Feature: Martial Arts Studies no. 4 – Prof Douglas Wile

Occasionally on this blog, we’ll be showcasing some of the fascinating articles we publish, by providing summaries written for the general public.

Here’s the first of two posts relating to issue 4 of our journal Martial Arts Studies. Written by Professor Douglas Wile, the article “Fighting words: four new document finds reignite old debates in taijiquan history” describes how recent discoveries of historical documents relating to taijiquan (tai chi) could influence the long-standing academic and political debates concerning the origins of this Chinese martial art.

Read the whole article at: https://mas.cardiffuniversitypress.org/articles/abstract/10.18573/j.2017.10184/

 

“For the millions of ordinary Chinese who stream into China’s parks and public squares every morning at sunrise, taijiquan [tai chi] is an essential health practice and social ritual. For Chinese intellectuals, the art is an iconic intangible cultural heritage and a flashpoint between traditionalists and modernists in the century-old culture war for the soul of China, that plays out in the midst of a national identity crisis. The key bone of contention is the origins of the art, with traditionalists tracing the creation to Zhang Sanfeng, a mythological Daoist immortal, and modernizers focusing on Chen Wangting, a seventeenth-century local militia leader in Chen Village, Henan Province. The latter version, first advanced by pioneering martial arts historian Tang Hao, has received official state endorsement. The two camps are divided over interpretation of a slim body of highly inconclusive evidence preserved in the style lineages of the Chen, Yang, Wu (Yuxiang), Wu (Jianquan), and Sun families.

The new document finds, consisting of form manuals, theoretical texts and genealogies, discovered by the Li family of Tang Village, the Wang family of Wangbao Village, the Liu family of Zhaobao Town, and the Wang family of Shanxi, would be the earliest versions of the “classics” by two centuries, shift the birthplace from the Wudang Temple or Chen Village to the Thousand Year Temple, and introduce a whole new cast of characters as creators. If authentic, the documents not only force a revision of history, but strengthen the hands of traditionalists, who take comfort in the Daoist connections, and support modernizers in the confirmation of a role for Chen Wangting. With various “birthplaces” vying for market share in the Chinese domestic, and increasingly globalized, martial arts marketplace, new documents are used to buttress claims of authenticity on the basis of antiquity and originality, while in academic circles, scholars use the new evidence to challenge party line orthodoxy and press demands for academic freedom.”

MAS

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