Tang Hao attempts to trace the development and transmission of taiji quan based on the fragmentary quanjing zongge 拳經總歌, or “the Song of the Classic of Pugilism” attributed to Chen Wangting, and Chenshi jiapu 陳氏家譜, or the the Chen Family Genealogy. The Zhang Sanfeng camp’s argument is to dismiss Chen Village as a “hick town and Wang-t’ing as a lowly militia battalion commander,” (Wile, 116) and to maximize the perpetual influence of the prerogative Taoist ideas in the taiji quan development. Thus, the Chen evidence does not appear that it was self-consciously creating a radically new system based on a diametrical set of principles in the sense of Huang Baijia’s 黃百家 (Huang Zongxi’s son) internal martial arts or Wang Zongyue’s Taiji Quan Treatise.
Would such perspectives of the argument from the Zhang Sanfeng camp manifest repentance for a “collective sense of guilt,” which attempts to retrieve the spiritual and the traditional culture loss caused by the new ideology since 1911, i.e. the ideology of moving China away from its “feudal” past, and releasing China from its “economic backwards” into a new nation state without the ills of the capitalist system. Contrary to the Qi Gong affray, the taiji quan battle was endeared by excessively adorning the traditional cosmological and spiritual elements, and by becoming patriotic and exalting the whole of Chinese culture. Taiji quan, a humble form of martial arts and self-discipline for self-defense and health, becomes an accretion of all Chinese spiritual metaphors, and a freeloading consumer mono-cultural stock worldwide today.
Chen Wangting (ca.1600-1680) possibly went to the military academy of the Ming dynasty since he was honored as wu xiangsheng 武庠生, or a martial student of the provincial academy according to the Chen Family Genealogy. In 1641, three years before the fall of the Ming dynasty, he became the militia battalion commander of Wen County; according to the local gazetteers the Wen militias defeated the attack of local bandits under Chen’s command. (Gazetteers of Wen County and Huaiqing County)
Chen Wangting left us a “lyric metered” poem that is in lines of varying lengths, and dictated by certain tunes and rhythms: “In amour with my sword, I fought courageously…survived several great dangers in the blessing from the Imperial… Now at this old age, I have nothing left but the Book of Huangting (the foremost important Taoist neidan classic). Creating quan when I am idle, cropping in the fields when I am busy… I teach my children and students, so that they would become dragons or tigers as they wish… paying off taxes and debts, am I humble and excising forbearance. People tell me being foolish and crazy, I listen reverently, but I pursue no officialdoms so I sneer at the Marquises… awaken in the wisdom, I roam in the waters and the mountains… victory or fall matters naught… in peace as I am always… who is the immortal?” (Chen Xin, 425)
Despite the fact that Chen Wangting created quan, and taught his children and students in the poem, Chen voiced his loyalty and disappointment to the fall of the Ming dynasty, a calming and rustic approach to life, and a transcended Taoist awakening spirit. The act of grasping a brush as the primacy of Confucian education, as Pei-yi Wu observes: “writing, in China even more than in the rest of the pre-modern world, would deprive the writer of whatever freedom he had in his other roles and impose on him a set of constraints he could seldom defy,” "he would become almost as helpless as his Confucian brethen, subject to nearly the same gamut of disabilities." (Wu, 71) The implication here is that even as a “lowly militia battalion commander” in a “hick town,” Chen’s poem reflected the 'gamut of disabililities' of the greatest generals such as Yue Fei 岳飛 (1103-1142) and Xin Qiji 辛棄疾 (1140-1207). In this light, Chen shared the Confucian patriotic spirit of civil-martial tradition 文武, but loomed out with a Taoist pursuit.
Although there has not been any more substantial proof that Chen Wangting created taiji quan since Tang Hao’s conclusion, the Chen camp may rejoice the very recent discovery of lishi jiapu 李氏家譜, or the Li Family Genealogy. There have been several articles, by Yuan Quanfu 原全福 in April 2005, Wang Xingya 王興亞 in July 2005, Li Xiangyi 李相宜 in September 2005, Li Bin 李濱 in October 2005, Qu Jian 蘧鑒 in February 2006, that have discussed the Li Family Genealogy. (Yuan Quanfu; Li Xiangyi; Li Bing; Qu Jian)
The Ming historian Wang Xingya 王興亞 of Zhengzhou University spent a year tracing and studying the origin and the authenticity of the Li Family Genealogy. He concludes that “the Li Family Genealogy was edited by the tenth generation Li Yuanshan 李元善 in 1716.” “Its contents are not from the repeated and extant historical sources but sources of the eye-witness.” “The Qianzai Temple 千載寺 was the birthplace of taiji quan… Li Yuanshan described in the Preface that the Li brothers Zhong 仲, Xin 信, and their cousin Chen Wangting created taiji yangshen gong 太極養生功, or ‘the art of Taiji Cultivating Life,’ shisanshi tongbei gong 十三式通臂功, or ‘the Thirteen Postures Boxing.’” (Wang Xingya) According to these articles and the attached photo copies of the Li Family Genealogy, the early patriarchs of Li, Chen (Chen Bu 陳卜), and the other three families became sworn brothers on their migration in the fourteenth century. This event took place in the Qianzai Temple of Tang Village 唐村 in Boai County 博愛縣, which is about 30 miles away from the present Chen Village.
The Li Family Genealogy states that the Qianzai Temple was a synthesized Temple of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. The sworn brothers and their families had come from different ways and gathered at the Qianzai Temple every New Year to pray for blessings from the Sages of Three Teachings, and to return their gratitude to the priests for the charities of food and the transmissions of quan that the families received to keep their health and posterity. There had been several Li and Chen two-family inter-marriages. By the time of the ninth generation, the Li patriarchs Zhong and Xin, and their inter-marriage cousin Chen Wangting again became sworn brothers like their forefathers, and took the abbot Bogong Wudao 博公武道 as their master at the Taiji Gate 太極門 of Qianzai Temple. The three sworn brothers resolved to follow the civil-martial tradition, and strive for great achievements. They created taiji yangshen gong 太極養生功, or “the art of Taiji Cultivating Life,” and practiced and transmitted wuji yangshen gong 無極養生功, or “the art of Wuji Cultivating Life,” shisanshi tongbei gong 十三式通臂功, or “the Thirteen Postures Boxing.” (Qu Jian)
According to Qu Jian and Li Xiangyi, “the art of Wuji Cultivating Life” and “the Thirteen Postures Boxing” had been created by the Qianzai Temple priest Shi Li 十力 (614-741), or Li Daozi 李道子, who well studied the Three Teachings, Qianjin yifang 千金翼方 “Revised Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold,” daoyin 導引 “guiding and pulling” and tunai 吐納 “expelling the old breath and drawing the new.” Based on the stone tablet inscriptions provided in Qu’s article, Shi Li’s art accentuates: “Don’t be bully of futileness, the pugilism is for life and health. The softness overcomes the hardness, give up yourself and follow the opponent 勿為霸腐 拳為民生 以柔克剛 舍己從人.” (Qu Jian; Li Xiangyi) The articles by Qu Jian and Yuan Quanfu state the local legendary claims: It was Chan Wangting’s call to name the art that was created by the three sworn brothers “the art of Taiji Cultivating Life,” because Chen Wangting won the contest of practices, and it was judged by their master Bogong Wudao. (Qu Jian; Yuan Quanfu)
What seem more intriguing are the local accounts regarding Wang Zongyue, the crucial figure in the taiji quan development. According to Yuan’s interview with Li Libing 李立炳, the present eighteenth generation of Li family, Wang Zongyue came from Shanxi 山西, and lived in the Tang village as a schoolteacher for five or six years. During his time of teaching, Wang studied quan with Li Helin 李鶴林, who was born in 1721, the twelfth generation of the Li Family. According to Li Libing, Li Helin was not only a good pugilist but also a good businessman, he had a few business establishments, one of them was a salt store in Wuyang County 舞陽縣 attended by his son Li Yongda 李永達. In 1793, at Li Helin’s seventy-second birthday celebration, Wang presented an inscribed plaque with four gilded characters wuyuan jiedi 武元傑第, or “Your Highness Martial Excellence,” signed below as mendi Wang Zongyue 門弟王宗嶽, or “Your Modest Disciple Wang Zongyue,” dated with the year. Yuan also claims that most of the elder villagers had seen the inscribed board before the great Cultural Revolution. The board was taken down from the entrance gate of Li Helin’s old house and burned in the 1960s. (Yuan Quanfu)
If the new evidence and the above materials are reliable, which we have not yet received any more concrete investigations and exams, the origin and development of taiji quan would confirm the claims in the Chen Family Genealogy: the oral tradition of practice quan in the Chen village began with Chen Bu, (which was transmitted by the priests of Qianzai Temple,) and Tang Hao’s conclusion: Chen Wangting created the radically new system of taiji quan based on Qi Jiguan’s 戚繼光 (1528-1587) Classic of Pugilism (Tang Hao).
The new evidence of the Li Family genealogy may also fill the gap: the taiji quan transmission began with Chen Wangting and the inputs of the Li brothers, with the Qianzai Temple transmission, which certainly provokes a sense of exalting the whole of Chinese culture. Likewise, Wang Zongyue, the central figure in transmission and development of taiji quan, would have been Li Helin’s student, and thus linked another part of the origins of the taiji quan transmission from the Li brothers. This part of taiji quan lineage may characterize the literati expression by the taiji classic of the Wuyang salt store.
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