As we all know the main instrument used by feng shui masters is the luopan. Ever since I first got interested in feng shui in 1976 in Hong Kong, I have wanted to know more about this complex instrument. For a long time in the 1970s and 1980s only a few examples made it to the West. I was very lucky to have been gifted a Qing dynasty luopan (dating from about 1886) in the early 1980s by Dr Nicholas Tereshchenko who bought it for me in Shanghai. I drew and redrew its rings until I at least understood its layout.
An early missionary book by J J M de Groot (1892-1910) and Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in China (1962)gave me the first hints of what each ring was used for. This was filled in by a basic knowledge of Chinese acquired in 1970-72 when I shared an office with a Chinese lecturer. As we both did not need to prepare any lesson plans (as we had both taught our respective courses before in previous years) she persuaded me to ‘test’ her written Chinese vocabulary with flash cards. To avoid her constant requests, I decided that I would also benefit from learning written Chinese.
As my knowledge of theoretical feng shui began to expand, I increasingly felt the need for a luopan, and so started my collection of these intriguing devices. I supplemented my collection of physical luopans with photographs of more ancient models kept in museums around the world. In due course, this collection enabled me to chart the history of luopans, and eventually write Guide to the Feng Shui Compass which contains the most extensive history and analysis of luopans in any book in English. It analyses 75 different current and historic rings. The most comprehensive Chinese text to date only charts 49 (and later 52) rings.
It still had not occurred to me to actually have my own luopan manufactured despite knowing Ricky Tan, the most prolific luopan manufacturer in Hong Kong, who had made partly English luopans for teachers like Grand Master Raymond Lo, Grand Master Vincent Koh and others.
Finally, late in 2021 Master Janene and Bruce Laird asked me why I had not produced my own luopan. I explained that this involved a lot of work, and there matters rested for a while until it dawned on me that this would enable me to update some of the rings (such as the Lunar Mansions ring) which sorely needed to be updated, and to rationalise the order of rings on the plate. I started work and solicited the help of Er Choon Haw (a long-time collaborator who offered to check my pinyin and do the necessary computer design work) and Dr Jin Peh (who was able to bring to the table specific formulae and ideas about some of the rings).
We produced a 27 ring luopan, using English wherever possible. Unlike Chinese characters, which encapsulate meaning in small square characters, English (being a rather ‘lengthy’ language) was not able to fit in most rings. The luopan is being worked upon in Taipei where fortunately classical Chinese characters are still used, and simplified characters have not yet completely taken over.
I realised that a luopan by itself is not an easy tool for anyone who cannot read Chinese, so I wrote a 133-page Handbook to accompany the luopan to explain the function of each ring. It can be bought independently, but is provided for free to anyone buying my luopan.