The modern pursuit of money in this territory of gleaming office towers and rural villages has long coexisted amicably with an embrace of ancient beliefs. Even a major brokerage firm issues an annual financial forecast based, lightheartedly, on the Chinese horoscope.
However, recent events have fueled fears that greed may be debasing the practice of feng shui, the Chinese system of geomancy by which the auspicious positioning of objects is believed to ensure harmony, health and fortune.
Some practitioners, worried that their profession may be falling into disrepute, recently formed a trade association that they hope will uphold high standards and provide confidence for the public.
Over the past year, a Hong Kong courtroom drama has been calling attention to the sort of ties between money and feng shui that underlie such concerns. Tony Chan (陳振聰), 51, a former bartender turned self-proclaimed feng shui master, is appealing a court decision rejecting his claim to the fortune of Nina Wang (龔如心), one of Asia’s wealthiest women when she died in 2007 at the age of 69.
Chan contends he was Wang’s longtime lover and spiritual adviser, and is the rightful heir to her estate. His critics have accused him of forging the will and using Wang’s belief in feng shui to isolate and delude her.
In addition, some people have called for investigations into how much of taxpayers’ money the Hong Kong government has been spending to accommodate feng shui adherents.
Villages are entitled to ask the government to pay to repair any adverse changes to the landscape that were caused by development. That covers not just environmental damage, but also the possibility that ill fortune was brought on by tearing down a tree or placing a road in a way that might disturb the local qi, the energy that some Chinese believe pervades all things. Qi is a crucial factor in determining feng shui.
Requested repairs to restore positive feng shui can involve construction, like building a pavilion, or, according to the Hong Kong Lands Department, they could take the form of rituals to “drive away evil spirits and appease the gods.”
Last year, a local group challenged a village chief’s claims for feng shui compensation tied to the planned construction of a high-speed rail line to connect Hong Kong and Guangzhou. The group, representing residents of the village of Kap Lung, said the chief’s feng shui complaint was fraudulent, contending that he stood to gain financially from his request that a footbridge into the village be widened.
The chief’s company owns multiple plots of land in the area and a widened bridge to allow vehicles could make those properties more valuable, said Eddie Tse Sai-kit, a spokesman for the group, called the League of Rural-Government Collusion Monitoring.
“We want a transparent feng shui compensation system,” Tse said.
The government said in October that about US$1.2 million had been disbursed to villages since 2000 to conduct rituals to restore feng shui, but the South China Morning Post reported that the actual amount was US$72 million.
“Let’s be honest about it,” Roger Nissim, a former assistant director of lands for the government, said on a radio talk show. “Sometimes feng shui is misused and used as a lever for inappropriate amounts of compensation, and the administration has got to be aware of when it is being bluffed.”