In Part 1, I discussed the letter I got about this and some of my history.
In Part 2, I looked at the official Chinese Soaring Crane Qigong book and the specific beliefs that underlie its claims to cure diseases (and cause diseases if it is stopped or done incorrectly).
In this part, I’m looking at the surrounding social history of Soaring Crane, especially its origin, transmission to North America, and current status.
As mentioned earlier, Zhao, Jinxiang claims credit for founding this form of Qigong. In the book he says he developed it on a foundation of other Qigong systems he had learned. This is sensible and realistic. But as is so common in mystical groups, the origin gets more shrouded in mystery over time. Much of this post draws on an interview with my teacher, Professor Chen, Hui Xian which was published in a 1996 book _A Gathering of Cranes: Bringing the Tao to the West_ by Solala Towler.
Was this form originated by Zhao Jin-Xiang, or is it an old form?
He originated it. Although he once told me that it was not actually his invention. It was a message that he got. When he was sixteen years old he was very sick with tuberculosis and weighed only 90 pounds. He was sent to a sanitorium where he learned a traditional seated meditation. Then he began learning Chinese medicine through books. He learned how to prescribe for other people. He was then able to cure himself.
He went back to his hometown to visit his parents. On the train he met a peasant farmer-type of man seated across from him who was staring at him. When Master Zhao asked him why he was staring at him the man said, “I know you practice qi gong.” Master Zhao said, “No no, I do not practice.” But the man said that Master Zhao was gifted in qi gong and that he would teach him. So the man told him to hold the corner of his coat. ”No, I mean hold it with your mind. I am going to take you on a journey.”
Immediately Master Zhao felt like he was floating in the sky and looking down at the train. He was very scared but eventually his energy came back to his body. The man never did tell him his name but just told him to study hard and said some day he would teach. He then told him to visit some of the Taoists in the mountains, which later Master Zhao did.
After that Master Zhao came back to Beijing. The word got out that he would help cure people. The problem was, that so many people came to him to be treated that he was surrounded by people. So he decided to develop a type of qi gong that would be helpful to all people. The problem was, he had only four years of schooling, and it was not easy for him to draw. Then, one night in a dream, he was taught all the five routines. He was told to go out and teach people. This was at the end of the Cultural Revolution, so people were starting to do tai ji practice in the park or just doing walking exercise. So he went to the park and met eight people who were very very ill with fatal diseases with an average age of sixty or more. These were ready to catch a straw! So they were ready to try. They had to hide themselves in the woods so that they would not be hassled by the guards in the park, since things were very hard at that time.
After three months, all of them became cured and were allowed to go back to work. The word spread like mushrooms after a rain. So Master Zhao sent out eight people to teach other people. After about five years about eleven million people were practicing this type of qi gong. Today there are around twenty million people practicing. So he was a pioneer. (Towler, page 5-7)
I don’t know if Chen made up the extraterrestrial story herself or whether that came from Zhao as well. But she repeatedly, clearly stated that Zhao learned Soaring Crane from Bird People from the Blue Star Planet, which she began identifying as Arcturus. Arcturus features in some other New Age belief systems. I would love to be abducted by real ETs, especially if they can give me a quick tour of the universe and use that time-bending trick to return me home just seconds later. But until then, I have a much stronger belief in the powers of imagination, fantasy, and self-delusion.
I just found a page mentioning that Arcturians are from a blue planet:
Who are the Arcturians? Why do they stay hidden? These questions are just the beginning of an array of questions that now ponder the mind of thousands of people. The Arcturians are an alien race that hails from the blue planet orbiting the red giant star Arcturus in the Bootes constellation. Arcturus orbits at approximately 36 light years from our solar system.
Who Are the Arcturians?
Arcturians are the most advanced civilization (alien) in the galaxy, transcending into the 4th and 5th dimensions. These higher beings exists mostly in a spiritual plane subjugated by thought and pure consciousness.
The central belief system that sustains the Arcturian is a philosophy of healing and compassion for the universe. The Arcturian civilization is governed by elders of whom only the most spiritually advanced are included.
I suspect that one of Chen’s early Western students was into New Age Ufology and encouraged her to make this connection. Chen, like Mantak Chia, willingly added more New Age beliefs into the Qigong teaching. This type of added teaching led at least one classmate at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine to complain to the administration that the required Qigong class was more like a religious cult than a traditional healing exercise.
Master Pang He Ming initially taught Soaring Crane Qigong. When his disciple, Master Zhao Jin Xiang, broke off from him to teach Soaring Crane Qigong on his own which later became very popular, Master Pang changed the name of the qigong (chi kung) he taught to Zhineng Qigong, which literally means “Intelligence-Ability Qigong”.
Soaring Crane Qigong was invented by Master Pang. (Some other people, however, opine that it was Master Zhao Jin Xiang who invented Soaring Crane Qigong.) Master Pang based much of his invention on his own qigong, which was Shaolin Cosmos Qigong. I believe that the qigong base of another great qigong master, Master Yan Xin, who is famous for distant qi transmission, is also Shaolin Cosmos Qigong.
I found a blog by a student of Pang He Ming and asked in the comments for more info. I got an exciting reply, and will update with any other info I get:
Although this is an open secret but it is also a sensitive issue… do you read Chinese? if you do I can refer you to some articles.
Digging further into the Internet, I found a few bits on this page:
In the book, Abundant Zhineng by Jane XG and Joseph Marcello, it alludes that Pang Ming was the main developer of he xiang zhuang (soaring crane) and that when deveopled he realized that it was incomplete and prone to deviations. When expelled to the countryside he supposedly went through a 3 yr assessment of his life where he realized the imperfections of Soaring Crane and perfected this to Zhineng qigong, as we know it today.
On the opposite side, I have heard very little about Zhao Jinxiang and his version of the situation. Where Zhineng gong mentions in a few cases its association with Soaring Crane, Zhao Jinxiang NEVER puts forth any information.
Also, it is known that Pang Ming did correct the deviation causing ‘postures’ that is allowing present continued practice of soaring crane. As to whether Zhao is as accomplished as Pang Ming regarding knowledge of qigong methodology is not clear and perhaps someone who may know more background would be appreciated.
I, too am very interested in this subject. I practice Crane-Style Qi Gong as taught by Master Pang Heming. Recently I was told that thei was not the “original” form and that I was not giving credit to the true creator of Soaring Crane, Master Zhao Jin-Xiang. has there been a rift between these two masters? Is there some kind of rivalry between these two forms of Qi Gong?
I do not know the story but based on what was reported in various news sources, translated stories and personal comments I don’t think that there was a rift but they both (Pang Heming and Zhao Jin-xiang) co-developed (for lack of a better word) Soaring Crane. When these adverse experiences began being reported, supposedly Pang Heming corrected the ‘deviation’ of a posture(s)-the specific routine was never described.
And on YMAA’s forums:
Background on Hexiangzhuang:
This method was developed by Pang Heming and Zhao Jinxiang (main promoter) and over time it had a large following. It was realized that the symptoms associated with this qigong was problematic so some patterns were reformatted. Pang Heming realizing this made some changes and he came out with the now known Zhineng qigong.
A few other references come up which make it look like Zhao and Pang were both influential early promoters of the 1980′s Qigong “craze” in China. The book “Qigong Fever” should be here tomorrow, and has some more historical information in it. Suffice it to say that Zhao probably didn’t learn Soaring Crane in a dream or from aliens, but likely at least co-developed it with Pang and took credit as the originator as the opportunity for fame and fortune developed.
The Case of Professor Chen’s Cancer
On the first day of Soaring Crane Qigong class at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, Professor Chen told us the story of her advanced breast cancer and how she learned Qi Gong and went back to the hospital after practicing for a while. She reported doctors were amazed that her cancer was gone, and claimed that their original diagnosis of cancer must have been mistaken because that type of cure seemed impossible to them. I don’t recall her ever mentioning surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. This is why I was surprised to see the following in Solala Towler’s interview of her:
It was there that I developed a cancer which was very serious. I did not find out until I went to Beijing and went to a doctor who told me I had breast cancer. It was one of the most dangerous kind. I was taken to the hospital and operated on. Then, I had chemotherapy and radiation treatment, which helped, but I couldn’t really stand it. I was very, very weak with on-going headaches. By then, the cancer had spread through my lymph system. Everyone thought I was dying.
Finally I left the hospital, but came back for my chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I was still too weak to stand it. At that time, I met a fellow patient in the clinic who told me that I should try qi gong… He was taught a type of qi gong called Soaring Crane Qi Gong. This is the style that I later learned and that I now teach…
So I started practicing in the winter of 1982. It was very hard. I lived very far from the park where we practiced. I had to walk for a half an hour just to get to the bus station to take me into town. Every morning at four o’clock I had to get up and walk very slowly to the bus station, then I took a bus to the park. My teacher was a student of the master of this style of qi gong…
I learned the Soaring Crane style of qi gong. There are five routines to start with. We learned very slowly because we were all so sick. After three weeks, practicing three hours a day, I already felt much better. My appetite came back. I felt like going out to see a movie! I began to look at the world differently. I came to life again and became happier day by day…
So, after three months I felt very different. People would look at me and say “Wow, you look like you’ve come back to life again!” My hair began to grow back. (Towler, page 4-5)
Cancer therapy is indeed draining and difficult. It is a victory to survive it and go on to regain energy and regrow hair. Looking online, here is a typical answer for “after chemotherapy, when will your hair grow back?”
If you had chemotherapy, here’s a typical timetable:
- two to three weeks after chemotherapy ends: soft fuzz
- one month after: real hair starts to grow at its normal rate
- two months after: an inch of hair
One of the most common logical fallacies in alternative medicine (and superstitions of avoidance) is called “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” which is Latin for “after this, therefore because of this.” Wikipedia elaborates:
The form of the post hoc fallacy can be expressed as follows:
- A occurred, then B occurred.
- Therefore, A caused B.
When B is undesirable, this pattern is often extended in reverse: Avoiding A will prevent B.
An embarrassing amount of Chinese medical tradition is based on this sort of observation which developed into dogma.
In Professor Chen’s case, it gets even more complicate with what is either extreme selective memory or possibly fraudulent distortion. When Professor Chen retired, she named Teri Applegate as her lineage holder.
PROFESSOR CHEN, HUI XIAN Recovering from late stage breast cancer through her practice of Soaring Crane Qigong, Professor Chen, Hui-xian was a student of one of Master Zhao’s original nine students in 1982. Later she served as a disciple of Master Zhao for eight years as she reached the level of a master teacher….Together, Professor Chen and Master Zhao started China’s first qigong department at her university. Master Zhao encouraged her to use her English to teach qigong worldwide as he authorized her to carry the lineage and to certify teachers of all levels.
Similar distortion is found on a few other Soaring Crane students’ sites:
And then there are the students who practice to save their own lives. Soaring Crane Qigong has been proven to be the most effective qigong form (for the time committment required to practice) for treatment and prevention of reoccurrence of cancer. Professor Chen Huixian, lineage holder of multiple qigong forms including Soaring Crane Qigong, came to qigong for this very reason. She had been diagnosed with late stage metastatic breast cancer with a bleak prognosis; practice of Soaring Crane Qigong quite literally saved her life, and that was over twenty years ago. Many students with other forms of chronic and critical illness (such as Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Lupus, HIV/AIDS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and Diabetes) have also found relief from, and often reversal of, their illnesses.
Another version is on Chen’s current site, Wisdom and Peace Wellness Center:
About Professor Huixian Chen
After suffering throughout her life with many chronic health problems, Professor Chen was diagnosed in 1982 with terminal cancer. Doctors gave her a 25% chance of recovery. In search for a cure, Professor Chen was introduced to Qigong.
At that time, Professor Chen was an English Professor at University of International Business and Economics in China. After her remarkable recovery, Professor Chen became a devoted practitioner and has dedicated her life to teaching Qigong.
The gentle stretching, balancing, and deep breathing of Soaring Crane are fabulous exercises for recovery from something like cancer therapy. However, the promotional distortions that claim Soaring Crane is an effective treatment for cancers are misleading and have no support from good quality research. This is despite the great popularity it apparently had at one time.
What about the cult thing? How does Falun Gong figure in?
There was a Qigong “craze” in China in the 1980′s, which has since died down, partly due to exposure of fraudulent trickery around claims of paranormal powers and partly due to government concern about fanatical religions developing to challenge state power and delude people into not eating. The latter is called “bigu” or “avoiding grains” and is an ancient Taoist goal which also became a part of some modern Qigong movements. The Falun Gong group became the most prominent sect of concern. This group developed sympathy in the West by claiming religious persecution. They fail to disclose that their charismatic leader, Li Hongzhi, who has lived in New York for some time, is a bigoted megalomaniac:
Question: Why is homosexuality considered immoral?
Teacher: Think about it, everyone: Is homosexuality human behavior? Heaven created man and woman. What was the purpose? To procreate future generations. A man being with a man, or a woman with a woman – it doesn’t take much thought to know whether that’s right or wrong. When minor things are done incorrectly, a person is said to be wrong. When major things are done incorrectly, it’s a case of people no longer having the moral code of human beings, and then they are unworthy of being human.
Question: Why is it that homosexuals are considered bad people?
Teacher: Let me tell you, if I weren’t teaching this Fa today, gods’ first target of annihilation would be homosexuals. It’s not me who would destroy them, but gods. You know that homosexuals have found legitimacy in that homosexuality was around back in the culture of ancient Greece. Yes, there was a similar phenomenon in ancient Greek culture. And do you know why ancient Greek culture is no more? Why are the ancient Greeks gone? Because they had degenerated to that extent, and so they were destroyed.
He also has very strange ideas about race and “mixed blood” people getting to the right heaven:
“In the reincarnation process it is the main soul that reincarnates, whereas what has mixed blood is the flesh body. Different gods created their own different peoples, and in history those gods have all along been taking care of the people they themselves created. White people are white people, black people are black people, and people of the yellow race are people of the yellow race. Any ethnicity in the world is a race that corresponds with the heavens. After mixing blood people no longer have their correspondence to the gods in the heavens. And then it is possible that none of the gods that created humans will take care of them. Then with regard to these people, they are very pitiable. Some people might be wondering what to do, then. I’ll tell you, don’t be anxious. I am talking about the situation at the human being’s surface. Since humans’ main souls haven’t mixed, if people want to cultivate I can enable you to cultivate. If you can cultivate to the last step you can Consummate all the same, and there won’t be any distinction. Cultivation won’t be an issue.”
And, of course, aliens are behind science so they can replace human souls:
(Alien beings) want to steal it. They saturate all domains of humankind with science to make human beings firmly believe in science and rely on it. When human beings’ thoughts and way of existence are completely assimilated to theirs, they just have to replace people’s souls and humans will become them, and they will eventually replace the human race…this science was set up by aliens.
The Chinese Communist Government’s persecution of Falun Gong followers has been harsh and problematic. Whether Jiang Zemin was more concerned about sociopolitical unrest or the effects of cult brainwashing on individual citizens, the allegations of torture and death have increased international support for Falun Gong and added to the human rights criticisms of China.
This brings us to the most important point of this series of posts–what is a cult and what sort of danger can it present? Rick Ross is one of the most noted experts on cults, and has addressed Falun Gong on a page that will help us evaluate Soaring Crane.
Definition of a Cult
Noted psychiatrist and author Robert Jay Lifton developed the following definition of a cult. This definition is focused primarily upon three principal criteria and was first published in a paper titled “Cult Formation” in 1981 :
- a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
- a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform;
- economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.
Falun Dafa and Lifton’s three criteria
* A charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship.
Exclusive claims made by Li Hongzhi, which are implicitly accepted by Falun Dafa practitioners without exemption, are the defining principles of the group.
* A charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship.
Exclusive claims made by Li Hongzhi, which are implicitly accepted by Falun Dafa practitioners without exemption, are the defining principles of the group.
For example, “Master Li” purportedly possesses supernatural powers.
Mr. Li claims to know “the top secret of the universe” and says “no religion can save people” but the “almighty Fa,” which he exclusively represents. He is therefore essentially the chosen savior of man. The biography in his book “Zhuan Falun” claims that he first recognized his special powers at the age of 8.
Li Hongzhi’s teachings also include the spinning “falun,” which is a mystical “wheel of law” that he claims to be able to insert into his disciples’ abdomens telekinetically.
Such fantastic and exclusive claims about a leader fit the classic profile of a personality-driven cult.
Falun Dafa followers, believe that Li Hongzhi is always right and they are not allowed to question the basic assumptions concerning his purported supernatural powers, teachings and/or opinions. His authority and infallibility appear to be absolute for the true believer, and therefore beyond what Falun Dafa followers consider reasonable doubt.
Examples of the intense devotion Li Hongzhi has effectively engendered among his followers include a television network and a newspaper called “The Epoch Times” both run by Falun Dafa adherents. Devotees also maintain numerous Web sites and there are schools to perpetuate Mr. Li’s teachings. Frequent public demonstrations and events staged around the world also reflect the intense devotion of his followers.
While Li Hongzhi talks about “Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance,” neither he nor his followers actually demonstrate any tolerance concerning critical questions or inquiry. Within Falun Dafa Li’s followers are not allowed to question the basic assumptions of the group and criticism from outsiders is often characterized as “persecution.”
Persistent critics of Li Hongzhi and Falun Dafa have been repeatedly subjected to personal attacks, threats of litigation and frivolous lawsuits.
Li Hongzhi remains an absolute, authoritarian leader with little if any accountability, and there appears to be no limit to the scope of his personal power and influence within Falun Dafa.
* a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform
Sociologist Richard J. Ofshe explains, “Coercive persuasion and thought reform are alternate names for programs of social influence capable of producing substantial behavior and attitude change through the use of coercive tactics, persuasion, and/or interpersonal and group-based influence manipulations.”
This is accomplished according to Ofshe by “intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual’s sense of self” and “to promote conformity” within the framework of “an organized peer group.”
Li Hongzhi through Falun Gong has promoted unreasonable fears about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions. He teaches his followers that the earth would have been destroyed, but he saved it. He also claims that “gods” will destroy those he disapproves of and that his followers must practice his prescribed program of “spiritual cultivation” or risk obliteration.
For Falun Gong followers, there is no legitimate reason to disagree with and/or leave the organization. Former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative, or even seen as “evil.” While they may appear to be free to leave they often fear the consequences.
Li Hongzhi certainly qualifies as a cult leader, and did not restrict his teachings and claims to promoting peace and health. Here is a page from someone Li publicly cursed:
In 1995, Li Hongzhi asked his followers, “do you know about Sima Nan in Beijing? He reprimanded many masters but me. Do you know why? Because I have put a ‘Falun’ on him to conduct remote control, but it is a counter-clockwise one. He will lose his sight this year, and both of his legs next year under the wheels of a car…”
Some of Li Hongzhi’s followers admired dearly the master who is said to be capable of challenging every law in the world and grasping the fundamental laws of the universe. They are firm believers of Li’s prophesy. But at least as fas as Sima Nan is concerned, Li Hongzhi was talking nonsense. Now, 5 years passed, I have lost neither my sight nor my legs.
On the same page, Zhao Jinxiang and Pang Heming are mentioned:
Causes for the popularity of Qigong: (1) A child realized that his ears could identify words spoken by others, which resulted in a controversy with media’s coverage; (2) Pang Heming & Zhao Jinxiang Qidonggong; (3) Yanxin Qigong, Zhang Hongbao Zhonggong; (4) two national Qigong organizations were set up; (5) the involvement of scientists; (6) sophisticated research on the national defense, a psychological war; (7) a worldwide ESP study craze.
It looks to me like Soaring Crane Qigong had the potential to become a cult but did not. For some people perhaps it took on the importance of a religion and the beliefs became entrenched superstitions that led to minor neurosis. I’m sure many practitioners noted improvements in their health and energy after they started regular practice.
Where is Soaring Crane Qigong today? Do 30 million people practice it?
For a system that has claims of 10, 20, and 30 million dedicated practitioners, there aren’t many trails of that on the internet. Looking on Facebook, there are a couple pages for Soaring Crane Qigong groups. The biggest has 131 fans:
This other one has 2 members:
Falun Gong has more sympathy than members:
Soaring Crane Qigong’s books and DVDs all appear out of print and unavailable on Amazon. A spiral-bound instruction manual like I have is advertised at $77 on Amazon (I’ll take $75! Do I hear $50?). The web domain www.soaringcraneqigong.com is somewhat painful to look at and reminds me of the late 1990s:
I’d say there’s nothing to fear regarding Soaring Crane Qigong being a cult that will threaten global political stability or abduct teenagers. The worst I can see happening is that someone with cancer will be sold the idea that if they practice Soaring Crane with enough diligence, it will cure their cancer. Hopefully I’ve provided enough documentation and insight to dispel that idea as realistic or based on factual reports.
Soaring Crane is, more than I thought, an important system in modern Qigong history. I did have fun learning it and practicing it for years, though I never took the stranger beliefs Chen promoted seriously. The External Qi healing techniques Chen taught were my most thorough instruction into external energy healing. I’ve been interested in energy healing since reading Elfquest as a kid.
But alas, I’m not an elf with telepathic or telekinetic abilities. And external energy healing in this world is, from all reliable research, just suggestion and placebo. Soaring Crane Five Routines are gentle stretching exercises linked in to a long tradition of physical and breath exercise routines. Falun Gong is a cult with a crazy nutjob as a leader. The Chinese government is scary, and I wouldn’t want to be in a labor re-education camp. And if I get cancer, I’m going to find a good MD, be thankful I live in a high-tech society with sterile surgeries and, and look forward to walking and exercising outdoors after I recover from chemo or radiation, just like Professor Chen. I may even do the Soaring Crane Five Routines again.