This chapter investigates the early origins, shifts in meaning and broad applications of the term qi. Beginning with the multi-linear etymology of its early written and spoken forms, and grammatical arguments that qi takes a mass noun form, the chapter outlines its shifting applications in the pre- and early imperial period, tracing an arc through its emergence as an embodied, cosmic substrate, a politically salient concept regarding states’ succession to the Heavenly Mandate, and its expanding role in medical and divination theories of the Han dynasty. Early medical literature shows a shifting emphasis from first-person experiences of embodied yangsheng practice to third-person topologies of the channel-mapped body and astro-calendrical circulatory rhythms. The Appendix details the varieties of qi in the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic. Qi has played a role in military arts, calligraphy and many other pre-modern scientific and cultural domains, in contemporary practitioner’s descriptions of the theory and practical knowledge of Chinese medicine, and even in modern Chinese translations of scientific terms which accord no validity to the concept of qi. As such, the chapter argues that qi in the past, and still today, plays a significant cohering role by drawing together broad domains of culture, language and technical practice.