- The Taijiquan Classics: An Annotated Translation
Taijiquan, as we see it today, did not develop in a vacuum, but reflects developments in one style of Chinese boxing under conditions that influenced all the Chinese martial arts, to one degree or another, over the past 300-plus years. Chen Weiming (1881-1958) helped twentieth-century Chinese taijiquan students gain a better understanding of its concepts and dynamics. Barbara Davis has placed this in context, and through her translation, made it available to a global audience in the twenty-first century.
In 1970, my taijiquan teacher in Taiwan, Wu Chao-hsiang (Chaoxiang) (1917- 2000), presented me a reprinted copy of Chen Weiming's The Art of Taijiquan (1925). By this act, he was not only impressing on me the value of Chen's annotations to the taijiquan "classics," but also the strength and clarity of form displayed in the accompanying photographs of Chen and his teacher, Yang Chengfu (1883-1936), in his prime, demonstrating the taijiquan basic practice routine and hand pushing exercise.
Over the past several decades, taijiquan practice has become a global phenomenon. Although it branched out into six major styles (Chen 陳, Yang 楊, Wu 武, Wu 吳, Hao 郝, and Sun 孫) since it first appeared around 1854 under the name taijiquan, the Yang style was the first to make its way to the big city (Beijing) in the 1860s and it has remained the most widely practiced style to the present. Thus, the body of writings emphasized by Yang style masters have gained general acceptance as taijiquan's "classics."
A number of books have been published on the subject in recent years, most notably those authored by Douglas Wile;1 however, this book by Barbara Davis is a welcome addition that focuses on the core of Yang style transmissions, as annotated by Chen Weiming 陳微明, one of taijiquan's earliest published writers and theorists in the twentieth century, and one of the Yang style's most articulate practitioners, in his book The Art of Taijiquan (1925).2 I use the term "articulate practitioner" because Chen's contribution as highlighted in Davis' book is through his interpretations of the so-called taijiquan classics, not in clarifying their origins or taijiquan's history. But Davis makes up for this gap in her chapters on the history of taijiquan and the "classics." Here she mentions the precedents for taijiquan and its supposedly unique concepts beginning with the Ming-period writings of generals Yu Dayou 俞大猷 (1503-1580) and Qi Jiguang 戚繼光 (1528-1587).
The book opens with an overview of taijiquan history, and then examines the history and development of the taijiquan classics as passed down among the Yang [End Page 403] family/lineage practitioners. Davis utilizes a number of previously overlooked historical documents that help put names, dates, places, and circumstances clearly into context in nineteenth-century taijiquan history. Her brief but well-balanced coverage here is among the best I have seen in either English or Chinese.
Yang-style taijiquan, as we know it today, is clearly the product of intellectual involvement in the martial arts, which appears to parallel the period of foreign Manchu rule (1644-1911) and which begins with Huang Zongxi's 黃宗 羲 (1610-1695) mention of Internal and External Schools of boxing in his epitaph for a low-level Ming-period military figure, Wang Zhengnan 王征南 in 1669. It was Yang Luchan's 楊露禪 (1799-1872) intellectual student, Wu Yuxiang 武禹 襄 (1812-1880), who appears to have developed the package we now know as the taijiquan "classics," not Yang Luchan nor the original Chen Village (Chenjiagou) family practitioners from whom Yang studied.
It is ironic to note that even though Chen Weiming (no relation to the Chen family originators of taijqiuan) had worked in the office responsible for compiling the Qing history, it did not stop him from perpetuating the myth that the Taoist hermit Zhang Sanfeng 張三丰 invented taijiquan. This was possibly in deference to his teacher, Yang Chengfu 楊澄甫 (Yang Luchan's grandson). Chen also failed to specifically attribute the remaining four "classics" to any...