Think

Is Qi compatible with the Christian faith?

Lead image for THINK

Spend any time exploring Chinese culture and practice, and one will without fail come across the notion of Qi (qi in Chinese pinyin or chi in Wade-Giles romanisation). It can be variously interpreted as “steam”, “breath”, “vital energy”, “vital force”, “material force”, “matter-energy”, “organic material energy”, or “pneuma“. Qi (classical script: 氣, simplified script: 气) is to the Chinese the intangible power behind the creation of the universe, traditional Chinese medicinal diagnosis and treatment, and the practice of Feng Shui. It is the life force that powers all things, the “psychophysical energies that permeate the universe”.1

As something integral to Chinese heritage, it is important that we delve into the notion of Qi by asking the following three questions:

Firstly, is the concept of Qi a philosophy of life?
Secondly, is Qi a law of nature?
Thirdly, is Qi a supernatural force?

Is the concept of Qi a philosophy of life?

By “a philosophy of life”, I do not mean how we should live life or our purpose in life, but an account of the creation of the world and how it holds together. In Chinese philosophy, “Qi has a material existence independent of subjective consciousness and is the basic element of all physical beings. It is also the basis for the birth and existence of life and spirit … Its concentration gives birth to a thing and its evaporation signals the end of that thing. Qi permeates all physical beings and their surroundings.”2

Humanity through the ages has posited various theories for the creation of life, and the concept of Qi is part of a centuries-old Chinese philosophy about creation. This is a historical fact we cannot deny. As such, the answer to the question of whether the concept of Qi is a philosophy of life is, “yes”.

This is not to say, however, that we agree with this proposition of creation. For as believers, we hold that “[i]n the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and that “[a]ll things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. “ (John 1:3 KJV). For us, Qi is not the vital animating force which sustains and upholds all living things, but we believe that “[t]he Lord is the sustainer of [our] soul” (Psalm 54:4 NASB).

Is Qi a law of nature?

While we acknowledge the ancient Chinese concept of Qi as a theory of creation, what about the belief held by many Chinese in the physical and material reality of Qi as a “vital energy”, “vital force”, and “material force”? In this regard, is Qi a force of nature, or a law of nature like Newton’s law of gravitation and three laws of motion?

Years ago, someone asked me what I thought of a machine which could apparently measure the level of Qi in a person. My response was that in order for a machine to measure the level of Qi within a person, the maker of the machine must first have clearly identified and defined what Qi is. If such an identification is available, it would be the discovery of the century and much touted by the Chinese worldwide—but to date, silence. After all these years, the words of James Flowers hold true, who wrote in his article What is Qi?, “[t]he quest to define Qi continues, with there being no breakthroughs that we know of.”3

This should not surprise us, because “Qi embraces all manifestations of energy, from the most material aspects of energy (such as the earth beneath your feet, your computer, and flesh and blood) to the most immaterial aspects (light, movement, heat, nerve impulses, thought, and emotion),”4 composing “itself in each being, feeling, thought, deed, or phenomenon, materially as well as mentally.”5

How can a philosophical concept encompassing every known “material force” and “organic material energy” in this world be scientifically classified and technically measured? It simply cannot be. So, is Qi a scientific law of nature? The answer to me is “no”.

The aforementioned machine is probably a product of Western alternative medicine, advocating that the magnetic field or bio-resonance surrounding each individual aids in the diagnosis and cure of certain diseases. There is no scientific basis, however, for such a claim.

Is Qi a supernatural force?

Stating that Qi is not a law of nature does not end our exploration. How do we address Qi as a vital force with real world efficacy, a belief which permeates Chinese traditional practices such as Feng Shui, traditional Chinese medicine, and Qigong?

As Christians, we believe in the reality and efficacy of both natural and supernatural power. Thus, if we hold that Qi has efficacy but is not a natural force, we must explore the possibility of it being a supernatural power, for which we hold that there are only two sources. Some might posit that the potential source of Qi as a supernatural power is the Holy Spirit. After all, “spirit” in Hebrew is “ruach“, which also means “breath” (Job 12:10). Thus, if the Spirit is ruach, which is breath, and Qi is breath, then the Spirit is Qi and vice versa.

The logic of this semantic play on words breaks down when you consider the practice of Chinese philosophy, which advocates that Qi may be directed and captured through actions such as the orientation of our front door and placement of water features, our ingestion of different ingredients, manipulation of physical points on our bodies, and our deep breathing and meditation. These can in turn presumably lead to better health and material success.

Now, if Qi is the “Holy Spirit”, and the orientation of our front door and placement of water features, our ingestion of different ingredients, manipulation of physical points on our bodies and our deep breathing and meditation lead to Qi, the “Holy Spirit”, bettering our health and material success, what does that make us—who are able to orientate, place, ingest, and manipulate Qi—in relation to God?

The Holy Spirit cannot be manhandled by us—we are humans! The Holy Spirit is not Qi. God is not the source of the supernatural power of Qi. Establishing the efficacy of Qi to be neither a natural force nor the supernatural empowering our Lord God leaves us with only one other supernatural force to consider—a force our Father in heaven clearly advocates we have nothing to do with!

Is Qi a philosophy or force?

What can we conclude then regarding the notion of Qi? Is the concept of Qi a philosophy of life? It is, but one at odds with biblical teaching.

Is Qi a law of nature? No, there is no proof that it is.

Is Qi a supernatural force? Qi is not the “pneuma” (spirit) of God. Supernatural forces not of God are not to be dabbled in.


1 “Qi,” Encyclopædia Britannica, March 8, 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/qi-Chinese-philosophy.

2 “Qi (Vital Force),” Key concepts in Chinese thought and culture, accessed March 19, 2024, https://www.chinesethought.cn/EN/shuyu_show.aspx?shuyu_id=2130.

3 James Flowers, “What Is Qi?,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 3, no. 4 (October 23, 2006): 551–52, https://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nel074.

4 Christopher Hafner, “What Is Qi? (And Other Concepts),” Taking charge of Your wellbeing, accessed March 19, 2024, https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/what-qi-and-other-concepts.

5 Jung-Yeup Kim, Zhang Zai’s Philosophy of Qi: A Practical Understanding (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015).

Rev Daniel Tong is an alumnus of Trinity Theological College and has served as an ordained Anglican minister for 31 years. He is a published author on books about Chinese practices and beliefs and is married with three young adult children.

Menu