CHAPTER 3: HISTORY OF QIGONG
Qigong is closely associated with Chinese medicine
(This chapter is selected from Tao Bing Fu and Yang Wei He (edit), Collection of Qigong Therapies Volume 1, Beijing People’s Publications, 1980, published in Chinese. There were no headings in the original text. They were added to make reading easier.)
"Dao Yin" or Directing and Leading
In ancient China, qigong was known as “dao yin xing qi” or just “dao yin” for short.
(Editorial Note: The Romanized Chinese "d" is pronounced like the English /t’/. Hence, “dao yin” is pronounced like /t’au yin/ in English.) “Dao yin xing qi” means “direct and lead circulation of energy”, i.e. an art that directs and leads practitioners’ circulation of energy through various techniques and skills to attain good health, vitality and longevity.)
In the section of “circulation of energy”, it was also called “tu na”, which means “breathing out and breathing in”. “Tu na” is a legacy of traditional Chinese medicine, the art of health and vitality, and the art of longevity. It has a history of many thousand years.
In “Discussion of Ancient Music” of “Lu Shi Spring and Autumn”, it is mentioned that “Long ago during the times of the earliest tribes of Tao and Tang, there was a lot of rain, river water was abundant, it was wet, damp and cold, with the result that many people had stagnation of energy flow and clotting of blood, and their muscles and tendons were not comfortable. Thus the people perform dance and direct their energy flow.”
“Perform dance” was the earliest form of “dao yin” or qigong techniques. These techniques have been passed on to the present days as one of mobile qigong exercises. These exercises were graceful and elegant liked dance. Hence, “dao yin” was the legacy of the earliest people performing expedient means to face difficult conditions of natural environment to fight disease and maintain health.
Period of Warring States
During the Period of Warring States (475-221 BCE) of Chinese history, qigong was already widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, maintaining health, and enhancing longevity. The earliest classic on traditional Chinese medicine, “Inner Classic of Huang Ti”, contained records of various “dao yin” exercises in overcoming illness. For example, in “Simple Questions: Discussion on Various Therapeutic Methods” in the Inner Classic of Medicine, it is mentioned that, “In the central region its plain is wet, so there are many cases of fever. An easy therapeutic method is to direct and lead energy circulation.”
In “Simple Questions: Discussion of Strange Illness” of the classic, it is mentioned that “To overcome illness, one has to take medication and perform dao yin exercises. Taking medication alone cannot overcome illness.”
At the same time, qigong was to prevent illness, maintain health and promote longevity. “Discussion on Heavenly Truth of Ancient Times” asks, “Why some people live beyond a hundred years and still be very healthy? Why some people at about fifty are already old?” The classic thoroughly explains the way of longevity, especially emphasizes that, “live simply with void and nothingness, with real energy, with mind focused at the inside, how can illness occur?”
“Live simply with void and nothingness” and “mind focused at the inside” are the fundamental requirements of qigong training. “With real energy” and “how can illness occur?” describe the function and result of qigong training.
“Real energy”, or “zhen qi” in Chinese, is the internal energy flow as a result of qigong training. In other words, following the fundamentals of “living simply with void and nothingness” and “mind focused at the inside”, which in simple, modern language means living without being distracted by worldly pleasures like alcohol, cigarettes and modern entertainment, without thinking of myriad thoughts, and gently focused on the intention of the training, by practicing relevant qigong exercises, an internal energy flow will be generated, with the result that no illness will occur, and the practitioner will have good health and longevity.
Why did Peng Zu have Longevity
In Chinese legends, there was a person called Peng Zu who lived to 800 years. To say that one lives to 800 years may be exaggerated, but it shows that his life span is much longer than most people’s. Hence, Peng Zu has become famous.
Why did Peng Zu live to such a long life? During the Period of Warring States (475-221 BCE), Zhuang Tzu’s “Discussion on Intention” stated that “Breathing out and breathing in, disposing off stale energy and taking in fresh energy, like bears walking and birds flying, thus attain longevity. Such is one who practices directing and leading energy flow, such is one who cultivates his body. Such is the way people with the longevity of Peng Zu like to do.” Peng Zu had longevity because he liked to practice qigong.
Wu Shang Xian of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in his medical book, “Philosophy and Discussion” explains Zhuang Tzu’s description as “dao yin” exercises.
The technique of “breathing out and breathing in, disposing off stale energy and taking in fresh energy” was first described in the earliest archaeological artefact called “Jade Pendant of Circulating Energy”. It was a 12-piece jade pendant, about 280 BCE during the time of the Warring States. Encraved on the jade pendant were 45 words as follows: “Circulate energy. Deep thus focused. Focused thus expand. Expand thus sink. Sink thus stable. Stable thus solid. Solid thus glorious. Glorious thus long. Long thus retreat. Retreat thus heaven. Heaven is foundation on top. Earth is foundation at bottom. Harmonious thus life. Against thus death.”
Jade Pendant of Circulating Energy
According to Guo Mo Ruo, the general meaning of the description of the jade pendant is as follows. “People who breathe in deeply have a lot of energy. The energy sinks down, and when it sinks down it is stabilized. Then breathe out. It is like grass and woods germinating. The energy rises up. When it deepens, it is against the flow of the meridian in flowing forward and backward, until the flow is at the extreme top. In this way, heavenly mechanism moves upward. Earth mechanism moves downward. Following this flow brings life. Against this flow brings death.”
Actually, the jade pendant described a systematic method of deep breathing exercise. Today it is a technique of smooth deep breathing, which is one of the methods of tranquil qigong.
Jin and Han Dynasties
By the time of the Jin and the Han Dynasties (221 BCE to 220 CE), there were specialized books on qigong. Qigong became an important therapeutic method in traditional Chinese medicine, and was popular amongst the people.
“Recodes of Culture and Literature” of the Books of Han described 12 volumes of Huang Ti Dao Yin Exercises, and 10 volumes of Massage Therapy of Huang Ti and Qi Bo.
Dao Yin Exercises
In 1973 in the archaeological findings of Zhang Sa, there were two pieces of artifact. One was in written words describing what types of breathing exercises would overcome what types of illness. Another piece consisted of more than 40 pictures showing how “dao yin” exercises were performed.
There were some important conclusions derived from the pictures.
Some pictures showed “dao yin” exercises to overcome deafness and knee pain. This illustrated that different “dao yin” exercises were employed for different types of illness, demonstrating an important aspect of traditional Chinese medical principles.
The postures shown in the pictures depicted bears, monkeys, wolves, dragons, sparrows, eagles and various animals. Some showed empty hand movements in stretching and recoiling, and some with wood or heavy materials as aids to produce bodily movements. There were 16 standing postures, 2 moving postures, 1 kneeling posture, and 9 postures holding materials, holding knees and bending. These showed that there were already many postures in “dao yin” exercises, with standing and empty hands as the main postures.
There are standing postures, moving postures, postures with standing and moving, directing and leading energy through intention, directing and leading energy through breathing, directing and leading energy through limb movement, and directing and leading energy through sounds.
A picture, for example, showed a man standing upright, pressing his chest forward, lifting two arms upwards to the back, and breathing in deeply. Another picture showed another man, bare shoulders, standing upright with feet slightly apart at shoulder’s width, holding the abdomen slightly, head like an uplifted bell, eyes gently close looking downwards like entering into meditation, regulating the breath, mind focused inwardly, both arms spread open, with shoulders, elbows, wrists loosened and dropping downwards, thighs and knees are also loosened, and both knees slightly bent. This posture is similar to today’s “zhan zhuang” or stance training.
There was another picture showing a monkey posture. The monkey was making noises to clear infected diseases. The picture showed a man lifting up his chest and abdomen, with his mouth elongated to make some sounds. It illustrated a combination of breathing and making noises to direct and lead energy flow. Song Ying Xing of Ming Dynasty in his “Discussion of Energy on Sound Energy” mentioned that, “Its sound vibrates through valleys, it has special meaning for cultivators, it is not what average people may know.”
There were men and women, young and old practicing qigong shown in the pictures. Some were bare-back, some wore attires. Their attires showed they were common people at the time. Qigong was the practice to prevent illness, overcome illness, maintain health and promote longevity of the common people. At the same time, qigong was the crystallization of wisdom and practice of the people’s fight against illness, weakness and old age.
Crystallization of Wisdom
Qigong was also the crystallization of the wisdom and practice of leaders in communities. Records showed community leaders like Zhang Liang, Dong Fang Shuo, Cao Cao and others in the administrative class practiced “dao yin” exercises. Wang Chong in his “Self Record” mentioned his “nourishing energy to focus himself” and “taking medication to direct and lead energy flow”, indicating the importance of “dao yin” exercises amongst top leaders.
A historian of the Later Han Period (25-220), Ge Yue, said that “Two inches below the navel is where Taoist cultivators regard as the focus of energy.” It showed not only that Confucians paid much attention to the study of qigong, but also the close relationship between qigong and the meridian system. It illustrated the principles of focusing energy at the yuanguan energy point, and of placing intention at the yuanguan energy point, which are similar to modern day sayings of focusing energy at dan tian, and placing intention at dan tian.
(Editorial Note: yuanguan is an energy point below the navel, dan tian means energy flield.)
During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE), famous medical scientists further developed the concept and practice of “dao yin ” or “directing and leading energy flow”. For example, the great Chinese doctor, Zhang Zhong Jing, in his “Important Conclusions of Golden Cupboard” mentioned that “Feelings in the four limbs are possible due to directing and leading energy flow, breathing out and in, acupuncture, moxibustion and massage therapy.”
Hua Tuo and Five-Animal Play
The great Chinese doctor, Hua Tuo, was an expert in directing and leading energy flow. When he was about a hundred years old, he was still healthy and full of vitality. Why was Hua Tuo not weak and sick at old age? He told his disciple, Wu Pu, “One must exercise gently, but not excessively. Gentle exercise enables food to be easily digested, respiration easy, blood circulation smooth, and no illness occurs. It is like the swing of doors. The doors should be gently moved so that they will not rot.”
“Following this philosophy, people in the past imitated the movements of bear and bird to formulate a set of “dao yin” exercises to move the neck, the back, the waist and various joints, to prevent early weakening. We imitate the movements of tiger, bear, deer, monkey and bird to compose Five-Animal Play to direct and lead energy flow so as to cure illness, to strengthen waist and limbs. Whenever you feel uncomfortable, perform the play of any one animal, to have gentle sweating, and feel the body light and comfortable, and you will then also like to eat something.”
Wu Pu followed Hua Tuo’s art, practiced regularly, and even at more than 90 years, his hearing was good, his eyesight clear, and his teeth solid and sharp. Hua Tuo’s Five-animal Play is a famous art of mobile qigong.
By the times of Wei and Jin and the Period of North and South Dynasties (about 220-589), “dao yin” became widely practiced amongst the people. Its philosophy, nature and techniques developed further.
Ge Hong and Tao Hong Jing
The famous Chinese doctor, Ge Hong, said that “the main aim of qigong practice is to strengthen a person’s internal aspects to overcome illness that has not occur, and to clear energy that may not be flowing smoothly.” He commented that the two main types of qigong, namely “breathing out breathing in” and “contract and stretching” (which referred to quiescent qigong and mobile qigong) were one-sided, and recommended they should be practiced together. He also recommended that “qigong practice should be combined with medication, and that a person’s daily life and sex should be moderate, otherwise qigong training may not bring good results.”
Ge Hong also commented that qigong was not dependent on forms, but must have practical benefits. He said, “Qigong may involve contracting and stretching, standing or bending, walking or lying down, upright or slanting, stationary or mobile, making noise or breathing, all these are directing and leading energy flow.”
His "dao yin" techniques were wide, including loosening body and limbs, not thinking of anything to enter into a meditative state of mind, regulating the breath to attain foetus breathing, and biting teeth, swallowing saliva, and massaging eyes, ears and face. Also there were movements imitating birds, insects and animals. There were also “when internal aspects of the body are uncomfortable, hold the breath to direct and lead energy flow to overcome the problem.” These therapeutic methods are suitable for those who have some experience of qigong training.
Tao Hong Jing of North and South Dynasties (386-589) was the first person to organize various writings on “dao yin” techniques into a complete book. His “Nourish Life Promote Longevity” was regarded by people of later times as “shower without the use of water” and as the main “eight exercises” of Eight Pieces of Brocade.
(Editorial Note: Eight Pieces of Brocade is a famous type of qigong consisting of eight exercises.)
It included 20 types of breathing exercises, and using six sounds for breathing. Ge Hong and Tao Hong Jing had great influence on the later development of qigong.
Sui and Tang Dynasties
During the times of Sui and Tang Dynasties (581-906), the government formally regarded qigong as an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine. The governments of both dynasties installed the chair of massage in their imperial medical colleges. The Tang Dynasty government instituted massage masters to teach “dao yin” techniques to overcome illness and prevent injury.
The great medical professor of Sui Dynasty, Zhao Yuan Fang, collected case histories of diseases with “dao yin” exercises as remedies and edited “Discussion on Causes of Various Diseases”. There were complete records of the practice of circulating energy to overcome illness.
For example, in “Illness of Cold, Weakening Knees”, it was described “to sit with two legs in comfort, channel energy to the yongquan energy points to attain three clearances. When energy arrives, illness will be overcome.”
(Editorial Note: yongquan energy points are found at the soles of the feet. Three clearances referred to energy flowing smoothly through the three leg meridians.)
Also, it was mentioned, “Stand upright with two arms at the sides. let energy flow down, let energy from internal organs flow to the yongquan energy points.”
In “Pain in the Stomach”, it was mentioned “to lie down with the face looking upward, hold the breath with the nose and mouth, if there is pain in the stomach, use intention to guide, gently visualize energy flow to where the pain is, then there is heat, and the pain will be overcome.”
The great medical doctor of the Tang Dynasty, Sun Si Miao not only collected “dao yin” techniques of the Chinese people in his “Preparation of Thousand Gold Formulas”, but also included “dao yin” techniques from Buddhism.
Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties
In the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties (960-1911), there were records of qigong in important medical texts. For example, “Effective Formulas of Su and Zhen” of the Song Dynasty, stressed the importance of “foetus breathing” in maintaining life.
The famous medical text of the Song Dynasty, “General Record of Sacred Savours”, advocated using self-circulating energy therapy to overcome illness. For example, in “illness of residence, use gentle visualization to direct and lead energy to the disease area. In 3 to 5 days, the illness will be overcome. If there is illness at the four limbs, gently visualize energy flow to attack the illness. The illness will disappear.” Here as well as in “Discussion on Causes of Various Diseases” mentioned above, clearly show the application of intention and energy flow to overcome illness.
One of the “Four Great Families of the Jin and Yuan Period”, Zhang Zi He, pointed out that “whatever illness caused by the evil of wind and cold, at the skin or meridian levels, use sweating to overcome it. Dao yin and massage is one of the effective methods. “
The “Secrets of Maintaining Life” of Cao Yuan Bai of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) also described using “dao yin” techniques to cure illness. “Complete Medical Record of Illustrated Ancient and Modern Times” edited by Chen Meng Lei of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) reported a lot of “dao yin” techniques.
Channelling Energy, Yi Jin Jing, Ba Duan Jin
Since ancient times, there has been popular in public a therapeutic method called “channelling-energy therapy”. This channelling-energy therapy is different from self-circulating energy therapy. Channelling-energy therapy is used by advanced qigong practitioners to general internal energy flow that is channelled out to patients without touching the patients via certain energy points of the practitioners, like fingers or palms. The advanced qigong practitioners use their own energy to help patients overcome illness. Such qigong therapy is very effective, including overcoming serious illness.
Qigong arts like “Yi Jin Jing” or Sinew Metamorphosis, “Ba Duan Jin” or Eight Pieces of Brocade, and “Shi Er Duan Jin” or Twelve Pieces of Brocade, that are popular in the public, were developed from “dao yin” exercises. There were also kungfu masters who combined qigong and martial arts to formulate famous kungfu styles, like Shaolin Kungfu from Bodhidharma and Taijiquan from Zhang San Feng.
It can be seen that qigong has a long history, and is the legacy of traditional Chinese medicine, maintaining health and promoting longevity. It is the legacy of a few thousand years of the Chinese people, and has been proven to be effective. It is also a very ancient as well as a very young science. It is certainly not superstition or witchcraft.
Because the internal flow of energy as well as the energy transmitted by qigong masters cannot be seen and cannot be heard, and cannot be touched by most people, or be felt by them, and also due to limited excess to science, many people may not be able to view qigong from a scientific perspective.
Also some rulers and people of upper classes often sought for everlasting life. Hence, as far back as the times of Warring States (476-221 BCE) and Jin and Han Dynasties (221 BCE to 220 CE), there were impersonators acting like immortals who used “dao yin” exercises as the art of everlasting life.
Buddhism and Taoism
By the time of Eastern Han (25-220) when Buddhism spread to China, sitting meditation in a lotus position was popular. Taoism also became widespread, and qigong became mixed with religion. By the time of North and South Dynasties (386-589), the Taoist practice of leaving society to cultivate for longevity became popular. Great medical doctors like Ge Hong and Tao Hong Jing became famous representatives of Taoism. Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism became the tripod of Chinese society.
Qigong therapy was important not only in traditional Chinese medicine, but also in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Thus in the “Case Histories of Confucianism of Ming Dynasty”, Wang Long Xi explained the techniques of breathing as “wind, sigh, energy and breath”, and discussed their benefits and harms. The great Confucian scholar, Su Shi (or Su Dong Bo) wrote a lot of articles on qigong. In history, qigong therapy was mutually studied and developed in the fields of Chinese medicine, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.
During the times of the Song and the Ming Dynasties (1279-1644), the study of physical science became popular. Many Confucian physicists learned meditation from Buddhism, as well as qigong from Taoism. For example, Zhu Xi studied the writings of Wei Bo Yang of the Han Dynasty on “Elixir of Change of the Times of Zhou”, and contributed much to the philosophy of qigong.
Many Buddhists and Taoist employed qigong therapy in the spread of their religion. Hence, during the time of federal China under dynastic rulers and society based on upper classes, qigong therapy was mixed with religion and superstition. After the liberation of China, the new Chinese government recognised traditional Chinese medicine as a great legacy of the Chinese people. Combining with Western medicine, the new Chinese government set up many qigong therapy centres to promote and further develop qigong therapy as an important mean to overcome illness. These centres began to use modern scientific methods to study and research into qigong, and attained outstanding results.
For example, in 1963 the Psychological Teaching and Research Group of the First Shanghai Hospital discovered in research that in 21 cases, practitioners reduced their metabolic processes by 19% after practicing qigong, with two cases of obvious reduction by 57% and 47%. The metabolic processes of deep natural sleep compared to drug-induced sleep was reduced by 10-15%. It was also discovered that the oxygen level of practitioners was increased, and their carbon dioxide level reduced.
Amongst 20 practitioners, the temperature at their hands was raised by 2-8 degrees Celsius. Some practitioners had their temperature raised by 6-7 degrees Celsius. It was only after 20-60 minutes before their temperature returned to their pre-practice levels.
However, during a short period of about 10 years at the time of the “Gang of Four”, qigong reverted back to be regarded as trickery, superstition and witchcraft. But the people’s experience was real. Those who suffered from chronic diseases and those who suffered from so-called incurable diseases, with the feeling of giving qigong a try, practiced qigong diligently, and miraculously recovered. Hence, after “10 years of trouble” qigong blossomed again, and received much attention and importance from scientists and researchers.
For example, in 1978 the Shanghai Nuclear Research Institute discovered that the energy emitted by qigong practitioners contained ultra-red rays as well as mental impulses, thus indicating the material reality of qi or energy. This removed thousands of years of superstition regarding qigong, and placed qigong firmly on a scientific basis. It established qigong as an art concerning the miracle of life of humanity, opening a new chapter in the research of qigong. Using qigong therapy to overcome illness has produced wonderful results.
In July 1979 the Conference of Scientific Qigong Research was held in Beijing. This conference effectively promoted qigong therapy as well as qigong research for the whole of China, and enabled qigong to help the general public to prevent illness, overcome diseases, maintain health and promote longevity. It rejuvenated traditional Chinese medicine, making it modern, and liaised Western medicine with Chinese medicine in the noble aim of saving and prolonging life.
Hua Tuo, the Sage of Chinese Medicine