This article discusses the dynamics of charismatic religious movements through the case of the qigong craze, which was the largest mass spiritual/religious movement in urban China in the 1980s and 1990s, until the banning of Falun Gong in 1999. Charisma can be apprehended at three levels: as the embodied experience of individuals; as the emotional affect between masters and followers; and as a collective movement within a macro-social context. This article examines the articulation between these three dimensions of the charismatic phenomenon, tracing how, through breathing and meditation exercises, the masters teaching them and the organizations promoting them, charismatic experiences could be generated within and between millions of individual bodies and articulated with utopian expectations at a specific juncture of modern Chinese history. The emic notion of qi as an objectified power that can be experienced, manipulated, and produced is discussed, showing how it both facilitated the emergence of charisma but prevented its consolidation, leading groups based on qi experiences towards post-charismatic outcomes of commodification, radicalization or traditionalization.
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