(Investigator 188, 2019 September)


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 America.


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. 3(4):134:142.

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 Strength. No.5.

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.

 From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.