Ernst Johann Eitel: A Nineteenth-Century Appraisal of Feng Shui

  • Michael R. Matthews
Part of the Science: Philosophy, History and Education book series (SPHE)


Ernest Johann Eitel (1838–1908) was a sinologist and linguist; a German Lutheran missionary whose thesis on Chinese Buddhism gained him a doctoral degree at the University of Tübingen; he went in 1870 to Hong Kong and lived there for many years overseeing educational enterprises, before travelling widely within China. He published a substantial appraisal of the history, metaphysics, and functioning of feng shui. Appraising Eitel’s important claims about the centrality of experiment in modern science and its absence from traditional Chinese science is an occasion not just for historical study but for scientific/philosophical analysis of what constitutes an experiment, specifically a controlled experiment, and its role in science. Eitel identifies two major astronomical problems for feng shui theory: the precession of the equinoxes and missing planets. He provides an outline history of feng shui in which he maintains that while the leading principles of feng shui have their roots in antiquity, and it did not rise as a distinct branch of study or professional practice till the Song dynasty (AD 960–1126), nevertheless the history of the leading ideas and practices of feng shui is the history of Chinese philosophy.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael R. Matthews
    • 1
  1. 1.University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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