The Visionary Qigong of Guo Fengyi
By Guo Fengyi, compiled by John Voigt from information from The Drawing Center and other sources.
Photo 1: The Buddha in the Underground Palace of the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 2: Sakyamuni Buddha. Source: pinterest/pixabay
Photo 3: Organization Diagram of Human Numeric. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 5: Male Female. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 6: Fetus. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 7: Liver Meridian. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 8: Diagram of Tianmu Acupoint. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 9: How to Do It. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 10: Diagram of the Sun Seen from a Distance. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 11: Diagram of the Primordial Positioning of the 64 Hexagrams. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space.
Photo 12: The 64 Hexagrams of the Book of Changes (I Ching). Source of image: Wiktionary.
Whatever I want to draw, I write it [its name] in the middle of the paper. Afterwards, it is through energy (yun qi) that I draw stroke by stroke. Before I draw, I do not know what it will become; it is only after I finish drawing that I know. Looking at the work afterwards, I am able to see several other things. I draw because I do not know, I draw to know. [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, pp. 11-12.]
Note: here yun qi means to "Direct one's strength (Qi), through concentration, to a part of the body." zh.m.wiktionary.org
Guo Fengyi (b.1942 - d.2010, Xi'an, China). After graduating from high school in 1962 she began work in a rubber factory. She married and had four children. At the age of thirty-nine severe rheumatoid arthritis forced her into retirement. To heal herself from its crippling pain she began practicing the movements, breathing exercises, and mediations of qigong. "The positive impact of her sustained qigong practice improved her health, and gave her the energy to treat others." [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 28.]
Guo Fengyi. The Buddha in the Underground Palace of the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, 1989. Ink on calendar paper, 29 x 20 inches. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see photo 1]
On the morning of June 4, 1989, Guo Fengyi while meditating experienced a vision, and with a black ballpoint pen on the backside of a page from an old calendar she drew this picture of Buddha meditating on a lotus throne.
The soul star is above his head, and the earth star is below his body. The cycles of the moon are interacting with the sun above the head, and also connected to the 4th chakra (heart center), 5th chakra (throat center) and 7th chakra (crown center). There are yin and yang combinations of the four elemental forces of Buddhism (earth, water, fire, and air) positioned beside the soul star, which is associated with the celestial energies of the sun and moon.
Guo believed this was the same Buddha that was housed in her home city of Xi'an at the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda which became the title of this drawing. [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 25.]
Note the resemblance of her drawing to this of statue of Sakyamuni Buddha housed at that Pagoda. [see photo 2]
Was she drawing from a memory of actually seeing this? (The Pagoda is located in her home city of Xi'an.) Or was she just transcribing one of her paranormal automatic visions—or perhaps both?
Guo Fengyi. Organization Diagram of Human Numeric, 2006. Color ink on blueprint paper, 55 x 34 1/2 inches. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see photo 3]
This drawing seems to abstractly resemble standard acupressure charts [see photo 4], with its channels and vessels (meridians); the arrows showing the direction of qi flow; and numbers hinting at specific acupressure points, although here they have no direct resemblance to the standard numbering of these points.
Guo Fengyi also borrowed from popular culture: Notice in her drawing how many 8's with arrows going up to heaven appear above the head. The number 8 is the most auspicious number in Chinese culture; (its sound is like the Chinese word "to prosper.") It is especially lucky if it appears many times. For example, the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing began on 8/8/08 at 8 minutes and 8 seconds past 8 pm local time.
Guo Fengyi. Male Female, 1989. Colored ink on glazed printing paper, 30 3/5 x 21 1/3 inches. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see Photo 5]
In the drawing it is suggested the male image is in copulation with the female image. Obviously this is not a pornographic picture but rather Guo's very personalized version of a spiritual metaphor and qigong meditation.
Much of the Daoist teachings for obtaining what is called "Immortality" (at its least, a harmonious physical and mental well-being, health, and long life) require the internal merging of yin and yang energies. In esoteric literature this may be referred to and visualized in meditation as the copulation of Man (yang) and Woman (yin), Dragon (yang) and Tiger (yin), or Fire (yang) and Water (yin). For example, "When Fire and Water interact, their vapors will copulate, giving birth to intelligent life forms." [Eva Wong. Nourishing the Essence of Life: The Outer, Inner, and Secret Teachings of Taoism, p. 94. Shambhala, 2004.] Notice that the female and male genitals are connected by channels full of numbers and arrows that run up and down around the figure, and the female organ is by the male head, and the male organ is by the female head. The male and female partake of the same body for they are as one in this act of joining.
A traditional qigong practice is to align yourself with the divine forces of the universe by the use of time. It usually is best to meditate or to do movements between the hours of 11:00 am to 11:00 pm. On the drawing is written in Chinese, Illustrated by Guo Fengyi in the Qigong manner, between 2:25 am to 4:00 am, August 30, 1989.
Guo Fengyi. Fetus, 1989. Colored ink on calendar paper, 31 2/5 x 21 inches. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see photo 6]
Early Daoist texts describe the human being as host to a pantheon of gods, the innermost of which is called the Red Child, who resides in the stomach. It is a transformation of the breath of the Dao and represents one's own true self. This principle is later conceptualized as an embryo that the adept generates and nourishes by means of their practices. [Kathleen M. Ryor [in] Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 57.]
By way of breath work and meditation-visualizations, procreative essence, qi, and spirit/consciousness are cultivated and merged to create a spiritual embryo which over time and intense practice is birthed to become a new and liberated self. In its highest manifestation this allows the practitioner to leave the body and become as one with the essential unity of the Dao.
Guo Fengyi. The Diagram of the Liver Meridian, 1990. Color ink on paper, 30 1/2 x 20 1/2 inches. Source: The Drawing center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see photo 7]
In traditional Chinese literature the Liver is depicted as being green. But in her drawing Guo Fengyi meditatively intuited and used a red-violet color. Something western science seems to be discovering in its own fashion: Colors of light each resonate with various body systems and tissues. In treating Liver imbalances, I have observed that some patients respond better green light with polarized microcurrent, whereas others respond better to microcurrent with red or violet light. [Darren Starwynn in D. Mayor & Marc S. Micozzi. Energy Medicine East and West: A Natural History of Qi, p. 228.]
Guo Fengyi. Diagram of Tianmu Acupoint, 1989. Color ink on blueprint paper; composed of two sheets: 34 x 25 ½ and 13 ½ x 21 ¼ inches. Source: The Drawing center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see photo 8]
The Tianmu (literally "eye of heaven") acupuncture point is between the eyebrows. It is more commonly known as the yintang point, or the "third eye."
Qigong practitioners believe that certain qigong exercises may activate the tianmu acupoint, enabling them to see unusual things that ordinary people cannot. [This drawing is] "comprised of overlapping ovoid forms filled with concentric lines that suggest a vortex into another realm." Kathleen M. Ryor [in] Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 57.
Guo Fengyi. How to Do It, 1994. Ink on rice paper, original hanging scroll, 60 4/5 x 17 inches. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see photo 9]
Central to many of Guo Fengyi's drawings of figures, such as the above "How To Do It," are many fine lines. Figures seem not to have skin, but rather appear as something resembling energetic electro-magnetic fields, in other words manifestations of qi. Guo may be telling us the way to draw, and do qigong, and heal yourself and others, is to be aware and use the body's internal and external qi-energetic flows.
Guo Fengyi. Bagua (Eight Trigrams) Diagram of the Sun Seen from a Distance, (August 16th, 1989). Colored ink on paper, 58 7/8 x 40 5/6 inches. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see photo 10]
Here is a standard Bagua representation:
Bagua (or the "Eight Trigrams") refers to the eight symbols that represent the eight fundamental principles of reality. Each consists of three lines, each line either broken (representing yin) or unbroken (representing yang).
In the title "Seen from a Distance" (sometimes translated in English as "Remote Viewing") means she drew this in a trance state brought about by qigong meditation. The original word translated as "Sun" is taiyang, which also represents the acupuncture point in the slight depression at the temples on the head. Most of the other words on the drawing are instructions for qigong gymnastics for movements of the head: to rotate, shake, turn, and tilt the head up, then down, left, right, clockwise, and counterclockwise for an estimated [the text is unintelligible in places] total of four hundred eighteen times. Daoist texts are sometimes no more than unintelligible notes used by students to remember the in-person secret teachings of the master. Guo Fengyi may be doing that when on the drawing she writes: Each ball will have to reciprocate with the middle green ball. The green ball makes one revolution around the pivot point of each ball. There is no further explanation of what she meant.
Different constructions of three yin and yang lines lead to eight Bagua-trigrams; and different combinations of these eight lead to 64 hexagrams.
Guo Fengyi. Diagram of the Primordial Positioning of the 64 Hexagrams, 1990. Color ink on glazed printing paper, 15 1/2 x 21 1/4 inches. Source: The Drawing Center. Courtesy of Long March Space. [see photo 11]
(On the picture she wrote that she was practicing qigong as she drew it, and the time this took place.)
The sixty-four permutations of the trigrams, known as hexagrams, are figures of six stacked broken (yin) and/or unbroken (yang) horizontal lines in all possible ways to represent all the possibilities of the reality of life. However, we are faced with the puzzle that Guo's drawing and the standard depictions of the 64 hexagrams have little in common.
The 64 Hexagrams of the Book of Changes (I Ching). (source of image: Wiktionary). [see photo 12]
However, her title speaks of her vision as being "Primordial"—which is to say at the very beginning (the genesis) of the creation of the universe. She is saying her drawing is depicting the positioning of the 64 Hexagrams before their birth into our universe.
Her "positioning" of these archetypal hexagrams is enacted with her use of odd numbers (which represent yang) on the left, and even numbers (which represent yin) on the right. Kathleen M. Ryor may be suggesting a solution to the puzzle when she writes, "When revealed to the ancient sages, pictorial and pictographic representations like the hexagrams of the Book of Changes, were believed to be functionally real, imbued with powerful cosmic forces. Guo Fengyi's drawings embody those cosmic forces, unifying the artist and the universe in her dynamic visual imagery." [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 66].
Guo Fengyi as Qigong Master. Guo created a highly individualistic qigong, calling it "the work of the penguin" (qi'e gong) which reached the height of its popularity in the 1990s when she had thousands of followers. At that time she was recognized as having special powers to divine fortunes and diagnose illnesses. Guo traveled to Shandong, Henan, Hunan, and Beijing to teach, give lectures, and do healings. [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 27]. By the late 1990s she ended her public qigong work; however, she would privately give certain people her drawings to use for healing purposes.
In a journal dated March 1989 she optimistically wrote: "You have to have a strong will and endurance. Through sustained practice, you will achieve enlightenment. If you hold on to the [qigong] practice, naturally, everything will be achieved through real practice." [Guo Fengyi, personal journal entry, translated by Lu Jie, April 2, 2019, Long March Space, Beijing.]
As of the summer of 2020, I was unable to find any information that gave the details of her "penguin" qigong. Perhaps in the future some of her advanced students will publish such information.
Guo Fengyi as Artist. Because she had used discarded materials such as the pages of old calendars or grandchildren's workbooks for her drawings, and because she created these spiritually induced drawings as a healing practice, in the west she is often called an "outsider artist" meaning that she was unschooled, and in China an "old aunt" folk artist, meaning that she and her work were both common and simplistic. This is not correct: her otherworldly subjects reveal Guo had an in-depth and self-taught formattable knowledge that included Daoism, Buddhism, early Chinese history, Traditional Chinese Medicine (especially the meridians and acupressure points), and early texts such as the I Ching's use of hexagrams to explain humanity's relationship to the cosmos. However, she did not restrict herself to traditional Chinese culture; she was constantly researching other things such as modern astronomy, geography, and anatomical science. When she was too busy to read she would often turn on the radio and listen to the news. "When I heard about a human spaceflight (Shenzhou 6 on October 12, 2005) I drew it." [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 77.] She even drew her versions of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, the Statute of Liberty. Even an iconic Santa Claus.
How it Started. "I began drawing on May 21, 1989. Before that I was frequently ill, and my health wasn't optimal" Guo explained, "I heard that even those who cannot write can prescribe medicine, which to me sounds quite magical, so I decided to try drawings – that's how I began. What I drew was mostly about treating illness: How to treat leukemia? How to treat toothache? How to treat depression? I then drew accordingly." [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 74.]
How She Drew. "I analyze these things [her subjects] with energy [qi] from a distance." [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 31.] "My works serve as intermediaries toward mystical spaces. The message comes from heaven." www.sinoptic.ch
Guo worked on a small table and would roll down the paper—often in the form of a scroll. She often drew with brushes used in calligraphy; such brushes could transmit the qi to the paper or cloth fabric that she used more easily than the brushes used in western painting. This enabled her to create the many fine spinning lines of (for her) the apparent qi of her subjects.
Discovery. Guo continued making drawings in relative isolation until 2002, when Beijing-based curator Lu Jie saw her drawings in an exhibition curated by students at the Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts. Lu Jie invited Guo to join his Long March Project, a year-long series of curatorial events. With his and others support she became a world-famous artist with many international exhibits. [Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance, p. 28.]
Exhibitions 2002-2020. Extensive pictures from past worldwide exhibits from 2004 to 2019 are at Long March Space.
An exhibition of more than thirty works scheduled for The Drawing Center, 35 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10013 - from February 20 through May 10, 2020 was closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The exhibition was scheduled to be on view at the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah Georgia, August 20 – November 29, 2020. Web: www.scadmoa.org
Phone: (912) 525-7191. As of 08/28/2020 it is closed.
Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance; essays by Rosario Güiraldes, Laura Hoptman, Kathleen M. Ryor, Xu Tan. New York: The Drawing Center, 2020.) The Drawing Center.
Lu Jie. "Who is Guo Fengyi? Long March Project.
"Curator Talk | 'Guo Fengyi: To See from a Distance' with Rosario Güiraldes."