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Humans of Hong Kong: Riding the wheels of fortune with Jonathan Hsu

By Nicole Hurip 24 June 2021

Welcome to Humans of Hong Kong, a story series on Localiiz that takes a deeper look at the many colourful characters and unique personalities that call our beloved city home. 

Does destiny shape us, or do we shape it? Life is a many-splendoured thing, and those who are fortunate enough to be alive embark on a perennial quest for answers through science, the occult, and everything in-between. Feng shui master Jonathan Hsu, who has spent almost his entire life studying the metaphysical Chinese philosophy of xuanxue (玄學; “mystical learning”), expounds on the nuances of ancient bodies of knowledge, why feng shui is so popular in Hong Kong, and how to deal with the ephemeral nature of life.

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“My name is Hsu You-cheng. I was born in 1938. I have been fascinated by xuanxue all my life, starting from physiognomy (相學), as it is more easily understood and observed. My childhood home was filled with ancient books, some on the subject of physiognomy, which is how I got started. After a bit of practice and experience, I thought I had already understood a lot, but now I realise that wasn’t the case. I was young.

“I used to be a maths teacher back in Shanghai. I studied science. In terms of its theory, xuanxue and mathematics are completely different. However, in terms of knowledge, logic, and reasoning, my past knowledge and my research on xuan kong (玄空; a feng shui discipline), fortune-telling (命理), and zi ping (子平) share similar applications. Why? It is because they both require reasoning and analysis. From this point of view, my maths knowledge can actually help my research of xuan kong.”

“I am not trying to convince people, I aim to pass on the knowledge to those who seek to understand, so they know the reasoning behind this discipline. This is what I do.

“When you’ve mastered this knowledge, people might think you’re an exceptional person, even psychic. But in reality, this is only a form of knowledge. People who study fortune-telling and ba-zi (八字; “Four Pillars of Destiny”) are the same as normal people. We are the same as you, with the same way of thinking. It is only that we are able to help people, especially when they are seeking guidance. You need to seriously and objectively analyse the problem and the situation, and not just say whatever without evidence.

“After I retired, people came to me for readings, and they would compensate me for my time and effort. Time is money. That’s how I started ‘charging’ for readings, in a way. Especially in the last 20 years, after my 60s. Of course, it was a good supplement for my daily expenses. Because I’m old, and I don’t advertise, usually it’s old friends, family, good friends, who do readings every year.

“In the past, I worked with lots of companies, established ones. Shipping companies, Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola, I’ve helped them before. All in Hong Kong. But I’m not trying to get rich, just going with the flow. All in all, I believe that xuanxue (玄學) is a body of knowledge that helps people, not just for making money.”

“Hong Kong is arguably the place where the art of feng shui flourishes the most compared to other places. Even Taiwan, it is not as popular. Singapore, Malaysia, these places with a lot of Chinese people, still not as popular as in Hong Kong. In mainland China, the religious background is different—they think this is superstition. But they are changing that mindset, and they now think that feng shui holds weight, that it makes sense. Ba-zi makes sense as well. That’s why feng shui has become more popular in China recently.

“The feng shui industry in Hong Kong is the most developed, because Hong Kong people want to make money, to get rich quick; that’s the mindset that drives the popularity. In the same vein, they also want to learn about their life trajectory—is their life good, will they make it big. That’s the popular mindset. When you’ve helped them, and they have made a lot of money, they are grateful and will give you a sizeable sum. That’s how charging fees for these services gained traction, and why fees have been increasing.”

“In fact, everyone’s fortune is closely tied to one’s hard work and effort. However, you have to admit that with the same amount of effort, some succeed and some fail. This can give rise to a type of thinking: ‘Why is it that I face these problems? Why don’t other people face the same things?’ This is because your luck hasn’t changed yet. If you’re not lucky, it’s to do with your ba-zi, with the feng shui of your house.

“I am very aware that my field of study is taxing for myself. People might think, ‘You know how to read people and feng shui, you must be able to get rich.’ This is wrong. Because in order to get rich, the basis is from the fortune you were born with. Depends on if your ba-zi has that kind of ‘genes‘ or not. We use the word ‘genes‘ because you can tell if a person is inclined to make money in your ba-zi.

“In other words, you need to accept your fate. Don’t feel that pure hard work will automatically lead to wealth. That’s not the case. That’s also not how the world works. However, if you understand the concept of this, plus hard work, only good will come out of it. This is what I mean by helping people—to hope that they succeed, but to prepare them for the possibility that it might not always happen. There is no ‘helping people get rich’—this concept doesn’t exist.”

“I hope that someone can inherit my work, my knowledge, but it’s not that easy to find that person. To have someone that will devote all their time to this study. I will leave it up to fate—no use trying to force it. This is life. You cannot expect to get everything that you want. Humans are too insignificant.

“I am proud of my achievements, but constantly feel that it’s still not enough. My energy levels are low now, and I wish that I can have infinite energy. My biggest regret is that life is not forever—everything has an end. When you reach a certain age, things will end. When a sentence has been finished, the essay is completed, you need to draw a period. Humans cannot exist forever—this is nature’s law.”

“To live a meaningful life, you have to be able to let things go, but be proactive. You need positive thinking, or else you are just waiting to die even if you are living. Life loses meaning. You need to be positive, and thinking about life. Passing is inevitable—there's no need to be sad.

“One also has to be grateful. To be able to be an old couple like my wife and I, both over 80, you need to be grateful for that. Achieving this is already a blessing. To be able to still be here, my wife and I currently, I am thankful and grateful. A lot of people don’t have this.”

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Nicole Hurip

Travel editorial director

Never content with sitting still, Nicole has turned her passion into a career. Hong Kong is her home, but she’ll always have a soft spot for L.A. and London, where she spent her college years. She loves exploring hidden places, hunting for cool vintage pieces, and talking to interesting people. Her vices include consuming excessive amounts of wine and cheese, a debilitating weakness for sparkly things, and spending too much time on Instagram.