The Zangshu, or Book of Burial

by Guo Pu (276-324)

Translated by Stephen L. Field, Ph.D.







 The Inner Chapters





      I. The Qi of Burial

     A. Vital Qi

1.   Burial is contingent upon sheng qi, [1]  “vital energy.”

2.     The five (phases of) qi [2] course through the earth, materialize and give birth to the myriad things.

     B. The Qi of Bones

1.   Man receives his body from his parents.

2.     If the ancestors’ bones acquire qi, the descendants’ bodies are endowed.

3.     The Classic says: Qi is moved and responds in kind; [3] the blessings of ghosts extend to the living.

4.     This is why, when Copper Mountain collapsed in the west, the palace bell tolled in the east.[4]

5.     When the tree flowers in the spring, the chestnut sprouts in the hall.

6.     Truly, life is accumulated qi; it solidifies into bone, [5] which alone remains after death.

7.     Burial returns qi to the bones which is the way the living are endowed.



II. The Flow of Qi

     A. Wind, Water, and Qi

1.     The bones of hill and crag, the (arterial) branches of bank and mound, these are the trails of qi. [6]

2.     The Classic says: Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when       encountering water.

3.     The ancients collected it to prevent its dissipation, and guided it to assure its retention.

4.     Thus it was called fengshui.

5.     According to the laws of fengshui, the site which attracts water is optimum, followed by the site which catches wind.

     B.  Underground Qi

1.     The Classic says: Truly it is said, where qi is manifested on the surface of the earth, underground qi accumulates vitality.

2.     Why is this so?

3.     Where qi flourishes, although it flows away, still there is some retention of its surplus.

4.     Although it dissipates, still there is some accumulation in its depths.

5.     Thus burials in arid lands should be shallow, whereas burials in lowlands should be deep.

6.     The Classic says: When the proper depth is achieved, fengshui comes about naturally.

C.    Earth, Water, and Qi

1.     The qi of yin and yang breathes out as wind, rises up as clouds, descends as rain, and courses underground as vital energy.

2.     Earth is the receptacle of qi—where there is earth, there is qi.

3.     Qi is the mother of water—where there is qi, there is water.

4.     The Classic says: Qi flows where the earth changes shape; the flora and fauna are thereby nourished.



III. The Flow of Terrain

     A. Contours and Features

1.     Qi flows within the ground, follows the contour of the terrain, and pools where the contour runs its course.

2.     For burial, seek the source and ride it to its terminus.

3.     Arteries give rise to ground contours.

4.     Bones give rise to mountain contours.

5.     They wind sinuously from east to west or from south to north.

6.     Thousands of feet distant, they are contours; hundreds of feet nigh, they are features.

7.     Contours advance and terminate in features. This is called total qi.

8.     On ground of total qi burial must occur at its terminus.

     B.  Honorable Terrain

1.     (Contour) twists and turns back upon itself, coil upon coil and spiral, like (a dragon) crouching and waiting, like (a dragon) grasping and holding.

2.     First it advances and then it withdraws; when it stops it plunges deep.

3.     Accumulating as it approaches, amassing at its rest, yang and yin are blended and mixed.

4.     Where earth is high and water deep, where vegetation flourishes, (such terrain) is honorable as a thousand-chariot noble and rich as ten thousand in gold.

5.     The Classic says: Qi collects at the terminus of features where it transforms and gives birth to the myriad things; this is exalted ground.



IV. The Qi of Mountains

     A.  Arterial Branches

1.     The value of ground is its smoothness; the value of earth is its (arterial) branches.

2.     Qi conforms to the rise of branches and arises.

3.     Qi conforms to the cessation of branches and converges.

4.     The art of surveying the branches is esoteric and lofty.

5.     Although subtle, the mysteries are fathomable.

6.     Good fortune lies within.

7.     The Classic says: Where the ground holds auspicious qi, the earth conforms and protrudes.

8.     When branches hold accumulated qi, water conforms and accompanies them.

9.     Where the contour is fluid and features are dynamic, unwinding from terminus to source, according to the art of fengshui, if burial occurs here good fortune is eternal and misfortune nil.

     B.   Mountain Burial

1.      Although the contour is precipitous, there will be (burial sites) in the mountains.

2.      Seek those that are harmonious; scrutinize those that are deficient.

3.      Select those that are beneficial; avoid those that are harmful.

4.      In this manner the gentleman will snatch merit from the gods and change the mandate of Heaven.

5.      Misfortune and fortune pause not for the morrow.

6.      The Classic says: The consequence of mountain burial is like a shout in a valley: truly, the echo is swift.

       C.  Mountains that are Devoid of Qi

1.     Five types of mountain are unsuitable for burial:

2.     Qi coalesces in the presence of life--otherwise the mountain is bare which is unsuitable for burial.

3.     Qi advances by means of features—otherwise the mountain is severed which is unsuitable for burial.

4.     Qi moves by means of earth—otherwise the mountain is bouldery, which is unsuitable for burial.

5.     Qi accumulates where contours run their course—otherwise the mountain is overreaching, which is unsuitable for burial.

6.     Qi harmonizes in the presence of dragons--otherwise the mountain is solitary, which is unsuitable for burial.

7.     The Classic says: Bare, severed, bouldery, overreaching, and solitary mountains produce new misfortune and dissolve acquired fortune.

D.    Exalted Mountain Sites

1.     The mountains of exalted ground descend from Heaven like a succession of  bows, like billowing waves, or galloping horses.

2.     They come in a rush, and they cease as if laid to rest, like someone resting peacefully while embracing a treasure, or fasting in purity while laying out a feast; like a bulging bag, or a brimming plate; like dragons and phoenixes, soaring and circling.

3.     Birds hover and beasts crouch, as if paying homage to a noble of ten thousand chariots.

4.     The heavenly lights regenerate, like rivers returning to the sea, or like the stars revolving around the North Star.

5.     Embraced and protected by dragon and tiger, receiving each other like host and guest.

6.     The Four Aspects [7] correct and clear, the Five Dangers [8] nowhere near.

7.     If one-tenth deficient, the site is inferior.



The Outer Chapters



  V. Divining Burial Sites

     A.  Unique Terrain

1.     Of layers and folds of mountain chains, of ranges of hills and branches of arteries, it is the exceptional that must be selected.

2.     When the massive predominates, the diminutive is exceptional.

3.     When the small predominates, the massif is exceptional.

4.     When features are confused, and contour is chaotic; when host and guest are indistinguishable, such a locale is not suitable for burial.

     B.  Branches and Hills

1.     It is the nature of (arterial) branches to run hidden underground; it is the nature of hills to rise up from the ground.

2.     Where branches and hills terminate, there is level ground like the palm of the hand.

3.     Therefore, with branches bury on their summit, and with hills bury at their base.

4.     When divining, branches are the head and hills are the feet.

5.     If features and contours do not conform to the rule, qi will escape in a rush.

6.     As for human burial, truly it is a difficult matter.

7.     Distinguishing branches and hills confuses the vision and deludes the mind.

8.     The difference between bad and good fortune separates the prince from the prisoner.

     C.  Fathoming Qi

1.     Carried in metal, assisted by water, entombed in earth, and marked by wood.

2.     On the outside it catches the eight winds; inside it hides the five elements.

3.     The heavenly lights shine down; the earthly energies are carried upwards.

4.     Yin and yang blend and mix, (forming) the five (colored) soils and the four perfections.

5.     With the intelligence of strong vision and the totality of skill, pursue the perfect and avoid the imperfect; augment the high and low.

6.     Subtlety lies in wisdom; deduce from analogy and thereby take advantage.

7.     By the mysterious fathom yin and yang; through skill snatch the (merit) created (by heaven).



VI. The Dragon Lair

     A. The Terminus

1.     Contour is like ten thousand horses descending from Heaven.

2.     Features tower upward among the peaks like backing up to an ornamental screen.

3.     According to the art of fengshui, bury at the terminus.

     B. The Dragon

1.     The Classic says: Where contour ceases and features soar high, with a stream in front and a hill behind, here hides the head of the dragon.

2.     The snout and forehead are auspicious; the horns and eyes bring doom.

3.     The ears obtain princes and kings; the lips can lead to death or injury from weapons.

4.     Where terrain winds about and collects at the center, this is called the belly of the dragon.

5.     Where the navel is deep and winding, descendants will have good fortune.

6.     If the chest and ribs are injured, burial in the morning will bring sobbing that night.


VII. External and Internal Qi

     A.  Flowing Qi

1.     External qi is that by which internal qi is collected.

2.     Water flowing cross-wise is the means for retaining advancing dragons.

3.     Distant contours wind around and come to a rest.

4.     If the external has no means to accumulate the internal, qi dissipates within the ground.

5.     The Classic says: The lair that does not hoard will only harbor rotting bones.

      B.  Blowing Qi

1.     Blowing qi has the ability to dissipate vital qi.

2.     The dragon and tiger are what protect the district of the lair.

3.     On a hill amid folds of strata, if open to the left or vacant to the right, if empty in the front or hollow at the rear, vital qi will dissipate in the blowing wind.

4.     The Classic says: A lair with leakage will only harbor a decaying coffin.

     C.  Soil

1.     The soil should be fine and firm, moist and lustrous; it should be cleavable like jade or fat, and composed of all the five colors.

2.     If it is dry like grains of millet, or wet like severed flesh; if there are springs or gravel, all of these make inauspicious gravesites.



VIII. The Cardinal Aspects

     A.  The Four Aspects

1.     Bury with the Cerulean Dragon to the left, the White Tiger to the right, the Vermilion Bird in front, and the Dark Turtle in back.

2.     The Dark Turtle hangs its head; the Vermilion Bird hovers in dance; the Cerulean Dragon coils sinuously; the White Tiger crouches down.

3.     If contours and features do not conform to this, according to the art of fengshui, there will be destruction and death.

4.     Therefore the crouching tiger is said to hold the corpse in its mouth.

5.     The coiled dragon is said to be jealous of life.

6.     The Dark Turtle that does not droop will reject the corpse.

7.     The Vermilion Bird that does not dance will soar off.

     B. Arteries to the East and West

1.     At locales where arteries are the dragon and tiger, mounds and hills are the vestiges of advance and cessation.

2.     They should be like the crook of the arm and are said to surround and embrace.

     C. Water to the South

1.     At locales where water is the Vermilion Bird, decline and prosperity rely on the efficacy of features.

2.     Swift currents are taboo and are said to bring grief and lamentation.

3.     From a source in the Vermilion Bird vital qi will spring.

4.     Waters that diverge will not bring prosperity.

5.     In pooling waters qi will accumulate in great abundance.

6.     From stagnant waters comes decline.

7.     Waters confined and held back overflow and flow back without cease.

8.     (According to natural) law, at every bend (of a river) water pools before it flows on.

9.     It drifts gently, doubling back to us on the point of remaining.

10. Its ingress is without a source; its egress is without an exit.

11. The Classic says: Where mountains advance and waters encircle, there is nobility, longevity and wealth.

12. Where mountains imprison and waters flow (straight), the king is enslaved and the prince is destroyed.




The Miscellaneous Chapters



IX. Reading Terrain

A. Contour Shapes

1.     On the art of divining mountains, the reading of contours is the most difficult; features are next in difficulty; and direction is the least difficult.

2.     Burial in terrain resembling ten thousand horses descending from Heaven will engender kings.

3.     Terrain resembling colossal waves, corrugations of cliffs and furrows of ranges, will produce princes and dukes of a thousand chariots.

4.     Terrain resembling a descending dragon,[9] encircled by water, attended by clouds, generates the rank and emolument of the Three Grand Ministers.

5.     Terrain resembling a palatial mansion with luxuriant vegetation and towering trees will engender the founder of a state or prefecture.

6.     Terrain resembling a frightened serpent, twisting and winding in a gradual slope, topples the state and extinguishes the clan.

7.     Terrain as sharp-pointed as the dagger-ax and spear, here soldiers die, are punished or imprisoned.

8.     Terrain like rapid-flowing water makes living men see ghosts.

B.  Feature Shapes

1.     If features resemble a swallow’s nest, according to the laws of fengshui, burial should occur in the recess, and (descendants will be) invested with a fief.

2.     If features resemble an overturned wine vessel, with hills in the rear advancing from a distance, and in front, corresponding terrain winding and circling, (descendants will attain the rank of) the nine nobles and the three ministers.

3.     If features resemble an inverted cauldron, at the peak riches are obtainable.

4.     If features resemble the crown of a tree, there will be everlasting prosperity and joy.

5.     If features resemble the casting of lots, the hundred affairs will be confused and disordered.

6.     If the features resemble disheveled clothing, women will be jealous and wives will be wanton.

7.     If features resemble a rubbish bag, homes and granaries will burn down.

8.     If features resemble a capsized boat, women will be ill and men will be imprisoned.

9.     If features resemble a long table, sons and grandsons will die.

10. If features resemble a recumbent sword, there will be execution and usurpation.

11. If features resemble a drawn dagger, yield to misfortune and flee from disaster.

C.  Other Shapes

1.     Oxen recline and horses gallop.

2.     Phoenixes dance and soar.

3.     The flying serpent coils and winds.

4.     The turtle, crocodile, tortoise and terrapin are distinguished by their use of water.

5.     The ox is wealth, the phoenix noble.

6.     The flying serpent is misfortune and danger.

7.     Types of terrain that are active and unsettled are all unsuitable for burial.

8.     When the four bearings are unfathomable they all should be shunned, according to the laws of fengshui.

D.  The Relation between Contours and Features

1.     Contours and features that conform to each other are auspicious.

2.     Contours and features that clash are inauspicious.

3.     If the contour is inauspicious, and the feature auspicious, there is hope for one happiness in a hundred.

4.     If the contour is auspicious, and the features inauspicious, misfortune pauses not for the morrow.



X. Reading Direction

A. The Eight Dragons

1.     The Classic says: The earth has Four Aspects; qi follows the Eight Directions.

2.     Yan, shen, si, and hai are the Four Aspects.

3.     Zhen, li, kan, dui, qian, kun, gen and xuan[10] are the Eight Directions.

4.     The Four Aspects activate dragons, and the Eight Dragons bestow life.

5.     If the dwelling obtains unity, there will be good fortune, blessings, honor and nobility.

B.   The Eight Directions

1.     Direction is measured with the earth gnomon.

2.     Distance is measured with the jade rule.

3.     Burial sites in the direction of qian require a contour that rises and falls continuously; the features should be broad and square.

4.     Burial sites in the direction of kun require a contour like a partitioned screen with no incline; the features should be broad and level.

5.     Sites in the direction of gen require a contour that is sinuous and yielding; the features should be lofty, steep peaks.

6.     Sites in the direction of xuan require contours that are lofty and luxuriant; the features should be sharp and imposing.

7.     Sites in the direction of zhen require contours that are gradual and harmonious; features should be towering and commanding.

8.     Sites in the direction of li require contours that spread and arch; features should be rising and lofty.

9.     Sites in the direction of dui require contours to advance majestically with ascending slopes; features should be square and level.

10. Sites in the direction of kan require contours that are long and winding; features should be luxuriant verticals and lofty.

C.   Three and Six Situations

1.     Truly, there are three situations for an auspicious lair and six situations for an inauspicious burial.

2.     The heavenly lights shine down, and the earthly energies are carried upwards.

3.     Preserve the spirits at the conjunction of sun and moon; welcome the gods, and shun the ghosts: this is the first auspicious situation.

4.     Blend and mix yin and yang; form the five (colored) soils and the four perfections: this is the second auspicious situation.

5.     With the intelligence of strong vision and the totality of skill, pursue the perfect and avoid the imperfect, augment the high and low: this is the third auspicious situation.

6.     When yin and yang interfere, this is the first inauspicious situation.

7.     When time and season conflict, this the second inauspicious situation.

8.     When force is small but intentions are great, this is the third inauspicious situation.

9.     Relying on good fortune and presuming upon influence is the fourth misfortune.

10. Usurping the superior and coercing the inferior is the fifth misfortune.

11. To alter the proper and estrange the actual, this is the sixth misfortune.

12. The Classic says: If the lair is auspicious but the burial is not, this is the same as discarding the corpse.






    [1] Qi is the sine qua non for any discussion of fengshui. In the Book of Burial it is sheng qi in particular that burial is contingent upon. Prior to the philosophies of the Han dynasty cosmologists, qi was something like the Greek pneuma (wind, air, breath). In one of its earliest contexts (Zuozhuan: Zhao 1/8) qi is a meteorological category composed of the six atmospheric forces of cold and warmth, wind and rain, and darkness and light. When the human body received an excess of these external influences, the consequence was the physical manifestation of fever, chills, delusions, etc. By the time of Mozi, qi was seen primarily to refer to human phenomena: 

The sage-kings felt quite concerned, thinking that the caves might keep off the wind and cold in winter, but that in summer it would be wet below and steaming above which might hurt the qi of the people. So palaces and houses were built. (Mei, 244; Mozi chap. 21)

During the Warring States and early Han period qi gained a cosmic significance as the “universal fluid, active as Yang and passive as Yin, out of which all things condense and into which they dissolve” (Graham, Disputers, 191). The cosmogony that begins chapter 3 of the Huainanzi is illustrative:

The Dao began in the Nebulous Void.
The Nebulous Void produced spacetime;
Spacetime produced the primordial qi. . . .
That which was pure and bright spread out to form Heaven;
The heavy and turbid congealed to form Earth. . . .
The conjoined essences of Heaven and Earth produced yin and yang.
The supercessive essences of yin and yang caused the four seasons. (Major, 62)

The universe here depicted as coming into being is more process than event. At the same time that the cosmos becomes substance in space, it also becomes process enduring throughout time (Graham, 279). Coming into being is a recurring cycle, not a singular event. Thus during the year the yang qi waxes at the expense of the yin up to the summer solstice, and then wanes in favor of the yin up to the winter solstice (Graham, 351). The earliest reference to sheng qi is the Lüshi chunqiu in a passage describing the cycle. In the last month of spring, we are told, “sheng qi flourishes, and yang qi flows forth; shoots emerge, and buds unfold.” From this context it is apparent that the term means something like “life-giving energy.” In this translation I refrain from translating qi.


      [2] The wuxing, or “five movements,” originally belonged to Earth: “Heaven has the three lights; Earth has the five movements” (Zuozhuan, Chao 32; Legge 741). In its first explication the wuxing were understood as natural processes such as water sinking, fire rising, wood bending, metal molding, and soil growing (Shujing, “Hongfan”; Legge 325). By the Han dynasty the wuxing had become five states or phases of qi, analogous to the three states of water: solid, liquid, and gas.


      [3] According to the Huainanzi, “All things are the same as their qi; all things respond to their own class” (HNZ 4.VIII.27), and “Things within the same class mutually move each other; root and twig mutually respond to each other” (HNZ 3.II.27-28).


      [4] In the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han a bronze bell in the Weiyang Palace suddenly tolled for no apparent reason. Dongfang Shuo, the emperor’s court jester, explained the phenomenon as resulting from the collapse of Copper Mountain. Several days later news arrived from Shu in the southwest that indeed the mine had collapsed. When asked how he had correctly perceived the cause of the tolling bronze bell, Dongfang Shuo replied that “Copper is extracted from mountains, and qi mutually resonates, just like people receive their bodies from their father and mother.”


      [5] According to the Zhuangzi, “Man’s life is due to the conglomeration of the qi; and when they are dispersed death occurs” (ZZ 22.11; Needham II:76). Wang Chong, the Later Han dynasty skeptic, elaborated on this idea: “As water turns into ice, so the qi crystallise to form the human body,” and  “That by which man is born are the two qi of the Yin and the Yang. The Yin qi produces his bones and flesh; the Yang qi his vital spirit.”  (Lun Heng, chap. 62; Forke 1:92; Needham 2:369). The term “vital sprit” (jing shen) does not occur in the Book of Burial.


      [6] This passage distinguishes two major classes of terrain that are required for locating the presence of qi. Each class is manifested in a pair of mountain forms— qiu or “hill” and long or “crag,” on the one hand, and gang or “bank” and fu or “mound,” on the other. Hills and crags are characterized by the presence of rock formations, banks and mounds by the absence of rock. Regardless of the composition of the terrain, the goal of the diviner is to locate the system or chain of forms that would be evidence of the flow of qi. This system is described in anthropomorphic terms—“ “bones” or ranges of hills and crags, and “(arterial) branches” or ridges of banks and mounds. Like arteries or veins in the human body, a metaphor used in place of branches later in the text (see III.A.1), these geological systems protrude as banks and mounds or run hidden underground. The experienced diviner can locate the submerged veins by following the flow of exposed terrain.


  [7] See VIII. A.


  [8] See IV. C.


  [9] Rising and falling like a sea serpent.


  [10] These are the names of the bagua, or eight trigrams.  





(under construction)




As a scholar of early Chinese history, I seek to educate the English-speaking public in the thought of the ancient Chinese philosophers. I freely provide this translation to those who want to understand the concepts of fengshui. However, scholarly translations are protected by copyright laws just like original writings. Anyone who uses this translation in a public forum, whether by word of mouth, electronic, print or other media, must acknowledge me as translator. Failure to do so may result in prosecution.