Note: This is the second article in an ongoing series. Make sure to read the first article before reading this one, and check out the next articles in the series afterwards.
- Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part I): A Case of Mistaken Identity
- Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part II): Origins of the “Energy Meridian” Myth
- Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part III): The “Energy Meridian” Model Debunked
- Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part IV): A Closer Look At How Acupuncture Relieves Pain
- Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part V): A Closer Look At How Acupuncture Relieves Pain
- Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part VI): 5 Ways Acupuncture Can Help You Where Drugs and Surgery Can’t
As an acupuncture student, I often like to ask people if they know what the word qi (sometimes spelled “chi”) means.
I get all kinds of answers. Some people don’t have any idea. Some guess it’s a kind of tea, like chai tea. Some say it has something to do with martial arts. Others say it means balance or flow. But those who’ve been to an acupuncturist, or at least know someone who has, say that qi means energy.
They say that because that’s what their acupuncturist told them. And their acupuncturist told them that because that’s what the acupuncturist was taught in school. That’s the definition of qi in the textbooks about Chinese medicine that we study in the west.
According to these textbooks this mysterious energy called qi flowing through these nonexistent lines called meridians forms the conceptual basis of Chinese medicine.
This is the definition of Chinese medicine that causes snickers, smirks and shaking heads amongst the scientific crowd – which is to say almost every doctor or medical professional trained in the west. But is this definition even accurate?
Much of what we know about Chinese medicine comes from a book called the Huangdi Neijing (HDNJ), or Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic. There’s some controversy about when it was written, but most scholars agree that it was about 2,000 years ago, sometime between the second and first century BCE. The HDNJ is a massive encyclopedic text of Chinese medicine. You can think of it as their version of the Merck Manual.
The HDNJ had several sections. One was on anatomy. If you recall from the previous post in this series, the Chinese were performing detailed dissections 500 years before the birth of Christ. They listed the average weight, volume and measurements for all of the internal organs. They named the organs and described their functions. (In fact, they knew that the heart is the organ that pumps blood through the body more than 2,000 years ago. This wasn’t discovered in western medicine until the early 16th century.) They knew which vessels flowed away from the heart, which vessels flowed toward the heart, and which vessels supplied which organs.
The HDNJ also had detailed sections on pathology. They described how diseases develop and how to treat those diseases with acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage and dietary and lifestyle changes. In short, the Chinese were practicing truly preventative medicine 2,500 years before the term was even coined.
The HDNJ is a remarkable book. But early western scholars had a problem. The HDNJ is written in a dialect of Chinese that hasn’t been in common use in China for more than a thousand years. You could show it to a modern Chinese person and they wouldn’t be able to read it.
Several westerners took a crack at translating it. One of the first was a Dutch physician named Willem ten Rhijne. Ten Rhijne worked for the Dutch East India Company in Japan from 1683-1685. He reported clinical success by Chinese and Japanese practitioners in treating a wide range of disorders, including pain, internal organ problems, emotional disorders and infectious diseases prevalent at the time. Interestingly enough, Ten Rhijne accurately translated the Chinese character for qi as “air”, not energy, in his reports to the Dutch government.
But the translation we’re most familiar with, and the one that became the source for all of the textbooks used in western schools of Chinese medicine, was done by a man named Georges Soulie de Morant.
De Morant was a French bank clerk who lived in China from 1901 to 1917. He was enamored with Chinese culture and philosophy, and became interested in Chinese medicine during his stay. He decided to translate the HDNJ, in spite of the fact that he had no medical training nor any training in ancient Chinese language.
It was a huge undertaking for a French bank clerk to translate a 2,000 year old medical text written in an extinct Chinese dialect into a modern romance language (French). Under the circumstances, de Morant did well in many respects. But he made some huge mistakes that had serious consequences for how Chinese medicine has been interpreted in the west.
In the next post, we’ll look at those mistakes in more detail. We’ll also replace de Morant’s fictional “energy meridian” model with a new – or rather old – model of Chinese medicine that is both historically accurate and consistent with modern scientific principles of anatomy and physiology.
Continue to the next article.
Kendall, Donald, The Dao of Chinese Medicine, Oxford University Press, 2002
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I am excited about this article. I have been studying TCM concepts through an herbal program for 10 months now & have been very confused about the TCM concepts. In particular, I have trouble with them because I am not spiritual & have a hard time wrapping my mind around metaphysical theoires. Could you direct me to more information like this? I’m looking for TCM theories in Western terms such as things like Damp, Wind, Spleen, etc.
To be honest as a TCM researcher, I find these articles totally unacceptable.
Your new definition of acupuncture’s mechanism, which you said is accord with the traditional TCM theory, is a complete lie.
TCM do not know the concept of oxygen and nervous system.
I can see you trying to beautify TCM, but you forgot to add references and links to your so called science-based mechanisms of acupuncture.
I want to thank you for this series of articles. Do you know if any of the schools are starting to rethink how they teach Chinese Medicine due to increased awareness about the mis-translations of de Morant? I have posted this series to a FB page for acupuncturists, and it has elicited a lot of discussion, and likes!
it is always good to review theories. After reading the new statements about Qi and channels i was wondering how this new statements can expain the following in the framework of the ney theory;
1) The `function and structure of yuan Qi as katalysator of many many functions in the body. Yuan Qi is a lot different than the zong Qi/lung Qi which indeed can be like oxygen. Yuan Qi as the product from Jing and the fire from ming men must be more then just oxygen?
2 When we speak of Zang Fu functions we speak of this in terms like spleen Qi,Stomach Qi, hart Qi functions. The Qi, yang, Yin or Blood of each Organ has many different functions. Making a translation of Spleen oxygen, stomach oxygen, hart oxygen makes really no sense for me.and adds nothing to a better understanding of chinese medicine.
Like Spleen oxygen holds the blood in the vessels? What part of the Spleen oxygen does this? and how? Has oxygen a moving/warming/holding/pushing/pulling abilty?
3) what about the complicated theory of the San JIao? This system has a lot to do with Qi and the translation of Qi as oxygen dont fit in every aspect of the sanjiao functions.
For example; a function of the sanjiao is the control of the ascending, descending, inwards and outward going of Qi. How is oxygen related to this function? Again, has oxygen the ability to do this? And if yes, how and why?
Also how does the Sanjiao as the pathway of Yuan Qi fits in this new way of thinking?
4) the Su Wen states that the Ying Qi flows inside the vessels and the Wei Qi outside the vessels.
How does the new theory expain this?
We must not forget that the old chinese had an cpmpletly another way of thinking. And somehow i got the feeling that this new theory is like trying to knead and press an egg long enough so that the egg can fit in a triangular form. This cant be done without breaking and tearing apart the original form. THe question is, is this the price we will pay only to satisfy the western way of thinking?
Good questions, my thoughts exactly. I am thinking he didn’t respond because this article is geared toward western thinkers, people who don’t understand Chinese medicine. Or at least that is how it should have been presented, and how i will be reading it, otherwise the article leaves some holes, like what you mentioned.
Thank you. I have been advocating a more rational reinterpretation for more than a decade. I began my studies in the laye ’60s and have studied extensively in China and am now the Vice Chair of the Oncology Section; World Federation of Chinese Medicine Socities. I am in complete agreement in that Chinese medicine is not being held in high regard due to its medieval language. The medicine works, without a doubt and clinically it really doesn’t matter how we refer to its dynamics. However, when publishing a paper in a peer reviewd journal, it doesn’t wash.
I am embarrased when I see articles on Chinese medicine, claiming treatment successes with not a single reference or source, other than an ancient text. Zhang Zhongjing did not treat Attention Deficit Disorder and any claim that formulas contained within the “Shang Han Za Bing Lun ” can treat ADD, without providing a reference is shocking.
When I refer to qi, I suggest it is not a thing but a capacity, similar to the concept of allostasis. Allostasis is the process of achieving stability, or homeostasis, through physiological or behavioural change. In this, the process of adaptation is somatic, psychological, genetic and personal. Cultivating qi is the process of growth and adaptation in a changing world and if done well, long life results.
Glad to hear from you and to know there’s someone in a position such as your representing this point of view!
I am a 17 year veteran of TCM and acupuncture, and have long believed that acupuncture works, but not for the reasons that it claims to work. My problem with your hypothesis (with regard to western translations and French Bank clerks, etc), is that most of us were taught by actual Chinese doctors, trained in China. And all of them talk about Qi and Meridians, etc. It seems that if the confusion were a mere translation issue, that all of our Chinese teachers would have cleared it up by now. Are you claiming that all the generations of Doctors in China since the publication by Georges Soulie de Morant have studied his translation and that his errant translation has influenced the understandings, or rather misunderstanding of Chinese Medicine Globally ever since, including in China?
I suppose what I am saying is that I do not believe that Chinese medicine works for the reasons that it claims, and that there are perfectly logical, scientific reasons for how it works. Likewise, I am not disagreeing with your hypothesis that the ideas of Chinese Medicine have been wildly distorted, but I question whether it is for the reasons that you claim.
I reluctantly have to say +1 to this comment. I was so excited to read your series of articles — so much so that I was planning to make it the backbone of a little talk I am giving to my American friends in a couple of days about Traditional Chinese Medicine. But tonight, as I was compiling my notes, I struck up a conversation with my Chinese father. I explained your premise and asked if qi was better-translated as air, and he interjected, “No, I would say it’s better characterized as energy.” He then proceeded to show me a Chinese book (purchased in China and considered a very standard medical text there) that discusses the meridian model in detail, complete with diagrams. Imagine my dismay! Now, I’m pretty sure neither my father nor the Chinese authors of this book couldn’t care less what the Western understanding of Chinese medicine is. So I have to admit that the meridian model has its roots in Chinese tradition and isn’t just an accident of translation. I am certainly interested in learning more about your approach, but I can’t buy this particular point. Believe me, I wish I could; it’s a very neat explanation.
I have practiced internal martial arts. In my experience, the force ones develops from daily conditioning (chi-kung practice) is like air. Meaning the body begins to take on a hydraulic effect. Literally there is a pumping action from lower body to extremities (palm, fist). The experience is identical to being like a balloon filled with air. This is commonly referred to as internal pressure. The word piezoelectricity means electricity resulting from pressure. The body being a liquid crystal is piezoelectric. The pressure is the result of charges repelling each other. If one tries to force the north poles of two magnetic together, one will experience a resistive pressure like squeezing a balloon of air. So the experience of energy in the body is like air (because the body is piezoelectric). I imagine the piezoelectric effect in the body can be modeled using the same hydraulic equations used on air or fluids. Qi defined as both air and energy both have a deep meaning and experience to me.
My advice is not to worry too much about the style, and just find a good teacher that you feel comfortable with. That will make the biggest difference in the end.
SO glad I stumbled onto your site from a comment another “skeptic” site that was hardly as informative. Really enjoying all the posts I’ve read so far.
I’ve experienced great physical and health benefits from yoga and recently taken up qigong practice on my own and was under the impression that its basis is moving “energy” (or whatever you want to call it) from the dan tien. Yet one of the quotes you list above says “there is no evidence… that qi as energy that moves around exists.” Excuse my ignorance but is my understanding of how qigong works incorrect or is it just that there is no scientific evidence to prove it?
Also, would you be so kind as to suggest a particular system and book/video/instructor of qigong that seems most effective? The more I research the more confused I get — the information available to us here seems woefully inadequate and largely opinionated nonsense. All this stuff about high-level vs. low-level qigong, and that certain forms can be dangerous to practice sounds like a bunch of hooey on the surface. I know everyone has their opinion but I’m more inclined to trust yours having read your writing. Thanks.
Just curious how you feel about the scrolls found in the tomb at Ma Wang Du, which would have been sealed about 200BCE, which contain information and drawings of a meridian system. I understand the “modern” system we use today is different, but there was some evidence of the concept over 2200 years ago; long before De Morant. Further, what about the co-development of qi cultivation and it’s reliance on the meridian system for distibution in the martial arts, again taking place long before any translation of the HDNJ ?
Rob: there are two different issues here. The first is what the classical texts suggest about the existence of meridians. The second is what I believe about them. As to the first, I agree that there is conflicting evidence. As to the second, I try to keep an open mind about it but currently I don’t resonate with the idea of meridians as energetic lines transmitting an energy called qi and an immaterial version of blood as we’re taught in school. And as a martial artist myself, I don’t see that explanation as necessary to describe the sensory phenomena I experience in practicing them. All of it can be explained according to blood flow, nerve transmission, etc. That’s no less “magical” to me than the energy meridian idea.
I can and do question everything, everyday – the patients deserve no less.
Did not know about Wang Shugin, I shall look up his book with interest, thanks!
Many thanks for an excellent article. I’m a recent graduate of a TCM medical college, a very fine one and my training was long an arduous and included many hours in the student clinic and at a local hospital. From the first moment of hearing about “qi” and the “meridians” I have been fighting with myself about their existence. The results I can get with Acupuncture seem to confirm their reality but my logic tells me to look deeper, that these concepts may be mere constructs though they may correctly predict reactions to acupuncture and correctly be used in understanding and diagnosing.
I gradually came to realize that the TCM I was being taught was a construct created to “scientize” Chinese medicine and make it more acceptable to the west and to the sceptics who correctly criticized certain aspects of its theories. Searching back in time I found De Morant’s massive opus, “Chinese Acupuncture” and continue to read it. It is a great book even if he did get some of the concepts wrong. But something still was not quite right for me so I kept going backwards. Eventually I discovered Porkert and Schnorrenberge’s wonderful expose’s and since then have determined to study classical Chinese language and read things from the source. The idea that the ancient Chinese were a bunch of primitive superstitious people railing on and on about yin and yang is a myth that will only be dispelled when the massive amounts of ancient medical literature in their language starts getting translated. The Shang Han Lun (see recently suuperb translation by Wiseman) is but a single example.
Do the meridians and “qi” exist as energy and “pathways”? I no longer have to worry about that. What I do know is that whatever the basis of the Acupuncture curative effect, if it be anatomical landmarks misinterpreted by western translators as meridians, or actual undiscovered paths in tissue, or neurological effects, or a combination, the Chinese have already given us a vast treasure and their inductive descriptions of the points to use for various situations and the effects to be expected are used by thousands of acupuncturists every day!
One other question, if I may – could you suggest a good book or video on Ba Gua?
It is something I have been looking into and wish to learn more. Thanks again for quite an interesting article. I shall be reading this blog, with interest, from now on!
Great to hear from a fellow practitioner willing to question the TCM dogma!
Wang Shujin is a legend in Chinese internal arts. His book is a good place to start.
Trying to understand the meaning of Qi (or any word) from a dictionary is a very misguided approach. Words have connotation and denotation. There are a lot more to the meaning of a word to what a dictionary states. To understand just one word, or a concept of the word, you need to understand the wider cultural, historical context in which it is used, not from some second-hand interpretation from someone who didn’t even grow up in that culture, or may not speak the language . The language itself is highly contextual, so is the way the chinese speak.
And which dictionary are you using anyway? Chinese use 2 kinds of dictionary, the first kind focuses on just the word alone; the second kind explains usage and also meanings of character combinations. Characters are mostly used combined with other characters to form new meanings. My 1948 Chinese dictionary (it’s the second kind) first gives a few “definitions” of Qi, and gives an example to use the word, often the example is from a classical text (which I am abbreviating, shortening, it is very difficult to translate, some are flat out untralatable. It would take me a half a day to really do it justice. And my pin yin is probably not accurate, as I am a cantonese speaker) ): 1) a state of matter that’s not solid nor liquid, e.g kong qi: air 2) breath e.g. ping qi ci bu shi (holding breath as if breathing) 3) smell 4) a certain quality/nature e.g. yu zhi jiang yi qi yue (your will is strong while your qi is weak) 5) an outward expression of jing shen (e.g. yong qi: courage) 6) as in jie qi (like the 24 qi nodes in the lunar calendar). Then the dictionary lists different combinations of __ qi, or qi __ and their meanings.
I am open to hear different interpretations. We are all trying to learn here, and sure it is fine to spread ideas you’ve read/heard somewhere that you are excited about. But you try to sound so authoritative about how this is what Qi means, that is what not Qi means, I have to really question, where exactly are you drawing this from?
My interpretation is that translating Qi as either air or energy are both right in some ways, but neither are the only way to talk about it. The same can be said about most different interpretations of a chinese word. It is just not necessary to be dogmatic about it. Too much suffering in the world has been caused by this “I am right, you are wrong” attitude already 🙂
I don’t doubt that there are many concepts in chinese medicine that can be partly explained using western bio-medical terms. After all, it is the same body that we are talking about. And chinese medicine diagnosis are all based on what you see, smell, touch, hear. Nothing woo-woo about it. However, the western bio-medical language is not without it’s limits. It is mostly based on biochemistry, and has not taken many new physics theories into consideration. The full essence of chinese medicine just can’t be conveyed by reductionist western medicine language.
That said, knowing some ways of explaining chinese medicine with some biomedical terms is helpful. If you can explain to someone about acupuncture with the gate control theory, or that it brings blood flow to the area, which bring oxygen/ other nutrients etc, and they would be more convinced, why not? So, since I missed Bob Doane’s lecture last wednesday (and didn’t write down everything at his webinar), I am glad that you are summarizing it here.
Thanks for your comment. I’ll be addressing several of the points you raise in the next article, which should go up tomorrow or Tuesday.
First, it’s important to note that I’m not talking about a biomedical interpretation of acupuncture and Chinese medicine (although I will cover that in a future article). I’m talking about a historically accurate interpretation based on what is found in the authoritative classic texts, such as the Huangdi Neijing. The energy meridian version of Chinese medicine we study in school is a western creation inspired by the mistranslations of a French bank clerk.
This is not simply my opinion or the opinion of a single individual. It’s widely agreed upon by the most prominent scholars of Chinese medicine, both in China and outside of China. Here’s a selection of quotes:
“It is a fact that more than 95 percent of all literature published in western languages on Chinese medicine reflect western expectations rather than Chinese historical reality.”
“The core Chinese concept of qi bears no resemblance to the Western concept of ‘energy’.”
– Paul Unschuld, historian of Chinese medicine
“Qi is “certainly not equivalent to the Western term ‘energy’.”
– Claus Schnorrenberger, historian of Chinese medicine
“Over several centuries, clinical realities that did not fit into an existing theory of Chinese medicine were often suppressed to ensure continuity of the theories, in a style that the Chinese call ‘cutting the foot to fit the shoe’. The channel/meridian theory has successfully accomplished its historical mission of preserving and developing acupuncture, though presently in the form of 14 rigid lines it has become the narrow neck of the bottle which is impeding further development of acupuncture into the 21st century.”
– Professor Huang Long-xiang, VP of Acupuncture Institute of China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing and Editor-in-Chief of Acupuncture Research and World Journal of Acupuncture
“It is now clear to those who are prepared to think and look beyond the self enclosing loops of traditional dogma that after four decades of research there is no evidence meridians exist nor that qi as energy that moves around exists. Even precise acupoints for the most part don’t exist.”
– Yun-Tao Ma, Mila Ma, Zang Hee Cho, Biomedical Acupuncture for Pain Management – An Integrative Approach
“Despite the historical evidence that it was originally meant to represent pre-modern shorthand for the vascular system, the meridian system shows up repeatedly in contemporary books and articles as supposed evidence of subtle metaphysical energy in the body.”
– Long-xiang Huang in Ma, Ma & Cho
I think the evidence is quite strong that:
As I said to begin with, this is not about explaining Chinese medicine from a biomedical perspective. It’s about explaining it from an authentic Chinese perspective.
One last thing: as you may be aware, Dr. Donald Kendall’s book The Dao of Chinese Medicine was the first book (to my knowledge) in the west to directly challenge the “energy meridian” concept. When he submitted the manuscript to Oxford University Press, they said, “We can’t print this! It contradicts everything that’s ever been printed about Chinese medicine in English so far!” Kendall told them they were welcome to poke holes in his arguments if they could. So Oxford Press submitted the manuscript to a rigorous peer review process over the next three years. They sent it to reputable scholars of Chinese medicine in China, Japan and Korea. And not a single person was able to find a flaw in his research or conclusions.
I am a western MD who also studied chinese medicine. I wouldn’t translate Qi as just “energy” because it is much more than that. It’s what we say to laymen because it’s the easiest way to communicate it, albeit not the ideal way. I would say that “dynamism” or “functionality” is more to my liking.
I’ve been following your blog for perhaps two years and I think this may be my first time commenting. Regardless though, I have to say that this new series of articles has me very excited. I work as a Holistic Health Coach and I am also an aspiring TCM practitioner (I’m currently working on prerequisites for Acupuncture school). Back in 2004 I started to read The Web That Has No Weaver and since then I’ve been an adamant supporter of TCM and have gone through many treatments myself and I am continually trying to encourage others to get treatment as well.
When I was learning massage, it seems that I may have learned something that wasn’t true. In Susan Salvo’s book Massage Therapy: Principles and Practice
she mentions that in China it was illegal to dissect bodies, so this is why the Triple Warmer is listed as a physical, individual organ. Now I see that apparently that’s not true. Why do you think TCM has no system for surgery or other emergency medicines?
Based on my study of martial arts (mostly external Kung Fu with some Jiu Long Ba Gua Zhang and Yang Style Taiji in there), I’ve always seen qi defined as “life force”, and when discussing qi with those more knowledgeable than myself, some have said that a better translation for qi may be electricity.
Either way, I am finding this series of articles very fascinating and I greatly look forward to reading the next one!
The notion that the ancient Chinese didn’t perform dissection is a common misconception. It’s completely false, as anyone who has read the Huangdi Neijing can tell you. I’m not sure why that idea is so prevalent. I heard it myself early in my education many times.
I think the reason CM doesn’t have a robust surgical or trauma medicine is that it was more focused on cultivating health than managing disease. Whereas western medicine has always been focused on treating trauma, Chinese medicine’s purpose has always been to improve quality of life and reduce morbidity.
I’ll have more to say on this in a future post in the series.
Thanks for the feedback, and stay tuned!
i shouldn’t have used the word ‘definition’. i think what i meant was descriptions of qi. these are words that i have seen used by contemporary chinese medical practitioners in trying to come up with words other than ‘energy’ to describe the nature of qi.
you’re right – the traditional definition of qi is the steam coming off of rice – but, this isn’t inconsistent with the descriptions i offered.
I am glad that the westerners are having different thoughts about the definition of “Qi”. In TCM, it was definitely doesn’t mean “energy.” Indeed, the contemporary Chinese medical practitioners has interpreted the TCM term “Qi” as the function of each organ. When they say “Qi stagnation”, it simply means that an organ is dysfunctional partially or fully.
interesting article… looking forward to part 3.
qi as energy is not what i have been taught in acupuncture school.
‘energy’ is a very loaded and modern term – qi is much simpler, much more ancient. when using the word ‘energy’ in modern society, it is challenging to disentangle its connotation with the scientific definition of the word, which relies on a very mathematically sophisticated description of the world, talking about the relationships between dimensionalities of space and time. it is extremely precise. if we’ve been brought up in this society with all of its reliance on technology and scientific developments, our association with the word ‘energy’ will lean towards the scientific context.
chinese physicians from thousands of years ago did not have this description of reality – qi describes something much more fundamental, something that is easier to see and experience, more self-evident. looking for ‘proof’ of the existence of qi is irrelevant, and may mean that one is looking/thinking about it too hard.
good ‘definitions’ of qi that i’ve heard are: rhythm, connection, communication, change.
Thanks for your comment, Zak.
My point here in this article is to explain the proper translation of key Chinese medical terms in the Huangdi Neijing.
The definitions you offer – rhythm, connection, communication, change – are not consistent with any definitions of qi that can be found in a Chinese dictionary, past or present.
I am not arguing that the phenomenon you are describing in your comment doesn’t exist. However, I am arguing that it is not what the Chinese were referring to in the classic medical texts.
I will have more to say about this in the next article.
got an explanation for qi gong? huh? ever experience your kundalini opening? huh? western doctors know jack about subtle energy. or how to make the mind more subtle. but if you get out of academia for awhile, hang out with some yogis, do some tai chi, you will stop writing such silly articles. my god, the western mind is soooooo cut off, and so proud of that. funny as hell.
I am a practitioner of Nei Gong (now called qi gong), Ba Gua and Chen Pan Ling style Tai Qi. I have been practicing various internal marital arts for more than 20 years. I am also a formal Zen student and have had a regular meditation practice for 18 years. There is absolutely no conflict between my understanding and practice of meditation and the Chinese martial arts and what I wrote in this article. I’m not saying there isn’t such a thing as energy. Of course there is, and not even the most conservative western scientist would deny that. What I’m saying is that the conceptual basis of Chinese medicine has nothing to do with “energy” circulating through invisible meridians.
When Donald Kendall, the author of the text that much of this information comes from (the Dao of Chinese Medicine) submitted the manuscript to Oxford Press for publication, they were quite alarmed. They said, “this flies in the face of everything we’ve ever published in English about Chinese medicine.” So Oxford Press spent the next three years peer-reviewing Kendall’s work. They sent it to luminaries of Chinese medicine in China, Japan and Korea. And not a single Chinese medicine scholar disputed Kendall’s work.
After the book was published, Kendall was invited to China to give a presentation on the mistranslations of Soulie de Morant at the Shanghai medical school. After the presentation, at the tea party hosted in Kendall’s honor, some old, renowned Chinese physicians approached Kendall. They thanked him for his presentation, and told him that they were already aware of the mistranslations and their implications. Kendall asked them why they hadn’t told us in the west. Their reply was, “If westerners are naive enough to think that acupuncture works by moving magic energy in imaginary meridians, then what can we do for you?” (Robert Doane, 2010).
Experts in the Chinese classical medical texts such as Paul Unschuld have been writing about the key mistranslations of Chinese characters and the resulting misinterpretation of the basic concepts of Chinese medicine for years. Unfortunately, they work in a very small niche and their writings have not penetrated into the mainstream.
As for Qi Gong if you have even the most basic understanding of the Chinese language, you would know that it means “air cultivation”. It involves learning to breathe properly and direct that breath into the cells and tissues of the body. It also involves improving the structural organization of the body, and strengthening the tendons, ligaments and muscles. The fact that Chinese medicine, Qi Gong, and other martial arts can be explained in western terms doesn’t make them any less remarkable.
In fact, my martial arts teacher is a senior student of one of the top five Ba Gua masters in the world, who I also study with every summer. One of his main goals is to demystify the Chinese martial arts. He says we’ve developed a completely ridiculous idea of martial arts from watching too many Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon type movies where martial artists are flying all over the place and performing impossible feats. Yes, I have personally witnessed my teacher do some incredible things. But he’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not about magic energy, but about body mechanics and organization. Once again, this doesn’t make it any less remarkable.
“As for Qi Gong if you have even the most basic understanding of the Chinese language, you would know that it means “air cultivation”. It involves learning to breathe properly and direct that breath into the cells and tissues of the body. It also involves improving the structural organization of the body, and strengthening the tendons, ligaments and muscles. The fact that Chinese medicine, Qi Gong, and other martial arts can be explained in western terms doesn’t make them any less remarkable.”
You are right about the character Qi(氣), by itself, means “air.” However, to be more precise linguistically, we need to look into the term Qigong(氣功). The character Qi(氣) is compounded with the character Gong(功) becomes Qigong(氣功). By context in the Chinese language, the Qi in Qigong would have to change its contextual meaning to “breathing.” Since, as you have indicated, “It involves learning to breathe properly and direct that breath into the cells and tissues of the body,” thus Qigong would be the ultimate method of breathing. It would be more proper to say it is “breathing cultivation” by a conceptual interpretation rather than “air cultivation” by a direction translation. What do you think?
“It involves learning to breathe properly and direct that breath into the cells and tissues of the body. “