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Book Chapter: Body Cultivation in Contemporary China

TitleBody Cultivation in Contemporary China
Authors
Issue Date2006
PublisherABC-CLIO
Citation
Body Cultivation in Contemporary China. In Miller, J (Ed.), Chinese Religions in Contemporary Society, p. 147-174. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006 How to Cite?
AbstractBody cultivation practices known as qigong1 were the most widespread form of popular religiosity in post-Mao urban China between 1979 and 19992. It is estimated that at the height of “qigong fever” in the middle of this period, over 100 million people -- over 20% of the urban population -- practiced the gymnastic, breathing and meditative exercises of qigong in some form or another. Hundreds of charismatic qigong healers and masters rose to fame and built organisations which, in the two cases of Zhonggong and Falungong, could claim as many or more adherents as the 40-million-strong Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – the largest mass organizations independent of government control in China. Falungong has become well known in the West since April 25, 1999, when it staged a 10,000-person protest around the CCP headquarters. This was followed by a harsh state repression campaign against Falungong, which has also led to the dismantling of most other qigong groups. Media images of Falungong repression and resistance should not, however, blind us to the complex reality of the qigong movement in the Peoples’ Republic. For much of the post-Mao period, government support played an instrumental role in the spread of the qigong craze. Qigong was touted as a cheap and powerful healing technology, as a “somatic science” that could lead to revolutionary discoveries for harnessing the powers of the human mind, and as a secularized training system that contained the key to the mysteries of traditional Chinese wisdom without the dross of religion or superstition. And yet, while these modernizing discourses lent legitimacy to qigong, practitioners plunged into the legends and symbols of Buddhist magicians and Taoist immortals, dabbled in talismans and divination, and often experienced, through trance states, visions of popular demons and deities. The indeterminacy of qigong, as a type of body practice that allows one to pass in a breath from physical fitness exercises to mystic visualisations or apocalyptic militancy, opened a space for the massive spread of a body-centred religiosity under the cover of health, sports, and science, outside the supervision of the official Bureau of religious affairs. And yet, the enthusiasm of Party leaders for qigong in the 1980’s, followed by their fear of Falungong and other qigong groups today, suggests that body cultivation can come dangerously close to the religious roots of Chinese political power and legitimacy. In this chapter, I will begin with a brief overview of body cultivation in traditional China, followed by an account of the changing configurations of body cultivation in mainland Chinese society after 1949. I will attempt to show that while body cultivation was a fundamental aspect of traditional Chinese religion, it was also ideally suited for adaptation to the organization of modern life centred on the individual body. As such, qigong became a remarkably modern form of reappropriation and transformation of Chinese religious tradition.
Persistent Identifierhttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/194529
ISBN

 

DC FieldValueLanguage
dc.contributor.authorPalmer, DA-
dc.date.accessioned2014-02-06T03:42:08Z-
dc.date.available2014-02-06T03:42:08Z-
dc.date.issued2006-
dc.identifier.citationBody Cultivation in Contemporary China. In Miller, J (Ed.), Chinese Religions in Contemporary Society, p. 147-174. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006-
dc.identifier.isbn978-1851096268-
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10722/194529-
dc.description.abstractBody cultivation practices known as qigong1 were the most widespread form of popular religiosity in post-Mao urban China between 1979 and 19992. It is estimated that at the height of “qigong fever” in the middle of this period, over 100 million people -- over 20% of the urban population -- practiced the gymnastic, breathing and meditative exercises of qigong in some form or another. Hundreds of charismatic qigong healers and masters rose to fame and built organisations which, in the two cases of Zhonggong and Falungong, could claim as many or more adherents as the 40-million-strong Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – the largest mass organizations independent of government control in China. Falungong has become well known in the West since April 25, 1999, when it staged a 10,000-person protest around the CCP headquarters. This was followed by a harsh state repression campaign against Falungong, which has also led to the dismantling of most other qigong groups. Media images of Falungong repression and resistance should not, however, blind us to the complex reality of the qigong movement in the Peoples’ Republic. For much of the post-Mao period, government support played an instrumental role in the spread of the qigong craze. Qigong was touted as a cheap and powerful healing technology, as a “somatic science” that could lead to revolutionary discoveries for harnessing the powers of the human mind, and as a secularized training system that contained the key to the mysteries of traditional Chinese wisdom without the dross of religion or superstition. And yet, while these modernizing discourses lent legitimacy to qigong, practitioners plunged into the legends and symbols of Buddhist magicians and Taoist immortals, dabbled in talismans and divination, and often experienced, through trance states, visions of popular demons and deities. The indeterminacy of qigong, as a type of body practice that allows one to pass in a breath from physical fitness exercises to mystic visualisations or apocalyptic militancy, opened a space for the massive spread of a body-centred religiosity under the cover of health, sports, and science, outside the supervision of the official Bureau of religious affairs. And yet, the enthusiasm of Party leaders for qigong in the 1980’s, followed by their fear of Falungong and other qigong groups today, suggests that body cultivation can come dangerously close to the religious roots of Chinese political power and legitimacy. In this chapter, I will begin with a brief overview of body cultivation in traditional China, followed by an account of the changing configurations of body cultivation in mainland Chinese society after 1949. I will attempt to show that while body cultivation was a fundamental aspect of traditional Chinese religion, it was also ideally suited for adaptation to the organization of modern life centred on the individual body. As such, qigong became a remarkably modern form of reappropriation and transformation of Chinese religious tradition.-
dc.languageeng-
dc.publisherABC-CLIO-
dc.relation.ispartofChinese Religions in Contemporary Society-
dc.rightsCreative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Hong Kong License-
dc.titleBody Cultivation in Contemporary Chinaen_US
dc.typeBook_Chapteren_US
dc.identifier.emailPalmer, DA: palmer19@hku.hk-
dc.description.naturepostprint-
dc.identifier.spage147-
dc.identifier.epage174-
dc.publisher.placeSanta Barbara-

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