Breath­ing new life into an an­cient prac­tice

Los Angeles Times - - SHANGHAI - Hu Min

MARCEAU Chenault, a French lec­turer and re­searcher at the Col­lege of Phys­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion and Health of East China Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, started learn­ing qigong from a Chi­nese mas­ter in Paris 20 years ago.

It be­gan with an an­kle in­jury. A friend rec­om­mended he try the heal­ing prop­er­ties of qigong, which is spir­i­tual and phys­i­cal ex­er­cise prac­tice in­tended to align the body, breath and mind. Qigong is widely prac­ticed through­out the world for health, med­i­ta­tion and mar­tial arts train­ing.

“I was re­ally cu­ri­ous about this Chi­nese prac­tice deal­ing with en­ergy, or qi,” said Chenault, 36.

He en­coun­tered the prac­tice when it was just start­ing to catch on in West­ern coun­tries in the 1990s. He started re­search of qigong at that time.

In 2009, he came to Shang­hai to con­tinue re­search on the evo­lu­tion of qigong in mod­ern China. At the Shang­hai Qigong Re­search In­sti­tute, he helped or­ga­nize in­ter­na­tional qigong train­ing.

Chenault said it is of­ten hard for his young Chi­nese stu­dents to un­der­stand why some West­ern peo­ple have em­braced

qigong, in the same way that for­eign­ers of­ten won­der why young Chi­nese for­sake their own her­itage to study In­dian yoga.

“This is a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of a cross­cul­tural phe­nom­e­non that is re­ally in­ter­est­ing to an an­thro­pol­ogy re­searcher like me,” he said. “The way peo­ple rep­re­sent some parts of their own cul­ture, at a spe­cial time and place of the his­tory, tells us a lot about the evo­lu­tion of their so­ci­ety.”

Qigong is an an­cient sys­tem of deep breath­ing ex­er­cises to move in­ter­nal en­ergy, called qi. It orig­i­nated about 4,000-5,000 years ago. Its the­ory and ap­pli­ca­tions were de­vel­oped and flour­ished dur­ing the Sui and Tang dy­nas­ties. Later, in the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, a large num­ber of books on qigong were pub­lished.

The Shang­hai Qigong Re­search In­sti­tute in the Xuhui Dis­trict is the only of­fi­cial re­search in­sti­tute of its kind in China to­day. It was founded 30 years ago, when there were up to an es­ti­mated 200 mil­lion peo­ple in the coun­try ac­tively prac­tic­ing the tra­di­tion.

At the time, the in­sti­tute af­fil­i­ated with the Shang­hai Uni­ver­sity of Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine had more than 100 staff mem­bers, twice the cur­rent num­ber, ac­cord­ing to Li Jie, direc­tor of the in­sti­tute.

Qigong has suf­fered from tri­als and tribu­la­tions in its long his­tory. It was im­mensely popular be­tween 1949 and 1965, when it was deemed an ef­fec­tive ther­apy in the treat­ment of chronic dis­eases.

The first pro­fes­sional qigong in­sti­tu­tion, the Tang­shan City Qigong Sana­to­rium, was es­tab­lished in 1955.

The “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” (1966-76) put a chill in the prac­tice. Qigong was strictly for­bid­den dur­ing that era. Af­ter 1979, the prac­tice resur­faced and spread over­seas. De­spite a slow ad­vance from 1966 to 1979, its res­ur­rec­tion was aided by a

qigong re­port meet­ing held in 1979 by science, sports and health au­thor­i­ties in Bei­jing. The meet­ing was sup­ported by the State Coun­cil, China’s cabi­net.

How­ever, the sec­ond wave of qigong’s pop­u­lar­ity ended in the late 1990s, when large num­bers of self-pro­claimed qigong “masters” claimed to pos­sess “su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers” and started cults that tricked fol­low­ers into giv­ing them money. Since that un­mask­ing, qigong has dropped into rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity in China once again.

“We are lucky be­cause the tol­er­ance and open-mind­ed­ness of Shang­hai and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties en­abled us to sur­vive when most of­fi­cial qigong re­search in­sti­tutes across the coun­try were closed,” Li told Shang­hai Daily.

Since 1986, the in­sti­tute has hosted 12 in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific sym­po­siums to pro­mote the ex­change of qigong be­tween China and over­seas. The 13th sym­po­sium will take place in this sum­mer.

The in­sti­tute has es­tab­lished a health­care cul­ture cen­ter, which gives qigong classes to over­seas stu­dents. Last year, about 80 stu­dents from France, Ger­many, Spain, the US, Rus­sia, Canada and other coun­tries at­tended. They in­clude diplo­mats, white-col­lar work­ers, pro­fes­sors and lawyers.

“In­ter­est by for­eign­ers is very high even if that’s not the case among Chi­nese here,” Li said.

In France and Ger­many, qigong is in­cluded in the med­i­cal in­sur­ance sys­tems, and a large num­ber of over­seas clin­ics have been founded. Chenault said some Chi­nese qigong masters moved to France af­ter the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion.” Since 1997, all qigong as­so­ci­a­tions there hold a na­tional day when they present demon­stra­tions and work­shops for the public.

The Shang­hai in­sti­tute is equally try­ing to reach out to the public. It has been of­fer­ing free qigong lessons and lec­tures on the prac­tice to the public ev­ery week.

More than 1,500 peo­ple have at­tended the classes since they be­gan in late 2013.

An ex­hi­bi­tion hall in the in­sti­tute dis­plays the his­tory and devel­op­ment of qigong. It is free to the public. The in­sti­tute also up­loads es­says and videos on so­cial net­work­ing plat­forms in China.

Li said the time is ripe to re­store qigong to its for­mer promi­nence in China.

Dur­ing the re­cent visit of Bri­tain’s Prince Wil­liam to China ear­lier this month, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping said China and Bri­tain will spon­sor a se­ries of ex­changes in mar­tial arts (wushu) and qigong. The in­sti­tute has re­ceived fi­nan­cial sup­port un­der a three-year tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine ac­tion plan from the Shang­hai Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion. There has also been fi­nan­cial sup­port from the Shang­hai Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion.

“The funds are not large, but they are a kind of recog­ni­tion,” Li said.

She said a short­age of qigong pro­fes­sion­als is a cur­rent ob­sta­cle to pop­u­lar­iza­tion. The new gen­er­a­tion of 20-some­things doesn’t know much about

qigong. Still, Li re­mains op­ti­mistic. A se­ries of bilin­gual books on eight forms of qigong and a qigong dic­tio­nary are due to be pub­lished in the next month or two, she said.

“If you firmly be­lieve in some­thing, you can stick to it, and there is al­ways light at the end of the tun­nel,” she said.

Mean­while, Chenault re­mains an ac­tive ad­vo­cate in Shang­hai.

“Qigong helps me de­velop a men­tal at­ti­tude to stay more re­laxed, and al­lows me to more ef­fi­ciently man­age my emo­tions when I feel anger or sad­ness,” he said.

A rous­ing en­dorse­ment in­deed.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.