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History of Qigong (a.k.a. Chi Kung)

by Xu Xiangcai

Qigong, as an art of healing and health preservation, is thought to have originated as early as four thousand years ago in the Tang Yao times as a form of dancing. Lu's Spring and Autumn Annals or Lu's History (Lu Shi Chun Qiu) records: In the beginning of the Tao Tang Tribes, the sun was often shut off by heavy clouds and it rained all the time; turbulent waters overflowed the rivers' banks. People lived a gloomy and dull life and suffered from rigidity of their joints. As a remedy dancing was recommended. From the experience of their long-term struggle with nature, the ancients gradually realized that body movements, exclamations, and various ways of breathing could help readjust certain bodily functions. For example, imitating animal movements such as climbing, looking about, and leaping was found to promote a vital flow of Qi. Pronouncing "Hi" was found to either decrease or increase strength, "Ha" could disperse heat, and "Xu" could alleviate pain. In this way, Qigong was brought into being.

During the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Periods (770-221 B.C.), various schools of thought arose -- such schools rationalized and raised to the level of theory their knowledge of nature, society, and life based on the experiences of their predecessors. Through this process, Qigong found its way to systematization and became an independent theoretical construct popular with philosophers and scholars. The theories of Qigong continued to develop and coalesce into powerful new concepts such as the three treasures of the human body (life essence, Qi, and mental faculties). Qigong methods also started to develop during this time. "Exhale and inhale to expel the stale and take in the fresh", "a bear twists its neck", or "a bird stretches its wings", are a few examples of such methods.

The Qin (221-207 B.C.) and Han (206 B. C.-A.D. 220) dynasties saw a rapid development of medical skills, which in turn enhanced Qigong theory and practice. The Yellow Emperor's Canon of Internal Medicine, the earliest medical classic extant in China, described Daoyin, Guidance of Qi, and AnQiao as important curative measures that could also preserve life. It also offered the following advice, which besides offering a general life philosophy, describes the state of mind necessary for successful Qigong practice: 

"Be indifferent to fame or gain, be alone in repose, and take the various parts of the body as an organic whole." 

There is an account of Daoyin found in Plain Questions On Acupuncture (Su Wen Yi Pian Ci Pa Lun) that says, "Patients with lingering kidney disease may face south from 3 to 5 A.M., concentrate the mind, hold back the breath, crane the neck and swallow Qi as if swallowing a hard object seven times. After that, there would be a great amount of fluid welling up from under the tongue." In 1973, a silk book, Fasting and Taking Qi (Que Gu Shi Qi Pian) and a silk painting Daoyin Chart (Dao Yin Tu) of the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D. 24) were unearthed from the Han Dynasty Tomb Mawangdui No. 3 in Changsha, Hunan Province. The book records the Daoyin method for guiding Qi and the chart covers 44 colored paintings presenting human figures imitating the movements of a wolf, monkey, ape, bear, crane, hawk, and vulture. Thus, they reveal that the Chinese began to teach Qigong pictorially as early as the beginning of the Western Han dynasty. The two outstanding medical scholars, Zhang Zhongjing and Hua Tuo, in the closing years of the Eastern Han dynasty (A.D. 25-220), both aided in the development of Qigong. In his great work, Synopsis of the Prescriptionsof the Golden Chamber (Jin Kui Yao Luo), Zhang Zhongiing stated that "As soon as heaviness and sluggishness of the extremities is felt, start Daoyin, breathing exercises, acupuncture, moxibustion, and massage with application of ointment to prevent obstruction of the nine orifices." The famous exercise Frolics of Five Animals (Wu Qin Xi) was devised during this time by Hua Tuo and became widely practiced and it is still popular today.

During the Wei dynasty (A.D. 220-265), the Jin dynasty (A.D. 265-420), and the Northern and Southern dynasties (A.D. 420-589), Qigong developed as a way of preserving health and as a method for treating disease through the emission of Qi by doctors. Zhang Zhan of the Jin dynasty listed in his work Yang Sheng Essentials of Health Preservation (Yao Ji) ten essential practices, of which thrift of mentality, preservation of Qi, conservation of constitution, and Daoyin were all related to Qigong. Tao Hongjing of the Northern and Southern dynasties recorded in his book, Health Preservation and Longevity (Yang Sheng Yan Ming Lu), many ancient Qigong methods and theories. In The History of the Jin Dynasty (Jin Shu), there is an account of doctor Xing Ling who became famous for using outgoing Qi to cure a patient who had suffered more than ten years from flaccidity arthralgia syndrome. As a result of this success, many more people became interested in medical Qigong.

Qigong was widely put into clinical application in the Sui (A.D. 581-618) the Tang (A.D. 618-907) dynasties. The books General Treatise on the Causes and Symptoms of Diseases (Zhu Bing Yuan Hou Lun), Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold for Emergencies (Bei Ji Qian Jin YaoFang) and The Medical Secrets of Official (Wai Tai Mi Yao) contain a wealth of Qigong therapies for treating specific pathologies. The General Treatise on the Cause and Symptoms of Diseases, records than 260 Qigong therapies, while Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Gold for Emergencies, the Brahman Method of Indian Massage and Laozi Massage are introduced in complete form along with other Qigong Daoyin massage methods for health preservation. Master Huan Zhen's Knacks in Taking Qi (Huan Zhen Xian Sheng Fu Nei Zhi Qi Jue) of the Tang dynasty describes the Pithy Formulae of Qi Distribution, which introduces the essential principles and techniques for emitting outgoing Qi.

During the period of the Song (A.D 960-1279), Jin (A.D. 1115-1234), and Yuan (A.D 1271-1368) dynasties, an upsurge of Daoist exercises for cultivating spiritual energy Qigong began to merge with these exercises giving rise to more sophisticated forms of therapeutic Qigong. Within the book The Complete Record of Holy Benevolence (Sheng Ji Zong Lu) is a wealth of Qigong information. Many Qigong descriptions can also be found in the works of the four eminent physicians in the Jin and Yuan dynasties. Li Dongyuan wrote in his book, Secret Record of the Chamber of Orchids (Lan Shi Mi Cang), "Falling ill, the patient should sit still at ease to replenish Qi." Liu Wansu mentioned, in his Etiology Based on Plain Questions (Su Wen Xuan Ji Bing Yuan Shi), the application of the Six Character Formulae in the treatment of diseases. Zhu Zhenheng stated in his book, Danxi's Experiential Therapy (Dan Xi Xin Fa), that "Patients with syncope, flaccidity, or cold or heat syndrome due to stagnation of Qi should be treated with Daoyin exercises."

During the period of the Ming (A.D. 1368-1644) and Qing (A.D.1644-1911) dynasties, doctors characterized the development of Qigong by deeper mastery and wider application. This enriched the medical books with Qigong literature and data. Abundant Qigong information was included in several influential books: A Retrospective Collection of Medical Classics (Yi Jing Su Hui Ji) by Wang Lu, Wanmizhai's Ten Categories of Medical Works (Wan Mi Zhai Yi Shu Shi Zhong) by Wan Quan, and The General Medicine of the Past and Present (Gu Jin Yi Tong Da Quan) compiled by Xu Chunpu. The great physician Li Shizhen stated definitively in his book, A Study on the Eight Extra Channels (Qi Jing Ba Mai Kao), that "The internal conditions and the channels can only be perceived by those who can see things by inward vision." This famous thesis indicated the relationship between Qigong and the channels and collaterals.

Qigong has gained higher priority and more rapid development since the founding of the People's Republic of China. In 1955, a Qigong hospital was established in Tangshan. During this time two important books introduced exercises such as internal cultivation, keep-fit, and many others, thus, giving an impetus to the development of Qigong research throughout the whole country. These books are The Practice of Qigong Therapy (Liao Fa Shi Jian) written by Liu Guizhen and written by Hu Yaozhen.  Qigong and Keep-fit Qigong (Qi Gong Ji Bao Jian Qi Gong)

Since 1978, medical workers and Qigong masters all over China have made vigorous efforts to popularize Qigong for health preservation and disease prevention. Some scientists and technicians have not only studied Qigong in terms of physiology, biochemistry, and modern medicine, but they have also conducted multi-disciplinary research efforts to analyze the physical effect of outgoing Qi. A study on the nature and essence of Qigong has thus been initiated, and Qigong, as a new branch of science, has entered a period of vigorous development. Qigong research societies, hospitals and departments have been established to research, teach and use Qigong. Qigong practice and study have become commonplace throughout China. 


This article is excerpted from Practical TCM: Qigong for Treating Common Ailments/The Essential Guide to Self Healing, 2000, by Xu Zangcai. Reprinted with permission from the publisher, YMAA Publication Center, Boston, MA. www.ymaa.com.

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About The Author

Xu Xiangcai is President of the Great Wall International College of TCM, Associate President of Shandong University of National Culture, Standing Deputy Director of the All-China Society of English About TCM, and Professor at Shandong College of TCM. He is the Chief Editor of all 21 volumes of "The English-Chinese Encyclopedia of Practical Traditional Chinese Medicine". Xu Xiangcai resides in Jinan City, China.

Another article by this author:The Basics of Qigong

This article was
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"
Practical TCM: Qigong for Treating Common Ailments/The Essential Guide to Self Healing"
by Xu Zangcai.
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