious days that Lee determines, to give their babies a head start in the world.
At 10, Lee learned to cultivate good qi from his father, who learned it from his father. Traditionally, masters relay their techniques to their next of kin. Dad also taught geomancy skills — the discerning of specific earth formations and watercourses — as well as how to read a luopan (羅盤), or a Chinese magnetic compass that is used to help balance energy. At 19, Lee became the youngest feng shui master ever in Hong Kong. But he still had to prove himself to patrons wary of his inexperience. To conceal his baby face, Lee advertised with a silhouette of himself rather than a photograph.
In those days, though, Lee had even bigger reasons to conceal his identity. People who dabbled in feng shui were beaten and disgraced by the government in mainland China, particularly during the height of the Cultural Revolution, which coincided with Lee’s prepubescence. Over the years, leading a more public life hasn’t become any easier for Lee. Skeptics of feng shui still question the “superstition of it all, the pseudoscience,” says a Hong Kong expat and dissatisfied former client of Lee’s who prefers to go unnamed. “He doesn’t hold all the answers. Not even God does.”
But every leader has his detractors — and this feng shui guru believes he’s fulfilling his destiny, like a “boat in a vast ocean,” Lee says in reply to the criticism. “Apart from having a clear direction, you must also have an unswerving, steadfast heart when powerful winds or big waves come, just like the anchor of that ship.” Which sounds a tad more lyrical than scientific.