It is frequently translated as "energy flow", and is often compared to Western notions of energeia or élan vital (vitalism) as well as the yogic notion of prana. The literal translation is "air", "breath", or "gas" (compare the original meaning of Latin spiritus "breathing"; or the Common Greek πνεῦμα, meaning "air," "breath," or "spirit"; and the Sanskrit term prana, "breath" ).
The earliest way of writing qi consisted of three wavy lines, used to represent one's breath seen on a cold day. A later version, 气, (identical to the present-day simplified character) is a stylized version of those same three lines. For some reason, early writers of Chinese found it desirable to substitute for 气 a cognate, character that originally meant to feed other people in a social context such as providing food for guests. Appropriately, that character combined the three-line qi character with the character for rice. So 气 plus 米 formed 氣, and that is the traditional character still used today. (See the Oracle bone character, the Seal script character and the modern "school standard" or Kǎi shū characters in the box at the right for three stages of the evolution of this character.)
In the Japanese language, the Chinese character corresponding to qi (氣) is pronounced ki. The Japanese language contains over 11,442 known usages of "ki" as a compound. As a compound, it may represent syllables associated with the mind, the heart, feeling, the atmosphere, and flavor.
Parallel development occurred in the Korean language which uses Chinese characters (hanja) alongside the indigenous Korean system (hangul). There are also some cases in which commonalities are due to the long history of their geographical relationship.
The earliest extant book that speaks of qi is the Analects of Confucius (composed from the notes of individual students some time after his death in 479 B.C.) Unlike the legendary accounts mentioned above, the Analects has a clear date in history, and most later books (at least the ones that do not purport to be relics of the legendary earliest rulers) can also be assigned clear dates in history.
Manfred Porkert described relations to Western universal concepts:
Within the framework of Chinese thought no notion may attain to such a degree of abstraction from empirical data as to correspond perfectly to one of our modern universal concepts. Nevertheless the term qi comes as close as possible to constituting a generic designation equivalent to our word "energy". When Chinese thinkers are unwilling or unable to fix the quality of an energetic phenomenon, the character qi 氣 inevitably flows from their brushes.
Although the concept of qi has been very important within many Chinese philosophies, over the centuries their descriptions of qi have been varied and may seem to be in conflict with each other. Understanding of these disputes is complicated for people who did not grow up using the Chinese concept and its associated concepts. Until China came into contact with Western scientific and philosophical ideas (primarily by way of Catholic missionaries), they knew about things like stones and lightning, but they would not have categorized them in terms of matter and energy. Qi and li (理, li, pattern) are their fundamental categories much as matter and energy have been fundamental categories for people in the West. Their use of qi (lifebreath) and li (pattern, regularity, form, order) as their primary categories leaves in question how to account for liquids and solids, and, once the Western idea of energy came on the scene, how to relate it to the native idea of "qi". If Chinese and Western concepts are mixed in an attempt to characterize some of the problems that arise with the Chinese conceptual system, then one might ask whether qi exists as a "force" separate from "matter", whether qi arises from "matter", or whether "matter" arises from qi.
Fairly early on, some Chinese thinkers began to believe that there are different fractions of qi (in the sense that different fractions can be extracted from crude oil in a catalytic cracker), and that the coarsest and heaviest fractions of qi form solid things such as rocks, the earth, etc., whereas lighter fractions form liquids, and the most ethereal fractions are the "lifebreath" that animates living beings.
Yuán qì is a notion of "innate" or "pre-natal" qi to distinguish it from acquired qi that a person may develop of their lifetime.
Deng Yu et al: The Qi was “the `information - energy - material ' the unity” in 1996. Is “the `material - energy - information ' the mixture the unification"; 'The information, the energy, the material ' the mix entity; the material, the energy, the information ' the hybrid entity” the essence of Chinese medicine Qi.
The revelation discovered that the Chinese medicine Qi was the modern essence list
The Qi concept the modern original innovation breaks through announcement
Is “the `material - energy - information' the mixture of the reunification; 'the energy, the material, the information' the hybrid entity; the material, the energy, the information ' the mix unity” the Chinese medicine Qi was essence.
Li Dexin: The Qi was material and the function unification lysenkoism.
Wei Beihai in 1962, was 'meaning that the two of Qi doctrine'.
Luo Shibiao: In the early 1960s, lysenkoism the function of Qi (1962).
Qin Bomo: In the late 50s was 'the material of Qi lysenkoism'. in 1959? .
The Qi was unifies the field to say
Huang Kunyi et al: the human body that the Qi field said.
Lee Xiao et al: that the Qi entropy flow said.
Wu Banghui: Qi, said the order parameter.
The earliest texts that speak of qi give some indications of how the concept developed. The philosopher Mo Di (also known as Mo Zi or "Master Mo") used the word qi to refer to noxious vapors that would in due time arise from a corpse were it not buried at a sufficient depth. He reported that early civilized humans learned how to live in houses to protect their qi from the moisture that had troubled them when they lived in caves. He also associated maintaining one's qi with providing oneself adequate nutrition. And, in regard to another kind of qi he recorded how some people performed a kind of prognostication by observing the qi (clouds) in the sky.
In the "Analects of Confucius", (composed from the notes of individual students sometime after his death in 479 B.C.), "qi" can mean "breath", and it can be combined with the Chinese word for blood (making 血氣, xue-qi, blood and breath) and that concept can be used to account for motivational characteristics. The Analects, 16:7, says:
Meng Ke (also known as Meng Zi, Master Meng, or Mencius) described a kind of qi that might be characterized as an individual's vital energies. This qi was necessary to activity, and it could be controlled by a well-integrated will power. But this qi could not adequately be characterized by English words like "lifebreath" or "bio-plasma" because when properly nurtured it was capable of extending beyond the human body to reach throughout the universe. This qi can be augmented by means of careful exercise of one's moral capacities. On the other hand, the qi of an individual can be degraded by averse external forces that succeed in operating on that individual.
Not only human beings and animals were believed to have "qi". Zhuang Zhou (also known as Zhuang Zi or Master Zhuang) indicated that wind is the "qi" of the earth. Moreover, cosmic Yin and Yang "are the greatest of 'qi'. He describes qi as "issuing forth" and creating profound effects.
Zhuang Zi gave us one of the most productive of insights into the nature of "qi". He said "Human beings are born [because of] the accumulation of 'qi'. When it accumulates there is life. When it dissipates there is death.... There is one 'qi' that connects and pervades everything in the world.
Another passage traces life to intercourse between Heaven and Earth: "The highest Yin is the most restrained. The highest Yang is the most exuberant. The restrained comes forth from Heaven. The exuberant issues forth from Earth. The two intertwine and penetrate forming a harmony, and [as a result] things are born.
Zhuang Zi was a contemporary of Mencius. Xun Zi followed them after some years. At 9:69/127, Xun Zi says: "Fire and water have qi but do not have life. Grasses and trees have life but do not have perceptivity. Fowl and beasts have perceptivity but do not have yi (sense of right and wrong, duty, justice). Men have qi, life, perceptivity, and yi." This passage gives us some insight into his idea of "qi". Chinese people at such an early time had no concept of radiant energy. But they were aware that one can be heated by a campfire even though the air between camper and fire is quite cold. Clearly, something is emitted by the fire and reaches the camper. They called it "qi". At 18:62/122, he too uses "qi" to refer to the vital forces of the body that decline with advanced age.
Later, the syncretic text assembled under the direction of Liu An, the Huai Nan Zi has a passage that presages most of what is given greater detail by the Neo-Confucians:
The development of the ideas of qi and of qi zhi zhi xing (氣質之性) in Neo-Confucianism go beyond the scope of a fundamental account of Chinese ideas about qi, but the fundamentals are contained in the above passage.
It is hypothesized that qi could be transmitted through the fascia independent of any neurological activity.
There are many uses of the term "qi" in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. It is a Functional aspect, which means that it has no place in a hard science - which must be reductionistic in nature, require a mechanism of action for something to be explained and of course, have numbers and objective measurements. Qì, on the other hand refers to the action, devoid of the mechanism; its behaviour was all that was considered important by early Chinese physicians. So modern medical science, already well hardened, is not satisfied with use of a concept of which the best, non-poetic translation is probably "stuff".
There are other uses of the term qì which are slightly more concrete; for instance, following an organ network, it means "function", eg gān qì (肝氣) or "liver qì" should be interpreted roughly as "liver function". Further confounding matters, the Chinese term gān is itself a bundle of functional interactions with other organ networks, rather than referring specifically to the tissues of the Liver. A particularly notable discrepancy is pí qì (脾氣) or "spleen qì", which refers mostly to quality of digestion. While from a Western Medical Science perspective the spleen is involved in digestion, sending bilirubin to the Liver for inclusion in bile fluids, it is a minor player compared to other organs.
There are also terms like Yuán Qì (元氣) and Zhēn qì (真氣) which are all relatively well defined concepts, and refer variously to interactions between organ networks. When used in the sense "qì is obstructed", it may simply refer to a blockage of body fluids (eg, lymph, veinous blood and interstitial fluid) easily moved by massage such as Tuina.
So, care should be taken during translation to know which sense of the term "qì" is being used. Each of them is its own scientific interpretation. The "sensational" types, ie those which have no explanation in current standard histological models of the body, are the dé qì (得氣) effect felt when an acupuncture needle is inserted and manipulated, and closely related the yíng qì (營氣), which is said to circulate in the jīng luò (經絡).
It has been hypothesized that the effects of acupuncture can be explained by endorphin-release, by relaxation or by placebo effects. The NIH Consensus Statement on acupuncture in 1997 noted that concepts such as Qi "are difficult to reconcile with contemporary biomedical information but continue to play an important role in the evaluation of patients and the formulation of treatment in acupuncture."
However more recent investigations point to connective tissue mechanotransduction, in other words a domino effect caused by the specific twisting and knotting of the fabric of the body. The connections with electric conductivity were studied in the United States in the late 19th Century, and are currently the subject of more active research.