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This paper draws on theatrical expression, somatic experience, and historical analysis, to show that the art of taijiquan is a form of enlightenment theater and tells the story of Zhang Sanfeng's canonization. This ritual incorporates inner alchemy as deity visualization, and presents violence as a transgressive path to becoming a Daoist immortal.
Practitioners of taijiquan have been contesting the origins of the art since the early 20th century. One side argues that it is exclusively a functional combat art. The other side contends that it has Daoist origins and was invented by the Immortal Zhang Sanfeng. Both assign great importance to its mythology as a justification for the ways they practice and both agree that it is an internal martial art. However, there is serious disagreement about what exactly internal means.
I propose to settle the debate by showing that taijiquan has its origins in theatrical rituals that incorporate martial skills and alchemy. Doing so, I also hope to contribute to the ongoing discussions about Daoism in popular culture. Somatic language often requires direct experience to fully comprehend. To address this problem, my analysis incorporates the paradigms of performance and expert mastery to reveal historic and cultural insights which might otherwise be invisible to readers.