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Body and Ki in GiCheon: Practices of Self-Cultivation in Contemporary Korea

Yeonhwa Jeon defended her thesis on 6 July 2017.

Yeonhwa Jeon
06 July 2017
Leiden Repository

In this dissertation I study the social phenomenon of ki suryŏn氣修練 (氣修練 ki-training) as an invented tradition and examine how it functions within Korean society. Mind-body practices referred to as qigong in China and ki suryŏn in Korea are re-constructed in modernity on the basis of ancient East-Asian traditions. Utilizing the practice of GiCheon developed in the 1970s as a case study, I investigate the experience of ki suryŏn, as understood and articulated by practitioners.

As the basis for my research, I use a series of interviews conducted with sixty-one GiCheon practitioners between September 2010 and April 2011 in South Korea. As my theoretical framework, I apply the concept of Technologies of Self developed by Michel Foucault, as well as the Confucian formula for self-cultivation, which involves the physical and bodily, alongside the mental/emotional and familial/social: ‘authe nticate the intention, rectify the mind-heart, cultivate the body, love the family, govern the country, bring peace to the world’ (誠意正心修身齊家治國平天下sŏngŭi chŏngsim susin ch’ega ch’iguk p’yŏngch’ŏnha).

This model is repeatedly called for by GiCheon practitioners themselves when describing experiences resulting from the practice. They recount self-formation unfolding on different levels of the self, utilizing various images. One narrative, for example, focuses on images of ‘smooth and effortless passage’, connecting to feelings of warmth, and smooth communication with family members. They start at the level of the body, unfolding also on the level of the emotional, familial and social self. These processes of self-formation and self-articulation are important examples of the construction of contemporary selves.


Prof. dr. B.C.A. Walraven

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