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Wang Li: Qigong “Master” a Conjurer of Cheap Tricks?

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Asia Life

Wang Li: Qigong “Master” a Conjurer of Cheap Tricks?

The famous Chinese qigong practitioner has been accused of being a charlatan.

Two documentaries aired on China’s state-run CCTV on Sunday calling Wang Lin a “vulgar magician” who has done little more than sell bogus health techniques to the Chinese masses – not to mention some of its elite.

The qigong (Taoist breathing exercises meant to cultivate energy) spiritualist and advisor has fallen on hard times since the investigative reports played on television sets across the nation and has since come under investigation for fraud. The Jiangxi province-born “master” is reportedly attempting to evade scrutiny by disappearing from sight – some say by fleeing to Hong Kong.

Wang’s fall from grace has become a major topic of discussion in China, given his celebrity clientele, which included some of China’s most prominent entertainment, business luminaries – even heads of state – from Jackie Chan and Jet Li to Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Hong Kong’s former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, as well as relatives of former Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The prominence of 61-year-old Wang’s following was not in doubt, although some of his practices were strange by any standards. From “creating snakes” after placing scraps of paper under an upside-down basin which he jostles around until two snakes issue forth (see video here) to shredding steel with his bare hands, recovering paper from ashes, and even retrieving “an incinerated banknote intact from an orange” – some of his exploits are truly bizarre.

While actions such as these can be dismissed as magic tricks, things become morally hazy with some of his health suggestions. Wang has claimed to heal cancer and other serious illnesses, including removal of three “stones” from the body of former Indonesian president Suharto. All told, Wang estimates he has worked with some 50,000 patients.

Wang has dismissed claims that his practices are illegal, claiming that he has undergone rigorous investigation by a team of 17 Japanese scientist over a period of seven days, and has received numerous offers from U.S. intelligence agencies attempting to lure him to their shores with the promise of a green card.

He claims that he began to cultivate his supernatural powers from age seven under the tutelage of an Emei Taoist priest.

Despite accusations that he is a charlatan, Wang claims he donates up to 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) annually to charity – a claim that is backed by Pan Zhongwu, deputy director of social assistance at Pingxiang’s Civil Affairs Bureau.

Sima Nan, well known as a debunker of pseudoscience, invited Wang to Beijing to prove his claims, offering $1.6 million to anyone who can prove they have supernatural powers.

Wang has not taken criticism or questioning lightly, cursing at least one journalist. “I am telling you, you will die miserably, and your family will follow," Wang told a reporter with The Beijing News last week after she wrote a story that he thought damaged his name.

If convicted of illegal practice, he has a lot to lose. With the dubious earnings he has raked in, Wang has procured three Hummers and a Rolls-Royce that has been spotted parked in front of his five-story villa in his hometown of Pingxiang, Jiangxi province, nicknamed “the palace” due to the fact that his surname means “king” in Mandarin. He is also known to drive a Porsche and owns further properties in Shenzhen, Nanchang and Hong Kong.