Saturday, June 27, 2015

The concept of Fringe and Chi Kung

Chi kung, and its related disciplines such as tai chi and meditation, is a popular exercise nowadays in Chinese communities, and is getting more and more popular in other countries among people with different nationalities. It belongs to mainstream. It was however far from mainstream in old Dynasty China. More fringy perhaps than characters in Japanese mini-drama Midnight Diner, whose patrons include yakusa members, gay bar owners, strip dancers, crooks, minor policemen, "overtime" OLs, and socially misfit of many kinds. The difference is that these fringy patrons are not persecuted in modern Japan, not so for chi healers in old Dynasty China.

Chinese history of the previous Dynasty was written by official historians of the current Dynasty. Historical writing, or history for short, was primarily written to serve as "administrative case studies" for the better management of the current Emperor and his administrators. For this reason, not withstanding the fact that the historians were truly professional, certain subjects were considered not relevant to their studies. Therefore related historical documents and records laid dormant in royal archives rather than being used or referenced. During the past decades, such archives in Beijing and Taipei were being made public to qualified academics of major Universities in China and overseas. Histories from new perspectives and on new subjects began to be written for the consumption of interested members of the modern public. Among these publications is a book called "Millenarian Rebellion in China - The Eight Trigrams Uprising of 1813" by Princeton's Professor Susan Naquin.

In Dynasty China, there were three relevant provinces around Beijing (current Shandong, Heinan and Heibei province - the last one being similar to a larger area formerly called Zhili [means "directly ruled" and indicates regions directly ruled by the imperial government of China, including the capital]). The three provinces were the land of chi kung healers, groups and followers. Meaning that the people and the environment were conducive to the creation, practice and propagation of chi healing.

A typical development pattern of chi healing in society was narrated by Professsor Naquin as follows (paraphrased by me):

Chi kung healing in the area was passed down through family lineage, not necessarily along the male line. Healers were liberal rather than orthodox. These healers because of their "magical power" and usual affiliation with fringy religious sects of either Taoism or Buddhism were officially forbidden by the Emperor. Such masters would be jailed/executed and groups disbanded. Emperor's law though was not necessarily being carried out by local rural administrators who, when a healer was not very influential, i.e. only with a small number of followers and carried out his trade discretely, would tolerate him, afterall, these healers were doing a proven practice to certain members of the communities usually the lower class countrymen who could not affect legitimate medical care. Rural administrators were also limited by the resources of administration (and persecution!) at their disposal.

Problems arose when these healers became too successful. With successful healing records (and perhaps coupled good personal publicity on the part of the master), some people in the upper class began to follow a healing master. It was easy to understand from a modern perspective in that chi healing and chi kung exercises are more beneficial than mainstream Chinese medical practices in many long term ailments.

These groups met periodically, once a month or once every few months. Becoming successful and with more upper class followers, some of these masters became quite rich. And a sizeable group of mixed sex adults meeting in private could easily arouse the curiosity and therefore suspicion of local rural people. And that in its turn attracted the attention of the local authority, which eventually ended up in persecution, sometimes local authority would request manpower support from the provincial authority. The smarter ones of the masters fled away before a crackdown, some masters being executed or jailed (but their descendants secretly carried on with now a much smaller group), while one or two bravest masters revolted against the Emperor with disastrous results. The professor documented some of these uprisings in her book.

Master and his patrons

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