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Breaking Through the Barriers of Darkness: Recognizing the Cult of Qigong for What It Is

Chapter 1

A Cult in Contemporary China: Qigong

The years between 1982 and 1995 can be called China's era of qigong. During this short but special period of time, almost all Chinese learned about qigong, and approximately 50 million of them practiced it. It caught the attention of the whole country and even that of other countries. People from all segments of society–peasants, workers and intellectuals, common people and governmental officials, men and women, the old and the young–involved themselves in this trend in various ways. There appeared many "qigong masters" and "mysterious characters," famous "people with supernormal abilities," and also qigong writers. Together they played out quite a spectacular farce. During this period of time, qigong theory developed rapidly and crowned qigong with a beautiful name as "the science of the human body"; some even claimed that the twenty-first century would be an era of the science of the human body. (The science of the human body refers to academic research on supernormal capabilities and other unknown latent functions of the human body.)

n the other hand, qigong has become a new religion for contemporary China. Its operating system has rapidly developed into a very strong power that permeates the society. The system has been built upon a nation-wide structure of different factions and has caused the government to be uneasy and to interfere. Yet qigong quickly acquired permission and recognition from the government; or one might say permission and recognition from the government but also administration by the government. Qigong, then, has become a "newly developing science" accepted by Chinese society.

Definition of Qigong

Put in a simple way, qigong is having one's body posture or movements and/or one's imagination meet with specific requirements in order to have the body be healed by "qi" and obtain supernormal capabilities. Such qi and the so-called supernormal capabilities come from the evil force in the spiritual realm. (We will discuss in detail the principles of the spiritual realm in relation to qigong in chapter four.)

The practitioner can feel the existence of qi, and the feeling is evident. It moves within the body and is able to come out of it and even heal diseases. Some obtain supernormal abilities such as healing, ESP, hearing sounds which are inaudible to others, long time fasting, moving objects by one's will, divination practicing, prophesying, and even having one’s soul leave the body and come back to the body. The essence of this kind of qi and the origin of supernormal abilities will be studied and discussed in detail in chapter four. The focus of the present chapter is to study the different stages and characteristics of the development of qigong in contemporary China and to make known the general situation in China of qigong, which has become a contemporary religion.

Generally speaking, qigong in this period can be said to have developed chronologically by four different stages: (1) prelude–the appearance of martial arts; (2) the sprouting of qigong; (3) the climax of qigong; (4) the low ebbs of qigong.

My own practice of qigong has run through all these four stages, which overlapped with the most precious time of my youth. None of us has a very long time to live, and life passes away like a gentle sigh. It is indeed absurd and regrettable for me to have spent a very precious portion of my life seeking a formidable and erroneous goal. My regret is beyond words, and I am going to recount this special contemporary religion in China according to my own personal experience.

1. Prelude–the Appearance of Martial Arts

In 1982 the movie Shaolin Temple played in theatres in China. Its influence spread all over China. Man and woman, old and young rushed to see it and became infatuated with it. Within a short time, Shaolin Temple, a Buddhist temple, became known by all and was worshipped and admired as a "sacred place" by thousands upon thousands of Chinese, especially the young. Chinese people at last regained the long lost sense of pride and confidence from this "martial arts popularizing education." The older generation recalled martial legends and the stories they had heard about martial people. The younger generation listened to them, not knowing if they should believe them or not. At last, the Chinese people had seen that our ancestors had invented "the splendid and respectable traditional treasure–martial arts, which is unique and alone of its kind in the world."

"Tianxia gongfu chu Shaolin" ("Shaolin produces all gongfu in the world." Shaolin Gongfu becomes the representative of Chinese martial arts. It was begun by the Buddhist Monk Da Mo, who came to preach in China in ancient times. Many people thus learned about Buddhism and began to have quite a lot of respect not only for Buddhism but for Buddhist monks too. Then followed the even more frantic activity–innumerable people journeying to visit and study in the Shaolin Temple and even desiring to become monks. In streets and on school campuses, young people and kids could be seen imitating the fighting actions they learned in gongfu movies, and their shouting voices could be heard constantly. After Mao Zedong's call for learning from the workers, peasants and soldiers and later the call for the study of science, learning the martial arts finally became the most fashionable trend for Chinese people.

Under the high spirit of nationalism, many wuda (acrobatic fighting) movies were quickly produced and shown to the public, with their themes ranging from Shaolin Temple to other remote places of the sort. Different magazines were started which helped to heat up the national topic of the martial arts and tremendously increased the Chinese national aspiration.

During this period of time, the Chinese indigenous religion—Taoism—could no longer tolerate its being unknown and started to remind people of its existence and mysteriousness. And on the other hand, many people learned from it the new concept of a thing even more powerful than martial arts–wugong. As a counterpart of Shaolin gongfu, Wudang gongfu then became another attractive "strange learning." This kind of gongfu originated in Wudang Mountain, the sacred place of Taoism. Because Taoism could be dated back to the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (722-221 B.C.) in China as China's indigenous religion, many people were naturally very happy with Wudang gongfu. Psychologically, they found it even easier to accept than Shaolin gongfu, for it gave them a national pride somewhat purer than Shaolin gongfu. We could even see in movies the priests in Wudang Mountain depicted as having more wisdom and as more mysterious than monks in the Shaolin Temple.

What then is wugong? The Buddhist monks hit and kick powerfully, producing loud noises. Their practice is a combination of power and skills called martial arts. But wugong is practiced by the Taoist priests. Gentle and slow as it very often is, it is more powerful, more awesome and more apt to inspire veneration. This is indeed incomprehensible and sounds illogical. Taiji is the biggest representative of Taoist wugong. It enhances health and can be used in battles. It seems as supple as dancing, yet it can kill most efficiently. The key point is the word "gong," which hints at an incomprehensible power. In order for us to understand this power, we need to look into the term: qigong.

2. The Sprouting of Qigong

I heard of qigong for the first time in 1982. My mother had been sick for a long time and couldn't be healed. My brother brought home a magazine on qigong one day which I read and from which I learned for the first time the concept of qigong, but without any substantial understanding of it. At the same time, wuxia xiaoshuo (novels of knights-errant) were introduced to China from Hong Kong and formed the national trend after the movie Shaolin Temple, again, mainly among the young. We read wuxia novels like crazy. We were thoroughly enchanted. They monopolized the book market of China as their invincible preponderance dominated their competitors and as their irresistible charm attracted thousands and thousands of Chinese male readers.

Female readers, in contrast, were attracted to love novels from Taiwan as much as males were attracted to the wuxia novels. These Taiwanese novels influenced the worldview and love and family views of the girls for nearly a generation.

Such is the cultural situation of China during the mid-80's of the last century. The worldviews of the Chinese people, especially of the young, were like blank paper, which were daubed by whatever painting brush was applied to them. Young people of a whole generation were seeking and awakening, but they could not get any directions from their forefathers who were as much lost in this new time themselves as were their young. The elders did try to teach their young, but with no-longer-useful principles; therefore they were ruthlessly laughed at and rejected.

At a very young age, I was taught to read a lot of Chinese classic literature and occasionally some foreign literature too. The impression left in me was that most of these Chinese classics were either about fighting and killing or else about devils and demons. They are typical of Chinese traditional culture. I had a great interest in reading them, for there was nothing else to be read until 1982 when I got a copy of the Hong Kong wuxia novel She Diao Yingxiong Zhuan (The Story of the Vulture-shooting Hero). Though the printing was terribly poor, after reading a few pages, I was shocked to find that it was something unlike what I had read before, and I was deeply attracted by it. It sucked in my whole person, and following the plots closely, I experienced unprecedented excitement and satisfaction. How on earth there could have been such interesting books! Those martial people had exceptionally special abilities. They were capable of that kind of wugong which is higher than martial arts and had uncommon energy and killing and wounding ability. How I admired these people! The characters and plots of the novel greatly satisfied my fancy and imagination. Even though I was still young at that time, in only several hours I finished reading this novel. But it was just the first volume. I immediately found my expectation of getting the second and third volumes and all the rest virtually unbearable. I brought the first volume to class and showed it to my good friends. Soon this novel was circulating among all the male students in class. Everyone got extremely excited and lined up to get a chance to read it. They felt as if their eyes had been opened by it, just like me. There were several of them who took it as a treasured book and started to hand-copy it since it was not available in any book market in China. They spent who knows how many nights and also how many political classes at school completing the job. Finally a tidy hand-written copy of it came into being, the excellency of which far surpassed that of their homework, which they had never been so careful in doing.

The craze for wuxia novels persisted for about ten years in China. This trend instilled in young people a concept of "a violent supernatural force." The reason why this force could be accepted without doubt is that it not only satisfied the illusion of nationalistic supremacy, but also propagated the “righteousness” of supermen who used their wugong to set things right. It depicted an image of xiake (knight-errant) which was generally admired by people of all ages. Those who believed in the existence of this kind of wugong were inspired to seek for it and to learn to practice it, spending large amounts of their time and energy on it.

I admired the protagonists in these novels, but I retained doubt regarding the mysterious wugong, which I took as mere literary fabrication and exaggeration. Yet I started to be very interested in martial arts and earnestly imitated and followed the movements pictured in the martial arts magazines. I wanted to become a xiake and was beginning to desire superman power. During the same period of time, I also read the Chinese classical wuxia novel San Xia Wu Yi (The Three Valiants and Five Righteous Men), the mythological novel Feng Shen Yan Yi (The Enfeoffment of the Gods), and also Liao Zhai Zhi Yi (Liao Zhai's Records of the Strange). These books tremendously stimulated my imagination and cognitive dimension, and I began to take special interest in supernatural powers and the world of spirits, even though I was still an atheist then. I was uncommonly satisfied and pleased by what I could absorb from those books, and the ground of atheism began to shake beneath me while theistic seed was gradually taking root in my heart.

At the same time, my mother's illness was becoming worse and worse and even very strange. When she was sick, she would be in a coma, but when she was rescued and had gained her consciousness, she was very quickly back to normal. She was diagnosed loosely as having a neurosis or such like. Her work unit finally agreed to let her receive treatment in a hospital in another city. My father went to accompany her; the joy and laughter in our house were now swept away, and in their place the family was covered by a heavy, melancholic atmosphere. Our parents returned home once in a while and brought home some books including qigong magazines. I had only recently learned about the word qigong and was curious about it, but did not know what on earth it was. My parents explained it to me yet were unable to really enlighten me regarding it.

My mother checked out of the hospital later without her sickness being cured. The medical doctors did not even find out what was wrong with her. One day my father found a book on health care from our collection of books. It taught wu qin xi (Five Animal Sports) by Hua Tuo, a famous physician of ancient China.

Mum started to practice the Five Animal Sports with Dad's help. It seemed to be like our setting-up exercises to radio music. Actually wu qin xi includes five kinds of movement. They are movements of the tiger, the deer, the ape, the bear and the bird. It is said that Hua Tuo was very much inspired while observing the movements of these animals and birds in mountains and forests and invented a form of health care gymnastics. Very soon, Mum was able to imitate the movements perfectly, and we all seemed to see some hope in our family.

For about one or two months my mum's health remained just as the same. Then one day Dad returned from a bookstore, bringing a book entitled "Spontaneous wu qin xi Movements". Through a careful study of this book, he and Mum made a surprising discovery! The book teaches in detail what wu qin xi really is. It is not simple gymnastic movements, but has deeper meaning. It is maneuvering the qi in your body according to some simple instructive steps and then allowing your body to spontaneously make the movements of the animals and birds by following the drive of the qi as if someone were leading you to do it. It sounded incredible, but Mum began to practice.

Shocking things happened! Mum began to move spontaneously while practicing! She could make animal movements and imitate their sounds so closely that they were just like the animal sounds! What was stranger was that my mum's health was recovering miraculously and her incurable disease was controlled. It was a marvel! All my family were touched by it and got so very excited that I thought the excitement with which Columbus discovered the New Found Land could not have exceeded ours. From then on, a lot of qigong books and magazines found their way to hour home and we all interested ourselves in qigong. Our parents taught us simple qigong practices; we together entered the qigong period as a family. The whole country of China had, actually, at that time, entered into the qigong era.

We have seen that martial arts had become prevalent because of the movie Shaolin Temple and that qigong had begun after martial arts to be influential in Chinese society. This trend coming from the south was so strong as to take over very easily a country with a population of one billion. It would be interesting to look for some of the reasons.

1. Since 1979 the Chinese government had been wisely applying an open-door policy (mainly to the West). Except for the political areas, all areas began to have contact and cooperation with the outside world. Shaolin Temple is a cooperative product between China and Hong Kong. The Shaolin Temple type of movie had long been rampant in Hong Kong and Taiwan, two areas in which there was still a very strong Chinese religious atmosphere, but such movies were totally new to mainland China, which not long before had been relieved from the restriction of "Revolutionary Model Drama." Shaolin Temple is indeed a return of Chinese traditional culture to mainland China from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Under the influence of atheistic culture for over thirty years, the younger generation of Chinese people was very unfamiliar with traditional culture; even the older generation had had their traditional conceptions washed away from their memories.

2. The younger generation still retained in their minds the concept of class struggle. In their textbooks had been lessons on war that must be memorized. "Killing the enemies" was the most heroic act in their hearts. It was for this reason that the violence in movies like Shaolin Temple had not caused any controversies but rather had provided the young with tremendous inspiration and expectation. Anyone who was good at martial arts could become a hero who would defend people against injustice. Since the younger generation of China had no problem of survival, they very naturally turned their energy and attention to heroic deeds, and martial arts became skills they longed to acquire. The society was unable to tell them the truth; neither was it able to give them a convincing direction of life that the young found correct, true, and refreshing.

3. "The Cultural Revolution" had made the Chinese people disappointed in communism and stuporous toward it. Young people's hearts knew less how to judge it, their emptiness of heart simply compelling them to strive for the many imported material goods, while leaving their spiritual needs unsatisfied. Shaolin Temple served at this time as a kind of spiritual provision. During the same period of time, "campus songs" from Taiwan were taken in, and a craze for studying English flooded all the campuses. Due to the sinful tendency of human kind, it is no strange phenomenon that the violence of martial arts became the most attractive element during the process of opening to the outside world.

4. Qigong obviously has more meaningful functions than do the martial arts. Its sprouting was facilitated by suitable societal conditions of the time, for people discovered its mysterious usefulness. Thus it incredibly convinced those people who practiced it and spread all over China with a shocking rapidity.

The surprising and sad thing is that during that period of time a very slight innovation was able to provide direction for the whole country, giving all people the same mind, the same thinking mode and the same character. Luckily, their clothing styles had started to be varied.

3. The Climax of Qigong

Representative Personnel of Qigong

The high time of qigong lasted for about five years, starting from the year 1987. In 1987 a very famous qigong master, Yan Xin, emerged, commonly described as "chu shan" (go into action). A piece of investigative journalism called "Report by Yan Xin on Qigong" made Yan Xin and his supernormal abilities the center of sensational news of the time. This special figure pushed qigong in China to its climax, and his public career became the demarcation for the qigong era. He toured all over China and gave reports while carrying the gong power with him at the report meetings as he practiced qigong on the spot. He made a great stir wherever he went. People learned from him increased knowledge of qigong, and thousands of Chinese admired and followed him. His qigong theories are deep and rich and take great comprehension to understand, but his power of qigong is equally great and shocking. He is acknowledged as the first qigong master of China and has been reported on repeatedly by the state media. He has traveled overseas many times. He has been to Hong Kong, visited with the master of the wuxia novel, Jin Yong, and commented very favorably on the latter's understanding of high-level gongfu, but said the gongfu described in his novels was still lacking in depth. He later visited the United States and caused quite a stir, being received as a guest by President Bush. According to Qigong and Science Journal, Bush called him "the Sage of our time."

In 1988 another very important qigong master, Mr. Zhang Hongbao, added to the practice of qigong some more excitement. He attracted a large group of followers who called him their "zong shi" ("great master"). He originated the "Chinese Gong for Health Improving and Intelligence Enhancing." Basing his project in Beijing, he organized many classes for qigong learning and charged high tuition. His method was obviously efficient in eliciting ESP and greatly inspired the learner's interest; thus his version of qigong was quickly propagated. Because of the adaptation of the clan system, a personality cult centering around Zhang Hongbao prevailed. In all areas of China, people were seen wearing Zhang Hongbao badges, just as people had worn Mao Zedong badges during the Cultural Revolution. It was said that Zhang Hongbao once held a news conference in the People's Hall. Also the writer Ji Yi wrote a book entitled Great Qigong Master Emerged on him, and the publication of this book brought him a great reputation. Zhang had many disciples, and they were all very proud of their master's qigong method, while disapproving of all other masters except Yan Xin, for whom they had quite an admiration.

The third well-known qigong master was Mr. Pang Heming. He started very early but was not as distinguished as other influential qigong masters until the time of Yan Xin and Zhang Hongbao. He had Shijiazhuang and Qinhuangdao as his important bases and propagated qigong by organizing classes to teach qigong and by giving "qi-emitting" lectures in all areas of China. He originated "Intelligence Gong," the theories of which were highly systemized and materialistically tinted. Pang's method was easy to learn and could meet the needs of people of all educational levels; hence it quickly spread all over China. Pang, good at writing, wrote books to illustrate his qigong method. He discussed the philosophical background of qigong and often used scientific terms in his books to describe qigong theory as a new type of scientific subject.

The above qigong masters guided the trend of qigong in China and religionized qigong, forming its sound system and organism and exercising a stormy influence on the time and society.

At the same time the so-called first superman of China, supernormal capability master Zhang Baosheng, helped to make the stormy sea stormier by contributing to the development of the qigong religion. He was widely acknowledged and respected by the qigong practitioners because he had acquired very uncommon supernormal capabilities without practicing qigong. He made a stir in the late 70's with his report on the discovery of supernormal abilities in human bodies by China, but the report ended up with nothing definite until the appearance of qigong, which made the supernormal capabilities of Zhang Baosheng acknowledged and valued. Zhang Baosheng himself was all the more described by the media to be a very mysterious and legendary figure. He became a great friend to qigong personnel and gave many performances in which he exhibited his supernormal capabilities.

The most interesting occurrence was the arising of a writer during this period of time who specifically wrote about qigong—Mr. Ke Yulun. He made a huge contribution to the development of the philosophical theory of qigong and was respected and admired by people who practiced qigong, but most especially by intellectuals. He became a good friend to some famous qigong masters. He once wrote in the early 80's a novel about the reform of China which was turned into a TV series called "New Star." It was wonderfully accepted by the society. Ke later became a promulgator of qigong and produced such highly influential novels as Great Qigong Master, New Century, and Interpreting Human Mysteries, all of which provoked substantial social repercussions. As a result, Ke established himself as a representative for qigong. Between 1993 and ’94, Ke conducted a huge survey on ESP and human body uncommon functions in China and put the result of it into a TV series entitled “Scientific Research of Life” which contained twenty-four 45-minute episodes.

The above-mentioned figures are generally acknowledged celebrities and pillars on the field of qigong. Their active accomplishments attracted much attention and influenced the whole society, as they stamped their mark clearly on the culture of the time. They had seen to it that the developments of qigong reach its climax in all aspects of theory, practice and propagation.

During these years a lot of qigong magazines, books, audio and video tapes were published and distributed throughout China. They sold so well that many bookstores even set up counters specifically for qigong material. People could not avoid seeing qigong magazines on the bookstalls in the streets with pictures of qigong masters on their cover pages.

Some woman masters of qigong also appeared during this time, one of them being Ms. Zhang Xiangyu. She originated "nature-centered gong" and healed the sick. She, with her ability to speak "cosmic language," caused quite a stir. She was warmly welcomed everywhere she went. She was not good at scientific terms and made use of a theistic view undisguisedly, and because this contradicted the atheism which communism held, she was arrested in April 1990 and imprisoned for several years, the charge being monetary theft. The newspaper China Youth provided this new view of Ms. Zhang Xiangyu.

Another important figure was Hai Deng Fa Shi, who used to be a monk in the Shaolin Temple. He was adept in wugong and was once featured especially in a movie entitled by his own name that introduced his legendary life. Hai Deng Fa Shi was in Wu Lin magazine in the early 80's and became well-known all over China. He died towards the end of the 80's of pancreatic cancer and thus left an unsolvable enigma to the world, for many people believed that he could never die of any diseases. Things seemed to have happened very strangely.

After 1995 there was another sparkling star in the practice of qigong, Mr. Li Hongzhi. His falun gong was influential not only in China, but also overseas. His method is simple and easy to learn. Because it does not encourage acquiring supernormal capabilities, practitioners do not feel it is too hard. It is called "gong trains people," not "people practice gong"; also it has surprising therapeutic effects. Since the evil spirit gives up conditional requirements on the practitioner, it displays in the practitioners and gong receivers more of its power and more directly than through other methods and performs a lot of miracles. This gong method has spread very rapidly, and its influence is widespread. In recent years it has become a new dominant trend in qigong. In 1999 there even took place in Beijing the world-wide-known "Falun Gong Event," which shocked the Chinese government and therefore resulted in a serious crackdown.

Many qigong masters and people with supernormal capabilities have appeared in the past who have had great influence in their local areas. Like the qigong masters we have just mentioned, they have stimulated the development of qigong in all areas of China and have made qigong a religious belief and a cultural ideology.

The Zeal of Practitioners

More and more people have become disturbed mentally as a result of qigong. People from all walks of society practice qigong, just as people used to engage in a political movement. All institutions, including educational institutions and factories all over China, have organized classes for learning qigong, and groups of practitioners can be seen everywhere. The state has acknowledged that the so-called qigong is a new science—a science of the human body. Well-known scientist Qian Xuesen gave speeches on the science of the human body. The qigong experiment Yan Xin made at Qing Hua University and other high educational institutions won him the acknowledgements of some scientists regarding the mystery of qigong. Although these scientists do not understand qigong phenomena, the surrounding facts amazed them very much.

Around 1988 there were mainly two trends in Beijing. Some young people followed rock-and-roll star Cui Jian and went to the South of China to attend his concerts; others followed Yan Xin and attended his "qi-emitting" lectures in all different areas. Fees were collected for admission to such lectures, but Yan Xin himself said he did not take even a penny for himself. For this reason all the qigong believers held him in very high esteem. People were seen listening to his lectures outside the auditorium when there was not enough space inside for them. With their raincoats on, they stood in the rain and engaged in "spontaneous dance" in accordance to the lecture. Such sincerity was really very touching! One lecture in Inner Mongolia was attended by between twenty and thirty thousand people. Yan Xin praised Inner Mongolia for having a very good "qi field" and for having had a very good qigong tradition ever since ancient times.

In 1990 I met practitioners who attended Zhang Hongbao Qigong's classes. I found out how much they worshipped him. Before the ceremony of acknowledging the master, some even practiced repeatedly how to kowtow and asked onlookers to see if their postures were sincere enough. Learners of Zhang Hongbao Qigong liked to wear Zhang Hongbao badges, for they believed this was a way to connect themselves to their master's energy, which could increase their gong and bless and protect them. I have met many of them in different places. Their god was their master, and their belief was qigong.

Many of those that had experienced healing by qigong actively taught qigong to others, seriously abided by qigong virtues, and performed charitable and pious deeds. Chinese society also gave acknowledgements to qigong for having helped to bring virtue to the society. Those who had acquired supernormal capabilities began to take qigong as their religious belief and continued to seek for higher supernormal capabilities at all costs, believing they were actually searching for the meaning of life in this way. Each year, a great number of qigong believers flocked to qigong classes in all areas of China and taught others after they returned home from the classes. There were also devotees of even higher levels who would go to visit and study in the temples in the mountains and seek their masters and make friends, sharing with each other what they had learned and discussing together their common interest. Qingcheng Mountain of Taoism is the most mysterious place, where, it is said, there were very often people of high-level gongfu coming and going.

Qigong practitioners were usually disillusioned with the mortal world and would go as far as leaving their families, giving up their careers, going out to roam around or to live as a hermit, or becoming a monk or Taoist priest. Their purpose was to pursue supernormal capabilities and longevity. Because children could achieve quick results by practicing qigong, many parents taught their children to practice it, hoping they would be useful persons. Many families had thus forsaken their normal lifestyle, many practitioners had experienced greatly the pains that practicing qigong had brought to their lives, still others died or were mentally deranged because they had practiced qigong; and some saw their family members meet with unusual deaths or die of diseases.

Members of my family at that time were all engaged in qigong practice. We put the pictures of qigong masters in our house and worshipped them. We sometimes even burned incense for them and asked them to protect us and bless our family with peace. We often played tapes of qigong teaching or music, in order to qigong-ize the whole family and house. We actively taught others to practice qigong and more than once regretted that we didn't hear of qigong earlier. We believed that qigong practice made it possible for us to understand mystery of the world and the meaning of life.

The Spreading of Qigong

As in all other eras, during the qigong era people hold different views on qigong, even in its most intense time. Many people keep cool-headed and watch its development; some are objective to it, taking it as a superstition; still others believe only part of it. The following is a brief introduction to various attitudes toward qigong.

1. The countryside is the blind area of qigong. The majority of Chinese population live in the country. These people's education level is low, and it is beyond their ability to understand the scientific terms of qigong. They mainly believe in Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and local religions. Because qigong is mainly spread by way of books and other modern means and require the learners to have an education level high enough to comprehend the methods and principles, the spread of qigong is hindered in the countryside. This is also because traditional religions have reached deeply into people's hearts and believers therefore do not have to spend time in worship every day. The country people worship their gods only when they have needs. Their biggest concern is survival. As to the supernormal capabilities, they believe they are true but do not pursue them, or we should say they don't have the energy and disposition to. They would like to go to the hospital and buy medicine for any diseases they have or see a practitioner of Chinese medicine. They could even ask the sorceress for help and burn incense to Buddha, but they are not interested in practicing qigong.

2. Intellectuals are the first to accept qigong and are the ones who make the most thorough research on qigong. They usually become proponents of qigong and regard it as a new science. There are a lot of practitioners among students, especially university students. But objections come mainly from intellectuals too, the opposers usually being atheists who never fail to attack it and who disbelieve the supernatural phenomena of qigong, interpreting the supernormal capabilities and strange phenomena caused by qigong as "magic," "illusions," or "coincidence." They express their objection to qigong by denying its supernormal phenomena. But they acknowledge the healthy benefit of qigong for the practitioners' physical and mental conditions. And this seems to be recognition accorded to qigong by almost all non-Christians who happen to know qigong.

3. Among factory workers, government functionaries and office workers, qigong is widely popular. These people have obvious results from practicing it, especially in the healing of diseases. Health is the biggest concern for these people; hence they become proponents of qigong because it settles this important concern. Though government functionaries and leaders are very prudent regarding their acknowledgement of qigong, avoiding any discussions of supernormal phenomena or supernatural beings, they are after all beneficiaries of qigong, so they propel the development of qigong, giving acknowledgement and support to qigong activities in the work units that they are in charge of.

Geographically speaking, qigong flourishes mostly in big cities, having Beijing as the center of the trend. The media show great interest in its development. Some larger media organizations station their special journalists long term with Yan Xin and other major qigong masters for ongoing and immediate reports on any developments of qigong. The forces opposing qigong are also based in Beijing, always pressing their objections to it.

I think the appearance of a climax of qigong in China has always been inevitable. The time of its dominance was the high time of Chinese reformation and the "open door" policy and also the time when China was at her highest peak politically and economically since the founding of the People's Republic. The ideological field was becoming more complicated and active, with a new religious consciousness taking form. qigong had the privilege of attaining mastery as a preconceived idea, and it convinced people with its many supernormal functions and health benefits. Unwittingly, people took qigong in their hearts as a spiritual sustenance. In this way qigong has become a religious belief and a full contemporary religion having masters, concepts of the cosmos and of nature, and all the idols of Buddhism and Taoism as objects of worship.

Qigong at its climax has become another pitiful period in Chinese history.

4. The Ebb of Qigong

1992 to 1995 saw qigong at its ebb.

In 1989, there took place in Beijing the Tienanmen Square Event that shocked the whole world. The whole world was stunned and grieved together with China. Many Chinese have since that time given up their communist beliefs.

I thought then (and millions upon millions Chinese qigong believers must have thought also), Where have all the qigong masters gone? Why have they not stopped the opposers and convinced the students by their supernatural ability to escape? Did they not really have their qigong virtues? Why didn't they help the students? Why? I had no answer at all.

"Omnipotent qigong" began to be shaken in my heart. It began to be shaken in the hearts of millions of intellectuals; they saw clearly and disappointedly the cruel fact that qigong is so incompetent in face of reality. They acknowledged at last that qigong was not going to rescue China.

However, while people started to doubt and ponder, they did not lightly give up practicing qigong. During the three years from 1989 to 1992, China slowed down her pace of reformation and opening to the outside world. People could not see where China was going. They almost completely lost hope about China's contemporary situation. They were in low spirits, and a depressing and hateful atmosphere blanketed the entire country. The only way was to wait and see. Under this situation qigong all the more became for a lot of people a spiritual prop and a way to escape from worldly affairs. It was exactly the case with me.

Many people started to seek for new ways to save China. They began to think deeply and painfully and to repudiate further or even completely their formerly accepted ideas and standpoints. Western democratic politics became a lamp at night that millions upon millions of Chinese people could see and that they longed for in their hearts.

China's reformation re-started in 1992. The former prosperity and vitality were recovered. The country was more open to the outside world. People then saw more opportunity for making money and flocked to big cities for odd jobs, rapidly increasing the floating population. The shadow of June 4, 1989 that hung over people gradually grew lighter. Expectations became more rationalized and prudent, most people approving American "peace transformation" strategic plans, for Chinese began to doubt if the "dramatic change" of Eastern Europe would be suitable for China. Their foresights were then more practical and selfish, seeing fortune making as their new belief. Intellectuals also endeavored to forget about politics and the state and engaged themselves in the new trend of trade. It was now realized that supernormal capabilities of qigong were not for solving practical problems in daily lives, but that money did have "omnipotent" functions. The passion for qigong was slowly superseded by the trend of getting into business and engaging in trade. Millions upon millions of people gave up qigong and re-started their lives of competition for worldly success.

Another very important reason that some practitioners discarded qigong was that, after they reached a certain level of qigong, they met with some horrible problems. The following are examples of such problems:

1. Some practitioners saw horrible things like ghosts, and heard strange voices and words, and experienced troubled days and nights.

2. Some practitioners of qigong could heal other people's diseases, but they were powerless with their own. Sometimes the effect was not good with kind people, but was especially good with evil people. This was inscrutable to them.

3. Some lost control of their supernormal capabilities and were unable to use them when they needed to. Yet those powers would sometimes come when they were not needed and cause embarrassment for the practitioners who could no longer control them as they would.

4. The character and temperament of some practitioners changed lamb-like gentleness to terrifying ferocity. They were full of fear, impetuosity, sorrow, despair, viciousness and pride. They were hateful and filled with lusts.

5. People around them forsook them, not understanding them, and took them as eccentrics.

6. Their lives became more and more frustrating, and incessant unfortunate things followed them. They tried to tolerate such negative occurrences, taking their miseries as trials of qigong, but they gradually found them less and less bearable. Life began to be joyless, and they lived in a gloomy and gray mood.

7. Qigong practice often went wrong, and some practitioners became mentally deranged and even died suddenly. Such dangers of qigong were recognized by some.

However, many practitioners who experienced some of the above-mentioned problems and who became afraid of qigong and disappointed with it and even gave it up dared not to let others know their feelings because there were none to understand. They were afraid of becoming a laughingstock for others, so they made up high-sounding excuses for stopping their practice of qigong, burying the pains they had experienced deeply in the bottom of their hearts and letting no one know the very eccentric events in their lives.

There was another important reason for qigong to turn low tide—the revival of Christianity.

In the early contemporary era of recent Chinese history, Christianity and qigong developed almost side by side. In the early 1980's some American scholars and scientists entered China, and Christians among them spread the name of Jesus Christ and the gospel of God. Some missionaries also came to China under various pretexts. In 1986 the Chinese government allowed overseas Christian organizations to donate funds for printing bibles in Nanjing, China, for distribution to churches in all areas of China. This symbolized the revival of Christianity in China. From 1989 forward Chinese inner-area churches began to spread the Gospel in more remote areas. Besides, additional missionaries came to China and spread the Gospel in various ways. People studied Christianity seriously and tried to receive it. Since 1994 the spread of Christianity has gradually begun to influence the society. In fact, the year 1995 saw the beginning of a harvesting season for Christianity in China.

Under the above social conditions, lots of people learned about the essence and dangers of qigong through the Gospel and completely renounced qigong. By the different experiences they had in qigong and Christianity, they realized profoundly what the meaning of life really is and what the true faith is. They learned that qigong is actually a way to join with evil spirits as one body and to let them have control. Practitioners are inevitably doomed to calamities and perish in the end. After they became Christians, people strongly opposed qigong and testified of the evil results of qigong in their own lives. They influenced a lot of other qigong practitioners who heard their powerful testimonies, also abandoned qigong, and accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. The development of Christianity inflicted heavy losses on the religion of qigong.

In 1995 there was a very interesting and mysterious person active in Beijing. He aroused a strong wave of anti-qigong sentiment in a short period of time and inflicted a heavy blow upon qigong. The media in Beijing seized the chance to make it quite a hubbub and the focus of the public's concern. I stayed in Beijing for some time that year.

This person's name is Sima Nan. He was the news figure in the area of qigong in Beijing from 1990 to 1995. Because of his work, the Central Television Station of China cancelled qigong performances at the annual Spring Festival Evening Party in 1991 and afterward. He was a qigong master, and his view was that qigong is scientific but that supernormal-capability performances are only super magic and deceitful tricks. In order to prove the validity of his view, he performed in front of big audiences supernormal-capability shows which were seen by many to be just the same as those performed by supernormal-capable qigong masters, not erring by a hair's breadth. His audiences were greatly shocked, but he told them it was not qigong nor supernormal capabilities but magic. Many believed him, but were baffled, and some even regarded him as a high- level qigong master and tried to ask him for advice. The media quoted him as saying, "I faked it! Who ever did it?" His masterpiece is his book A Secret Record of Pseudo-qigong. He also produced a television film "The Inside Story of Mysterious Gong."

His emergence was a great embarrassment to the qigong field, for Sima Nan would attend every qigong seminar and performance followed by a constellation of journalists. He exposed their fallacy, raised doubt and difficult questions, and debated with qigong masters. Ke Yunlu and others were challenged unprecedentedly by Sima Nan, who now was a big headache for them. But the media were favorable to Sima Nan and consciously or unconsciously belittled qigong personnel who appeared to manifest supernormal capabilities.

I once read a report in a newspaper in Beijing that Sima Nan went to be present at Zhang Baosheng's supernormal-capability performance and was denied entrance. Zhang on the other hand gave an awkward performance in a hurry and retreated in haste through a back door. There were also books by Sima Nan for sale that unmasked qigong, and it was highly interesting to see books by Ke Yunlu and Sima Nan put side by side for sale in bookstores.

The flourishing era of qigong has passed, but the religion of qigong has already been shaped. As to how it is going to develop, how it is going to exert its influence on China, and how many new qigong believers there will be, we will have to wait and see.


Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 2

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