Qigong in China


I have read within your question and answer series that you are not persuaded to explain Qi by referring to the Western scientific paradigm, which is fair enough. You also suggest that the Western scientific paradigm because of its reductionist methodology is not well equipped to understand complex holistic phenomena. I agree with this as well.

— Ian, Scotland


Although you are right concerning the spirit of my philosophy on qi and Western scientific paradigm, you statement is not accurate. Indeed, I often explain qi and other related topics using the Western scientific paradigm, and this has enabled many modern people in both the West and the East to understand these topics better.

There are a few examples in these answers too. When I explain that ”when one tenses his muscles, he interrupts the flow of qi or energy”, or “the force that brings oxygen to all your cells in exchange for carbon dioxide to be breathed out by you, for example, is internal force or qi” I use the Western scientific paradigm.

If you read classical qigong and kungfu texts, you will not find explanations like these. Instead, you will find statements like “enter silence, and explode your qi from your dan tian” and “go old enter new”, which do not make any sense to modern people, including modern Chinese, who do not understand both classical Chinese and classical qigong and kungfu paradigm. These two classical statements are the closest I can get to say what I did using the Western scientific paradigm.

It is interesting, and it must come as a surprise to many people, that there is no equivalent term in the classical Chinese language for “muscles”! And the Chinese people in classical times did not know about “oxygen”, “carbon dioxide” and “cells”. In fact, to be more exact, all the people of the world in classical times did not know about oxygen, carbon dioxide and cells, but the classical Chinese had understanding of these concepts though they described them in different terms using a different paradigm.

It is helpful to note that a paradigm is not a set of universal truths; it is a particular way of viewing things conveniently agreed by a group of people. In a qigong paradigm, the group of people is limited to a small number who understand qigong philosophy. In a Western scientific paradigm, the group of people is global regardless of whether the people involved understand scientific philosophy.

When you look at your upper arm, you see a piece of flesh between your shoulder and elbow, and call that your bicep muscle. You use a modern Western paradigm. When a Chinese in classical times looked at a similar piece of flesh between his shoulder and elbow, he did not see it as his bicep muscle because he had no concept of the bicep muscle. So, what did he call it? He simply called it flesh. He used a classical Chinese paradigm.

As I said, there were no terms for muscles in classical Chinese. Actually there are no terms for muscles in modern Chinese either! If you ask a modern Chinese who has no idea of Western biology, what the Chinese term for muscles is, he will have no answer to tell you. He may also wonder why you ask such a silly question. If you press him further, he may say it is “jin”, which is not exact because “jin” can also refer to tendons, arteries, veins and meridians. The comunication gap is due to you and he using different paradigms.

But if you ask a modern Chinese who knows Western anatomy, what the Chinese word for muscles is, he will tell you that it is “ji rou”, which is a term coined by modern Chinese anatomists. “Ji rou” literally means “organ-flesh”, possibly suggesting that it is that part of flesh grouped together to form an organ. Now you and the modern Chinese use a same paradigm, though both of you use different languages to describe the same concept.

When a qigong practitioner looks at that part of his body located about two or three inches below his naval, he sees it as his “dan tian”. But if you do not know qigong paradigm, when you look at the similar part of your body, you do not see it as your “dan tian”. So, what do you call that? You just call it that part of your body located two or three inches below your naval.

If you understand this, you will understand why I advocate that if we wish to understand well a particular discipline, such as qigong or traditional Chinese medicine, we must use its paradigm. If we impose the Western scientific paradigm, we would miss its essence and profundity.

This does not mean that the Western scientific paradigm is inferior. Far from it. The Western scientific paradigm has given us a lot of wonderful benefits that those who use the qigong or traditional Chinese medical paradigm could not even dream of, like television and computers, planes and subway trains.

But in our investigation into how qigong can overcome diabetes, for example, if we insist on the qigong master explaining how qi can digest sugar, we would be imposing the Western scientific paradigm on a practice where this paradigm does not work. This does not means we cannot use the Western scientific paradigm as a standard. But, first of all, we should let the qigong master, who may know little about sugar and diabetes, to work on the patient using his own qigong paradigm.

In his qigong paradigm, the master would not see his patient as suffering from diabetes but from yin-yang disharmony. Hence, asking him how qi could reduce sugar level would be irrelevant. But when the master pronounces that the patient has regained his yin-yang harmony, Western scientists can then measure if the patient's sugar level is normal.

The above is taken from Question 3 of May 2005 Part 1 of the Selection of Questions and Answers.


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