Qigong Fever

Body, Science, and Utopia in China

David A. Palmer

Columbia University Press

Qigong Fever

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Pub Date: March 2007

ISBN: 9780231140669

320 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00

Pub Date: March 2007

ISBN: 9780231511704

320 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99

Qigong Fever

Body, Science, and Utopia in China

David A. Palmer

Columbia University Press

Qigong—a regimen of body, breath, and mental training exercises—was one of the most widespread cultural and religious movements of late-twentieth-century urban China. The practice was promoted by senior Communist Party leaders as a uniquely Chinese healing tradition and as a harbinger of a new scientific revolution, yet the movement's mass popularity and the almost religious devotion of its followers led to its ruthless suppression.

In this absorbing and revealing book, David A. Palmer relies on a combination of historical, anthropological, and sociological perspectives to describe the spread of the qigong craze and its reflection of key trends that have shaped China since 1949, including the search for a national identity and an emphasis on the absolute authority of science. Qigong offered the promise of an all-powerful technology of the body rooted in the mysteries of Chinese culture. However, after 1995 the scientific underpinnings of qigong came under attack, its leaders were denounced as charlatans, and its networks of followers, notably Falungong, were suppressed as "evil cults."

According to Palmer, the success of the movement proves that a hugely important religious dimension not only survived under the CCP but was actively fostered, if not created, by high-ranking party members. Tracing the complex relationships among the masters, officials, scientists, practitioners, and ideologues involved in qigong, Palmer opens a fascinating window on the transformation of Chinese tradition as it evolved along with the Chinese state. As he brilliantly demonstrates, the rise and collapse of the qigong movement is key to understanding the politics and culture of post-Mao society.

This is a pathbreaking study, elegantly written and meticulously researched. It constitutes the first thorough analysis of qigong and its many mutations between state and society in China and offers an original interpretation of the suppression of the Falungong movement in 1999. Qigong Fever is indispensable to the field of Chinese studies but also to the more general topics of religion and modernity.

Frank Dikötter, School of Oriental and African Studies, author of The Discourse of Race in Modern China

Critically important; an exemplary piece of scholarship. Quite simply, if one does not understand the qigong movement in all its complexity, then one cannot understand post-1949 China. David A. Palmer has built the foundation upon which all future conversations on this subject will be built.

Marlowe Hood, Agence France Presse

"A powerful historical, political, cultural, and sociological analysis of the Qigong movement and its relationship to the state... Essential." -Choice


A brilliant piece of scholarship... it is to be hoped that this excellent book reaches a wide readership.

David Ownby, Pacific Affairs

The most comprehensive volume published on the Qigong movement in contemporary China.

Gareth Fisher, Journal of Chinese Religions

[A] remarkable study... the best work in its field.

Journal of Social History

Qigong Fever provides original and profound insights into Chinese social and political history over the last 60 years.

Georges Favroud, China Perspectives

David Palmer's fascinating and solidly researched Qigong Fever represents the first serious English-language history of the qigong explosion that rocked China over the course of the 1980s and 1990s

Patricia M. Thornton, History of Religions

Qigong Fever is well written, engaging, and extensively researched. It is a landmark in the study of qigong and an indispensible resource for anyone attempting to understand Chinese society in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution.

Scott Lowe, International Journal for the Study of New Religions

1. The Birth of Modern Qigong, 1949-64

2. Political Networks and the Formation of the Qigong Sector

3. The Grandmasters

4. Qigong Scientism

5. Qigong Fever

6. Controversy and Crisis

7. Control and Rationalisation

8. Militant Qigong: The Emergence of Falungong

9. Falungong Challenges the CCP

Epilogue: The Collapse of the Qigong Movement

Appendix: On the Sources Used for this Study

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2007

About the Author

David A. Palmer is adjunct professor of anthropology and religious studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and research fellow at the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient. He obtained his Ph.D. at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Sorbonne, Paris) and was the Eileen Barker Fellow in Religion and Contemporary Society at the London School of Economics.