Fighting Words: Four New Document Finds Reignite Old Debates in Taijiquan Historiography

A recent scene in Beijing as smog clouded the skyline. Source: http://www.aol.com/article/2014/02/25/pollution-hides-beijing-skyline-statues-get-masks/20837579/

 

Introduction

As I mentioned last week, I am currently in the middle of a couple of writing projects.  As such, our weekend post will be covered by Douglas Wile, author of the SUNY Press volume, The Lost Tai Chi Classic (1996).  In addition to being a friend of Kung Fu Tea, Wile must also be considered to be one of the essential (indeed foundational) thinkers within the field of Martial Arts Studies.  We are very lucky to have him with us on the blog.

In this article, published in the most recent issue of Martial Arts Studies, Wile takes a closer look at the evidence surrounding a number of recent document finds that purport to rewrite the history of Taijiquan.  Moving beyond these texts he then asks what these controversies signal about the state of martial arts studies, and larger questions of academic debate, thought and freedom, in China.  This article is a must read for students of Chinese martial studies.  Enjoy!

 

Abstract

Martial arts historiography has been at the center of China’s culture wars and a cause célèbre between traditionalists and modernizers for the better part of a century. Nowhere are the stakes higher than with the iconic art of taijiquan, where, based on a handful of documents in the Chen, Wu, and Yang lineages, traditionalists have mythologized the origins of taijiquan, claiming the Daoist immortal Zhang Sanfeng as progenitor, while modernizers won official government approval by tracing the origins to historical figures in the Chen family.

Four new document finds, consisting of manuals, genealogies, and stele rubbings, have recently emerged that disrupt the narratives of both camps, and, if authentic, would be the urtexts of the taijiquan ‘classics’, and force radical revision of our understanding of the art. This article introduces the new documents, the circumstances of their discovery, their contents, and the controversies surrounding their authenticity and significance, as well as implications for understanding broader trends in Chinese culture and politics.

Click here to read the article.

 

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ted Morris says:

    The link to the full article returns a Page Not Found error

    1. benjudkins says:

      Sorry, it looks like Cardiff University Press broke all of the journal’s links when they migrated their on-line publishing software to a new vendor this weekend. The link has been repaired and it should work now.

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