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Qi (Ch'i)

Chinese name
Traditional Chinese:
Simplified Chinese:
Japanese name
Korean name
Thai name
Thai: ชี่
RTGS: khi
Vietnamese name
Quốc ngữ: khí
This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.

In traditional Chinese culture, qi ( / ; Pinyin , Wade-Giles ch'i Jyutping hei; Korean gi; Japanese ki; Vietnamese khí; pronounced IPA[tɕʰi˥˩] in Standard Mandarin) is an active principle forming part of any living thing.

It is frequently translated as "energy flow," and is often compared to Western notions of energeia or élan vital (vitalism) as well as the yogic notion of prana. The literal translation is "air," "breath," or "gas" (compare the original meaning of Latin spiritus "breathing"; or the Common Greek πνεῦμα, meaning "air," "breath," or "spirit"; and the Sanskrit term prana, "breath" ).


[edit] Term and character

The etymological explanation for the form of the qi logogram in the traditional form is “steam () rising from rice () as it cooks”.

The earliest way of writing qi consisted of three wavy lines, used to represent one's breath seen on a cold day. A later version, 气, (identical to the present-day simplified character) is a stylized version of those same three lines. For some reason, early writers of Chinese found it desirable to substitute for 气 a cognate, character that originally meant to feed other people in a social context such as providing food for guests.[citation needed] Appropriately, that character combined the three-line qi character with the character for rice. So 气 plus 米 formed 氣, and that is the traditional character still used today. (See the Oracle bone character, the Seal script character and the modern "school standard" or Kǎi shū characters in the box at the right for three stages of the evolution of this character.)[1]

Kanji used in Japan for "ki" until 1946, when it was changed to 気. Koreans maintain the older character in their "hanja".

In the Japanese language, the Chinese character corresponding to qi () is pronounced ki. The Japanese language contains over 11,442 known usages of "ki" as a compound. As a compound, it may represent syllables associated with the mind, the heart, feeling, the atmosphere, and flavor.[citation needed]

Parallel development occurred in the Korean language which uses Chinese characters (hanja) alongside the indigenous Korean system (hangul). There are also some cases in which commonalities are due to the long history of their geographical relationship.[citation needed]

[edit] Definition

References to things analogous to the qi taken to be the life-process or “flow” of energy that sustains living beings are found in many belief systems, especially in Asia. Philosophical conceptions of qi date from the earliest recorded times in Chinese thinking. One of the important early cultural heroes in Chinese mythology is Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor). He is identified in the legends of China as the one who first collected and formalized much of what subsequently became known as traditional Chinese medicine.

The earliest extant book that speaks of qi is the Analects of Confucius (composed from the notes of individual students some time after his death in 479 B.C.) Unlike the legendary accounts mentioned above, the Analects has a clear date in history, and most later books (at least the ones that do not purport to be relics of the legendary earliest rulers) can also be assigned clear dates in history.

Manfred Porkert described relations to Western universal concepts:

Within the framework of Chinese thought no notion may attain to such a degree of abstraction from empirical data as to correspond perfectly to one of our modern universal concepts. Nevertheless the term qi comes as close as possible to constituting a generic designation equivalent to our word "energy". When Chinese thinkers are unwilling or unable to fix the quality of an energetic phenomenon, the character qi 氣 inevitably flows from their brushes.[2]

Although the concept of qi has been very important within many Chinese philosophies, over the centuries their descriptions of qi have been varied and may seem to be in conflict with each other. Understanding of these disputes is complicated for people who did not grow up using the Chinese concept and its associated concepts. Until China came into contact with Western scientific and philosophical ideas (primarily by way of Catholic missionaries), they knew about things like stones and lightning, but they would not have categorized them in terms of matter and energy. Qi and li (理, li, pattern) are their fundamental categories much as matter and energy have been fundamental categories for people in the West. Their use of qi (lifebreath) and li (pattern, regularity, form, order) as their primary categories leaves in question how to account for liquids and solids, and, once the Western idea of energy came on the scene, how to relate it to the native idea of "qi". If Chinese and Western concepts are mixed in an attempt to characterize some of the problems that arise with the Chinese conceptual system, then one might ask whether qi exists as a "force" separate from "matter", whether qi arises from "matter", or whether "matter" arises from qi.

Hand written calligraphic Qi.

Fairly early on, some Chinese thinkers began to believe that there are different fractions of qi (in the sense that different fractions can be extracted from crude oil in a catalytic cracker), and that the coarsest and heaviest fractions of qi form solid things such as rocks, the earth, etc., whereas lighter fractions form liquids, and the most ethereal fractions are the "lifebreath" that animates living beings.[3]

Yuán qì is a notion of "innate" or "pre-natal" qi to distinguish it from acquired qi that a person may develop of their lifetime.

[edit] Early philosophical texts

The earliest texts that speak of qi give some indications of how the concept developed. The philosopher Mo Di (also known as Mo Zi or "Master Mo") used the word qi to refer to noxious vapors that would in due time arise from a corpse were it not buried at a sufficient depth.[4] He reported that early civilized humans learned how to live in houses to protect their qi from the moisture that had troubled them when they lived in caves.[5] He also associated maintaining one's qi with providing oneself adequate nutrition.[6] And, in regard to another kind of qi he recorded how some people performed a kind of prognostication by observing the qi (clouds) in the sky.[7]

In the "Analects of Confucius", (composed from the notes of individual students sometime after his death in 479 B.C.), "qi" can mean "breath",[8] and it can be combined with the Chinese word for blood (making 血氣, xue-qi, blood and breath) and that concept can be used to account for motivational characteristics. The Analects, 16:7, says:

The [morally] noble man guards himself against three things. When he is young, his xue-qi has not yet stabilized, so he guards himself against sexual passion. When he reaches his prime, his xue-qi is not easily subdued, so he guards himself against combativeness. When he reaches old age, his xue-qi is already depleted, so he guards himself against acquisitiveness.

Meng Ke (also known as Meng Zi, Master Meng, or Mencius) described a kind of qi that might be characterized as an individual's vital energies. This qi was necessary to activity, and it could be controlled by a well-integrated will power.[9] But this qi could not adequately be characterized by English words like "lifebreath" or "bio-plasma" because when properly nurtured it was capable of extending beyond the human body to reach throughout the universe.[9] This qi can be augmented by means of careful exercise of one's moral capacities.[9] On the other hand, the qi of an individual can be degraded by averse external forces that succeed in operating on that individual.[10]

Among the animals, the gibbon and the crane were considered experts in inhaling the qi. Dong Zhongshu (ca. 150 BC) wrote in Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals:[11]

The gibbon resembles a macaque, but he is larger, and his color is black. His forearms being long, he lives eight hundred years, because he is expert in controlling his breathing.


Dong Zhongshu

Not only human beings and animals were believed to have "qi". Zhuang Zhou (also known as Zhuang Zi or Master Zhuang) indicated that wind is the "qi" of the earth.[12] Moreover, cosmic Yin and Yang "are the greatest of 'qi'."[13] He describes qi as "issuing forth" and creating profound effects.[14]

Zhuang Zi gave us one of the most productive of insights into the nature of "qi". He said "Human beings are born [because of] the accumulation of 'qi'. When it accumulates there is life. When it dissipates there is death.... There is one 'qi' that connects and pervades everything in the world."[15]

Another passage traces life to intercourse between Heaven and Earth: "The highest Yin is the most restrained. The highest Yang is the most exuberant. The restrained comes forth from Heaven. The exuberant issues forth from Earth. The two intertwine and penetrate forming a harmony, and [as a result] things are born."[16]

Zhuang Zi was a contemporary of Mencius. Xun Zi followed them after some years. At 9:69/127, Xun Zi says: "Fire and water have qi but do not have life. Grasses and trees have life but do not have perceptivity. Fowl and beasts have perceptivity but do not have yi (sense of right and wrong, duty, justice). Men have qi, life, perceptivity, and yi." This passage gives us some insight into his idea of "qi". Chinese people at such an early time had no concept of radiant energy. But they were aware that one can be heated by a campfire even though the air between camper and fire is quite cold. Clearly, something is emitted by the fire and reaches the camper. They called it "qi". At 18:62/122, he too uses "qi" to refer to the vital forces of the body that decline with advanced age.

Later, the syncretic text assembled under the direction of Liu An, the Huai Nan Zi has a passage that presages most of what is given greater detail by the Neo-Confucians:

Heaven (seen here as the ultimate source of all being) falls (duo 墮, i.e., descends into proto-immanence) as the formless. Fleeting, fluttering, penetrating, amorphous it is, and so it is called the Supreme Luminary. The dao begins in the Void Brightening. The Void Brightening produces the universe (yu-zhou ). The universe produces qi. Qi has bounds. The clear, yang [qi] was ethereal and so formed heaven. The heavy, turbid [qi] was congealed and impeded and so formed earth. The conjunction of the clear, yang [qi] was fluid and easy. The conjunction of the heavy, turbid [qi] was strained and difficult. So heaven was formed first and earth was made fast later. The pervading essence (xi-jing) of heaven and earth becomes yin and yang. The concentrated (zhuan) essences of yin and yang become the four seasons. The dispersed (san) essences of the four seasons become the myriad creatures. The hot qi of yang in accumulating produces fire. The essence (jing) of the fire-qi becomes the sun. The cold qi of yin in accumulating produces water. The essence of the water-qi becomes the moon. The essences produced by coitus (yin) of the sun and moon become the stars and celestial markpoints (chen, planets).

Huai-nan-zi, 3:1a/19

The development of the ideas of qi and of qi zhi zhi xing (氣質之性) in Neo-Confucianism go beyond the scope of a fundamental account of Chinese ideas about qi, but the fundamentals are contained in the above passage.[17]

[edit] Traditional Chinese medicine

Theories of traditional Chinese medicine assert that the body has natural patterns of qi that circulate in channels called meridians in English.[18] Symptoms of various illnesses are often believed to be the product of disrupted, blocked, or unbalanced qi movement (interrupted flow) through the body's meridians, as well as deficiencies or imbalances of qi (homeostatic imbalance) in the various Zang Fu organs.[19] Traditional Chinese medicine often seeks to relieve these imbalances by adjusting the circulation of qi (metabolic energy flow) in the body using a variety of therapeutic techniques. Some of these techniques include herbal medicines, special diets, physical training regimens (qigong, tai chi chuan, and other martial arts training),[20] moxibustion, massage to clear blockages, and acupuncture, which uses small diameter metal needles inserted into the skin and underlying tissues to reroute or balance qi.[21]

It has been hypothesized that the alleged therapeutic effects of acupuncture can be explained by endorphin-release, by relaxation or by simple placebo effects.[22] The NIH Consensus Statement on acupuncture in 1997 noted that concepts such as qi "are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture."[23]

It is hypothesized that qi could be transmitted through the fascia independent of any neurological activity.[24]

[edit] Scientific investigation

There are many uses of the term "qi" in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, but it's a imprecise concept of which the best, non-poetic translation is probably "stuff".[25]

There are other uses of the term qì which are slightly more concrete; for instance, following an organ network, it means "function", e.g. gān qì (肝氣) or "liver qì" should be interpreted roughly as "liver function". Further confounding matters, the Chinese term gān is itself a bundle of functional interactions with other organ networks, rather than referring specifically to the tissues of the Liver.[26] A particularly notable discrepancy is pí qì (脾氣) or "spleen qì", which refers mostly to quality of digestion. While from a Western Medical Science perspective the spleen is involved in digestion, sending bilirubin to the liver for inclusion in bile fluids, it is a minor player compared to other organs.

There are also terms like Yuán Qì (元氣) and Zhēn qì (真氣) which are all relatively well defined concepts, and refer variously to interactions between organ networks. When used in the sense "qì is obstructed", it may simply refer to a blockage of body fluids[citation needed] (eg, lymph, veinous blood and interstitial fluid) easily moved by massage such as Tuina.

So, care should be taken during translation to know which sense of the term "qì" is being used. Each of them is its own scientific interpretation. The "sensational" types, ie those which have no explanation in current standard histological models of the body, are the dé qì (得氣) effect felt when an acupuncture needle is inserted and manipulated, and closely related the yíng qì (營氣), which is said to circulate in the jīng luò (經絡).

There have been a number of studies of qi - especially in the sense used by traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. These studies have often been problematic, and are hard to compare to each other, as they lack a common nomenclature.[27] While some studies claim to have been able to measure "qi", as understood in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, or the effects of manipulating "qi" through e.g. acupuncture. Other studies have showed, that sham acupuncture is as effective as real acupuncture[28], removing the concept of qi from the equation.

It has been hypothesized that the effects of acupuncture can be explained by endorphin-release, by relaxation or by placebo effects.[22] The NIH Consensus Statement on acupuncture in 1997 noted that concepts such as Qi "are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture."[23]

However more recent investigations[29] point to connective tissue mechanotransduction, in other words a domino effect caused by the specific twisting and knotting of the fabric of the body. The connections with electric conductivity were studied in the United States in the late 19th Century, and are currently the subject of more active research.[30]

[edit] Feng shui

The traditional Chinese art of geomancy, the placement and arrangement of space called feng shui, is based on calculating the balance of qi, interactions between the five elements, yin and yang and other factors. The retention or dissipation of qi is believed to affect the health, wealth, energy level, luck and many other aspects of the occupants of the space. Color, shape and the physical location of each item in a space affects the flow of qi by slowing it down, redirecting it or accelerating it, which directly affects the energy level of the occupants. Feng shui is said to be a form of qi divination. [31]

[edit] Martial arts

Qi is a didactic concept in many Chinese, Korean and Japanese martial arts. Martial qigong is a feature of both internal and external training systems in China[32] and other east Asian cultures.[33]

[edit] See also

This article is part of a series on Taoism
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[edit] References

  1. ^ See p. 804f of Gao Shufan's "Xing, Yin, Yi Zonghe Da Zidian", Zhong Zheng Shuju, Taipei, 1984
  2. ^ Porkert, Manfred (1974). The Theoretical Foundations of Chinese Medicine: Systems of Correspondence. MIT Press. ISBN 0262160587. OCLC 123145357. 
  3. ^ Definitions and brief historical notes on such concepts can be found in Wei Zhengtong's "Zhong Guo Zhexue Cidian", Da Lin Publishing Company, Taipei, 1977.
  4. ^ Mo Zi, chapter 25, 84/86ths of the way through
  5. ^ Mo Zi, 21:17/19
  6. ^ Mo Zi, 21:5/19 and 6:22/40
  7. ^ Mo Zi, 68:7/23 and 70:98/139
  8. ^ Analects, 10:3
  9. ^ a b c Mencius, 2A:2
  10. ^ Mencius, 6A:8
  11. ^ Robert van Gulik, The gibbon in China. An essay in Chinese animal lore. E.J.Brill, Leiden, Holland. (1967). Page 38
  12. ^ Zhuang Zi, 2:4/96
  13. ^ Zhuang Zi, 25:67/82
  14. ^ Zhuang Zi, 23:5/79
  15. ^ Zhuang Zi, 22:11/84
  16. ^ Zhuang Zi, 21:7/70
  17. ^ A much more complete account is available in "Explorations of Chinese Metaphysical Concepts", Patrick Edwin Moran, 1983.
  18. ^ Denis Lawson-Wood and Joyce Lawson-Wood, Acupuncture Handbook, Health Science Press, 1964, pp. 4, 133.
  19. ^ Lawson-Wood, p. 4 and throughout the book.
  20. ^ Wu, Kung-tsao (1980, 2006). Wu Family T'ai Chi Ch'uan (吳家太極拳). Chien-ch’uan T’ai-chi Ch’uan Association. ISBN 0-9780499-0-X. 
  21. ^ Lawson-Wood, p. 78f.
  22. ^ a b Hsu DT (1996). "Acupuncture. A review". Reg Anesth. 21 (4): 361–70. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=8837198&dopt=Citation. 
  23. ^ a b "Acupuncture: National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference Statement". National Institutes of Health. 3–5 November 1997. http://consensus.nih.gov/1997/1997Acupuncture107html.htm. Retrieved on 2007-01-15. 
  24. ^ Kimura M., Tohya K., Kuroiwa K., Oda H., Gorawski E.C., Hua Z.X., Toda S., Ohnishi M., Noguchi E., “Electron microscopical and immunohistochemical studies on the induction of 'qi' employing needling manipulation”, Am J Chin Med. 1992;20(1):25-35.
  25. ^ Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac.; Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O.M.D. (1991). Between Heaven and Earth – A Guide to Chinese Medicine. Ballentine Books (The Random House Publishing Group). 
  26. ^ Jeremy Ross (1985). Zang Fu - the Organ Systems of Traditional Chinese Medicine (2nd ed.). Churchill Livingstone. pp. 6. ISBN 0443034826. OCLC 12214988. 
  27. ^ White Peter, Golianu Brenda, Zaslawski Chris, Seung-HoonChoi (2006). "Standardization of Nomenclature in Acupuncture Research (SoNAR)". Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 4 (2): 267-270. http://ecam.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/4/2/267. 
  28. ^ Haake Michael, et al (2007). "German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC) for Chronic Low Back Pain". Internal Medicine 167 (17): 1892-1898. http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/167/17/1892. 
  29. ^ Helene M. Langevin, Jason A. Yandow (2002). Wiley Interscience 269 (6): 257–265. doi:10.1002/0471218812. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/101521787/abstract. 
  30. ^ Andrew C Ahn; Junru Wu, Gary J Badger, Richard Hammerschlag, Helene M Langevin (2005). "Electrical impedance along connective tissue planes associated with acupuncture meridians". BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 5 (10): 10. doi:10.1186/1472-6882-5-10. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/5/10. 
  31. ^ Stephen L. Field. 1998. [Qimancy: The Art and Science of Fengshui. http://www.fengshuigate.com/qimancy.html].
  32. ^ Wile, Douglas (1995). Lost T'ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch'ing Dynasty (Chinese Philosophy and Culture). State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-0791426548. OCLC 34546989. 
  33. ^ Bishop, Mark (1989). Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques. A&C Black, London. ISBN 0713656662. OCLC 19262983. 

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