This section is from the book "The Beverages of the Chinese; Kung-fu or Tauist Medical Gymnastics; the Population of China; A Modern Chinese Anatomist and A Chapter in Chinese Surgery.", by John Dudgeon. Also available from Amazon: Kung Fu, or Taoist Medical Gymnastics.
But it is necessary to trace the rise of this subject in China somewhat more particularly.
The first mention in Chinese history of a system of movements, proper to maintain health and cure disease, dates back to pre-historic times, the time of the Great Yu, when the country was inundated, and the atmosphere was nearly always wet and unhealthy, and disease overflowed, so to speak, the earth. The Emperor ordered his subjects each day to take military exercise. The movements, which they were thus obliged to make, contributed not a little to the cure of those who were languishing, and to maintain the health of those who were well.
Premare refers to the same tradition, where he says in his researches of the time anterior to the Shu Ching: - In the time of Yu, the waters did not flow away, the rivers did not follow their ordinary channels, which developed a number of maladies. The Emperor instituted the dances named Ta Wu , the Great Dances.
The native author, who reports this tradition, adds that the life of man depends upon the union of heaven and earth. The subtle material circulates in the body; and, if the body is not kept in movement, the humours do not flow, the matter collects, and from such obstruction disease originates. The great philosophers explained in a similar way the cause for the most part of maladies. But that which is specially remarkable in the Chinese tradition is that moisture and stagnant water are considered the source of the endemic and epidemic maladies, and that an efficient means to prevent them consists in the regular exercise of the body or in the circling dances. These movements tend in effect to produce a centrifugal result, from the centre to the circumference, very suitable to restore the functions of the skin, and to give tone and vigour to the whole economy. These dances form part of the institutions of the Empire.
We read also in the Shu Ching that the Emperor Yu ordered the dances to be executed with shields and banners. These two sorts of dances were the first sanctioned in the Li Chi, or ritual of civil and religious ceremonies. Great importance was attached to the regular bodily exercises. Like as in Greece, to sing and dance well constituted a good education. Even to the present day, the people take to exercises, in order to give themselves bodily strength and as much suppleness as possible; as, tor example, the exercises of the bow and arrow, throwing and catching a heavy stone with a hole cut in it with which to provide a handle, heavy bags of gravel, the bar with the two circular heavy stones at the ends of it, the various feats of jugglery, etc. This taste for bodily exercise is one of the fundamental maxims which have not ceased to be considered as the base of all progress and all moral development, the improvement of one's self. Pauthier, in his Chine Moderne, mentions a large number of famous dances of antiquity.
The founder of the Shang dynasty (1766 B.C.) had engraven in the bath-tubs - "Renew thyself each day completely; make it anew, still anew, and always anew
From the earliest times there were public institutions where were taught the six liberal arts (music, arithmetic, writing, religious and civil ceremonies with their dances, fencing, and charioteering). We read in the life of Confucius that he applied himself to perfect himself in all these exercises. Regular and rythmic movements were had recourse to, to develop the physical force, skill to maintain the health and to combat certain diseases.
After the period of movement for the cure of disease comes the period of healing by the virtues of plants, according to Chinese tradition. Although Fu-hsi had begun thus to cure maladies, the art is particularly ascribed to Shen Nung (about 3218 B.C.). He distinguished all the plants, and determined their different properties. The first Great Herbal is ascribed to him.
The term Kung-fu means work-man, the man who works with art, to exercise one's self bodily, the art of the exercise of the body applied in the prevention or treatment of disease, the singular postures in which certain Tauists hold themselves. The expression Kung-fu is also used, meaning work done.
The term Kung-fu, labour or work, is identical in character and meaning with the word Congou, applied in the South to a certain kind of tea. In China it is applied medically to the same subjects as are expressed by the German Heil Gymnastik, or Curative Gymnastics, and the French Kinesiologies or Science of Movement. Among the movements which are embraced within the domain of this method are massage, friction, pressure, percussion, vibration, and many other passive movements, of which the application made with intelligence produces essential hygienic and curative results. These different movements have been in use in China since the most ancient times They are employed to dissipate the rigidity of the muscles occasioned by fatigue, spasmodic contraction, rheumatic pains, the effects of dislocations and fractures, and in many cases of sanguiferous plethora in place of bleeding. These practices have to-day passed into the habits of the people, and those who are in charge of them are usually the barbers, as they were practised in Europe in the middle ages, who frequent the streets advertising the people of their presence by striking a kind of tuning-like-fork called hwantow. Those usually who practice these movements are the barbers who have shops, and the various exercises are generally gone through in the evenings. In the sequel of this Paper, we hope to describe the methods pursued by them. There is also a class of rubbers, who go to private houses or who undertake to teach the art. Here we have certainly a procedure allied to medical gymnastics, to which the Chinese attribute therapeutic value. Kung-fu embraces, as already remarked, massage (a word not found by-the-bye in Webster's Dictionary, from the Greek massein, to rub, or Arabic mass, to press softly); and shampooing (a Hindu word meaning to knead), a practice still in vogue in China and highly esteemed. Massage consists in such operations as kneading, thumping, chafing, rubbing, pressing, pinching, etc. The barbers, as a part of their duty after shaving the pate and face or plaiting the queue, treat their customers to kneading the scalp of the head, eye-brows, spine, calves of the legs, etc. These operations are practised both by way of preventing and curing disease; but more generally, as in part in Western countries, for the comfort and sense of bracing which it confers. The practice is now largely had recourse to in the West, and with marked benefit in cases of deficiency of nerve force, - neurasthenia, paralysis, hysteria, etc. The various methods of manipulation comprised under the term massage include effleurage, petrissage, friction, and tapotement. All these movements are centripetal, and done with the dry hand. The effect produced by such manipulations is the promotion of the flow of lymph, otherwise designated humours by the older writers, and blood, and the stimulation of the muscles of the skin and the skin reflexes.