MRI Forum 19

"The Qigong Movement and China's Religious Question"

by Dr. David A. Palmer, The Chinese University of Hong Kong


Summary of the Presentation

Derived from traditional Chinese breath cultivation practices, qigong attracted tens of millions of practitioners in the post-Mao era, becoming urban China's main outlet for spiritual expression during the 1980s and 1990s, until the repression of the Falungong in 1999. How could a practice initially encouraged by CCP leaders as a healing method and as a new scientific revolution, become a vector for mass religiosity and then trigger a political conflict? The qigong movement and its consequences offer a fascinating case for understanding the crisis in the social management of religiosity in contemporary China.

Profile of the Speaker

David Palmer obtained his Ph.D. in history and anthropology of Chinese religion at the Sorbonne (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes). In 2003, he was appointed the Eileen Barker Fellow in Religion and Contemporary Society at the Department of Sociology of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Since 2004, he has been a Research Fellow of the French School of Asian Studies (EFEO - Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient) and coordinator of its Hong Kong centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The English version of his book Qigong Fever: Body, Memory, and Power in China, 1949-1999 , published in French in 2005, is forthcoming at Columbia University Press. He is currently working on a book-length survey of the history of religion, society, and politics in 20th century China.