The most frequently asked question around here is what’s the difference between Tai Chi and Qigong? The short answer: Tai Chi is a martial art, and Qigong is broad term for “exercising or developing (gong) the bioelectric energy (qi) of your body”. There are various Qigong methods ranging from seated meditation to some pretty vigorous forms. Many folks will use the Tai Chi solo work as a Qigong practice, partly because of its popularity, and partly because Tai Chi and Qigong pretty much follow the same core principles.
For the longer answer, we have to look at spelling and Romanization of Chinese characters. Why? Because more often than not, at least part of the question has to do with the “chee” parts of both terms.
What about spelling?
You’ll see Tai Chi spelled in several different ways: tai chi, t’ai chi, t’ai chi ch’uan, tai ji, taiji, taijiquan, etc. Regardless of spelling, they are all referring to the same martial art. Similarly, Qigong is written as qigong, chi gong, chi kung, ch’i kung, etc.
The basic difference is the method of Romanization, or how the Chinese characters are written using a western alphabet. Two main Romanization methods are Wade-Giles (T’ai Chi Ch’uan/Ch’i Kung), and Pinyin (Taijiquan/Qigong).
On this site and many others, you’ll see the shorthanded Tai Chi and pinyin Qigong together. Why mix the two Romanization methods? Mainly because they are the most recognizable forms of the words. Most folks will recognize Tai Chi but not Taijiquan, and recognize Qigong but not Ch’i Kung.
Qi / Ch’i vs. Ji / Chi
A confusing thing about the two terms stems from how they are normally pronounced. The tendency is to say “tie chee” and “chee gong”, leading many to believe that it’s the same “chee” being referred to.
But, they are totally different.
The “chee” in Tai Chi (Taijiquan) means something like “extreme”. The “chee” in Ch’i Kung (Qigong) means “bioelectric energy”. So part of the answer to what’s the difference between Tai chi and Qigong?…the “chee”.