Traditional Qi Gong dates back to the Zhou Dynasty
(1100-21 B.C.). It was developed in both theory and practice after the
Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.). With relatively little following until the
1950s, it underwent a revival when Chinese physicians claimed to have
found it to have beneficial effects on hypertension. Short lived
however, the art was denounced during the Cultural Revolution
(1966-1976) as anti-Marxist and witchcraft.
With the advent of intellectual freedom in China, Qi
Gong came back into favour and became referred to as Extraordinary
Functions of the Human Body (EFHB). They included such "extraordinary"
feats such as bending spoons, reading inscriptions on crumpled paper
without viewing them, breaking matches sealed in boxes and so on. By
1991, according to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail, 60 million
Chinese were practising Qi Gong, and practitioners appearing on
television and in auditoriums were as popular as televangelists in
The concept of Qi, sometimes transcribed as Ch'i, was
first developed by Lao-Tzu as an art to be practised both for martial
and therapeutic reasons. He taught that Ch-i, or vital breath,
(somewhat similar to the elan vital of early European philosophy) was
an unimpeded flow through a network of invisible meridians throughout
the body which keeps a person alive. When this flow is impeded, illness
results. By stimulating the appropriate spots as in acupuncture,
reflexology and other similar concepts, health is restored. To this
focus on relaxation and meditation were added some other features to
the practice by his disciples. Among other claims were the ability to
see with the ears and hear with the eyes.
It is important to differentiate between internal and
external Qi Gong. While the former concentrates on breathing, exercise
and relaxation techniques to promote health and fitness, external Qi
Gong belongs well and truly in the realm of the paranormal. Among the
claims attributed to the Qi Gong masters are the emission of healing Qi
from their fingertips and the ability to move objects; clairaudience,
enabling them to hear conversations thousands of miles away; to start
fires with their thoughts and to diagnose illness by seeing with their
ears. Cancer, AIDS and broken bones are also listed among their alleged
cures using Qi. Some Qi Gong doctors reportedly possess the
extraordinary ability to manipulate patients' limbs at a distance and
to effect physical and chemical changes in the acupoints.
The exercises are designed to relax, strengthen and
develop one spiritually. It combines regulated breathing with body
movements in order to purify the major organs of the body, to
strengthen the immune system and treat various diseases.
There are three common Qi Gong exercises performed
either in a sitting, standing or lying down position, and where
movement is involved, with gentle circular movements and stretching.
The gastrointestinal movements help secrete stomach juices which aid
digestion and in China are claimed to be effective in treating
constipation, blood pressure and duodenal ulcers.
As mentioned previously, it is important to
differentiate between Qi Gong and pseudo-Qi Gong. Sometimes known as
Internal Qi Gong and External Qi Gong. The former involves deep
breathing, concentration, and relaxation techniques performed by the
individual. The latter is performed by "Qi Gong masters" who claim to
cure a wide variety of diseases with energy released from their
fingertips. Pseudo-Qi Gong pretends to be scientific and tries to prove
the existence of supernatural forces.
Some credence may be had in the claims made on behalf
of internal Qi Gong, such as achieving better digestion by stimulating
gastrointestinal movements. However, while Qi Gong or any other form of
gentle callisthenics and fresh air may well have a beneficial effect on
one's health, it does have its limitations. In the case of external Qi
Gong, one should be very wary indeed of the extraordinary claims
associated with this pseudo healing.
External Qi Gong, like so many other simplistic health
therapies originating in the "mysterious" east, leaves much to be
desired when objectively examined.
The Lonely Planet Guidebook on China for example, bluntly describes the practice as a "circus act."
At the invitation of Mr Lin Xixin, the editor of the
Science and Technology Daily of Beijing, a team from CSICOP (Committee
for the Scientific Investigation for Claims Of the Paranormal)
consisting of Paul Kurtz, James Randi, Philip Klass, Ken Frazier, Barry
Karr and James Alcock, visited China in 1988 to evaluate Qi Gong. The
results showed no evidence of paranormal powers.
One trial conducted by the CSICOP team involved a Qi
Gong master, Dr. Lu, who claimed that Qi emanating from his fingertips
had reduced the size of a swelling on a patient's spine, resulting in
less pain and restoring movement. While in the same room as Dr Lu, the
patient responded to the rhythmic movement of his hands and arms.
Although the team was assured by Dr. Lu that the Qi radiations could
pass through walls when he was absent from the room, the patient failed
to respond. The team concluded that she was responding not to any
unknown healing energy, but the visual gyrations of Dr. Lu.
All claims, when investigated objectively, turned out
to be schoolboy pranks, simple tricks and just plain cheating. Devices
used by practitioners on their patients have been shown to be blatantly
fraudulent. One, a miniature vacuum cleaner, supposedly sucks out "bad"
Qi and literally blows in hot air or "good" Qi. While Qi Gong as a
gentle form of callisthenics may well have a beneficial effect on one's
health, it does have its limitations. However, one should be very wary
indeed of the extraordinary claims associated with the pseudo-Qi Gong
type of healing.
Alcock, James, Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr, Phillip J. Klass, Paul Kurtz and
James Randi. 1988. Testing Psi Claims in China: Visit by a CSICOP Delegation. Skeptical Inquirer 12(4):364-375.
Alcock, James E. 1995. Qi Gong: Chinese Pseudoscience. The Skeptic. 8(6):12-16. Manchester, U.K.
Kastner, Mark & Hugh Burroughs, 1993. Alternative Healing, Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, California.
Shen, G.J. 1986. "Study of mind-body effects and Qi
Gong in China." Advances. Institute for the Advancement of Health.
Taiwan Skeptics, 1994. Chee's Sandwich, Taiwan Skeptics, September 1994.
Yu Guangyuan. 1982. "Comments on the propaganda about
reading with the ears in the past two years and more." Knowledge is
Zha, L. and McConnell, T. 1991. Parapsychology in the
Peoples Republic of China: 1979-1989. The Journal of the American
Society for Psychical Research, 85:119-143.
(Investigator 188, 2019 September)
From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.