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Qigong Fever: Body, Science, and Utopia in China [Kindle Edition]

David A. Palmer

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"A powerful historical, political, cultural, and sociological analysis of the Qigong movement and its relationship to the state... Essential." -Choice" -- Choice "A brilliant piece of scholarship... it is to be hoped that this excellent book reaches a wide readership." -- David Ownby, Pacific Affairs "The most comprehensive volume published on the Qigong movement in contemporary China." -- Gareth Fisher, Journal of Chinese Religions, Vol. 35 (2007)


Qigong—a regimen of body, breath, and mental training exercises—was one of the most widespread cultural and religious movements of late-twentieth-century urban China. The practice was promoted by senior Communist Party leaders as a uniquely Chinese healing tradition and as a harbinger of a new scientific revolution, yet the movement's mass popularity and the almost religious devotion of its followers led to its ruthless suppression.

In this absorbing and revealing book, David A. Palmer relies on a combination of historical, anthropological, and sociological perspectives to describe the spread of the qigong craze and its reflection of key trends that have shaped China since 1949, including the search for a national identity and an emphasis on the absolute authority of science. Qigong offered the promise of an all-powerful technology of the body rooted in the mysteries of Chinese culture. However, after 1995 the scientific underpinnings of qigong came under attack, its leaders were denounced as charlatans, and its networks of followers, notably Falungong, were suppressed as "evil cults."

According to Palmer, the success of the movement proves that a hugely important religious dimension not only survived under the CCP but was actively fostered, if not created, by high-ranking party members. Tracing the complex relationships among the masters, officials, scientists, practitioners, and ideologues involved in qigong, Palmer opens a fascinating window on the transformation of Chinese tradition as it evolved along with the Chinese state. As he brilliantly demonstrates, the rise and collapse of the qigong movement is key to understanding the politics and culture of post-Mao society.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 4060 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 356 Seiten
  • Verlag: Columbia University Press; Auflage: 1 (27. März 2007)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ASIN: B008IYSAH0
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
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  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #310.854 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.8 von 5 Sternen  10 Rezensionen
13 von 14 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen The most Important Qigong Book 5. Mai 2009
Von Johan Takalo - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I don't like giving book reviews because people can slant the sales of someone; but being a practitioner and teacher of Qigong and have studied some of the methods and with some of the teachers listed in the book, this book is so good that I feel compelled to step up and give my 5 stars to it.

This book outlines a important part of modern qigong history and it's roots.
Not a book to study from but rather a step back into the whole qigong fever craze that Dr. Palmer defines from a field practitioner level. He takes you from the beginning and to the end of its great era in China. This book would for sure be a great movie if it could be recreated.

It describes alot of the great things in qigong as well as the not so great such as the "Qi for big money teachers", which exist today in the west. This book should be a shinning example for would be teachers and groups what not to do and why Qigong practices need to be free from Governmental,Associations & so called Qi expert's controlling agencies.

The book also outlines the rise and fall of falun gong and how falun gong destroyed the whole open qigong training & practice in china. How the PRC had banned Qigong training in china and how it has reduced to a sports exercise only.

A book that you will read over and over again a must have if you practice any form of Qigong or Taijiquan.
7 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A Tour de Force 15. Februar 2011
Von Prokopton - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Palmer's brilliant retelling and analysis of modern Chi Kung history deserves the applause it has received from all quarters.

Everything's here: the initial impulse in the fifties to turn the traditional body technologies into modern healing sciences; their temporary choking in the atmosphere of deadly top-down dogma during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution periods; the practitioners like Guo Lin who kept teaching even when you could be arrested for it, so that cancers could be cured; the sudden upsurge of the modality after the Deng reforms, leading to the period of 'Fever' when every Beijing park had a dozen systems, masters grew charismatic, and stories of strange psi powers abounded; the 'new Chinese science' promised, that would make real at last the utopia the people had believed in so long; the strange experiments, the miracles, the fakes, the government nervousness; the commercialization of the spiritual past; and finally the advent of that cynical, millenarian, messianic, sectarian, religious Jungian shadow of the Communist party itself, falun gong, which told the rest it could go to hell.

On every spiritual, scientific, cultural and historical level this is one of the most astonishing tales you will ever hear! And in David Palmer it's found a worthy storyteller. He has not only done the most tremendous amount of research, he manages to keep a sense of drama in laying it out that is sadly lacking in all too many academic treatises. Probably better informed than all of those without his bardic flair (I've read some of 'em), he finds no need to namecheck trendy po-mo theorists to keep to his brief, and when he does bring in theoretical architecture, it is genuinely illuminating. He also puts the whole period in context by referring to older movements in China that foreshadow it. (I hear he's working on some very interesting new projects, including a study of the global spread of Taoism with Elijah Siegler -- I'll be looking out for that.)

The book is also a treatment of the Chi Kung subject that manages to make a case for its importance without being in any way biased. Palmer states his own practice was "powerful", involving mental and physical change that made him feel "anything was possible", and putting academic objectivity in jeopardy -- nonetheless, throughout the body of the text he sedulously avoids claims about effectiveness or the truth of any 'extraordinary powers', leaving the history of the practice and the power it has exerted on its practitioners to speak for themselves. This scrupulously fair rendering adds a most useful flavour of careful reason to such a combustible historical cocktail of powerful spiritual techniques and experiences with all-too-human beliefs and hopes. You couldn't wish for more interesting times.

I've read this book twice now and will do so again I'm sure. I think just about anyone would be interested in it if the sociology, psychology, religious politics and spirit-power stuff grab them. But if you practice any form of Chi Kung at all, don't miss it. You will get a compelling grounding in the history and source of your practice that isn't obtainable anywhere else.
10 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Very informative 15. Februar 2008
Von Y. Wei - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
I don't think I would agree with all the analysis of Chinese government and politics in the book. But I was amazed by the amount of details the author was able to collect and clearly presented about the Qigong related events in China's recent history. Much of these were very informative for Chinese and foreigners alike. Since Qigong is a significant part of Chinese culture and heritage from their more than 5 thousand years history, I think this book is valuable for those who are interested in China and Chinese culture.
4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Profoundly thought provoking. Provides a deepening respect as well as some cautions in the pursuit of QiGong. 27. Dezember 2009
Von Kindle Customer - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
Short of tracking each of David Palmer's references to see whether they hold up to scrutiny, a task for the next authors in this field, this work appears to be a very carefully researched and balanced presentation of the modern struggle in China with its ancient roots in a meditative, energetic and health practice previously known by other names and now more popularly by QiGong. It also reads very well, not just data ... but a powerful communication of the story as well.

Though I finished reading it several months ago, its concepts and the questions raised still linger on -- which is to me the sign of a well written book which reached my own roots. I appreciated the author's efforts to paint the social picture of motivatons to revive the ancient practices and the subsequent multi-layered governmental and social struggle form 1949 to 1999 to deal with their misrepresentation for commerical or political gain. I felt the deep desire for a verifiable scientific basis underlying a long cherished cultural heritage, a means to restore world-wide recognition, a promise for better health while simultaneously promoting individual responsibility, and that never ending thirst to possess secret knowledge. I felt the deep frustration, at times fear, despair and danger when the tools of science, sometimes used rightly, sometimes perhaps used wrongly given their present limitations and political implementations -- cast doubts and genuine risks onto the spiralling mountain of hopes and aspirations erected in the name of QiGong.

Overall, it was a very helpful perspective. I came away deciding I would really need and want to see some of what these practices -- especially "medical Qigong" do for me and my acquaintances, when performed safely and responsibly. Yet, I would simultaneously need to maintain a perpetual skepticism about overly grandiose claims and would-be masters. This requirement to remain personally responsible for evaluating data, knowledge, or experience is not unique to Daoism or QiGong -- it is a part of any philosophical, scientific, or religious pursuit. But as a westerner I have found it initally quite hard to see a big enough picture, with sufficiency detail and accuracy when it comes to chinese medicine, spirituality, martial arts and related practices. For me, this balance is somewhat easier to achieve when I have gain more of the broader historical context from which these practices emerged. Thus, I appreciate the diligence and fairness with which the author intentionally approached this very substantial historical documentation -- and I realize there will also be other points of view presented in the future.

I am very grateful to have read this as a starting point.
3 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen The People's Republic of Qigong 20. Januar 2013
Von Ashtar Command - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
David A. Palmer's "Qigong Fever" tells the strange tale of qigong in the People's Republic of China. The book is a translated and abridged version of Palmer's original work, published in French. The perspective is sociological and historical. Palmer has practiced qigong himself, but is sceptical of the more far-reaching supernatural claims made by some of its practitioners. Apparently, the author was taught a version known as the Supreme Mystery of the Venerable Infant!

Under Communist rule, popular religion in China was more or less suppressed, while certain forms of institutional religion (including Buddhism and Christianity) remained legal but subject to strict supervision by the Party. The official ideology of the state was atheist and Marxist, and all forms of "superstition" was supposed to be combated and weeded out. However, one form of "superstition" managed to survive and even thrive: the collection of ancient body techniques later known as qigong.

Part of both popular religion, institutionalized religion and (arguably) the dreaded superstition, qigong seemed to have existed in a kind of strange grey area. Luckily, the Communists "discovered" qigong, became convinced of its capability to heal physical ailments, and decided to launch a secularized version of the traditional techniques all across China. Palmer believed that the birth of modern qigong can be pinpointed exactly to 3 March 1949 in the Liberated Zone of Southern Hebei. The Communist cadre responsible for the proclamation was one Huang Yueting, but the real mover behind the new qigong movement was Liu Guizhen, who had been taught some techniques by the old master Liu Duzhou. Guizhen subsequently joined the Communist Party, and "the rest is history".

The official approval of qigong was connected to China's acute lack of doctors trained in modern, Western medicine. It was part of Mao's politics of self-reliance, and thus connected to phenomena such as "barefoot doctors", mass mobilizations of labour power to build dams or exterminate pests, backyard furnaces, etc. Interestingly, qigong was also practiced by party cadre at lush resorts for the Chinese top brass. In many ways, modern qigong was part of the Communist bureaucracy! Like most other "ancient" holdovers, however, qigong was prohibited during the Cultural Revolution. Of course, this didn't manage to extirpate it. Qigong would return, in new and unexpected forms.

Palmer believes that Communist support for secular qigong inadvertently also legitimized its religious and spiritual sides. The experiences of qigong practitioners are difficult or impossible to explain in strictly materialist terms. The techniques had to be learned (at least originally) from traditional masters - witness Liu Guizhen's relation to Liu Duzhou. This created a situation in which the secretive lineages of qigong masters could survive in a kind of legal grey zone, despite the Communist prohibition of popular religion and superstition. The Cultural Revolution had hardly ended when this sectarian form of qigong came out in the open, often practiced in mass fashion in public city parks.

The most curious part of Palmer's story is the "qigong fever" of the book's title, roughly coterminous with the periods dominated by Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. During this period, official qigong became pretty bizarre. Emphasis was placed on "Extraordinary Powers", in plain English supernatural powers attributed to qigong masters, including psychokinesis, healing by "energy transfer", remote viewing, etc. These supernatural powers were interpreted in a materialist manner, and were said to foreshadow a third scientific revolution. China would become the world leader in this new revolution, ushering in a utopian period of peace and prosperity, while also vindicating traditional Chinese culture against the modern West. If this sounds like Chinese nationalism, scientist messianism or ersatz Maoism, that's because, arguably, it *is* these things.

Palmer believes that the "qigong fever" was an attempt to find or create a credible new ideology in the wake of the failure of traditional Maoism. What surprised me was the strong support these ideas found in the military-industrial complex and scientific establishment of the People's Republic, including among the scientists responsible for developing China's nuclear weapons! But then, similar experiments in parapsychology were also conducted in the United States and the Soviet Union, something used as an argument by the Chinese believers in Extraordinary Powers. Of course, there were critics of the qigong fever as well, who branded the quest for Extraordinary Powers as pseudo-science or, worse, as anti-Marxist. Interestingly, the qigong supporters had such strong support in the Party hierarchy that they managed to silence the critics time and again. When a CSICOP delegation led by James Randi visited China and conducted tests on the qigong practitioners with alleged supernatural powers, the negative results were suppressed by the Chinese authorities for years!

Meanwhile, qigong grew as a popular movement outside the strict control of the Party, with practitioners joining formal networks which soon began to function as virtual denominations. The Party responded by creating a "qigong sector" with officially approved networks, albeit still non-religious (at least formally). The qigong networks were even expected to create local Party committees, educating their supporters in the basics of Marxism-Leninism, combat idealist philosophy, etc! The whole system was based on patronage or "Connections", with high-ranking party officials bestowing favours on the qigong denominations, who in turn were expected to tow the Party line. In practice, this system seems to have worked in qigong's favour, since many of the Party officials charged with controlling the qigong sector believed in the reality of Extraordinary Powers, or at least the efficacy of the body techniques. Palmer analyzes two denominations at length, Zangmigong (based on Tibetan Buddhism but practiced in Manchuria) and Zhonggong, which the author compares with the pyramid schemes that emerged during the market reforms of the 1990's. However, the most sensational movement to evolve during this period was a split from qigong proper: Falungong.

Since Falungong were subsequently suppressed by the Chinese authorities, it's not considered politic to criticize this group. However, I think it's obvious from Palmer's description that we really are dealing with a bizarre cult and a leader, Li Hongzhi, with delusions of grandeur. All the classical traits are there: rejection of all other paths, prohibition to read or even to think about their ideas, opposition to modern medicine, paranoid delusions about demons and extraterrestrial body-snatchers, the idea that Li Hongzhi is the omnipotent and omniscient saviour of the entire universe (i.e. God), the feverish millenarian hopes, etc etc. Falungong are also fiercely sexist and racist. Palmer believes that the rapid spread of this cult was a reaction to the cynicism, hedonism and commercialism of the 1990's. It was a period when honest workers were frowned upon, while all traditional values (both conservative and Maoist-collectivist) were rapidly rejected in favour of individualist self-indulgence. Falungong also spread by making use of a flexible organization outside immediate Party control.

Interestingly, this cult initially infiltrated both the Party hierarchy and the military ditto. In 1999, the authorities had enough and after a series of events which may or may not have been provoked by the intelligence services, Falungong was banned and suppressed. In the atmosphere of repression that followed, the legal qigong denominations were also ordered to disband themselves, effectively putting "qigong fever" to an end.

Is there anything we can learn from the strange story of qigong in the People's Republic of China? I think Palmer hits the nail on its head when he points out (as I noted above) that religion or spirituality simply cannot be suppressed. Even less can it be co-opted by an atheist state for its own purposes. As long as the experiences of the qigong practitioners confirm better with traditional religious or spiritual worldviews, the religious or spiritual aspects of the co-opted body techniques will reassert themselves. Palmer's book also highlights a more disturbing phenomenon: that millenarian expectations don't have to be either religious or secular, but can actually be both, re-enforcing each other. A scientist-paranormal form of messianism is probably even worse than the two pure forms! Reverend Straik and "That Hideous Strength" come to mind, somewhere in the back of my head. Finally, the book shows that a China ruled by Falungong would probably be even worse than the present situation...

"Qigong Fever" is relatively easy to read, although it can be somewhat boring at times - the author is a professor of anthropology and religious studies, after all. Yet, I think it deserves five stars for tackling a subject relatively little known in the West.
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