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A beginner’s guide to understanding the bagua

By Alisa Chau 1 November 2021

Header image courtesy of Archi_Viz (via Shutterstock)

Essential to the toolkit of a feng shui master, the bagua is a tool that is used in geomancy practices to bring harmony and balance to a spatial setting. As a whole, the art of feng shui is one that permeates throughout Chinese culture, and deals with tapping into the elemental energy that is believed to be embedded in the world.

Its influence extends beyond simply moving things around or putting up lucky items—bagua is used in cosmology, geography, astrological analyses, anatomical studies, martial arts, and more. Although it is impossible to cover the entire system in one clean sweep, taking a look at how the ever-important bagua can be applied to parts of everyday life might just help you open the doors to what feng shui can bring to the table.

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Photo: Archi_Viz (via Shutterstock)

What is a bagua?

Its Chinese name literally translates into “eight areas.” A bagua (八卦) is likened to an eight-pronged chart that maps out what practitioners of feng shui believed to be the most crucial areas of a person’s life. Assuming the role of a sort of “life area,” each “gua” category is assigned a specific overarching theme, such as love and relationships, with each corresponding with certain characteristics that embody or represent said theme. Although it functions as a map, the bagua tends to be represented as an octagonal form surrounding a yin-yang symbol.

Operating under the belief that everything is affected by yin and yang energy in a constant push-pull dynamic, the bagua is essentially an instrument that can be used as a part of the process to manage and balance out these forces. Laid out beside floorplans or maps of physical spaces, the bagua helps show the segregated energies in a given room or enclosed place, based on the life areas that come to light. With this information, changes can be made to enhance or tone down the incorporeal components by making changes to the physical location.

Photo: Notch (via Shutterstock)

History of the bagua

Old Chinese lore posits that the bagua was likely invented by Emperor Fuxi (庖犧; paau4 hei1), the first mythical emperor of China. Its distinctive pattern was believed to have presented itself to the emperor on the back of a mythical tortoise or dragon-horse (龍馬; lung4 ma5) that emerged from the mystical waters of the Yellow River (黃河; wong4 ho4). Due to this divine inspiration, the patterns were adopted into the symbolism of the bagua, morphing into the sectioned “trigram” structure of today.

Confucius recognised the importance of the bagua, saying that he will only be able to gain wisdom if he were granted 50 years to study the chart. Still, it didn’t stop him from compiling commentary on the bagua that eventually became part of the I Ching (易經; yi6 ging1) book of changes that in turn, became part of the roster of classic Chinese divination texts used to help better dissect a space as part of feng shui readings.

Bagua areas and life aspects

Not only does each segment of the bagua align with an area in life, but it also contains a series of elements that can be drawn upon as practical means of engaging with your environment. Put to use, a bagua gridline is laid over the venue that is being analysed for its feng shui, with problem areas being doctored through repositioning existing items or adding in new features as a counterbalance. 

Read on to find out what types of features affect which parts of your life.

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Photo: Dbachmann (via Wikipedia Commons)

Tai chi (太極)

At the centre of the bagua lies the Taoist symbol of the yin-yang. Epitomising the ultimate harmonic balance, it acts as a foundational territory, being used to ground the other components. Tied to the realm of health and the element of earth, it is oft represented in earthen tones and icons that contribute to a soft, calming atmosphere. As the central part of the map, it acts a force that can affect any of the eight life areas below.

Zhen (震)

Activating the zhen position is believed to help in areas affecting your familial life, as well as in situations that bring in new beginnings. The latter is particularly linked with zhen as the position is inextricably tied to the season of spring, which comes in concordance with the beginning of a new year in Chinese culture. It can be bolstered by wooden materials and the colours green, teal, or blue.

Photo: Ilze Lucero (via Unsplash)

Xun (巽)

An area that draws in many practitioners, the xun aspect rules one’s wealth and abundance. The corresponding element is wood and the featured colour is purple, making amethyst crystals a popular tool for activation.

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Qian (乾)

For those who move around frequently or have to deal with different people, the qian position is definitely one to pay more attention to. Relating to the benefactors that enter into your life, as well as ruling over your movement between places, the area is activated through the colour grey and the element of metal.

Photo: Larisa Birta (via Unsplash)

Dui (兌)

Within the dui category of the bagua are the concepts of joy and the sense of completion. What is meant by the latter could include projects coming to fruition or the culmination of something through effort. Another important milestone in life that dui marks is having children. Feed into the area by bringing in items corresponding with the element of metal and the colour white.

Photo: Vietnam Stock Photos (via Shutterstock)

Gen (艮)

Ruling over the practice of self-cultivation and gaining knowledge, gen is the area that rules over matters of the intellect within the bagua categories. Not only limited to education in a formal schooling setting, it also can be applied to improve your learning much later in life, honing the way you pick up skills and apply them to your living. Bring in earthen icons or totems in the shade of dark blue to enhance the energy in this section.

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Li (離)

Evocative of the passion and sense of inspiration it is meant to provoke, the gua known as li corresponds to the element of fire, and the aspects of fame and reputation in life. Connected to the auspicious colour red, its energy can be sparked through well-placed light fixtures or candles.

Kan (坎)

The position of kan on the bagua is linked to career and life paths. When it comes to finding deeper significance in your life’s journey, it helps to place emphasis on the kan position to manifest better judgement and wisdom. Aligning with the colour black and the element of water, it can be evoked through the sounds or images of water or icons that fall within the noir palette.

Photo: Anton Maksimov juvnsky (via Unsplash)

Kun (坤)

Perhaps another area that brings about a high level of interest is the segment of kun, the area of love and relationships, including both partnerships as well as marriage. Tangentially, kun can also affect relationships in general, with both others and yourself, making it a part of the bagua that many will look to when struggling with interactions with other people or practising self-love. As the corresponding colour is pink, whilst the element of relevance is represented by earth, many engage with the kun section using rose quartz.

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Alisa Chau

Junior editor

Always down for an adventure, Alisa’s general approach to life (and anything, really) is to “just go with the flow.” She believes that the most unforgettable moments are the most spontaneous ones. One thing she will always be certain of, however, is her love for the band My Chemical Romance and potato-based food.

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