A Historical Overview


Physical fitness exercises have been practised in China for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese were well aware of the importance of physical fitness and continuously sought ways for its improvement.

Through the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Periods (770-221 B.C.), a method called daoyin was evolved for promoting health and curing certain diseases by combining regulated, controlled breathing with physical exercises. In a Western Han dynasty (206 B.C-25A.D. ) tomb discovered several years ago on the outskirts of Changsha in Huanan Province, a silk scroll was found on which figures of daoyin exerecises were drawn in different postures--sitting in meditation, stretching, bending , and squatting.

Towards the end of th eEastern han dynasty (25-220 A.D.), the renowned medical scientist Hua Tuo (?-208) wrote: " The human body requires constant exercise", and " regular exercise aids digestion, stimulates circulation and helps the body to resist diseases". He created a set of exercises named wuqinxi (Five-Animal Play) mimicking the movements of the tiger, the deer, the bear, the ape and the bird. These exercises were then widely practised. Hua's disciple Fan A, a devotee of wuqinxi, was reputed to have lived to over 100. Wu pu, another follower of Hua's , was said to have had sound teeth and acute hearing and sight when well into his 80s Hua Tuo's inventive work had a far-reaching influence on the later development of physical exercises for improving health and for therapeuteic purposes. During the Song (960-1279) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties, there appeared a large number of exercise routines, including baduanjin (an eight-part exercise), yijinjing ( a system of muscular exercise), taijiquan (traditional Chinese shadow boxing) and Qigong (breathing exercises) which have retained their popularity up to this day.


Since the founding of the People's Repulic in 1949, great efforts have been made to study and improve upon many traditional forms of fitness exercises in line with the policies of "making the past serve the present" and "weeding through the old to bring forth the new". In particular, the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission has organized specialists to conduct intensive research ontaijiquan, the most popular of all traditional exercises. Their results have been compiled in a set of simplified tijiquan with 24 forms and another more complicated set with 88 forms. Chartacterized by gentle, rhythmic movements, natural breathing and physical and mental coordination, taijiquan is of particular benefit to the old and te weak and those suffering from chronic diseases, thought people of any age and at any fitness level can derive great benefits from practising it.

Qigong was cited for its therapeutic value in Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor's Manualof Internal Medicine), the oldest known Chinese medical treatise, which is believed to have been written in the Warring States Period. Intensive efforts are now being devoted to its study and application with rewarding results. Many new works have been written on the salubrious effects of qigong on the nervous, respiratory and digestive systems.


In recent years, many physical culture in stitutes, sanatoriums and hospitals in China have created a variety of remedial exercises by assimilating useful elements from traditional exercises. Based on modern therories of anatomy, sports physiology and biomechanice, these new exercises are designed to suit the needs of particular professions, such as steel-workers, coalminers and textile workers or to treat or prevent certain ailments, such as gastroptosis and eye strain. For example, at the Lake Taihu Workers' Sanatorium in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, specialists have developed a set lower back exercises derived from the traditional wuqinxi (Five-Animal Play). These exercises produce results impossible to achieve by the use drugs alone. Out of 109 cases under examination at the Lake Taihu Sanatorium, 89 showed cures or marked improvement after a year's practice of these ever effective exercises.

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