Author: Anthony Kuhn
Conference/Journal: Newsweek International
Date published: 2003
Other: Volume ID: Nov 17 , Pages: 43 , Word Count: 505
Just off Beijing's main shopping street, Wangfujing, patients with every imaginable malady line up to see qigong doctors in the Hall of the Tranquil Mind clinic. Director Zhang Xiaotong first became a believer in the spiritual art after he was immobilized by three slipped discs. When a qigong doctor tapped on acupuncture points on Zhang's arms and legs to free up the flow of qi, or bioenergy, his pain subsided. 'Qigong masters can't explain it. Modern science can't explain it,' says Zhang. 'Only Chinese medical theory can explain qigong's curative powers.' That theory holds that circulating qi energy through the body can not only restore health but also slow or reverse aging, as well as increase strength and mental acumen. As far back as the third century B.C., a Chinese medical canon called 'The Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic' described 'regulating the flow of blood and qi, taking medicine while observing yin and yang, and calming the mind by relaxing the bones and muscles.' Today China has hundreds of styles of qigong, exercises that combine elements of yoga, meditation, massage and martial arts to regulate breathing, mental activity and posture. Like yoga, qigong is intended to integrate body, mind and spirit, and its practitioners seek enlightenment as well as health. Numerous studies aimed at determining the medical value of qigong have proved inconclusive. But that hasn't stopped the Chinese government from promoting the art as a low-cost health-care alternative-- especially now that the state is dismantling its welfare system and transferring health-care costs to citizens. Last month the government began requiring all qigong doctors to take a standardized national test--not just to weed out phonies but also to help prevent psychotic reactions among devotees. (Like meditation, advanced qigong can trigger hallucinations if not guided by an experienced teacher.) Traditionally, qigong was an elite discipline, transmitted through religious sects from master to disciple. Today qigong instruction is available through video discs and correspondence courses, peddled along with meditation cushions and herbal teas. The ancient art hasn't always been widely accepted. During the all-out assault on traditional culture at the height of the Maoist era, qigong was practiced only in secret, if at all. Then, in the late 1980s, China rediscovered some of its cultural traditions, and the government enthusiastically promoted the exercises. In the early 1990s, a wave of self-styled healers, mystics and occultists rose from obscurity to command millions of disciples. But in 1999, Beijing cracked down on the Falun Gong spiritual group, which practices qigong, after 10,000 followers surrounded the Zhongnanhai leadership compound demanding official recognition for their group. The government sent several gurus to jail--and qigong into remission. Last month, however, Chinese officials signaled a cautious comeback for the meditative practice, announcing that sports authorities would begin promoting several ancient styles of qigong. 'Now that we've gotten through the craze phase, I think we'll be entering a period of stable development for qigong,' says Yu Gongbao, author of numerous books on China's arts of self-cultivation. Whether it actually helps or not.