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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned earlier, my search for information on the questionable death of a merchant from Massachusetts named Gilman has led me to some of the stranger wards of our great city. On this day, a cursory questioning of caretakers at Old St. Patrick’s pointed me in the direction of a certain Chinese mystic who occupies a run down walk up flat some 4 stories above Henry Street in New York’s bustling Chinatown.

from wikipedia

Henry Street is a street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. It runs in a northeasterly direction one-way eastbound from Oliver Street in the south and west, passing underneath the Manhattan Bridge and on to Grand Street in the north and east. The poor condition of immigrants living in squalid tenements on Henry Street and the surrounding neighborhood in the late 19th century prompted nurses Lillian Wald and Mary Maud Brewster to found the Henry Street Settlement in 1893. In recent times, Henry Street continues to be an immigrant neighborhood and has been absorbed into an expanding Chinatown.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A self described healer who claims mastery over the orgone, or Qi as the Chinese call it, he was a disagreeable fellow. Rebuffed in my attempts to gain any knowledge from him, the old man admonished me to stop looking for this Gilman, lest I find something out that I don’t want to know.

from wikipedia

Although the concept of qi has been very important within many Chinese philosophies, over the centuries their descriptions of qi have been varied and may seem to be in conflict with each other. Understanding of these disputes is complicated for people who did not grow up using the Chinese concept and its associated concepts. Until China came into contact with Western scientific and philosophical ideas (primarily by way of Catholic missionaries), they knew about things like stones and lightning, but they would not have categorized them in terms of matter and energy. Qi and li (理, li, pattern) are their fundamental categories much as matter and energy have been fundamental categories for people in the West. Their use of qi (lifebreath) and li (pattern, regularity, form, order) as their primary categories leaves in question how to account for liquids and solids, and, once the Western idea of energy came on the scene, how to relate it to the native idea of “qi”. If Chinese and Western concepts are mixed in an attempt to characterize some of the problems that arise with the Chinese conceptual system, then one might ask whether qi exists as a “force” separate from “matter”, whether qi arises from “matter”, or whether “matter” arises from qi.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

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