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Postcard 2 From China

JADot's picture
Posts: 720
Joined: Jan 2006

Hi Guys:

Sorry I've been AWOL for so long. I work for a SW company, and we just put out a new version of our SW. I've been writing manuals, and it really put me off writing anything else :). Also I've just been working really hard for the last 3 weeks.

So sorry for the missed giggles and the late postcard. They've been in the mail all along :)


Postcard II From China

In my last postcard from China, I talked about TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) as an adjunct therapy taken by many in China for curing cancer, and the controversy that it draws. As controversial as TCM is, it does not even begin to compare with the myth, skepticism, and out-right repression that surrounds Qi Gong, an ancient form of exercise and breathing technique, which has also claimed to have curative properties for diseases, including cancer.

Before we talk about the curative properties of Qi Gong, we must first take the briefest glance at the colorful history of Gong Fu, the uber-martial art whose umbrella covers diverse sub-sects ranging from the Shaolin Monk Gong Fu to the gentle exercise of Tai Ji, to the near mystical Qi Gong, and the odd off-spring of it, the Fa Lun Gong. Each sub-school of Gong Fu has a well defined set of practices, commonly recognized and purported benefits, and the associated skepticism and controversy.

I am not any kind of an expert on the history of Gong Fu. The information I present below comes from books, on line sources and what I have seen and heard in China. Besides the basic facts which can be easily verified from many sources, what I add to the information is of course limited by my knowledge, understanding, and perhaps even some misunderstanding. So take it with a dash of salt and pepper always. I should also mention now that my main references are the Wikipedia and the excellent web site on Tai Ji at http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/Philosophy/Taichi/history.html

Gong Fu, translated into English (with color), means mastery (or achievement) attained through persistent effort (or practice). When Gong Fu is discussed in China, it is almost always said that someone practices Gong Fu, and rarely that someone has Gong Fu. The forward looking emphasis is always on the journey, on the practice, on the enduring persistence. One gets the impression that Gong Fu is a life-long cultivation and the very antithesis of a quick fix.

The most common forms of Gong Fu that one hears about these day are Shaolin Gong Fu, Tai Ji, Qi Gong and Fa Lun Gong. I will offer below what I managed to dig up, and what I learned from China.

Made famous by many Kung Fu movies, Shao Lin Gong Fu is the fabled martial art of China. Shao Lin is the name of a real Buddhist temple in Northern China, founded in 495 by a Chinese Emperor to house an Indian monk who journeyed to China to spread Buddhism. Over the ensuing 1500 years, the monks of Shao Lin Temple created and perpetuated their all-kicking, all-punching Shao Lin Gong Fu for the defense of their temple, and in service to various emperors. Shao Lin Gong Fu is the in-your-face martial art that you have seen in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is generally believed that through practicing the martial arts, the monks posses super-human strength, stamina, and many other supernatural abilities. Some of those supernatural abilities are way out there, but nobody really wants to spoil a good story with facts.

Shao Lin Temple is very much alive and thriving these days, partly due to all the publicity that it receives from the media. A funny 21st anecdote - can you guess what is the toughest problem that the toughest monks in China face? It is Monks vs. Pirates, a case of piracy of intellectual properties. The Shao Lin monks found themselves the victims of their own fame. Many products are being sold under the Shao Lin brand without the explicit blessing from monks‚ no pun intended. They are learning that it is a lot easier to defend their temple than it is to defend their brand. Ha, try kicking that problem in the shin.

It is no surprise that the gentle art of Tai Ji would come from a place like China, which since the rise of Taoism in 6th Century BC, has always believed in an inherent relation between movement, health and philosophy. Lao Tzi first wrote about it in Tao De Jing in 6th century BC. Around 200 AD. a physician named Hua Tuo advocated exercise as a key to increase circulation and promote good digestion, and indeed as a key to a healthy long life. To help people move around, he created an exercise routine which stretched and moved every joint in the body by imitating the movements of 5 animals, namely tiger, deer, bear, ape, birds. As a result, many living Tai Ji poses still owe their names to animals they mimic, like White Crane Cooling Wings.

Tai Ji, as we know it today, was created in the 1400s, by yet another monk named Zhang San Feng. Combining all that has before, he created the basic pillars of modern Tai Ji, the Eight Postures and Five Attitudes, a delightful name which tickles the Chinese affection for the enumerated aphorisms. The 8 Postures are ward-off, rollback, press, push, pull, split, elbow strike and shoulder strike. The 5 Attitudes are advance, retreat, look left, gaze right and central equilibrium.

Tai Ji morphed and evolved over the next 600 hundred years, and it became the graceful slow dance that you see practiced in the morning, in every park in China. The Tai Ji disciples tend to be middle-aged or old. The Chinese would tell you with a wink that the old people always know the best.

Qi Gong is where Gong Fu meets spirituality and things get a lot more abstract. I will spend more ink here because of its purported curative properties for cancer.

I cannot write a more concise introduction of Qi Gong, so I will quote the material from Wikipedia, with some minor edits. It is as follows:

“Qigong under various names has a long history in China. The written records referring to qi and its effects are as old 18th century B.C. Shang Dynasty oracle bones, Zhou Dynasty inscription).

Qigong or "Energy-Cultivation", is an aspect of Chinese medicine involving the coordination of different breathing patterns with various physical postures and motions of the body. Qigong is mostly taught for health maintenance purposes, but there are also some who teach it as a therapeutic intervention. Various forms of traditional qigong are also widely taught in conjunction with Chinese martial arts, and are especially prevalent in the advanced training of what are known as the Neijia, or internal martial arts.

There are currently more than 3,300 different styles and schools of qigong. Qigong relies on the traditional Chinese belief that the body has an energy field generated and maintained by the natural respiration of the body, known as qi (this is analogous to Prana and Pranayama in Yoga). Qi means breath or gas in Mandarin Chinese, and, by extension, the energy produced by breathing that keeps us alive; gong means work or technique. Qigong is then "breath work" or the art of managing the breath to achieve and maintain good health, and especially in the martial arts, to enhance the energy mobilization and stamina of the body in coordination with the physical process of respiration.

Attitudes toward the basis of qigong vary markedly. Most Western medical practitioners, many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, as well as the Chinese government view qigong as a set of breathing and movement exercises, with possible benefits to health through stress reduction and exercise. Others see qigong in more metaphysical terms, claiming that breathing and movement exercises can influence the fundamental forces of the universe.

Qigong and its intimate relation to the Chinese martial arts are often connected with spirituality. They have thereby been considered the province of religious practitioners in the popular imagination for many centuries. This link is much stronger than with other techniques in traditional Chinese medicine.

Much of the criticism of qigong involves its claimed method of operation. Both traditional Chinese and Western medicine practitioners have little argument with the notion that qigong can improve and in many cases maintain health by encouraging movement, increasing range of motion, and improving joint flexibility and resilience. However, the benefits of qigong become much more controversial when it is asserted that qigong derives its benefits from qi acting as a kind of "biological plasma" that cannot be detected by scientific instruments. Many biologists and physicists are skeptical of these claims and regard them as psudoscientific.

Many proponents of qigong claim that they can directly detect and manipulate this energy. Others, including some traditional Chinese practitioners, believe that qi can be viewed as a metaphor for biological processes, and the effectiveness of qigong can also be explained in terms more familiar to Western medicine such as stress management.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the increasing popularity of qigong and related practices led to the establishment of many groups and methods in China and elsewhere that have been viewed in a critical light by more traditional qigong practitioners as well as skeptical outside observers. In this view, a large number of people started studying qigong under inadequate supervision, indeed, perhaps the majority of people today who study qigong study from books or video tapes and DVDs without supervision by a teacher. This laxness can lead to several problems, according to those who view themselves as representative of orthodox schools. Most traditional training takes many years of practice under the supervision of someone who has also learned over years, someone who can guide and prevent the student from taking an unbalanced approach to qigong practice. The theory is that unbalanced circulation of inner energies eventually leads to unbalanced effects on the various systems of the body, both mental and physical.

Stories of unguided practitioners or inexpertly guided students developing chronic mental and physical health problems as a result of such training are not uncommon. A term used by English speaking practitioners and teachers for one example of this syndrome is "Qigong Psychosis" (Now included in the DSM-IV as a culture-bound syndrome: Qi-Gong Psychotic Reaction: DSM-IV General Information: Appendix I, Outline for Cultural Formulation and Glossary of Culture-Bound Syndromes). Another function of improper training involves frauds and deliberate charlatans who promote themselves as qigong "healers" promising miracle cures of any conceivable affliction for the right amount of money. Traditionally, qigong is considered more of a health maintenance regimen, and any promises of miracle cures should be viewed with suspicion, according to traditional teachers and practitioners.

This recent popularity has also led to increased attention for quasi-religious groups teaching styles of qigong in an atmosphere of New Age-like spirituality. Qigong has been associated in China with Taoist and Buddhist meditation practices for two thousand years, and this association has recently been exploited, according to traditionalists, by many would-be cult leaders. Perhaps the most notable example of a group promoting a synthesis of overt religiosity with qigong practice is the Falun Gong group, whose worldwide popularity grew to the point that the Chinese government started a suppression of Falun Gong in 1999.”

So what does all this have to do with cancer? In 1971, a woman named Guo Lin was diagnosed with cancer. To treat her own disease beyond what conventional medicine could offer, she adapted Qi Gong for curing cancer. Her school of Qi Gong is known as Guo Lin Qi Gong, and it has attracted a large following in the 20+ years since.

So, if I have not completely bored you to tears or driven you to drinks, please check back next week for the final installment on Guo Lin Qi Gong for Cancer.

Posts: 57
Joined: Nov 2005

Hi Ying,
This is like a term paper, but so informative. I will save it on my computer. Now I understand why you asked whether my dad started Guo Lin Qi Gong. I don't think he ever heard of it. So I am looking forward to your part 3 on this.
Dad is on TCM but I am starting to doubt it. His CEA is rising slowly and we are suspecting a recurrence. He also did accupuncture. Hmmm...He is on chemo break now. THis is so hard being on the other side of the globe.

Hope that all is well,

JADot's picture
Posts: 720
Joined: Jan 2006

Hi Carm:

Rising CEA doesn't sound good. The thing that bugs me with TCM is the lack of a standard, or a common protocal. Everybody has their secret brew, some of are effective, others, who knows, could be just tiger-balm. It does sound like you dad is under a fairly good surveillence program, one that checks him regularly. All the people I knew in China did not rely exclusively on TCM. TCM is almost always use together with conventional treatments.

If you want to know more about Guolin Qi Gong before I write the next thing, email me and I'll give you my phone number so we can talk.

Happy holidays!

Posts: 484
Joined: Jan 2005


Thank you once again for this interesting and well written information. I look foward to #3.


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