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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 127-134

Hua Tuo's Wu Qin Xi (Five Animal Frolics) movements and the logic behind it

President of Serbian Qigong Association, Belgrade, Serbia

Date of Web Publication8-Jan-2019

Correspondence Address:
Mr. Saša Balaneskovic
President of Serbian Qigong Association, Teacher of Qigong and Taijiquan, Acupuncture and Tui Na Practitioner, Raljska 12/3, Belgrade
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_32_18

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The key proposition of this hypothesis is logic behind the order of movements of Hua Tuo's qigong Wu Qin Xi (Five animal frolics). To date, there were many discussions about connection of the movements of Wu Qin Xi with existing TCM theories and why Hua Tuo made it in that particular way. Some experts are saying that there is no connection but if all stories of Hua Tuo's abilities and knowledge were half-truth, he wouldn't let even the order of movements of qigong that he created be just a random order. Hypothesis is exploring different views on Taiji movement direction, Wu Xing and connection between animals in Wu Qin Xi, Lo Shu square and Sun wheel and proposing possible solution to the question “Why Hua Tuo made such order of animals in Wu Qin Xi?” by analyzing and and cross referencing the common ground between theories and bridging the gap the we were left without any written explanation from the master itself. Further progress and confirmation of this hypothesis requires deeper research and cooperation between Qigong expert historians.

Keywords: Five Animal Frolics Qigong, Hua Tuo, Taiji movement orientation, Wu Qin Xi Qigong, Wu Xing

How to cite this article:
Balaneskovic S. Hua Tuo's Wu Qin Xi (Five Animal Frolics) movements and the logic behind it. Chin Med Cult 2018;1:127-34

How to cite this URL:
Balaneskovic S. Hua Tuo's Wu Qin Xi (Five Animal Frolics) movements and the logic behind it. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 May 23];1:127-34. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2018/1/3/127/249577

China has given the world four great inventions of ancient, but also of the modern time. Those inventions are compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing.

Some scholars are claiming that even Jie Qi or 24 Solar Terms can be considered as a fifth great invention. And, by all means, detailed description of the agricultural customs, weather changes, healthy diet habits, and even Daoyin exercises described in 24 Solar Terms are making this calendar a remarkable ancient masterpiece.

However, if 24 Solar Terms should be fifth invention, Chinese Medicine and Qigong should be the sixth.

There is ample evidence that a variety of different methods, routines, practices, and techniques were used by the people of ancient China to alleviate pain, prevent diseases, increase vitality, improve well-being, contribute to longevity, or even produce enjoyment.

Zhuang Zi [Figure 1] who lived around 4th century BC in Warring States period said in his book “Outer Chapters” chapter “Ingrained ideas:”[1]”Blowing and breathing with open mouth; inhaling and exhaling the breath; expelling the old breath and taking in new; passing their time like the (dormant) bear, and stretching and twisting (the neck) like a bird; – all this simply shows the desire for longevity. This is what the scholars who manipulate their breath, and the men who nourish the body and wish to live as long as Pang Tsû, are fond of.”
Figure 1: Picture of Zhuang Zi, 4th Century BC

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What is described here is early form of now modern Qigong called Tu Na and Dao Yin exercises.

Methods of prevention, health preservation and healing through mind and body movements that were accompanying therapies such as acupuncture, herbal drugs, tui na, and moxibustion were vastly used in ancient times. They had different names, forms, and structure depending on origin, purpose, usage, and explanation of theory, etc.

Names like Daoyin (leading and guiding energy), Yangsheng (preserving life methods), Tu Na (breathing exercises), and many more were used to describe them in proper way, and they had one thing in common – theories of traditional Chinese medicine and cosmology – Taiji (YinYang theory), Wu Xing (Five element theory), Zang Fu (internal organs theory), Jing Luo (energy meridians theory), and movement of Qi, blood, and body fluids.

Today, the most commonly used name for most forms and routines for most people is just Qigong.

There are some archeological artifacts that are representing some breathing techniques in standing post (Zhan Zhuang) postures from Majiayao Culture [Figure 2] dating from 3300 to 2000 BC. This pottery [Figure 3] piece presents a figure with female and male characteristics, holding hands in front of the belly, while the mouth is open. This posture is similar to the known position, the so-called “holding the ball” in Zhan Zhuang.
Figure 2: Pottery from Majiayao culture in Zhan Zhuang posture

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Figure 3: Author of article in similar Zhan Zhuang posture

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In addition, there is a pottery artifact with picture showing figures of people holding hands that is presumed to be some sort of ancient DaoYin exercise or “Great dance [Figure 4] (Da Wu).”
Figure 4: Pottery from Majiayao culture showing movements of “Great Dance”

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One of the most famous is tomb artifact from Mawangdui which depicts many postures of the Daoyin exercises practiced at that time. Found artifacts are from Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), and one of the most valuable artifacts is known as Mawangdui Daoyin [Figure 5] Silk scroll. This scroll has 44 postures of various exercises aimed to prolong life and heal body and mind. Many of these postures can be still found in various Qigong systems such as Ba Duan Jin, Yi Jin Jing, Liu Zi Jue, and Wu Qin Xi.
Figure 5: Mawangdui Daoyin Tu

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During Han dynasty, the most famous doctor of Chinese medicine was known as Hua Tuo [Figure 6]. He was expert in several fields, including acupuncture, gynecology, pediatrics, and surgery.[2] For the latter, he invented various herbal anesthetics. One, known as numbing powder (Mafeisan), was taken with alcohol before surgery.[3] Hua Tuo was famous for his diagnostic skills and he also invented one of the most famous and one of my favorite Qigong forms called Wu Qin Xi or Five Animal Frolics.
Figure 6: Picture of Hua Tuo

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He used to say that “Movement is the only reason that teeth are falling out and tongue is not!” and that “Moving water can't become stale and that worms can't be found in door hinges” meaning that he considered movement to be a way of healthy life.

By observing movements of various animals, ancient people concluded that some repeating movements enhance animals' overall abilities and health.

In Hua Tuo's Wu Qin Xi, we have five animals that he observed – tiger, deer, bear, monkey, and bird. Every animal has its own characteristic, ability, strength, or weakness that practitioner wants to awake or to conquer in his or hers own mind and body by practicing. Movements are performed with intention on particular animal behavior and practitioner is trying to mimic the animal spirit as well.

The Five Animal Exercises imitate the movements of five animals and combining physical with mental exercises. The physical movements are designed to show the courage and robustness of the tiger; serenity and poise of the deer; the steadiness and solidity of the bear; the nimbleness and dexterity of the monkey; and the swiftness and grace of the bird. The physical movements are at all times integrated with the mental exercises which are supposed to imitate the spiritual activities and expressions of the animals.[4]

The exercises have the aim of strengthening muscles and bones, promoting the circulation of Qi and blood, preventing and curing diseases, maintaining good health, and prolonging the life span. The external dynamic physical activities should be integrated with the static activities of the mind. Exercising limbs, waist, trunk, and spine can increase the movement range and physical efficiency.

Exercises of the fingers and toes are particularly emphasized for improving the blood circulation to the extremities but also for stimulating the acupuncture points that can be found there.

Unfortunately, Hua Tuo did not leave us any written document or the pictures of Wu Qin Xi performance, so we do not have the exact set that he invented. We now have the modified sets that are close to the postures and movements that were performed in the past, all thanks to the generations that were passing on this great Daoyin form.

One of Hua's outstanding disciples, Wu Pu, practiced the Five-Animal Frolics every day and lived for more than 100 years. In his book, entitled “The Five-Animal Classic,” Wu quoted his teacher as saying that human body needs exercise, but it should never be done to the point of exhaustion.

“The body needs a certain amount of movement. This movement serves to properly balance right and left and to redistribute and assimilate the various grain energies; it also causes the blood to circulate smoothly and prevents the arising of diseases.

The human body is like a door hinge that never comes to rest. This is why Daoists practice healing exercises. They imitate the movements of the bear, which hangs itself head down from a tree, and of the owl, which keeps turning its head in different ways. They stretch and bend the waist, and move all the joints and muscles of their bodies in order to evade aging.

I myself have developed a series of exercises which I name the Five Animals' Frolic [Figure 7]. The five animals are tiger, deer, bear, monkey, and bird. The practice of the frolic aids the elimination of diseases and increases the functioning of the limbs and joints. Whenever a disorder is felt in the body, one of the animals should be practiced until one perspires freely. When perspiration is strong, one should cover the affected parts of the body with powder. In due course, the body becomes lighter and more comfortable, and a healthy appetite will return.”[5]
Figure 7: Postures of Wu Qin Xi

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One thing that is for sure original is the animals that are playing the movements and their connection to the Wu Xing (Five element) theory.

Every animal is actually connected to the single element [Table 1], which should correspond to the Wu Xing (Five Element Theory) circle movement.
Table 1: Correspondence of Wu Xing and animals in Wu Qin Xi

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Except it is not. Why is that so?

If we follow the Wu Xing theory, we have several options of the element movements [Figure 8]:
Figure 8: Wu Xing connections and directions

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  • Generating/creation circle which is wood-fire-earth-metal-water-wood
  • Overcoming/destroying which is wood-earth-water-fire-metal-wood
  • Insulting/controlling which is wood-metal-fire-water-earth-wood and none of the circles described is the same as the Wu Qin Xi circle which is wood-water-earth-fire-metal [Figure 9].
Figure 9: Movements of animals from Wu Qin Xi in Wu Xing circle

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Furthermore, when we try to draw the movement and make something out of it, picture does not has any resemblance to any of the three options in Wu Xing theory. Neither reveals too much in terms of Hua Tuo's intention and idea to set this movements like this.

When someone sees this picture, it does not make any sense bearing in mind very precise and extensive theories of Chinese medicine and Chinese love for symmetry and esthetics.

It was puzzling me for a long time – why did Hua Tuo made that particular order of animals and their movements? Why did he disturb the perfect Wu Xing order?

The more I thought about it and try to analyze the Wu Xing connections all logic behind it seemed to be more far away.

Than I thought that, if I want to understand the logic of the Wu Qin Xi order and connection to order of Wu Qin Xi animal movements, I have to think in the terms of the people that lived 2000 years ago.

One of the things that pushed me more to the resolve this enigma was the lecture of the professor Qu Lifang from Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She mentioned interesting points about direction of the Taiji Tu [Figure 10] and old view on it. I will try to repeat what she has told us as one of the representations and possible explanations on Yin Yang movements.
Figure 10: (a and b) Left and right directions of Taiji Tu

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Namely she said that most used representation of Yin Yang (Taiji Tu) is with Yang above the Yin, moving clockwise, from left to right. If we imagine our time like a straight line, this kind of movement can represent our life going from one point to another, from birth to the death. This representation of Taiji Tu can be applied for most of the people.

However, when we start to practice Daoyin, we will work on prolonging our life so for us different YinYang symbol could be applied – Yin and Yang moving in clockwise opposite direction, from right to left, and if we imagine our time like a straight line, this kind of movement can represent our life going from one point to another, from birth to the death, but at slower rate since we would be slowing down the time by practicing Qigong, Daoyin, etc.

This view made me think more about the movement of the Yin and Yang, Taiji Tu orientation and its symbolism and also about older and different representations of Wu Xing and five directions (east-west, north-south, and center).

Great scientist that Hua Tuo was for sure, would not make a mistake and make the Wu Qin Xi in the way that he did. It had to have some logic and science behind.

Let us explore the Taiji orientation. We have two orientations – to the left and to the right [Table 2].
Table 2: Table of left and right directions of Taiji Tu

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But, also, solar or polar orientation:

  • The solar orientation consists in looking in the southern direction and following the movement of the sun from east to west, from left to right and privileging the left
  • The polar orientation comes down to looking in the northern direction and following the astral move around the polar star from east to west, from right to left and to giving preference to the right [Table 3].
Table 3: Table of solar and polar directions of Taiji Tu

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Zhuangzi, who lived during the 7th century BC, said: “Spring gives birth on the left, Autumn destroys on the right, Summer helps growing ahead and Winter puts in reserves behind.”

According to the usual correspondence between seasons and compass points, south is ahead and north behind. Thus, during the era of the previous Han dynasty (from the 2nd century BC to the year 0), right seems to have supplanted left, at least in the framework of official functions.

Thinking about movement and orientation of Yin and Yang, I remembered that during ancient times, movement of the stars and Sun was described by many different symbols and one of them is swastika. Swastika or wàn (on pinyin or 萬 or 万) is a cross with four perpendicular handles describing the movements of a Little and Big Dipper while the center (axis mundi) is the Polar star. It represents the whole of creation, a homonym for the number 10,000 or “myriad of things” as described in Tao Te Ching [Figure 11].
Figure 11: Detail of astrology manuscript, ink on silk, BCE 2nd century, Han, unearthed from Mawangdui Tomb 3rd, Changsha, Hunan Province, China

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According to the Rene Guenon (French author and intellectual who remains an influential figure in the domain of metaphysics) says that this symbol represents the activity (Chinese Taiyi, “Great One”) of the principle of the universe in the formation of the world.[6]

According to him, the swastika/wàn in its polar value has the same meaning of the yin and yang symbol of the Chinese tradition, and of other traditional symbols of the working of the universe (Source: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/René_Guénon).

Furthermore, one of the earliest swastika [Figure 12] or sun wheel is found in today's Ukraine in Mezine which dates 12,000 years back in history.
Figure 12: Picture of Swastika from Mezine, Ukraine

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One of the earliest cultures that are known to have used the Swastika was a Neolithic culture in southern part of Europe, in the area that is now Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, known as the Vinca Culture [Figure 13] and [Figure 14], which dates back around 8000 years.
Figure 13: Vinca Culture Alphabet

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Figure 14: Vinca Culture Map

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There is also vast amount of pottery [Figure 15] that presents postures found similar to Maijiyao culture pottery!
Figure 15: (a and b) Vinca Culture Pottery

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Indo European nations in this case the Slavs and Vedic culture of Indo-Aryans attached great importance to the cross-like objects in history. The Swastika, known in Slavic world as Kolovrat, was a sacred symbol that carried a huge significance in Early Slavic culture.

Swastika or Kolovrat symbolized infinite values in our culture; for example, from mythological aspect the spinning wheel symbolized the infinity and repeating the cycle (the fight between Slavic Gods Perun and Veles) in fight between Good and Evil.

In Slavic mythology, the Swastika or Kolovrat was also called the “little sun” and in the early phases of Slavic Pagans, it was the symbol of the Sun God = “Svarog” (in Polish also, Swarożyc).

Wooden Slavic monuments called “Idols” [Figure 16] were usually depictions of Slavic gods and on most of these Idols Slavs used to engrave them with Swastika.
Figure 16: Picture of Slavic Sun Wheel

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Also, during burials, the Symbol of Swastika or Kolovrat was also engraved on wooden Idols above graves of deceased ones as a symbol of eternity and constant cycle between life and death.

That universal symbolism of exchange and dance of Yin and Yang in different cultures took me back to Chinese culture and history and I remembered representation of four cardinal directions (east-west, north-south, and center as axis) and Yellow river map – Lo Shu Square [Figure 17], which is again one representation of the movement of the Yin and Yang! [Table 4].
Figure 17: Picture of Lo Shu Square

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Table 4: Lo Shu square and Wu Xing connection

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If we take a look at a more detailed explanation of this diagram, we can see that it corresponds to the Wu Xing theory – but presented as a 5-element cross rather than a 5-element circle.

It is also representation of the spleen (earth) playing the role of the old seamstress, making connection between heart and kidneys and liver and lungs as seen in Neijing Tu [Figure 18].
Figure 18: Picture of Neijing Tu

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If we connect elements in the order of Wu Qin Xi animals (wood-water-earth-fire-metal or east, north, center, south, and west) in 5-element [Figure 19] cross representation and draw the line, we can see one figure emerging in the shape of S.
Figure 19: Picture of movements of Wu Qin Xi animals in cross representation of Wu Xing

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It is one part of the ancient swastika/wàn symbol!

But, let us explore more the Yin and Yang orientation.

Whatever the choice of the Taiji orientation, east was considered as beginning.

If we follow the order of animals in Wu Qin Xi given by Hua Tuo again, and cross reference with both orientations, we will receive something like this [Table 5]:
Table 5: Connection between the orientation of Taiji Tu, order of movements of Wu Qin Xi, and Wu Xing

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[Table 5] shows the connection between orientation of Taiji Tu, order of movements of Wu Qin Xi and Wu Xing, and a perfect exercise is made following changes of Yin and Yang, rise and fall of Qi, generation and extinction of Yin and Yang, while practitioner is performing the movements of different animals unaware that he or she is making one Universal sign of life that is represented as Taiji or swastika or Kolovrat or S-shaped vortex of life that transcends time, cultures or even whole human civilization.

These discoveries ultimately led me to the conclusion that Hua Tuo made the order of animals in Wu Qin Xi taking in consideration all available theories of his time that include (but not limited to):

  • Yin Yang theory
  • Wu Xing and Zang Fu theory
  • Yellow river diagram and
  • Knowledge of Celestial body movement.

Of course, this theory is my way of explanation the logic behind the order of Hua Tuo's Wu Qin Xi movements.

One fact still remains – this practice is a gem of Chinese history and culture of mind and body cultivation, and it will bring the joy and health to everyone that practices the system.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Translated by Legge J. The Writings of Chuang Tzu. Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1815-1897, 1891.  Back to cited text no. 1
Wai FK. On Hua Tuo's position in the history of Chinese medicine. Am J Chin Med 2004;32:313-20.  Back to cited text no. 2
Chu NS. Legendary Hwa Tuo's surgery under general anesthesia in the second century China. Acta Neurol Taiwan 2004;13:211-6.  Back to cited text no. 3
Chinese Health Qigong Association. Chinese Health Qigong: Wu Qin Xi. Beijing, China: Chinese Health Qigong Association; Foreign language press 2007.  Back to cited text no. 4
Kohn L. Chinese Healing Exercises. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press; 2008.  Back to cited text no. 5
Guenon R, Fohr SD. Symbols of Sacred Science. Sophia Perennis; 2004. p. 64-7, 113-7.  Back to cited text no. 6


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7], [Figure 8], [Figure 9], [Figure 10], [Figure 11], [Figure 12], [Figure 13], [Figure 14], [Figure 15], [Figure 16], [Figure 17], [Figure 18], [Figure 19]

  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5]

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