Qi Gong? Chi Kung? Huh?


bulldog looking confused Qigong Chi Kung
Why there are two spellings for this term can confuse even the smartest of us.

Chi Kung, Qigong, ya-da-da da-da-da da-da-da da!


Several years ago, I was privileged to have my father-in-law as a student in one of my Qigong classes. My mother-in-law informed me that he would come home singing the above ditty to the tune of the famous old song, Sh-Boom, made famous by the Crew Cuts. If you’ve never heard the song, listen to it here while you read on.


You’ll notice above there are two spellings of this precious Shaolin art, both of which you’ll see used in printed and online media. So, what gives? Is there a difference between them? If not, why in the world are there two spellings?


The short answer is that both spellings are technically correct, but no matter which one you chose, remember that they’re both romanizations for the Chinese characters that make up its term (氣功), an adaptation to put something into the English alphabet that is not at all from it. The ‘Chi Kung’ spelling is from a system of romanization called Wade-Giles, which dates back to the 19th century, and was created by Thomas Francis Wade, an Englishman who was a scholar of Mandarin Chinese and the first professor of Chinese at Cambridge University. When you see the ‘Qi Gong’ spelling, what you’re seeing is the word in the Pinyin romanization system, which was published by the Chinese government in the 1950s and thought to more closely resemble how Chinese sounds when spoken by a native speaker. Ever wondered what the difference was between Peking and Bejing? That’s the difference between Wade-Giles and Pinyin. Chung King and Chongqing? Tao Te Ch’ing and Dao De Jing? Tai Chi Chuan and Taiji Quan? There are those differences again. Over the years, Pinyin has evolved into the standard for Romanizing the Chinese language.


If you own any of Grandmaster Wong’s books, you’ll see that he still uses the Wade-Giles romanization. As he is a Malaysian-born Chinese, and Malaysia was a British protectorate until 1957, this system is still widely used both there, as well as in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Examples of this system can be found everywhere in these areas.


Cruising around my website you’ll see mostly Pinyin romanization, which I use simply because this was what I learned when I learned Chinese. Of course, there are a few exceptions where I default to Wade-Giles, such as using ‘Kungfu’ instead of ‘Gongfu’ and ‘Tai Chi’ instead of ‘Taiji’. Truth be told, I cringe a little bit every time I use Wade-Giles, as I find it doesn’t represent how Chinese sounds as well as Pinyin, but I defer to terms that have settled into common parlance, and as my blog is about illuminating Qigong, Chinese medicine, and the Shaolin Arts, I select the terms that are the most easily accessible to those who read my posts.


Hopefully this gives you a better insight into why we see so many Chinese words with multiple spellings. But regardless of how you spell it, we are truly blessed to have this incredible art to enrich our lives.

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