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Reviewed by:
  • A History of Chinese Martial Arts ed. by Fuhua Huang and Fan Hong
  • Gabe Logan
Huang, Fuhua|, and Fan Hong, eds. A History of Chinese Martial Arts. New York: Routledge, 2019. Pp. xiv + 221. Notes, index, and illustrations. $133.00, hb. $43.41 eb.

This work examines the entwinement of martial arts and China. It begins with prehistoric Sinanthropus's fight for survival, details the continual evolution of fighting systems through each of China's major dynasties, and concludes with its place and purpose in the People's Republic of China. It explores individual fighting styles, military strategies, martial skills used in theater and opera, mass performances, and current sporting roles.

During the pre-Qin period (pre-221 BCE), individuals depended on fighting skills to ward off preying beasts, defend social groups, and conduct warfare. People recorded successful fighting tactics both orally and visually in cave paintings. Martial dances preserved fighting movements and also incorporated primitive weapons as a means to hone muscle memory for survival and combat. [End Page 417]

The Shang and Zhou Dynasties coincided with the region's Bronze Age (2000 BCE). Metal made weapons more lethal and durable and specialized the fighting arts. Some warriors mastered specific arms, others honed their archery skills, while still others practiced Jiaodi, or unarmed fighting. The period's philosophies also influenced fighting. Confucianism contributed an ethics system that emphasized character developments such as righteousness and loyalty. Taoism stressed dialectic principles—for example, countering inertia with passiveness or harmonizing the five elements into the fighting skills.

During the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BCE–280 CE), martial arts took their initial shape. Practitioners committed certain fighting principles and wazas, or techniques, into a written record. Other artifacts, such as the remarkable terracotta funeral army, provide a vivid understanding of the periods' weapons, especially the sword and crossbow. During these times, China exchanged emissaries with Japan and thus began a regional dissemination of its fighting arts.

From the Jin Dynasty through the Ten Kingdom's period (265–979 CE), China maintained a vigorous military system. Leaders developed formal martial arts tests for the conscripted soldiers. Certain regions mass-produced weapons, which encouraged training in most levels of society. Jiaodi reached unprecedented popularity and enjoyed imperial and peasant audiences. The Song Dynasty (96–1279 CE) amplified these developments and stressed the practice of fighting skills in boundary communities on the empire's furthest reaches. These people served as border patrols, thus, further expanding martial traditions.

China's martial arts systems absorbed and changed with foreign intrusions. The Mongolian conquests demonstrated the superiority of mounted archers, while Japanese pirates harassed Chinese coastal outposts. Chinese officials responded by incorporating fighting tactics from these societies and amalgamating them with their own. This resulted in a plethora of military martial arts. The famed Shaolin Temple monks also brought their fighting styles to prominence, honing their fighting movements by writing down and formalizing individual and paired wazas.

The Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 CE) faced Western incursions and internal dissension. Both influenced China's fighting arts. The advent of firearms rendered horseback and archery systems obsolete. Consequently, the martial military exams and schools fell out of favor. Rulers replaced these institutions with armories. Peasant forces called for a return to past traditions and the expulsion of foreigners. These social movements combined martial arts with religious underpinnings. Uprisings such as the White Lotus Society and the Boxer Rebellion were two notable examples.

During the twentieth century, China's political leadership both encouraged and persecuted martial artists, depending on the political whims of its government. During the Republic, leaders considered martial arts a vehicle for a healthy population and state. Consequently, several athletic clubs and schools provided instruction. Conversely, after the successful Communist uprising and later Cultural Revolution, many martial artists fled the country or lost their livelihood or lives. However, since the 1980s, martial arts are again promoted as a cultural treasure in China.

China's Ministry of Sport first published this work in 1994. In the nearly twenty-five years since its current translation, its research remains valid. Martial arts maintained a central role in China's history. The military depended on fighters, the population used it...


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