Qi in Chinese Feng-shui philosophy and the concept of exergy
A comparison
Folke Günther, Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm
April 1992

The Chinese Feng-shui philosophy was developed in the very contained environment of the Chinese basin landscape, where resources were limited and a close co-operation with the life-support ecosystem was necessary. (Yu 1991a) In this philosophy of village planning a quality factor, Qi, of the organisation of the system was introduced about two centuries BC. (Yu 1991b). This factor seems to have similarities with the energy quality factor exergy as interpreted by physicists (Baehr 1965) and system theoreticians studying self-organising systems (Jantsch 1980). The exergy factor has also been used to evaluate ecosystem capacities (Jorgensen and Mejer 1977, 1979) and in systems analysis (Thoma 1977).

Exergy is decreased by the increase of entropy, which in turn is reverse to the systems content of information. A far-from-equilibrium system has a high exergy content (Wall 1981). Living systems are typical for their maintaining a far-from-equilibrium state (Prigogine 1984). Therefore, the content of information and organisation (information + regulation) and structure (material components + organisation) of a living system could be expected to be increased by its uptake of exergy.

Some conclusions and elaboration derive from the definitions of living systems and should be explained more carefully. This tried to be done in a paper in preparation. (Günther and Folke 1991). From the physical view, some examples of exergy conversions are given by Wall (1981).

A comparison between the factors Qi and Exergy is proposed in the table below.


A controllable, multifunction flow Is a constant flow, collected and managed by living systems. (Wall 1981)
Can be interpreted in terms of material, energy, information and spiritual factors. Is expressed in a multiplicity of states of chemical exergy, order, organisation and structure.
Is a synthesised common measure of function flows in ecosystems. Living systems thrive by exergy conservation.
Accumulates into visible and tangible things. Is accumulated by the processes in far-from-equilibrium self-organising energy dissipating systems.
The living Qi is a result of all variables being matched harmoniously. Is accumulated in living systems and formed into chemical exergy, information, organisation and structure.
Bridges the human system with the total environment system. The human system is a subsystem of the totality of ecosystems (ecosphere).
State of Qi is a function of space, time and moral dimensions. Thoughts, gestalt formation and mind processes are results of self-organising systems nestled in other systems.
Connected to the function and structure of (human) ecosystems.  Ecosystems thrive on exergy
Living Qi exists only with forms of continuity and integrity. The exergy content of an ecosystem increases during maturation. An old forest ecosystem contains more exergy in its structure than a highly productive wheat field.
Stone quarrying and tree cutting diminishes Qi. A self-organising ecosystem accumulates exergy in the form of order, structure and biomass. It loses exergy when cut or disturbed.
Tortuosity and fluctuation are important for the existence of living Qi. Rigid and straight constructions diminish it. Systems are organised by fluctuations, circular organisation and undulating flows. (cf. Belusov - Chabotinsky reactions).
Disperses in wind and is accumulated by water. Where forms are wind-proof and water retaining, the living Qi stays. In ecosystems, exergy is lost by influences of random actions (winds) and accumulates in ordered systems (eddies, undulating movements, autocatalysis, hypercycles, ultracycles, feed-back, biomass).
Elusive and invisible when dispersed in the universe. Exergy is lost in every reaction. 


Baehr, H.D. (1965): Energie und Exergie VDI-Verlag, Düsseldorf.

Günther, F and C. Folke (1991): Characteristics of nestled living systems. University of Stockholm In prep.

Jantsch, Erich (1980): The Self-organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution. Pergamon Press. Oxford, New York.

Jörgensen, S.E. and H. Mejer (1977): Ecological buffer capacity.

Ecol.Model. 3 39-61.

Jörgensen, S.E. and H. Mejer (1979): A holistic approach to ecological modelling. Ecol.Model. 7 169-189

Prigogine,I. och I.Stengers (1984): Order out of Chaos Bantam Books, New York

Thoma, J. (1977): Energy, Entropy and Information International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) RM-77-32 Luxembourg

Thoma, J. (1978): Entropy Radiation and Negentropy Accumulation with Photocells, Chemical reactions and Plant Growth (IIASA, RM-78-14, Luxembourg)

Wall, G. (1981): The exergy conversion in the Swedish society

Gothenburg: Chalmers University of Technology

Yu, Kong-jian (1991a): Basin Experience of Chinese Agriculture and Its Ecological Prudent Engineering Landscape Architecture department, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083 China. Dept. of Systems Ecology, Academia Sinica.

Yu, Kong-jian (1991b): Translate the Philosophical Ideal into Reality: Feng-shui as Applied Human Ecology Landscape Architecture department, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083 China. Dept. of Systems Ecology, Academia Sinica.