Exploring the Essence of Qi in Chinese Medicine


Chinese Medicine deeply integrates ancient Chinese philosophy’s understanding of “Qi,” a concept that pervades various aspects of its theoretical framework, forming the foundation for comprehending the human body and life. According to Chinese Medicine, life originates from the aggregation of Qi and concludes with its dissipation; once Qi ceases, vitality fades away. Qi primarily refers to the fundamental substance that constitutes the human body, and any tangible entity is an aggregation of Qi. The entire process of material and energy metabolism in the human body can be considered as changes generated by the movement of Qi. The broad meaning of Qi is the essential life force within the human body, in contrast to tangible substances like blood and bodily fluids. This essential, intangible substance fills the entire body, sustaining vital life activities – it is the narrow definition of “Qi.”

Specifically, based on their source, function, and operational locations, the Qi within the human body can be further categorized as Yuan Qi (Original Qi), Zong Qi (Gathering Qi), Ying Qi (Nutrient Qi), Wei Qi (Defensive Qi), etc. These various forms of Qi collectively maintain the vitality of the human body. In Chinese Medicine, the abundance of Qi, its proper circulation, and the normal process of Qi transformation are used to explain many physiological or pathological phenomena. When Qi is abundant and its circulation and transformation are in harmony, the functions of meridians, organs, and bodily activities are robust, body temperature is normal, resistance to illness is strong, and overall vitality is flourishing – this is what people generally refer to as a state of health. On the other hand, if Qi is deficient or its circulation is disrupted, the functions of meridians, organs, or body parts may weaken or encounter obstacles. Body temperature becomes abnormal, susceptibility to pathogenic influences increases, and recovery from illness becomes challenging.

Chinese Medicine asserts that the aggregation of Qi forms the human physique, with invisible Qi diffusing throughout the body, constantly circulating and reaching every corner. The unity of tangible substance and intangible Qi creates interconnectedness among various components, forming a unified and organic whole. As a result, the internal and external, upper and lower aspects of the human body are closely connected. Local abnormalities can affect the entire system, and systemic disorders can manifest locally. Organ-related issues may impact other organs, external changes may reflect internal organ functions, and by adjusting internal functions, external manifestations of diseases can be alleviated. It is the action of Qi that allows the human life to function as a unified whole. Simultaneously, both humans and the myriad elements of nature are composed of interpenetrating Qi. There is a constant exchange of material and energy between humans and nature, a manifestation of the movement and variation of Qi. Through processes like diet and respiration, humans engage in the ascent, descent, entry, and exit exchanges of Qi internally and externally, closely connecting humans to the natural world. More importantly, through the ubiquitous mediation of Qi, humans perceive the myriad changes in the heavens, the earth, the sun, and the moon, responding accordingly. From the perspective of Chinese Medicine, the reason for the interconnectedness of “human and the universe” is primarily due to the mediating role of Qi. It is through this intermediary function of Qi that humans and the natural world exhibit unity, the so-called “unity of heaven and man.”

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