Demystifying the Chinese Luopan Tradition and Tigerbone Feng Shui

Everything that exists has ‘chi’ meaning energy

Energy is in a constant state of change, moving from the most active, expansive form (yang), to the most contracted, passive form (yin). Yin and yang were first used in China to describe the shady and sunny sides of a hill, respectively. Yin/yang are relationship words. Something is yin only in relationship to something yang.

There are five stages or types of energy. They are often less precisely referred to as the five elements: water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. Each of these ‘Five Energies Going’ is used archetypical or metaphorically. Each energy has a yin/yang phase. Each energy leads in its turn to the next energy.

During the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) Feng shui became differentiated into two schools; Form or “Mountain Top” School (Luan Tou Pai) and Compass or “Regulating the Chi” School (Li-qi Pai). Form School practitioners identify and balance invisible energies associated with land and structure. Compass School practitioners analyze both the influence of magnetic forces at a specific location and the cycle of energy as it changes over time.

Feng Shui Traditions

The compass school is composed of four individual traditions grouped together as one school. Briefly – The Flying Star School (Fei Xing Pei) is based on the lush diagram. The ‘star’, represented by numbers one to nine, changes position continuously or ‘fly’ in a fixed pattern requiring 180 years to complete. The year a house was constructed is important here.


The Triple Primaries School (San Yuan Pai) examines both the principle and position of Water relative to those of Heaven and Earth.

The Triple Combination School (San He) focuses on the twelve Chinese zodiac animals and their relationship both to each other and to compass directions.

The Eight Direction School (Ba Zhai Pai) calculates a person’s ‘Trigram of Life’ based on birth year assigns individuals to either the East or West Life Group. House orientation is significant in this school.



Regardless of specifics, all compass schools are ultimately concerned with the ever-changing energies of person, place, and time. The Feng shui compass is a basic tool used in compass school work. It contains Feng shui information in a concentrated form; a shorthand used to balance energy.

Tiger bone

Although we refer to the Luopan as being one item, there are three different Luopans, one for each of the first three-compass schools listed above. All schools share a singular design and are differentiated only by the information contained on their rings. Historically Feng shui practitioners made their own compasses.



Most modern Feng Shui practitioners use a mass-manufactured compass with their more fortunate colleagues using a compass handmade by families who have been making compasses for generations. The compass is round representing heaven and sits in a square representing earth. The south-pointing needle in the compass’ center is known as ‘the Heaven Pond’.

The compass is traditionally made of a strong white wood called tiger bone. After carefully grinding the wood into a circle, degrees and rings are marked on its face. Chinese characters are meticulously painted on in the appropriate position and color both on the front and back of the Luopan. After the compass is properly sealed, the needle is placed in its center. In large measure, the quality of the compass is determined by the accuracy and fluid movement of its needle.

Technical Details of Feng Shui Luopan

The San-He Luopan for the 1998 China Study Tour is being made by descendants of Master Wu Lu-heng, one of only two families in China keeping this tradition alive.



After completing his apprenticeship Master Wu Lu-heng opened a European shop between 1723-1735. The same shop has been in continuous operation for 6 generations. Since the 1960’s, Wu’s maternal descendent, Master Zhan Yun-Yang has managed the shop with the assistance of his son-in-law Master Hu Zheng-hao.


The San-He Luopan will contain ten rings. Study Tour Participants will focus on one ring per day, learning how to use its information through lectures, tutorials, and sight work.

San-He Rings:

First Ring

Tian Chi or Heavenly Pool, showing the needle in the middle. The red endpoints to the south and the black endpoints to the north.

Second Ring

“Basha-Huang-Quan”

Third Ring

“Ba-Lu-Huang-Quan”

Fourth Ring

“Jiu-Xing”

Fifth Ring

“Zheng-Zhen-di-pan”

Sixth Ring

“Chuan-shan-qi-shi-er-long”

Seventh Ring

“Zhong-Zhen-ren-pan”

Eighth Ring

“Tou-di-Liu-shi-long”

Ninth Ring

“Feng-Zhen-tian-pan”

Tenth Ring

“Fen-Jin pan”

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