The Rise and Fall of Wang Lin and Qigong

Jul. 27, 2015 15:42:00


A man practicing “Strengthening Exercise” in Hebei Medical Qigong Hospital in 1981. (Photo by Ben Lanwu) 

The ancient Chinese healing art of qigong has suffered another blow with the demise of celebrity guru Wang Lin.

Wang’s rise was a master class of deceit, using his celebrity status to cheat the rich.

That ended when police in Jiangxi Province detained him on July 15 on suspicion of the kidnapping and murder of one of his followers.

It was the final blow to his credibility, which was undermined when he was suspected of illegally owning automatic weapons and practicing medical treatments in 2013.

Everyone is afraid of illness and death. Wang made his fortune from this weakness of human nature, proclaiming the “superpower of qigong”and succeeding in the political, economic and entertainment fields.


Wang Lin  photo from the Internet

Qigong developed over centuries as a practical and effective way of keeping the body healthy.

It is a set of skills to regulate the body, the breathing and the mind, according to a Chinese book called “Chinese Medical Qigong”.

It developed as a strengthening or therapeutic activity through Chinese traditional ways of exercising and mental relaxation.

Its elevation to a “super therapy”, with “super practitioners” like Wang, was a process that reflects China’s contemporary history.

Liu Guizhen claimed he used qigong to treat his mental illness in the 1950s. He went on to promote and research qigong in Hebei Province, north China.

The Ministry of Health praised him for this success at the opening of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, since renamed the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, when it was established in 1955.

The public started to learn about qigong when it was first reported in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1956.

The popularity of qigong really took off in the 1980s and 1990s, and a series of qigong-related journals were launched around China.


A group practicing Qigong together in Beijing in the 1980s.  Photo by Huang Xiaobing

The first national qigong organization, the Chinese Academy of Qigong, was set up in 1981. Founding president Qian Xuesen promoted qigong through the academy.


A performance of Chinese martial arts and Qigong in the UK in 1981.  Photo by Xia Daoling

The China Association of Medical Qigong is the current name of the national organization.


People were practicing Qigong in a park in Beijing in the 1980s. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, qigong was transformed from a health regime to a “super therapy”, with millions of fanatical practitioners.


       A Qigong practitioner trying to hypnotize people in 1987.  Photo by Shao Jun


       Zhu Heting, a leading Qigong practitioner, treating the Bulgarian ambassador to China for high blood pressure and diabetes. He used to treat his friends for diabetes, Parkinson's disease, lung cancer and cataracts.  Photo byTang Shizeng


Qigong was practiced as an anesthetic before operations in Shanghai in1987.


A practitioner tells an audience how qigong can regulate blood circulation.  Photo by Zhang Fulai


Elderly people were practicing qigong in Beijing in 1988.


A six-year-old boy who weighed 47kg practiced qigong to help him lose weight in 1989.  Photo by Huang Jingda



      A man was practicing qigong in Beijing in 1989. Photo by Wang Wenbo


       A man was practicing qigong in Beijing in the cold in 1989.  Photo by Huang Xiaobing


A crowd were practicing a Buddhist qigong activity in Beijing in 1989.  Photo by Huang Xiaobing

It could be said that qigong flourished because of the suppression of education during the Cultural Revolution, when understanding of the sciences waned.

With the increase in wealth brought by the reform and opening up policy, qigong benefited as people sought new ideas to improve their health and enjoy their leisure time.

It has also replaced traditional medical treatments among those who would choose to avoid medical and invasive treatments to cure their ailments.

Qigong performances have focused on the dramatic, such as swallowing glass, spoon bending or even controlling others’ minds.

Some of these applied little-known science; others just cheated audiences through trickery.


A woman practicing “Exercise of Copper Clock” in 1990.  Photo by Wu Yuanliu


      Members of a qigong workshop put pots on their heads to absorb the energy from the cosmos in 1993.



Claims that acupuncture could cure diabetes without medicines or injections attracted members to a qigong club in 1995.  Photo by Zheng Yongji

When a massive forest fire swept Heilongjiang Province in1987, qigong leader Yan Xin claimed he successfully put it out by using qigong to call for rain – despite being 2,000 km away.

His claims that he could cure fractures and AIDS and passthrough a wall with qigong drew a lot of media attention.


Yan Xin

In a book called “Superman Zhang Baosheng”, in the 1990s, Zhang claimed he could use his mind to move objects.  He had been involved in a qigong “super therapy” organization in Beijing since 1982.

He was found cheating during a qigong performance on television in 1995, and was later arrested for fraud and harming social order.


Zhang Baosheng

“Super therapy” qigong began to lose its luster in the late 1990s with more reports of such cases.

Growing science and medical knowledge, particularly from the Internet, have diminished its appeal.

More regular forms of qigong such as tai chi and wu qin xi are now gaining followers.

2008年6月2日,北京,一些居民在公园练习气功。Getty Guang Niu

People were practicing qigong in a Beijing park in 2008.


       Eighty-three members of qigong organizations from 17 European countries practice wu qin xi, a series of exercises based on animal movements.  Photo by Wang Xiaojun



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