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!
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.