Qigong (based on the idea of qi in ancient India frequently termed 'prana' where it formed a basis for among others various forms of 'yoga') is the result of practices that along with Buddhism where (possible also re-)imported into China where they were mixed with local practices sourced in forms of Shamanism later called Daoism. In fact oracle bone inscriptions from as early as the Zhou dynasty make references to qi. In these inscriptions, the Chinese character for qi refers to the study vapors one observes in the air as when one exhales through the mouth on a cold day. For something to be accepted as factual in the physical world, one must be able to interpret it somehow by one or more of the five human senses. In this light, qi can be experienced within the human body as a feeling of a warm, physical sensation. In the practice of qigong, practitioners regard qi as energy in the human body.
Case Study 1: Early Daoism and the Five Seals.
In later inscriptions, the Chinese character for qi refers to vapors (here thus not unlike 'prana') one observes in the air as when one exhales through the mouth on a cold day. For something to be accepted as factual in the physical world, one must be able to interpret it somehow by one or more of the five human senses. In this light, qi can be experienced within the human body as a feeling of a warm, physical sensation. In the practice of qigong, practitioners regard qi as energy in the human body. Thus Qigong became a Chinese system of self-healing that is believed to manipulate the flow of energy or qi in the body. Qi is also believed to be a kind of energy or natural force which exists in nature and fills the universe. For this reason, various kinds of energies can be referred to as qi. For example, in Chinese, anything dealing with electricity usually contains the word "dian" and electrical energy is commonly referred to as "dian qi." In Chinese the term "tian" refers to heaven. In ancient times, the heavenly bodies such as the sun and the moon were understood to have heavenly energy over the Earth. This heavenly energy was directed to the earth in ways such as when the sun shines on the Earth and, therefore, the term "tian qt' was appropriated. Interestingly, "tian qi" is still used to refer to weather in Chinese. In qigong philosophy, it is believed that qi always tries to maintain balance. For example, when "tian qi" (weather) is off balance too much rain may fall, resulting in floods; conversely, too little rain can lead to drought. When "tian qi" is balanced, plants will grow and animals can survive. Thus, according to this philosophy, qi is believed to exist in heaven, earth, and within every living thing, including the human body. In Chinese, the term "gong" can be genera1ly translated as "work" and can be more specifically applied to any special skill or study that requires time, energy, and patience.s For this reason, the term qigong can also be understood as any training or study that deals with the understanding and manipulation of internal human qi/energy. The term qigong however is a neologism that was created during the 1959's; however, it is believed that that which qigong refers to has a history of more than five thousand years. (For this see Cen Yuefang, Chinese Qigong Essentials, Beijing China: New World Press, 1996 pp.,8. 7 Ibid., 8).
Thus the term qigong has been given to a range of ancient practices in a retrospective manner. Throughout the many years of its development mostly (but not always) within various Daoist sects, these practices are believed to have been known by many other names such as daoyin, which can be understood as "conduction of vital energy in the human body:' tuna, which can be understood as "expiration and inhalation," zuochan, which can be understood as '''sitting in meditation:' and xinqi, which can be understood as ''promoting the circulation of qi. The ancient Chinese practices that are currently labeled as qigong can thus be understood as a system which is not limited to but includes spiritual beliefs and practices, philosophy, and deep breathing exercises. Practitioners of qigong believe that these practices have the potential to enhance hea1th, prolong life, and enrich spiritual awareness and insight.
Case Study P.2: A General History of Daoist Sects.
An in depth article about qi and acupuncture on our website has been written in German, and the best source in English to date is The Encyclopedia of Daoism ( ed. F. Pregadio).Based on these we can say that references to qi are made throughout the Chinese philosophical c1assics. Zuozhuan is a commentary on chunqiu (spring and autumn annals), which is a text in the classical Confucian canon. In this commentary, there is mention of six qi of nature, which are yin, yang, wind, rain, c1ouds, and light. These six qi of nature give rise to the four seasons. By the sixth century B.C., qi is seen as the cause of all natural events. In a collection of early Chinese materials put together from various sources by Liu Xiang (79 B.C-6 RC.) in 26 B.C. entitled "Book of Master Guan" (Guanzi, minister of the state of Qi 647 B.C.), there is mention of jingqi (quintessential qi). In the chapter entitled "Shuyan" (cardinal sayings), there is the theory that qi causes and sustains all forms of life in the universe. Xunzi, the classical Confucian scholar known for logical analysis and argumentation, elaborates on Guanzi's theory. According to Xunzi, water and fire have qi but no life. Human beings, however, can have qi, life, knowledge, and morality. Mengzi (Mencius), another classical Confucian scholar known for his argumentation and ethical thinking focusing on heart and mind, speaks of qi as a life force pervading the whole person. In his view, both the heart and mind are refined qi on a higher level. Furthermore, the heart and mind has the power to control qi. Qi can acquire amoral force by development of the heart and mind and an understanding of the way of heaven and earth. Zhou Yan, a cosmologist who systematized yin and yang, developed the theory of the five powers. The five powers are earth, metal, wood, water, and fire. According to the thought of Zhou Yan; the earth generates metal, metal water, water wood, wood fire, and fire earth; and earth conquers water, water fire, fire metal, metal wood, and wood earth. Zhou Yan uses his theory to explain changes in the natural world and to explain and predict political relationships and dynasty changes. Apparently, he bases these explanations on his understanding of qi as a pervasive but differentiated power controlling both natural and sociopolitical events. (See also, Antonio S. Cua, Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy, NY: Routledge. 2003, p.616.)
A political treatise by a group of scholars in the court of Liu An in the beginning of the Han dynasty entitled Huainanzi holds that qi encompasses everything in reality, including life. Also, qi is viewed as the origin of the universe and is understood to have endless power of change and transformation. Considering that qi is often synonymous with energy, the theory of the scholars in the court of Liu An can be compared to Newton's third law which states that energy cannot be created nor destroyed; rather energy can only be transformed from one form to another. According to Huainanzi, all things in nature are the materialization of a fundamental qi and all changes are due to changes in the character of qi.
Other practitioners of qigong (again, to understand why there are many viewpoints on this, see our History of Daoist Sects) hold the position that qigong originally developed as preventative and curative healthcare. Thus many practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hold the position that qigong was the first formal branch of their discipline. TCM combines the use of medicinal herbs, acupuncture, food therapy, massage, therapeutic exercises, and the understanding that health management in mind, body, and emotions depend on the flow of qi within the human body. In acupuncture, Qi is believed to flow within the human body by way of meridians. Invisible paths under the skin in which qi flows through the body, similar to how blood flows through veins and arteries. Because of this meridian system, it is believed that emotional health and physical health are connected. In Chinese medical qigong, external physical symptoms of disease are viewed as signals indicating internal imbalances in energy. In the traditional Chinese medical view, the cause of all disease is linked to a critical imbalance among the energies of the body, and for this reason the cure always entails restoring the balance among the energies of the human system and the forces of nature. So for example, if a patient's symptoms include aching eyes and blurry vision, it is likely that a competent practitioner of TCM would suspect an imbalance in liver energy and not necessarily an eye problem because it is believed that internal liver qi manifests itself externally in the condition of the eyes and vision. Diagnosing and treating diseases and ailments with regard to qi/energy balance is considered a distinctive aspect of TCM. These include self-care through personal practice but also the laying on of hands, or/and transmission of energy from healer to patient which is understood as emitting energy.
As for Qi in Chinese Martial Arts, early qigong exercises were based on alleged animal combat movements, such as the tiger, snake, crane, dragon, and leopard. (See for example Wong Doc-Fai and Jane Hallander, Shaolin Five Animals Kung-Fu, 1988,4-5.) However, in this case there was no concept of using the mind to guide energy or synchronizing physical movements with breathing yet. And as a result of qigong being incorporated into ‚various faiths’ one could say, many variations of qigong have developed throughout history. Thus currently, there are over 2000 classifications of qigong in China. But of course the three philosophies or religions that have had the most effect on Chinese civilization are Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Practitioners of each of these philosophies adapted qigong and focused the practice on their own ideas and principles.
In fact Daoist styles of qigong practice, the ultima te goal of the practitioner is to achieve spiritual immortality. Traditional Daoist qigong practitioners believe that qigong exercises that "refine energy" are significant for achieving spiritual immortality. An aspect of Daoist qigong is fasting. During these fasting periods, medicinal herbs are consumed, and the amount of time spent performing qigong exercises increases because of the belief that when one fasts the body can be trained to draw energy from sources besides food such as air. The Confucian perspective on qigong in turn approached the practice as something that could be used to calm one's mind and better control emotions. In Confucianism, it is believed that control of one' s mind and body is beneficial to harmony in society.
Case Study P.3: A modern transformation of Confucianism.
According to Confucianism, social and political problems have their roots in an unbalanced mind. Therefore, one of the foundational beliefs in Confucian branches of qigong is that if individuals can maintain peaceful minds, a peaceful society will follow. Confucianism in general teaches the importance of considering community over self, so that in Confucian styles of qigong, the focus of practice is ultimately for social reasons, unlike qigong in Buddhism and Daoism in which qigong is practiced mainly for individual spiritual reasons. Confucianism yet also used to be a hierarchical system. Thus, when Confucian philosophy became initially, accepted as a state creed, it led to corruption among those of higher status in society. Of course then there was also the ‚reform-Confucianism’ with a system of spiritual development similar to that of Daoism and Buddhism. Many Buddhist sects in turn believed that qigong without spiritual insight and growth, such as for example Daoist sexual yoga, could lead to excessive indulgence in sexual activity. For such reasons, Buddhist concepts and virtues such as celibacy, non-violence, compassion, etc. became the most important.
According to a many practitioners of qigong, their, history can be divided into four periods. Pre-Han Dynasty (before approximately 206 RC.); Han Dynasty- Liang Dynasty (approximately 206 RC. - 502 A.D.); Liang Dynasty - End of the Qing Dynasty (approximately 502 B.C. 1911 A.D.); End of the Qing Dynasty – Present. This then is given as the reason why qigong is viewed as ancient and as being compiled over thousands of years. Thus Qigong is believed to have originated in China before the written record, and it is believed that tribal shamans discovered what they perceived to be a link between a ceremonial dance and health benefits especially for those who frequently performed the dance.(See for example the from an adherent perspective written, A Complete Guide to Chi-Gung: Harnessing the Power of the Universe, by Daniel Reid (Boston: Shambhala, 2000), p. 27.)
Thus in Qigong, there is a belief that if one can understand the cycles of nature on earth as well as cycles in space, one can ultimately learn how to harmonize these natural patterns with human life and use these natural patterns to attain a healthy body and a long life. This belief is considered to be older than the written record because tribal shamans during prehistoric times are eredited with the evolution of the belief. (For this see George F. Heyne, The Social Significance of the Shaman among the Chinese Reindeer-Evenki. Asian Folklore Studies, 58.2 (1999): 377.)
Qigong practitioners furthermore believe that during the Zhou period the Yijing (Book of Changes), a book of divination and philosophy, developed. This idea however clashes with that of modern scholars, who hold that the Yijing was compiled by various people over a span of time and that the real origin is remote and a matter of speculation. (See Liu I-Ming, The Taoist I Ching (Boston, 1986),3.)
Thus just as Yin and Yang are believed to be complementary poles of the same concept, qigong practitioners adopted this understanding to the concepts of movement and stillness, and practitioners hold that movement and stillness are relative poles in a single unified state of existence. not separate phenomena. During the so called ‚Warring States Period’ practitioners believe (mythic as they were) sages such as Laozi and Confucius supposed to have lived. But it is not until approximately 221 RC., that a merchant known as Lu Buwei was able to make a significant contribution to qigong. During this, now called the Qin era, it is believed that Lu Buwei put together a collection of practices integrating human activity with seasonal cycles. This compilation of ancient practices also contains Lu Buwei' s commentary and was entitled spring and Autumn Book of Lu. During the following, Han dynasty in turn, a figure named Hua To is believed to have been influential by developing an exercise called wuqinxi, or "five animal play.“ The five animal play is described by practitioners. Wei Boyang is another influential figure in qigong who is believed to have lived during the Han Era. The text entitled Cang tong qi or ''The Union of the Three Parts" is attributed to him, and now, discusses deep breathing exercises and qigong sexual techniques.
In approximately 300 A.D., a text entitled Huang Ting Nei Jing, translated as the "Classic of Cultivation of the Lower Dantian, located in the abdomen in the navel area. The middle Dantianin turn is located in the Solar Plexus region, and the upper Dantian is located in the forehead region (the same region where Hindus believe the "third eye" is located.) Although it is unclear who the author of Huang Ting Nei Jing was, this now indeed became the prevalent theoretical basis of qigong. It asserted internal energy as the focus of qigong Also during this era, Ge Hong, a philosopher, physician, and qigong practitioner, wrote the Bao Pu Zi.a work is believed to be very significant to the development of qigong because the author distinguishes two goals of qigong: physical longevity and spiritual immortality by means of alchemical transformations.
Case Study P.4: From Outer to Inner Chinese Alchemy.
In this era also, a Buddhist monk from India, allegedly named Bodhidharma, visited the Shaolin Temple in China. The Chinese referred to him as Da Mo.and is said to have instructed both monks and martial artists in the Shaolin Temple. Da Mo introduced the pranayama breathing exercises and yoga stretching techniques of India, and where either by himself or/and his students combined with the indigenous Chinese daoyin and play of the Five Beasts regimes. In any case Da Mo' s legacy developed into Chan Buddhism, which spread as far as Korea and Japan, where it also became known as Chan, or 'Zen' Buddhism.
Case Study P.5: The Development of Chan (Zen) Buddhism.
But none is more popular today as the traveling Shaolin monks to be seen in major cities near you, as recently (critically) introduced by us.
the Mongols overthrew the Song dynasty, founding the Yuan dynasty, Taijiquan
developed, where a certain Zhang San feng credited as its creator.
Taijiquan, is different from the Shaolin Temple's practice presumeably emphasizing the external (Wai Dan) where Taijiquan is said to emphasize the internal (Nei Dan). At least this was the theory popularised in the USA by Jwing-Ming Yang who published it a few years later in, The Root of Chinese Qigong: Secrets for Health. Longevity, and Enlightenment (YMAA Publication Center, 1997). During the Qing dynasty, another popular style of qigong developed, similar to Taijiquan, called Baguazhang. Baguazhang is believed to have been developed by Dong Haichuan. It involves constant circular maneuvers based on the eight trigrams in the Yijing. A more in depth and differentiated approach of at least Neidan, follows next.
Case Study P.6: Original Neidan.
During the Qing dynasty, another popular style of qigong developed, similar to Taijiquan, called Baguazhang. Baguazhang is believed to have been developed by Dong Haichuan. It involves constant circular maneuvers based on the eight trigrams in the Yijing.
It was only during the 17th century however that what until now was an underground and isolate phenomena Qigong and its related occult arts, became first popularised in a particular region of China where it became at the same time a political movement. In fact since the general population did not know much if anything at all, about qigong, many who now became interested in the practice were deceived, as in the Boxer Uprising, commonly referred to as the ''Boxer Rebellion," a movement against foreign ideas such as Christianity as much as against foreigners themselves. The subject of part two of this study where we will detail until now, unknown aspects of the Boxer rebellion, many of the Boxers were merely peasants who underwent simplified and sped-up versions of qigong training. Here they were also tricked into believing that they were empowered with invulnerability, and assured that their bodies would be immune to the bullets and cannon fire of foreign weapons. Thousands of these boxers, armed with nothing but swords and spears, were then sent out only to dy in mass attacks against the advanced military of Western troops. (See Part 2 for never before published details)