Qi is the Chinese name for the vital energy that undergirds
the universe, analogous to the Indian prana. Its literal translation
is ‘‘gas’’ and hence is similar to the Hebrew concept of spirit
which is associated with breath. In China, qi is usually
thought of as yaunqi, the original vital energy. Qi is the energy
that flows through the body and is the subject of treatment in
acupuncture and acupressure. Blockage of the flow of qi is the
source of disease and the free natural flow of qi is the underpinning
basis of health. The flow of qi, it is believed, can be stimulated
by the practice of a series of exercises called qigong.
Teaching about qi reaches into ancient China and much of the
traditional Chinese understanding of the universe is based
upon a belief in its existence. It is integral to Chinese medicine,
including the understanding of the power of herbs, and basic
to a vital sexual life.
Common throughout China were a wide range of practices
designed to raise qi and hence invigorate the body and serve
as a system of preventive medicine. These wide-ranging techniques
are generally grouped under the name qigong, and include
practices known elsewhere as meditation and exercise.
Some form of qigong was integrated into Chinese religious
practices, especially Buddhism and Taoism.
Working with qi was greatly affected by the Chinese Revolution
in the mid-twentieth century, and especially during the
brief period known as the Cultural Revolution. Religious institutions
and practices were heavily suppressed and the secret
books that held the teachings on qi were either destroyed or
placed in government archives. Following the Cultural Revolution,
Deng Xiao Peng went about rebuilding China’s past, but
in the light of the Communist present. Most importantly, he
promoted traditional Chinese medicinal practice and the revival
of qigong. In the meantime, people knowledgeable of qi migrated
to the West and began to talk openly about traditional
Chinese practices, thus creating a demand from the West for
more information. The flow of material on qi began with President
Nixon’s trip to China in 1972 and the American government’s
support for a new scientific look at acupuncture. Acupuncture
has subsequently become a popular alternative
medical practice, though its use by Western physicians remains
In China in the 1980s and 1990s, extensive experimentation
has proceeded aimed at gathering scientific data on the existence
and beneficent effects of qi. These experiments parallel
Western attempts to measure the effects of spiritualpsychic
healing. Using the EEG and related instruments, Chinese scientists
believe that they have documented the existence of qi
and in a wide range of experiments have documented the
power of qi in the treatment of different diseases. It has, for example,
appeared helpful in curing cancer in experiments involving
the progress of carcinoma cells and leukemia in mice.
These experiments are now being offered to Western scientists
for duplication and verification.
Meanwhile, the promotion of qigong among the population
has proved a two-edged sword for the Chinese. In the late
1990s, it was discovered that qigong had become the basis of
the creation of new unofficial religious groups built around the
mental and spiritual effects of the experience of qi. The most
successful, a Buddhist movement named Falun Gong, now has
followers in the millions and has become very popular in many
countries with Chinese expatriate communities. In 1998, the
Chinese government began an effort to suppress the movement
in China.
He, Hong-Zhen, et al. ‘‘A ‘Stress Meter’ Asessment of the
Degree of Relaxation in Qigong vs. Non-Qigong Meditation.’’
Frontier Perspectives 8, no.1 (Spring 1999) 37–42.
Lee, Richard E. Scientific Investigations in Chinese Qigong. San
Clemente, Calif. China Healthways Institute, 1999.
Peisheng, Wang, and Chen Guanhua. Relax and Calming Qigong.
Hong Kong Peace Book Co., 1986.