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The Life of Qi Gong Published in Beijing

Date: 2017-06-19

The Life of Qi Gong (16mo, 500 pages) by Mr. Zhao Rengui, research fellow at the China Central Institute for Culture and History and professor at Beijing Normal University, was published by Beijing Publishing House in mid-June, 2016. A student of Mr. Qi Gong. Mr. Zhao has been devoted to the study of his mentor for over 30 years, assisting Qi Gong in compiling and annotating classical works and serving as the editor-in-chief of a number of memoirs about Mr. Qi. The Life of Qi Gong is the culmination of Mr. Zhao’s studies over the years. Its seven chapters, in addition to the introductory part, look at Qi Gong’s life journey, his noble character, and his achievements as a connoisseur, a poet, a scholar, and an educator, presenting a real and vivid picture of the master.

The book is distinguished by four characteristics:

First, reliability. All the facts and comments are based on solid evidence and all references have clear sources, making it a credible historical read for ordinary readers and researchers alike and clearing up some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings.

Second, particularity. The comments on Qi Gong’s life and personality are all substantiated by specific examples. Qi Gong’s achievements as an artist, a connoisseur, a poet, a scholar, and an educator are also explained with his works to avoid empty arguments.

Third, scholarly perspective. Qi Gong was a great scholar in the studies of art, poems, cultural objects, and education. His works in these fields are also of high scholarly value. This books examines his studies and works from a scholarly, professional perspective to reflect the worth of Qi Gong’s research and practice.

Fourth, readability. The book pays much attention to its readability as Qi Gong himself was a man of simple words. The book is simple in its language and sophisticated in its illustrations. It contains about 160 illustrations, mostly Qi Gong’s works of calligraphy and painting, with the painting illustrations made on coated paper to improve the reading experience. Each chapter begins with a little poem to invite interest.

As such, this book offers vivid descriptions and comments that aptly capture the defining characteristics of Qi Gong and addresses many questions that interest the readers.

For example,

Who are the renowned scholars and artists who had mentored Qi Gong in his youth? How did Mr. Chen Yuan, former President of Beijing Normal University and a great mentor of Qi Gong, turned Qi from someone who only went to high school into a university professor and an esteemed scholar?

Why did Qi Gong call himself “Jianjing Weng” (an old man of fortitude and clarity)? How did he manage to be one of the ordinary people while keeping with himself some of the traditions of the nobility? How did he help those who had once strayed with his compassion?

Despite his intentions to be an artist, why was he more famous as a calligrapher? What are the main features of his works and theoretical studies of calligraphy?

What made him an unparalleled connoisseur? Are there any stories that testify to his excellence?

How did Qi Gong’s personality and intellect prompt the blending of tradition and innovation in his poems, which ushered in a new and interesting era for poetic works in the modern period?

Why was Qi Gong known as a versatile scholar? How did his versatility show in his scholarly research? How did he explain the rules and forms of classical poetic composition with his bamboo theory? Why is it said that he influenced generations of readers of the Dream of the Red Chamber after China’s liberation?

How did he teach his students rhyme with the hee-haws of a donkey and thereby create quite some stories about donkeys? How did he manage to summarize the history of Chinese poems in a four-line poem?

In addition to all this, the book has another more important mission. It aims to provide those interested in the studies of Qi Gong’s works with some “food for research”. Today, the study of this great scholar is very popular in China, almost creating a “Qi Gong Phenomenon”. But this is not enough. What we need to do, in the context of rejuvenating traditional Chinese culture and building a socialist society of cultural strength, is to encourage the serious study of Qi Gong. It is worthwhile to look at how Qi Gong grew to be an all-rounder in traditional culture and how this can be made relevant to the modern society. We need to examine the organic links between the various aspects of the traditional culture and consider how we can train our students into someone like Qi Gong. This is the most significant and relevant job and the social responsibility of those who are following Qi Gong’s footsteps.

This review of Qi Gong’s life and works may look insufficient for a towering figure like him. All suggestions and advice will be deeply appreciated.