Jiang Nan plays Baduanjin at Wuwei Temple in Dali, SW China’s Yunnan Province.
From online exercise to temple spiritual practices, young Chinese fall in love with Qigong and are keen to spread Chinese traditional fitness around the world.
by Sportswriter Ma Sijia, Liang Xu
YINCHUAN, March 4 (Xinhua) — No one could have expected that slow-moving Qigong has become ultra-trendy among Chinese young people.
In the past couple of years, video clips of young Chinese doing traditional fitness Qigong have flooded video sharing websites, among which an instructional video of Baduanjin, a form of fitness Qigong has been played for more than 10 million times and received over 6,000 comments on Bilibili, a quality-video sharing platform targeting young people.
“I have been doing Baduanjin for about four months, which makes me sleep well and get stronger. I owe big thanks to Baduanjin since it gives me a much healthier lifestyle,” a young netizen commented below the video which received some 400 likes.
Compared with more physically demanding sports such as the ball games, swimming or gym workouts, traditional fitness Qigong like Tai Chi or Baduanjin are slow and usually accompanied by soothing music, so they used to be considered as the exclusive sports for the elders.
Liu Jianan (fourth right) teaches kung fu in front of the Chinese Cultural Center at Dubai Expo 2020.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many young people came to realize the charm of the Chinese traditional sport, which helped relieve their neck and back pain after working long hours at home while not requiring much effort, time and space.
“Compared to other sports, Baduanjin demands smaller space and no tools, is less energy-consuming and easy to learn. So it has become a new favorite for young people,” said Gao Tao, vice professor of the School of Physical Education at Ningxia University, in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
Sun Yuxuan, Gao’s student majoring in martial arts, has also noticed the rising popularity of Baduanjin. The 21-year-old girl has been teaching other students to practice for some three years in the university’s Martial Arts Association. They started with 20 members in 2019 and the group has 45 members now.
Sun Yuxuan, a student of the School of Physical Education at Ningxia University plays Baduanjin.
“Every member in the group is enthusiastic. I didn’t expect the ‘elder’s exercise’ should attract so many young people. I guess that’s because they receive real benefits from the sport,” she said.
After some students got infected by coronavirus, the school has made Qigong exercise optional courses since 2022 to help students recover.
“All classes are full, and one can see the students are really serious about learning the sport,” said Gao.
According to Gao, fitness Qigong embodies the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy such as Taoism, so it can be beneficial for both physical and mental health.
“Living in a metropolis alone makes me feel anxious. When I do Baduanjin, all my attention is focused on my body and soul, and the slow movements gradually help me relax physically and mentally. Then I get resumed from a day’s hard work,” said Jiang Xi, a fashion designer working in Shanghai.
She began to share video clips of her doing Baduanjin on social media last year and has been followed by over 10 thousand people aged between 20 and 30 within five months.
Influenced by Jiang Xi, her elder brother Jiang Nan has also become a Baduanjin blogger. Born in the 1980s, Jiang Nan graduated from Beijing Sport University and majored in traditional national sports, but he didn’t find a job related to what he had learned after graduation.
Jiang Nan (second left) and his friends play Baduanjin in Zhuhai, Southern China’s Guangdong Province.
“Teaching martial arts or fitness Qigong was not enough to support myself for a living at that time,” he said. “Things are quite different now. More and more young people have turned to traditional martial arts. The young Chinese are more confident and willing to explore our traditional cultures.”
Traditional fitness Qigong has been spread worldwide by Chinese young people. Born in Liaoning Province, northeast China, 31-year-old Liu Jianan went to Wudang Mountains to learn martial arts and Qigong systematically after graduation. Then he wen Dubai to serve as an international Chinese teacher in a high school.
During the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, Liu and his Chinese colleagues opened an online Tai Chi class and taught local people for free on weekends. When the pandemic was under control, they began to teach people offline and established a Kungfu group. The number of the group members has increased from five to about 150, and learners are from different countries and regions such as Russia, Italy, Spanish and Malaysia.
Liu Jianan teaches children kung fu for free in Dubai.
“A local person suffering from an illness has asked me to teach him Qigong, and he did recover finally. This makes me feel what I have done is meaningful,” Liu said.