The Seated Eight Section (or Pieces) of Brocade is a Daoist exercise for gaining physical, mental, and energetic well-being. This qigong has ability to enhance and purify vial life energy (qi) and its flow throughout the body. It also offers an introduction to the process of spiritual liberation known as Daoist Immortality.


In Chinese the Eight Section Brocade is Baduanjin. However, in the context of this qigong, a fuller meaning of Baduanjin is "a series of eight brightly colored shimmering golden silk satin embroideries each depicting a seated gymnastic to be completed like the garment itself as a flag blowing delicately, continuously in a gentle early morning summer breeze." The idea is that in doing this qigong one should move in patterns of smoothly undulating waves.

The birth of this eight brocade qigong is shrouded in mystery and legend; disagreements abound about its origins and development; even as to what kind of exercise it was: Standing or seated? Militaristic or contemplative? Today throughout the world when most people speak of the Eight Sections of Brocade, or Baduanjin, they are referring to a standing set of qigong exercises which significantly differ from the Seated Brocade. However it seems as originally understood, the term Baduanjin only referred to the seated form.

The First Known Full Text: The Zhongli Baduanjin Exercise

What we do have with some sort of correct dating is that the first extant manuscript that contains pictures and instructions for the Seated Eight Section Brocade (Baduanjin) appeared about 1300 CE in the Zhongli Baduanjin Exercise which itself was included in the 19th juan or "chapter" of the Ten Works on Cultivating Perfection. Zhongli is the surname of  Daoist immortal Zhongli Quan, the legendary creator of this qigong exercise.

Here is a replica of that document, with an English translation of its words (right to left).

The First Section. Click the teeth thirty-six times to collect the spirit (shen). The two hands embrace the head and beat the heavenly drum (back of head) twenty-four times.

The Second Section. Left and right (turn) the heavenly pillar (the neck and spine) each side twenty-four times. 

The Third Section. Stir the  tongue left and right up to the roof of the mouth, thirty-six times. Gargle with the saliva thirty-six times. Divide the liquid into three portions. After that the internal heat (fire-qi) will  circulate.  

The Fourth Section. Two hands rub the kidneys thirty-six times. The more this is done the more wonderful the results.

The Fifth Section. Rotate one shoulder [the left one then the right] like a water-well pulley, thirty-six times.

The Sixth Section. Rotate both shoulders like two water-well pulleys, thirty-six times.

The Seventh Section. Rub hands together. Five times exhale a hah  [a guttural deep throat] sound. Interlock the fingers and raise the hands [palms facing upwards] to support the sky (heaven), then lower the hands and press the palms against the top of the head. Do this three or nine times. ["Pressing against the top of the head" appears to be a mistake made by the scribe of this document. Many commentators suggest simply returning the hands to the lap and not pressing them on the top of the head.] 

The Eighth Section. Using the hands as hooks, bend forward and grasp the (upper) soles of the feet. Repeat this twelve times. Then pull the legs in and sit with the back straight.

The Seated Eight Pieces Of Brocade

The following instructions on how to practice this qigong was complied from the various sources listed at the end of this article. The illustrations are loosely based on those found in the "Eight Essays on the Nurturing of Life" (Zunsheng Bajian - 1591) by Gao Lian.  This article is presented for educational and cultural purposes only. See your health professional before commencing this or any exercise program.

The First Piece of Brocade. Calm the Spirit [Shen] – Click the Teeth – Tap the Heavenly Drum.

Sit cross legged, with the hands holding each other. Close the eyes and rid the mind of stray thoughts. Click the teeth together thirty-six times. Cup the palms over the ears and snap the index fingers on the base of the skull thirty-six times.

Comments on the seated posture and holding the hands. Traditionally this qigong is performed in a cross legged position. This is best done with the left heel pressed against the perineum area, and the right leg over the left leg; or sit in full or half lotus. This helps prevent the leakage of essence-qi energy from the sexual center. Or you can simply sit on a chair, with your back straight and not supported by the chair so the qi is not blocked from moving in the spine.

[Note: "A cross legged, or half or full lotus position should not be attempted by someone suffering from sciatica or other medical problems in that area without a doctor's approval." Dr. Kevin Chen, 2010.]

Place the right hand in the left hand, both palms facing up, resting on the knees or lap; this helps harmonize the flow of qi (life energy). Or optionally clench the hands into soft fists and rest them on the thighs—this helps center the mind and empower the qi in the body. Do this for three to five minutes.

Comments on Calming the Shen. This section of the Brocade offers a Daoist method of meditation. Various earlier texts of this qigong tell us to take a deep relaxing breath and close the eyes and rid the mind of any stray thoughts and enter into a meditative state of silent emptiness. These texts tell us to "darken the heart" [the xìn] which means reduce your emotional feelings and thinking in words. In other words let the mind go blank, but in that closed-eyed "darkness" maintain and increase an intense silent inner-awareness centered on "nothing."

After extensive meditative practice, you may realize and experience that the essence of your physical being (known as jing) is universal; as is the life force (known as Qi) coursing through your body; as is your soul and spirit (known as Shen).  "Mind," "Spirit" and "Consciousness" are other valid translations of the word shén - 神. (A fuller definition is given below in "Artistic and Spiritual Beauty in the Words of the Seated Brocade.")

Acupuncture Point Bladder-9 (Yuzhen/Jade Pillow) – Bladder-10 (Tianzhu/Heavenly Pillar) Source: Used with permission.


Acupuncture Point Governing Vessel-17 (Du Mai-17) - "Brain Window." Source: Used with permission.


Comments on clicking the teeth and tapping the heavenly drum. Knock the upper and lower teeth together thirty-six times. Cover the ears with the palms (the fingertips will almost touch each other), and  place the index fingers over the middle fingers and snap the index fingers down twenty-four times (or for twelve seconds).

Sources occasionally disagree on where and how to tap. But the preferred spot to strike is what in acupuncture is called the governing vessel-17, the "brain window" or "brain's doorway." That very same spot in qigong is called the "jade pillow." By placing the palms over the ears with the fingertips facing each other when snapping the index fingers down over the middle fingers they will naturally hit this spot.

Other sources think of the heavenly drum as being the area of the "occiput" (the lower back part of the skull) which includes the GV-17 and the jade pillow points of acupuncture (bladder-9), and the jade pillow of qigong.

Further comments about tapping on the back of the head. This is called "Beating the Heavenly Drum" because of the sounds that are heard in the inner ears when doing it. Tap around in the area of the occiput which is located on the back lower part of the skull, or better yet on the GV-17 point. In qigong, this area is called the jade pillow and is considered to be a doorway into the center of the brain. . 

A basic purpose for the Seated Brocade is to activate the flow of qi in the vessels and channels (also called the meridians) of the body. Within these passage ways blockages can occur.  The place that we are tapping is such a spot as well as being an important point in the governing vessel (or dū mài) meridian. Leading Daoist scholar Louis Komjathy writes, The Daoist adept places the palms over the ears and flicks the index and middle fingers on the occiput, referred to as … opening the Upper Pass (the occiput), so that qi may complete its upward circuit, accessing the Ancestral Cavity (center of the head associated with original spirit), and awakening divine presences ("gods") associated with the brain.  Komjathy, 2013, p.203.

The God Mouth is another name for the Jade Pillow or small-brain point. By picturing the God Mouth opening wide, you expand the area's capacity while enhancing the cranial pump's action to send cerebrospinal fluid and qi into the brain. Taoists regard this point as a storage place for extra energy and believe it receives information from above, like an antenna. [from Mantak Chia, Healing Light of the Tao, 2008, p. 203.]

Benefits of the First Piece of Brocade. The meditation can help reduce stress and tone and harmonize the autonomic nervous system. Clicking the teeth stimulates the spleen, improves the secretion of saliva, increases the appetite, and improves the digestion. Tapping the back of the head clears the mind.

The Second Piece of Brocade. Turn The Head From Side to Side – Shake The Heavenly Pillar.

Note: always use caution when stretching or applying pressure to the neck. Clasp the hands together in front of the belly. Gaze slightly upwards. Gently turn the head to the left, pause for one to two seconds, then gently turn to the right, and again pause for one to two seconds. Turn to each side twenty-four times.

The neck and spine is the "Pillar" that supports the head ("Heaven").

You may assist the rotations and relieve some of the pressure to the neck and upper spine by slightly swinging your shoulders and hips in concert with the moving head. Keep the back straight.

Different sources recommend different methods to hold the hands, but do whatever feels most comfortable and effective for you.

Benefits: In traditional Chinese health practices, manipulating this area is said to dispel wind and cold, regulate qi and blood circulation, and alleviate (head and neck) pain. It also calms the mind and relaxes the body. In addition, performing this exercise flexes the cervical joints of the spine, and may be helpful in lowering elevated blood pressure readings.

The Third Piece of Brocade. Stir, Gargle, and Swallow the Saliva – The Crimson Dragon Stirs the Seas.

With the hands formed into loose fists, raise the arms over the head. Stir the crimson dragon (the tongue) around the mouth and teeth thirty-six times to produce a large quantity of saliva. Rinse the mouth with this liquid and gargle it with a coughing sound, [a throat sound like the German ch in "Bach," or the Hebrew drinking toast "to life," L'chaim]. Then, forcefully gulp it down. Do this stirring, gargling and swallowing three or more times, then close your eyes. When the dragon [water] circulates, the fierce tiger [fire-qi] comes forth. Imagine a burning torch rises up from your lower torso and touches your heart, from which flames emerge that gradually spread and warm the entire body. [Carefully experience this for a short time, then:] Open your eyes, lower your hands back to your knees or lap and continue to the next section of the brocade.

"Ancient Chinese believed that Qi and fluid are the medicine for longevity… Practice persistently [and] life can be prolonged." However elderly people "who are subject to apoplexy" should simplify and reduce this exercise and just go through the motions of gargling. [Dr. Kevin Chen, p. 217.]

Benefits of the Third Piece. It treats dry mouth and lubricates the throat. It is good for people that have stomach gas, constipation, improper nutrition, and diarrhea because it stimulates gastric juices, and improves the appetite and digestion.  

The Fourth Piece of Brocade. Massage the Lower Back.

Hold the breath. Rub the hands together until hot. Slowly exhale (and return to breathing normally). Rub the kidneys (or "essence gate") thirty-six times or more. (Wait a moment, then return the hands to the front of the belly area.)  

Again hold the breath, and imagine fire flowing down from the heart into the lower abdomen and forming a wide burning wheel underneath the navel. When the heat is felt (here in what is called "The Ring of Fire") exhale.  Do this a total of eight times. Allow any remaining heat to naturally disperse throughout the channels and vessels [meridians] and finally settle in the dantian.

Comments: If practical, and as the picture shows, strip to the waist before commencing this exercise. Here the dantian referred to is an area in the approximate center of the lower abdomen. It is in large part, but not totally, imaginary, and may be conceived as having the size of a large softball. Its primary function is the storage of qi—viz.: universal and personal life force energy.

To compress, move, and store qi in the body, it helps to make loose fists and clench them when you are holding your breath. But only hold the breath as long as you have been trained to do, or as practically comfortable to do. In other words, don't hold the breath so much that you feel suffocated or get dizzy, or heaven forbid, pass out. Such things can happen to a overly zealous practitioner.

The kidneys are located under the two softest places on the back. This area is called jingmen, or "essence gate." Jing, or essence, may be conceived as the essential energetic element of sperm or ovum. Since the jingmen is an center that relates to sexual energy, you will receive more from this rubbing and massaging if it is done with love; so as you are rubbing and massaging, send love from your hands into the jingmen.

If the heat in the "Ring of Fire" under the navel grows too intense (unlikely) immediately stop this exercise and quickly move to the fifth brocade.

[The "fire" is a sensation of manifesting qi, and not quite qi itself. You could measure the heat of this "fire" on your belly with a sensitive thermometer. Qi itself—for example as stored in your dantian—is not so easily physically documented.]

The Fifth Piece of Brocade. Rotate One Shoulder at a Time – Winding The Single Pass.

Bend the left elbow and put the right hand on the hip. Then twist your head to the left and right as you rotate the left shoulder forward and back as if cranking the handle of a pulley to lift a bucket of water from a well; do this thirty-six times. Then do the same on the right side. Rotate the upper torso as you do this.

Sources may be unclear or disagree, but this rotation seems best done by bringing the elbow and shoulder up, forward, down and back—(something like paddling a canoe.

Comments: The "rotating" in the title not only refers to the left and right twisting of each of the shoulders and torso. Actually, the "single pass" in the title does not refer to the shoulder at all. "Pass" here refers to a place between the eyebrows called in acupuncture the yintang which means the "Seal of the Great Hall." "Pass" is actually guān in Chinese meaning "gate." This spot is considered to be an opening to the center of the head wherein are located the hypothalamus, thalamus, pituitary and pineal glands. In esoteric Daoism the "Great Hall" is the place where the alchemic embryo is nurtured to maturity, before being birthed into the world.

Benefits: The Fifth Piece of Brocade limbers up the body and opens and smooths out the flow of blood, lymph, and bio-electricity in the nervous system. It also moves qi and clears energy blockages in the arms and torso.

More pragmatically, referring to the beginning instruction of twisting the head to the left and the right: "By practicing this principle, the eyes will naturally follow the movements of the waist and the face will be relieved of tension. And you will look a lot better." Qi Magazine, Nov/Dec 2000.

The Sixth Piece of Brocade. Rotate Both Shoulders Together – Winding the Double Pass.

Place hands on hips and simultaneously rotate both shoulders as if the hands were cranking the handles of two pulleys. Do this thirty-six times. Feel fire rise up from the dantian and pass through the double pass and enter into the brain. Then stretch out the legs and breathe in fresh air [allowing and directing the fire-qi to return to the dantian on the exhale].

The shoulders move up-forward-down-back the way they would when rowing a boat forward.

The key word in this as well as the previous exercise is "pass" or "gate." (as in a "mountain pass"). Here it is called a "Double Pass" because it refers to a location at the spine in the upper back where two energy meridians intertwine.

Stretching out the legs at the end of this brocade is like taking a seventh inning stretch at a baseball game in order to get the blood and qi circulating better and relieve any stiffness in the legs.

The Seventh Piece of Brocade. Propping Up The Heavens.

Put your upper garment back on and return to previous seated position. Rub the palms together and make five guttural half-coughs (like clearing phlegm in the throat). With palms facing up on the lap interlock the fingers. Then inhale as the hands are raised. At about shoulder level turn the palms to fully face up, and along with the upper body, push upward and hold the breath.  It should feel as if you are holding a large heavy rock. Then exhale and return the hands to the lap. Do this three or nine times.

Benefits: This exercise helps regulates the five organ systems in the torso: Liver-Heart-Spleen-Lung-Kidney. It also improves blood and qi circulation in the neck and shoulders.

The Eighth Piece of Brocade. Bend Forward and Grasp the Feet. Sit with the legs extended forward.

Sit with the legs extended forward. Inhale and bend forward and grasp the upper part of the feet and pull them back towards you. Exhale as you release the feet and return to a vertical position. Do this twelve times. Then return to a cross legged position (or seated in a chair) and sit quietly for a few moments.

Note: If you cannot comfortably grasp your feet then just grasp your legs somewhere below the knees and flex the tips the toes upward towards your face. When returning to the upright position initiate the movement from the waist and not from the hands and shoulders.

Benefits: "This exercise promotes circulation in all the channels of the body and improves blood circulation in the internal organs. It can prevent and treat vascular sclerosis, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis." [Dr. Chen, p. 247].

The Zhongli Baduanjin Exercise manuscript continues with a reprise of the first, third, fifth, and sixth sections of the exercises. [The moving of qi and its manifestations as air, liquid, and fire throughout the body is understood, tacit and otherwise, throughout all eight of the forms.]

Return to the seated position and close the eyes. Relax the body and mind. Perform the Crimson Dragon Stirs the Seas for a grand total of nine swallows. You have now swallowed the divine (shen) liquid altogether nine times. As the swallowing takes place, the hundred pulses (referring to the flow of blood in the arteries and veins and the flow of life energy-qi in the meridians) will naturally harmonize. and the River Wheel [at the base of the spine] will create a perfect circulation (of qi). Wind the Single Pass thirty-six times. Wind the Double Pass twenty-four times. Bring your attention to the dantian, and there a fire will rise up and go down heating the entire body. Occasionally hold the breath to enhance this experience.

Girl and Boy treading the River Chariot. They are at the perineum facing the coccyx at the bottom of the spine. This drawing is part of the Landscape of the Internal Body Chart, (Neijing tu).


The River Chariot, a truly amazing Daoist construct, now appears in the text. It exists at the base of the spine to aid in the transport of essence-qi (jing) up the back of the body to the top of the head. Some of the Chinese words to the left of the couple read, Repeatedly (the river chariot) is peddled in cycles… A sweet spring bubbles up and rises to the summit of the Southern Mountain [meaning Mount Kunlun at the top of the head]. This is a central technique in the Daoist alchemic rebirthing of the self; in other words an advanced technique used to gain Daoist immortality.

The Conclusion Of The Seated Brocade

Demons and other evil things with their wicked magic and their powers to cause sickness will no longer approach you. Sleep and dreams will no longer be disturbed. Winter's biting cold and summer's intense heat will no longer bother you. Calamities and sickness will no longer intrude upon you. Practice these things after midnight and before noon (or after 11 pm – 1:00 am; and before 11 am – 1:00 pm). If this is done each day without interruption it will cause a joining of qian and kun (i.e., heaven and earth; yin and yang; male and female) forces. Your internal circulation [of vital qi] will progress in its proper stages. The universe will be transformed and harmonized; the eight fundamental principles of reality  will revolve properly. Final Instructions: Rise up at midnight. Breathe through the nose and not the mouth. Do the Eight Brocade once every night and once every day, or do it three times overnight. In time they will extinguish hardships and suffering. You will feel lighter and more agile. If you work hard and are untiring and indefatigable with this work, then the immortal Dao is not far away.

Concluding Comments: The Seated Eight Brocade is best learned from an accomplished teacher. Nevertheless it is hoped that this article will help someone who is interested in health and spiritual energy practices know more about this dynamic Daoist gymnastic.

Serious practitioners should dedicate the same time every day to do this practice—(the text suggested after midnight and before noon when the qi of heaven prepares to and then grows stronger in your surrounding natural environment). It is best not to eat two hours before and a half hour after the practice. Eating at those times brings large amounts of blood and qi into the digestive organs stopping their flow in or after doing the qigong. If hunger is a problem, gulping down air into the stomach, or drinking some warm water may help. Or drink a half-glass of lukewarm almond or cashew milk. If you must eat, have a light snack of peanut butter on crackers or a banana, or Greek yogurt and blueberries, or a small amount of oatmeal, or a handful of nuts or raisins.

The Seated Brocade may be thought of as a series of modular qigong gymnastics where each of its parts may be practiced as a stand-alone exercise. For example, meditate by mentally entering the darkened silence of a still mind. Or only gargle saliva with air several times and then swallow it into the lower stomach to bring and store qi in the dantian. Or massage or lightly slap the kidneys; or rotate one shoulder after the other—as in paddling a canoe. Or rotate both shoulders together—as in rowing a boat. Or raise your interlocked hands above the head and stretch up—as in an early morning stretch. Or touch the toes, which resembles grasping the feet in Section Eight. If any of these are done with an inner awareness of how they make you feel, especially energetically, while maintaining an awareness of your breath, you are doing—albeit not in a strictly proper way—a kind of qigong.

Whatever qigong you study, in order for it to play its roles of bringing health, preventing and fighting diseases in the body, and promoting spiritual growth and psychological well-being it is necessary to continually practice the qigong. The important word here is practice. Such perseverance over time will bring about truly remarkable results.

Spiritual Beauty In The Words Of The Seated Brocade

This qigong, as with so many other Daoist texts, is filled with poetic words, sung melodies, and striking mythological imagery, all used to better enable the transmission of its techniques to gain physical, energetic, mental, and spiritual well-being, and to hint at the experiencing of those wonderful extraordinary states.

For gaining clarity in my translation I suppressed several of these extended meanings. But now here are a few examples of their metaphorical imagery contained in this wonderful Daoist text:  

Shen - 神. The word is used in the first and third sections of the brocade. Some of its meanings are spirit, consciousness, a god-like deity, a supernatural being, internal psychic energy, and intelligence. In other words: the nonmaterial aspects of human beings and the entire universe which could be called, "cosmic" or "divine."

But which is its real meaning? Actually it could be any or all of them and you can pick according to what will help your practice.

Kunlun, the word used to describe the head in the first exercise, is a mountain (or a mountain range) on the northern edge of Tibet. John Dudgeon writes, The cosmogonists and mystics elevated it to the position of the central mountain of the earth, or as we say now "the roof of heaven," … also the residence of the queen of the genii. Innumerable marvels are related of this mountain, with its trees of pearls, jade-stone, and immortality. The appropriation of the name of this mountain to the head is, therefore, not out of place. Dudgeon, 1895. Reprinted by Berk, 1986.

Crimson Dragon refers to the tongue. However, it also stands for water, masculine energy (yang) and spirit (shen).

Saliva is not thought of contemptuously as the "spit" of our culture. In various versions of the Seated Brocade it is called miraculous or divine or god (shen) water, ocean or sea. My teacher told me to think of it as "jade qi." Other Daoists using saliva in their inner and outer qigong work have called it: "gold fluid (jinjin), jade fluid (yuye), jade nectar (yujiang), mysterious pearl (xuanzhu), snow flower (xuehua), spirit water (shenshui), and sweet dew (ganlu). These pure fluids are often associated with actual mist and dew." Komjathy, p.180.  [And by the way, "mist" was the original meaning for the word, Qi.]

Pass (gate). The Chinese word  for pass is guan. In addition to its primary meaning, guan can also  mean "to shut or close." Think of a Daoist temple situated at the top of one of the Five Sacred mountains in China. The path to this temple (and the liberating spiritual knowledge it contains) is very difficult to travel upon; throughout it there are blockages that seem impossible to move through. But these very same blockages when found and overcome can now function as openings. For example, as used in the Sixth Section, "Winding the Double Pass" an open guan allows the qi-fire to rise up the back and enter the brain.

Note: In Hindu yoga such places where energy flows may be blocked are called a "bandha." However, understand that qi is not—in contradistinction to the "prana" or "kundalini" of Hindu yoga—to be stored in the brain. Such practices can burn and injure the inner brain/hypothalamus/third eye area. Unless perhaps under direct tutelage of a master guru simply don't do it. Instead throughout the Daoist tradition qi is stored in the lower dantian in the lower abdomen, and in meditation led up the spine and down the front of the body in what is called the "Microcosmic Orbit," or the "Lesser Heavenly Circuit," then returned to the dantian where such energy may be safely stored for future use.

As in many traditional cultures, religious and spiritual texts are to sung. This is particularly true in such Daoist texts as the Seated Eight Brocade. Here its words were rewritten into units of five to be more easily memorized; and given in lines of poetry called "songs" to be vocalized. My Chinese language teacher, Limin Mo sang me this melody for such a “song”:

Click here to hear her singing it.

Here is her translation of this song version of the Seated Eight Section Brocade Qigong:

The Eight Seated Brocade of Zhongli. The verses of an easy-going Daoist Immortal set to music.

Hold the quiet mind in the Divine. Click the teeth together 36 times.

Both hands embrace the Kunlun. Left and right sound the heavenly drum 24 times.

Move the head like a pendulum and shake the Heavenly Pillar.

The Red Dragon stirs the water. Rinse and gargle 36 times.

Three times this way the divine saliva fills the mouth.

The Dragon moves; the Tiger runs.

Stop the breath. Rub the palms together until they are hot.

Rub and massage the Essence-Gate [Kidneys]. Do this as you hold one breath.

Visualize a wheel of fire burning around your waist.

Left and right turn the well pulley.

Stretch both legs out and relax.

Both hands cross in an “X.” Be humble and give thanks.

Bow the head and clasp the feet. Return back.

Once again repeat rinsing the mouth, gargling and swallowing three times.

Do this three times for a total of nine swallows of the divine water.

Swallow with a gurgling noise. A hundred vessels [meridians] will harmonize.

The River Chariot delivers to all destinations. The whole body is on fire naturally.

Evil spirits dare not approach. Nightmares cannot disturb us.

Freezing cold and burning heat cannot enter. Disease cannot invade.

After midnight and before noon create these transformations uniting heaven and earth, yin and yang, the universe. Cycling and revolving thus affects the Eight Primary Realities (the Bagua) and is very good.

This same melody is used for the remaining lines of this version of the Seated Brocade.

Zhongli Quan – legendary author of the Seated Eight Section Brocade. Current location: Shanghai Museum. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Tradition has it that one of the Daoist Eight Immortals, Zhongli Quan lived during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE).  As a young man he was handsome, intelligent and brave. The emperor made him a general and sent him into battle in northwestern China. But a rival in the court had him assigned an army of sick old men and he was defeated. As he retreated into the mountains he became lost but was discovered by a beggar monk who led him to the master Daoist Wang Xuanpu who had the appearance a young hermit but in actually was several hundred years old. In only three days Master Wang taught him the secrets of immortality, and how to fight with a sword. Zhongli leaving turned to say goodbye, but Wang Xuanpu had mysteriously vanished. After years of study with other masters, and teaching others (one of whom is the most famous of all Daoist Immortals, Lü Dongbin), Zhongli returned to the court of the emperor now as a leading Daoist master. Zhongli called himself the "idlest man on earth" and is romanticized in poetry as being the drunken, dissolute "Mad Daoist," showing that even a semi-divine immortal can be very human. Today his image appears throughout Chinese poplar culture in the three forms of his deified persona: a fat cute version of his dissolute self,  a fierce slender victorious warrior, and a magical Daoist wizard. Interestingly besides being found on computer games and lottery artwork, these images of the author of the Seated Eight Brocade are occasionally found on contemporary brocade patterns.

One of his magical abilities was that he carried a fan that could revive the dead, and as shown in this embroidery, he could transform stones into silver or gold. (This art work was previously owned by the Station Hill Gallery, in West Haven, CT.)


Author at American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, June 2018, >with the painting "Cosmic Intelligence" by Ingo Swann.


Ancient Way to Keep Fit; compiled by Zong Wu and Li Mao. Shelter Publications, 1992.

Chinese Text Project. 修真十 书杂 著捷径卷十九. 锺 离八段 锦 法.  [Ten Works on Cultivating Perfection, Scroll 19.  Zhongli Eight Pieces of Brocade Method.]

"Ba Duanjin's Ancestor: speaking about Zhong Liquan and Ba Duanjin." [8 images].

William R. Berk. Chinese Healing Arts: Internal Kung-Fu. Unique Publications, 1986.

Kevin Chen, Tianjun Liu. Chinese Medical Qigong. Singing Dragon, 2010.

China Medical Qigong Society. 坐式八段 锦. [Seated Style Eight Section Brocade] - [Text in Chinese]. 

Chinese Qigong; pp. 198-204. Dr. Zhang Enqin, editor. Publishing House of Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1990.

John Dudgeon, M.D. "The Eight Ornamental Sections," [in] Kung-Fu, or Tauist [sic.] Medical Gymnastics; 1895.

Livia Kohn. Sourcebook in Chinese Longevity. Three Pines Press, 2012.

Louis Komjathy. The Daoist Tradition: An Introduction. Bloomsbury, 2103.

Louis Komjathy. "Qigong in America," p.208. [in] Daoist Body Cultivation, edited by Livia Kohn. Three Pines Press, 2006.

八段錦源流考.[The Origin of the Eight Sections of Brocade].

Stuart Alve Olson. Eight Brocades Seated Ch'i–Kung. Jade Forest, 1997.

The Wonders of Qigong; pp.28-30. Wayfarer Publications, 1985.

Sources of the diagram of Zhongli Eight Brocade: [and]

John Voigt is a student and teacher of Daoist Qigong in the Boston area. He writes for Qi Journal, and is the editor of He also writes for He may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.