Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review

Volume 11, Issue 1, 2020

Chinese New Religions

WANG Chengjun
Pages 51-80

Falling from Heaven to Earth
The Qigong Movement in Contemporary China

The Qigong movement was one of the most remarkable New Religious Movements, and one of the most important social and cultural phenomena in China during 1980s–1990s. It rose rapidly and created what was termed a “fever” in a very short time in Post-Mao China, and then suddenly fell off the late 1990s. This paper analyzes how and why Qigong, as a new religion, endured such a drastic change within specific political, economic and cultural contexts in China across the course of twenty years. It argues that the rise of Qigong can be mainly ascribed to people’s urgent need for the promotion of health, eagerness to restore national pride, and the change of people’s lifestyle and mindset in response to the “Reform and Opening-up” subsequent to 1978. The collapse of the movement could be seen as an unavoidable result from certain intrinsic and extrinsic factors, namely, the natural tensions between Qigong itself and the national political authorities as well as the scientific establishment, harmful outcomes it produced among some practitioners, and the change in the social and cultural contexts that fostered qigong. In general, it is plausible to say that both its rise and fall were products of the time China underwent subsequent to the “Reform and Opening-up” period.