At the end of Part 1 of my Qigong Fever book review we saw that the main original external Qi research involved an apparatus invented by Gu Hansen which she refused to share with other scientists so they could confirm her findings. New discoveries in science must be verified in multiple labs with transparent good methodology before they are accepted as real. Cold fusion is a prime example of this; the early announcement of cold fusion made a great media stir, but the inability of other labs to replicate this possible source for cheap, clean energy showed that the original findings were flawed due to bad methodology (or intentional fraud).
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) encouraged the promotion of Qigong as a cheap and culturally indigenous form of healthcare. Many party members had been impressed by Qi Gong demonstrations and personal healings. The politicians also believed the early researchers like Gu Hansen and accepted the claim that external Qi was verified in a laboratory. This led to national excitement with the idea that Chinese science would lead the entire world in a new scientific revolution using Qigong to unlock human’s Extraordinary Powers (including telepathy, telekinesis, X-Ray vision, and distance healing). Much cultural pride and “face” rested on the research claims of Gu Hansen and Dr. Yan Xin. Qigong and External Qi healing had become not just a domestic craze between 1980 and 1999, but an international point of scientific pride. If any External Qigong healer or researcher had reliable proof of these early claims, the CCP would have everything to gain by promoting it for international verification by mainstream science. Instead, Chinese Qigong Fever died out after Falun Gong developed into a politically dangerous cult and was suppressed by the CCP. Unfortunately, the biggest contribution of Qigong to mainstream medicine is the psychiatric diagnosis of Qigong Deviation Syndrome (a type of schizoaffective delusional disorder characterized by hallucinations, confabulations, and glossolalia, etc.).
Reading With the Ears
The Extraordinary Powers craze began in Dazu county, Sichuan province in 1978 with the discovery of a child who could read with his ears…
Tang Yu then became known to his schoolmates for his game of ‘guess the characters’: they would write Chinese characters or drawings on slips of paper, which they would then roll up into a ball and place inside Tang’s ear. Tang would then correctly guess which signs were written on the slips of paper. (Palmer, 60)
Tang Yu’s teachers told the local officials, who passed the word upline. Eventually, officials and reporters came to test him and were impressed that he passed their tests. It made the front page of a newspaper. Tang Yu was housed with protection in the nicest hotel in Chengdu. Suddenly kids all over China announced they, too, could read with their ears (or armpits, or feet…). Then more savvy investigators came along.
A team of investigators from the Sichuan Medical Institute was sent to investigate Tang Yu’s abilities. It concluded, however, theat Tang Yu’s ‘reading with ears’ was a hoax. After repeated tests the boy either cheated by using sleight-of-hand, or refused to ‘read’ when it was impossible to cheat. The same conclusion was also made by the Institute of Psychology of the China Academy of Sciences, which tested Jiang Yan [another second-grader claiming such abilities]: glass fibres and white powder, which had been enclosed in the folded slips of paper, were detected on the ground and on her legs, proving she had unfolded the papers to ‘guess’ the characters written on them. (Palmer, 61)
This didn’t end the interest, reporting, or research. Partly encouraged by the parapsychology research of the United States and Soviet Union, Tang Yu and others were tested again and again. When researchers didn’t detect trickery, they proclaimed strongly that these powers existed. ”The participants agreed on the hypothesis that Extraordinary Powers are latent to all humans, and that qigong is a method for expressing and cultivating this potential. (Palmer, 65)”
The Four Main Chinese Qigong Proponents: Including Co-founder of CalTech’s JPL, US Army Corporal Qian Xuesen, victim of the Red Scare
David Palmer, who does a fabulous job referencing original source materials throughout _Qigong Fever_, discovered four main figures responsible for the official promotion of Qigong Fever in China. They represented four main groups: science, sports, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and the military. For science, is it Qian Xuesen, known as the father of China’s nuclear weapons program. For sports, it is Wu Shaozu. For TCM, it is Lü Bingkui, and for the military, Zhang Zhenhuan.
Qian Xuesen is the most fascinating figure in this group. He helped found and was the first director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. He was an MIT graduate and worked for the US Air Force in WWII as a rocket engineer.
Palmer reports he helped dismantle Nazi German missile facilities, but doesn’t mention his
controversial blacklisting during the McCarthy Era. During the Second Red Scare in 1949 he was accused of having Communist sympathies when the FBI found his name on a Communist Party document (he was wrongly accused according to all sources I’ve found). His security clearance was revoked, he lost his job and he was placed under house arrest (some sources say he was in Alcatraz) for 5 years when he tried to leave the country to find other work in China. Wikipedia reports:
“It was the stupidest thing this country ever did. He was no more a Communist than I was, and we forced him to go.”
During his incarceration, Qian received support from his colleagues at Caltech, including the institute’s president Lee DuBridge, who flew to Washington to argue Qian’s case. Caltech appointed attorney Grant Cooper to defend Qian. Later, Cooper would say, “That the government permitted this genius, this scientific genius, to be sent to Communist China to pick his brains is one of the tragedies of this century.”
He was traded to China for Air Force pilot POWs during the Korean War. He then developed the Silkworm missile for China. After seeing a demonstration of paranormal powers at the Institute for Aerospace Medical Engineering he became a believer and a proponent of scientific testing of Qigong for developing Extraordinary Powers.
In 1981 and 1982, there was much controversy about paranormal powers in the upper echelons of Chinese science and politics. More debunking and hoax-exposing was done, and conferences critically investigating the ‘paranormal craze’ were well-attended.
Finally, the Propaganda Department of the Party Central Committee intervened to put an end to the controversy on 20 April 1982, with a circular stating that Extraordinary Powers were not a priority are of research, and that there should be ‘no publicising, no criticism and no controversy’ in the press in relation to Extraordinary Powers. In the qigong sector this came to be known as the ‘Triple No’ policy. (Palmer 71)
As with most attempts at censorship, this backfired. Teachers of Qigong spread their claims of Extraordinary Powers through word-of-mouth, but newspapers and scientists were forbidden from criticizing or exposing frauds. Qian Xuesen and crew fought against the Triple No policy pushing for scientific research, and the policy was modified to allow publication of scientific investigations of Extraordinary Powers, but still prohibited criticism.
The next major charismatic external Qigong healer with Extraordinary Powers was Zhang Baosheng. He, too, could “read” folded slips of paper (with his nose). When important Party member Marshal Ye Jianyin fell ill, Zhang was called.
He entered a posture for emitting qi, gently stroked Ye’s chest, shook the extremities of his right fingers above the Marshal’s throat, then opened his palm to reveal a thick and viscous substance. The people present exclaimed it was the phlegm from Ye’s throat. After repeating the operation several times, Ye was able to breathe normally again.
Time and again throughout history, sleight-of-hand magicians have fooled people with clever misdirection, swapping items, cut and restored tricks, and palming hidden objects. Palming phlegm is pretty gross, but there was tremendous pressure to perform. Descriptions of Zhang’s other tricks increase my certitude that he was using standard prestidigitation:
Zhang Baosheng was appointed to the No. 507 Institute of Aeronautical Engineering of the COSTINC, in order to research the possible military applications of his powers, and also to keep him from putting them to the wrong uses. He became a favourite of the Party leaders and the most famous of the Extraordinary Powers masters. On 18 September 1986 General Zhang Zhenhuan staged a public demonstration of his abilities for the political and media elite of Guandong province. Flanked by the Party Secretary and the Chairman of the municipal Congress of People’s Representatives, Zhang Baosheng made chocolate sweets disappear before an audience of hundreds of officials and journalists, guessed the serial number of a 5-yuan bill, and removed pills from a closed bottle.
Zhang performed similar demonstrations in other cities. He became a legendary figure, said to be able to set fire to clothes with his fingers, and to restore to their original form business cards that had been torn, chewed up and spit out by others. He was reputed to have special access to Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the top Party leadership, and to have met with Deng Xiaoping in person.
According to _Qigong: Chinese Medicine or Pseudoscience_, American-Born-Chinese Yuan Zhidao exposed Zhang Baosheng’s magic tricks in 1990 (Zixin et al., 126).
For example, he made “phlegm” in his hand by working up some hidden soap into a foamy lather. Baosheng had such political favor and protection, he was able to avoid debunkers for years. You can read more about Baosheng’s tricks here. That page notes:
Zhang Baosheng grew up poor and never had enough to eat. Even though he has been elevated to the status of “national treasure,” battalion commander in the army, owner of a luxury car, and the subject of a ten-million-dollar research effort, he hasn’t forgotten the impoverished conditions of his childhood.
To me this shows he had nothing to lose, and succeeded in vastly improving his life. It appears that Qian Xuesen was convinced of paranormal abilities by Zhang Baosheng:
Professor Qian Xuesen Supports Psychic Research
Since March 1979, when the Chinese first recognized the existence of EHF [Exceptional Human Functions], researchers from around the country responded by taking up this problem. This included a large number of scientists, and among these was Qian Xuesen, known as China’s “father of the missile.” Qian Xuesen is one of China’s top scientists and holds many important national responsibilities. How could he have the leisure time to become interested in this? Let us see how Qian Xuesen answered a question posed by a reporter for the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Hui Bao.
“I hear you believe in EHF, so I have come to ask you about it,” said the reporter.
“At first I didn’t believe in it. I came to believe in it after seeing it with my own eyes,” he said. Then he explained to the reporter that he saw an EHF demonstration with a sealed bottle of medicine pills held in the hand. There were a hundred pills inside. Then, thirty-three pills fell into the hand. When he opened the bottle and counted, there were seventy seven pills left inside. It was simply a fact, and he was convinced. He also mentioned an EHF demonstration his team gave for a government leader. Th e leader made a very scientific comment: There are things not yet understood, but not things beyond all possible understanding. (Actually that is a quote from Lenin.) This means we need to do research on those things we do not yet understand.
Qian Xuesen also said that those who persist in the research will definitely make some discovery. When they do, the researchers will know that they have gone far beyond the boundaries of the current scientific knowledge. Qian Xuesen is a scientist. He is definitely not the sort of person who would believe in something like EHF after seeing only one or two demonstrations. He is firmly convinced of the reality of EHF because he has personally observed many demonstrations, tests, and experiments. The test he mentioned above is only one example. Another striking example occurred one time when Qian Xuesen was with quantum physicists Professor Tang Jiaoyan and Professor Zhang Weijiao. Zhang Baosheng pointed at Zhang Weijiao with his hand, and a hole was burned in his shirt. Afterward, Professor Tang said he might be able to explain this burning phenomenon as some sort of effect of electromagnetic waves. For example, the electromagnetic waves emitted by Zhang Baosheng could excite the molecules in the shirt, leading to an air friction effect, creating heat and burning a hole in it. When Qian Xuesen saw this with his own eyes, how could he have any doubts?
Here is a page with several ways to do magic tricks involving fire with chemical reactions. Potassium permanganate, glycerin, and water is one recipe. Sulfuric acid, sugar, and sodium chlorate is another. Of course it is possible with sleight of hand and good timing to have put a dab of a chemical mix on someone’s shirt and then a few minutes later point to it right when the chemicals take effect.
I don’t find it odd that Qian Xuesen and others could be fooled at first by a convincing magician. I do find it odd that they wouldn’t design experiments to test him under very controlled circumstances. However, Qian Xuesen was a rocket scientist, not a magician or a psychologist. He probably not only trusted people, but wanted to believe. After his disappointing racist experience with the United States, he was probably eager to help China prove it had superior science and traditions. Given the political pressures that must have been around Qian (I assume he had to prove his loyalty in many ways over time), if an upper Party official was convinced of Zhang Baosheng’s magic powers, Qian Xuesen would have endangered himself by expressing disbelief.
Today (5/28/12) is Memorial Day in the United States of America, my home country. This post is dedicated to all of the Chinese and Japanese Americans who were victims of the racist policies of the United States, such as the unfair internment of Japanese during WWII (many at Tulelake, not far from my home) and the tragic loss of Qian Xuesen as an American scientist. The world would certainly be a better place if all countries could overcome racism and cultural egotism and work together on true scientific advances for the health of all people. But apparently that would be the most Extraordinary Power of all.