In English, the word Qi (chi) is often translated as “vital life-force energy” and most commonly comes across in QiGong and Traditional Chinese Medicine practices.
Qi in Chinese is described as substance, energy or force, that penetrates all that is living and being. There are many forms of Qi, with the Heaven/Universe Qi, Earth Qi and Human Qi forming key
categories of Qi classification, with many, if not countless subcategories of Qi variations.
For example, the Heavenly Qi includes the influence of sun, moon and the stars. The Chinese word for weather is “heavenly or sky Qi” (天气 ), which includes the combination of wind, clouds, seasons,
time of day, humidity and other contributors, all of which have their own unique Qi.
The Earth Qi manifests in geomantic lines, terrain, rivers/seas/oceans, volcanoes and countless other forms.
According to HuangDi NeiJing (黄帝内经 ), the classic of Chinese Medicine, there are dozens of Human Qi variations. Each organ has its own characteristic pattern of Qi flow; blood, semen, saliva all have their own distinct relation to Qi. There are several layers of protective Qi (Wai Qi 外气 ).
Food for example, is know as edible Qi (GuQi).
Not to mention all living beings, trees, animals, insects and according to some, ghosts and spirits, all have Qi to some extent.
Qi is a Chinese word with thousands of years of history, during which the word has shaped, transformed and moulded according to the culture, arts and science of a given time.
The very earliest Zhou Dynasty (1066-770 BCE) characters of Qi depicted three lines 三 , creating a picture of Qi to be an ether, mist or cloud like energy. The three lines symbolise earth in the bottom, heaven/sky on top and Qi in form of clouds in between.
With numerous alterations of the character over two millennia, the modern character for Qi looks like this: 氣 , consisting of two seperate characters of 气 meaning breath, anything gaseous or air; and the second component being 米 meaning rice, substance or food.
Together, the character 氣 has at least two, but most likely many more interpretations, with the first being air 气 above and food 米 below, which respectively are the most important components for humans to generate “vital life force energy”. This translation is perhaps more common and easily understandable for modern day people.
Another less known interpretation is the image of cooking rice 米 below, which creates steam 气 above. This interpretation originates from Daoist practices, and refers to inner alchemical processes.
As a concept, Qi has been central in all forms of Chinese culture, including spirituality, martial arts, medicine, calligraphy and painting, language, nature, state affairs, literature, cuisine and more.
Characteristic to traditional Chinese culture, Qi can be interpreted and sensed via science and art.
The traditional Chinese worldview was that the ultimate reality, the primordial origin or source of the universe/reality was the Dao, the nameless, formless order of the chaos. For ancient Chinese, the understanding of the existence of the whole world comes from the transformation of Qi.
Thus it is said: “Dao is the root of Qi, Qi is the function of Dao” .