the Barriers of Darkness: Recognizing the Cult of Qigong for
What It Is
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.