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Back to Introductory Qigong Articles


Clarity in the Words: Languaging the Chinese Arts
of Self-Healing and Personal Vitality Enhancement

Roger Jahnke O.M.D.

If you have wondered whether Qigong and Ch'i Kung and Chi Gung are all the same thing, you are not alone. If you have wondered about the difference between T'ai Chi, Taiji and Taijiquan your questions are shared by millions. Why do some writers translate the Chinese character for energy or vitality as Qi and others as Ch'i?

There are two systems for translating Chinese characters into phonetic words. One is the Wade-Giles system developed by academic thinkers in the Western tradition. In the Wade-Giles system the capital city of China is phonetically spelled - Peking. The other is the Pin Yin system that has been developed by the Chinese in Mainland China. China's capital city in Pin Yin is phonetically spelled - Beijing.

Much of the confusion that people experience regarding the self healing and empowerment practices of China is due to these two systems of spelling and their phonetic sounds. For example, there are many kinds of self-care practices in China. These practices are generally called Qigong (Ch'i Kung in Wade - Giles). One of the most widely known forms of Qigong is Tai Ji Quan or Taijiquan (T'ai Chi in Wade - Giles). The character for energy and vitality Qi (Ch'i) is in neither T'ai Chi nor in Taiji. Ji (Chi) means ultimate, pure or absolute.

All of these words describe wonderful concepts. It may help you in your quest for self-healing and spiritual balance to get the language clear.

Qi = Chinese (Pin Yin) transliteration of the character which means energy, vitality, and breath

Ch'i = European (Wade - Giles) transliteration of the character which means energy, vitality, and breath

Ji = Chinese, Pin Yin, meaning ultimate, pure, absolute

Chi = European, Wade-Giles, meaning ultimate, pure, absolute

Quan = Chinese, Pin Yin for fist or boxing

Ch'uan = European, Wade-Giles for fist or boxing

Gong = Chinese, Pin Yin for practice, exercise, refine, cultivate

Kung = European, Wade-Giles for practice, exercise, refine, cultivate

Tai = Pin Yin for big, huge, grand, immense, supreme

T'ai = Wade-Giles for big, huge, grand, immense, supreme

Dao = Pin Yin for The Way, as in Daoism, Dao De Jing

Tao = Wade Giles for The Way, as in Taoism, Tao Te Ching

Taiji = Pin Yin for Supreme Ultimate, Immense Absolute or Big Pure

T'ai Chi = Wade-Giles for Supreme Ultimate, Immense Absolute or Big Pure

Qigong = Chinese, Pin Yin, for cultivation or refining of energy or vitality

Ch'i Kung = European, Wade - Giles, for cultivation or refining of energy or vitality

As you can see the word Taiji (T'ai Chi) doesn't suggest either martial arts or health improvement. It is an all-encompassing philosophical concept. When one brings this concept to either fighting or healing it is profoundly enriching. This is one of the beautiful features of Chinese culture. It makes philosophical poetry out of the fighting arts and the healing arts.

Taijiquan or T'ai Chi Chuan is one of the most famous of all Chinese health enhancing exercise systems. It has strong links to the martial arts as well. Taijiquan includes 108 movements in the long form or between 20 and 40 movements in the short forms. There are dozens of kinds of Taiji. The Yang style is the most broadly practiced in China, however the Wu style and the Chen style are very popular also. All of the styles of Taiji may be considered as varieties of Qigong (Ch'i Kung).

If your goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the words please continue. However, if your goal is to look at the practical applications of Taiji of Qigong you may want to go on to the next page.

These two words, Tai Qi or T'ai Ch'i, sound like Taiji (T'ai Chi) but they are not. Neither, you will be surprised to find, are names for any typical exercise or self healing system. These words describe big vitality, supreme energy or radiant health. Tai Qi is not the same as Taiji nor is T'ai Ch'i the same as Tai Chi. This has been very confusing to many. Someone who has big health or grand energy (Tai Qi or T'ai Ch'i) probably does health enhancing methods on a regular basis. It is very likely that whoever has Tai Qi or T'ai Ch'i does Taiji or T'ai Chi every day, with perseverance. They may also do some other form of Qigong (Ch'i Kung).

There are literally thousands of kinds of Qigong (Ch'i Kung). Taiji (T'ai Chi) is only one kind. All kinds of Qigong (Ch'i Kung), including Taiji (T'ai Chi), help an individual to develop strong and enduring health which is called big vitality or Tai Qi (T'ai Ch'i). There is a big difference between Qi and Ji. And there is a big difference between Ch'i and Chi, even though they all sound similar.

Taiji (T'ai Chi) is one of the longest and most difficult forms of Qigong (Ch'i Kung). Many forms of Qigong (Ch'i Kung) are very easy to learn. Taijiquan or T'ai Chi Ch'uan means Supreme Ultimate Fist or Grand Absolute boxing. In this solo practice one fights (boxes) with one's ego to attain the highest refinement of self. In both the West and in China the ego is like the shadow of one's supreme self. The Chinese often call Taijiquan shadow boxing. The individual Taiji practitioner is in a battle with his or her own shadow, the ego.

Dao Tai Qi (Tao T'ai Ch'i, Wade-Giles) means The Way of Supreme Energy or The Way of Immense Power, both are developed through Taiji (T'ai Chi) and other forms of Qigong (Ch'i Kung)

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