Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice believed to invigorate
the body and bring health and well-being. It is based upon the
belief in the existence of qi, also called ki or ch’i, the universal
energy that undergirds the cosmos. The practice of qigong is
related to acupuncture, the ancient form of medicine also
based upon the flow of energy through the body. Acupuncture
has mapped a series of channels or meridians that exist as part
of the subtle anatomy of the body. If these meridians are
blocked, the qi cannot flow freely, and ill health results.
Qigong has been practiced for millenia in China and has
been exported to surrounding countries. It is intimately associated
with Taoism, though it also freely mixes with Buddhism.
Through the centuries, the practice was kept from the general
public and its secrets passed orally from teacher to master, and
through various families. Very few books were written prior to
the 1950s and those were closely guarded in private monastic
libraries. The changes accompanying the Chinese Revolution
of 1948 forced qigong into the open.
Maoist leaders moved against the monasteries and forebade
many traditional practices. Within China, the secret qigong
texts were largely destroyed or confiscated and buried in government
libraries. However, a few qigong masters left China
and some texts were smuggled out of the country. Over the
next decades, these masters resurfaced and began to teach qigong
openly. Also, the first Western books on the practice were
published. In the meantime, China went through a generation
of intensive change, culminating in the Cultural Revolution,
that attempted to cut the people’s ties with a large part of their
religious and cultural heritage, and to eradicate what were seen
as non-Chinese and particularly Western intrusions. In the
wake of the Cultural Revolution, under Deng Xiao Peng, a reevaluation
of the tradition began and limited reemergence of
various practices was encouraged and allowed.
The recovery of Chinese medicine in general led to the encouragement
of qigong practice and hundreds of qigong
groups appeared. The government also encouraged the formation
of a national association of qigong groups which most
joined, and as the benefits were documented, further encouragement
of the practice came forth. Qigong was included, for
example, in the training of fighter pilots, as it appeared to improve
their reflexes. In the 1980s, a number of studies attempting
to provide modern scientific underpinnings to the practices
of qigong, especially documenting the existence of qi, were initiated.
Qigong practitioners became guinea pigs for such research,
which was similar to research done on spiritual healing
in the West.
Qigong and Religion
Qigong practice had primarily been the special property of
Taoist and Buddhist monasteries prior to the Chinese Revolution.
When it resurfaced, inevitably the religious connections
were present, in spite of efforts to keep the practice in a secular
context. The existence of such a mysterious invisible force as qi
is in itself encouragement to many to assume a spiritual explanation.
At the same time, the Chinese government has given
some limited space for the revival of religion, as long as it is
kept within the confines of the several national religious organizations;
there is one national Buddhist federation and one
national Taoist federation.
In the mid-1990s, various popular qigong groups emerged
apart from the national gigong federation. One, the Fakun
Gong, operated in a Buddhist context and offered the peculiar
form of qigong as taught by its Master Hongzi Lee as the superior
form of qigong and as leading to a Buddhist-like enlightenment.
Thus it existed as both unofficial religion and unofficial
qigong. In 1999, in the midst of a nationwide crackdown
on unoffical religion, the Chinese government began a systematic
suppression of Falun Gong that has brought the country
under the scrutiny of human rights groups around the world.
By the end of 1999, a second group, Zhong Gong, was also
under attack. Both groups were charged with practicing medicine
without proper training and causing the death of people
who used qigong in the place of modern medicine. There is little
evidence to support these charges.
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.