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Editor—Qigong (“exercise of vital energy”) is a Chinese healing system based on trance. It consists of meditational or movement exercise, or both, induced by use of a highly culture syntonic set of suggestions based on the concept of qi (vital energy). It has been estimated that about 5% of China's 1.3 billion people practise qigong, so this may be the most common form of “hypnosis” practised globally. Vickers and Zollman have rightly pointed out that qigong is similar to hypnosis, but it may be premature to conclude that adverse events associated with this form of Chinese hypnosis are extremely uncommon.1
In the past two decades many reports of mental disorders induced by qigong have been published in the Chinese psychiatric literature. In the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders, second revised edition (CCMD-2-R), qigong induced mental disorder is found as a culture related mental disorder. In psychologically vulnerable individuals, qigong induced health disturbances or pian cha are believed to arise from the inappropriate application of qigong or the inability to “terminate the qigong” (shougong), or both. When severe they are known as zou (“run”) huo (“fire”) ru (“enter”) mo (“devil”); this means that the flow of qi deviates from the jing luo conduits and becomes fire, as a result of which a devil enters the person (metaphorically, referring to the emergence of psychotic symptoms).
The condition violates the paradigms of quietness, relaxation, and internal harmony that are followed in qigong practice and has many symptoms, from more minor ones to bizarre and violent behaviour. As qigong induced mental disorders usually do not last long, some cases probably never come to medical attention. The exact proportion of people engaging in qigong and developing psychiatric complications remains unknown, but similar problems are much less frequently described in the meditational practices of other cultures.
Although qigong induced mental disorders have recently become a political issue in China, empirical studies of the adverse effects of this form of Chinese trance practice are worthwhile. For further information interested readers are referred to an article that I wrote.2