Radical Cure Article

What is Qi ?

In traditional Chinese culture, Qi (also chi or ch'i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as "energy flow", and is often compared to Western notions of energeia or élan vital (vitalism), as well as the yogic notion of prana andpranayama. The literal translation of "Qi" is air, breath, or gas.


References to things analogous to the Qi taken to be the life-process or flow of energy that sustains living beings are found in many belief systems, especially in Asia. In Chinese legend, it is Huang Di (the Emperor) who is identified as the one who first collected and formalized much of what subsequently became known as traditional Chinese medicine.

Philosophical conceptions of Qi from the earliest records of Chinese philosophy (5th century BC) correspond to Western notions of humours. The earliest description of Qi in the current sense of vital energy is due to Mencius (4th century BC).

Within the framework of Chinese thought, no notion may attain such a degree of abstraction from empirical data as to correspond perfectly to one of our modern universal concepts. Nevertheless, the term Qi comes as close as possible to constituting a generic designation equivalent to our word "energy". When Chinese thinkers are unwilling or unable to fix the quality of an energetic phenomenon, the character Qi inevitably flows from their brushes.

The ancient Chinese described it as "life-force". They believed Qi permeated everything and linked the their surroundings together. They likened it to the flow of energy around and through the body, forming a cohesive and functioning unit. By understanding its rhythm and flow they believed they could guide exercises and treatments to provide stability and longevity.

Although the concept of Qi has been important within many Chinese philosophies, over the centuries the descriptions of Qi have varied and have sometimes been in conflict. Until China came into contact with Western scientific and philosophical ideas, they would not have categorized all things in terms of matter and energy. Qi and li  (pattern) were 'fundamental' categories similar to matter and energy. Hand written calligraphic Qi.

Fairly early on, some Chinese thinkers began to believe that there were different fractions of Qi and that the coarsest and heaviest fractions of Qi formed solids, lighter fractions formed liquids, and the most ethereal fractions were the "lifebreath" that animates living beings.

Yuán qì is a notion of innate or pre-natal Qi to distinguish it from acquired Qi that a person may develop over the course of their lifetime.

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