Penalty for maligning a building’s fengshui

Source: NYT (4/11/19)
In China, a $30,000 Penalty for Maligning a Building’s Feng Shui
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By Javier C. Hernández and Albee Zhang

The Wangjing SOHO developed by SOHO China in Beijing. CreditImaginechina, via Associated Press

BEIJING — A Chinese court has ordered a media company to pay nearly $30,000 to a real estate developer after it published an article that suggested a flashy building in Beijing violated the ancient laws of feng shui and would bring misfortune to its occupants.

The Chaoyang District People’s Court in Beijing ruled on Wednesday that the media company, Zhuhai Shengun Internet Technology, had damaged the reputation of the building’s developers, SOHO China, one of the largest real estate companies in China.

SOHO China sued Zhuhai Shengun last fall after it published a critical blog post about the Wangjing SOHO, a trio of sleek towers in northeast Beijing designed by the renowned architect Zaha Hadid.

The post, written by a feng shui expert, argued that the building had a “heart-piercing” and “noxious” energy that had led to the downfall of its tenants, including several promising technology start-ups.

The decision by the Beijing court reflected a broader effort by President Xi Jinping to more strictly control independent media and to stop the spread of misinformation and “superstitious” viewpoints online.

Feng shui, which literally translates in Chinese as “wind water,” refers to an ancient pseudoscientific practice of harmonizing individuals with the invisible forces in their surroundings.

The case highlighted the importance of feng shui in the real estate business in China. Many people pay a premium for homes and offices designed to be in harmony with nature, and reports of bad feng shui can haunt new developments.

SOHO China has said that the article, which was widely circulated online before it was deleted, adversely affected its ability to attract customers. Wangjing SOHO generates more than $66 million in rent each year, according to court documents.

“We cannot accept the use of feudal superstition to slander this building,” Pan Shiyi, the chairman of SOHO China, wrote on Thursday on Weibo, a popular social media site.

Zhuhai Shengun, which has since closed its blog on WeChat, a messaging app, could not be reached for comment. The company said in court filings that the blog post was meant to spread information about traditional culture, not to harm SOHO China.

The post, using animations and satellite images, offered a detailed critique of the Wangjing SOHO, a vast mixed-use development in a high-tech area of Beijing that was completed in 2014.

The article said the Wangjing SOHO resembled “pig kidneys,” an insult in Chinese, and it argued that the building’s location was ill suited to collect good energy, a central principle of feng shui. The post said that companies should reconsider occupying the building if they wanted a shot at success.

“Many internet companies are not doing well in these bleak conditions,” the article said, providing a list of previous tenants that had gone out of business.

On the Chinese internet, many people criticized SOHO China for bringing the case against Zhuhai Shengun, a relatively small media company. Others debated whether feng shui should be given so much weight in real estate decisions.

Li Bing, an attorney with the Shanghai Junzhi law firm, said that the case showed the need to closely monitor independent media in China.

“When you speak, there should be limits,” he said. “You need to consider that what you say might have an impact on society and the public’s perception.”

Mr. Li said the influence of feng shui in Chinese society should not be underestimated.

“We need to consider the reality,” he said. “Beliefs like feng shui do exist. You can’t turn a blind eye to it.”

Follow Javier C. Hernández on Twitter: @HernandezJavier.

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