Lost T'ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch'ing Dynasty

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State University of New York Press, Aug 15, 1996 - History - 233 pages
Douglas Wile translates and analyzes four collections of recently released nineteenth-century manuscripts on T’ai-chi ch’uan. These writings of Wu’s older brothers Ch’eng-ch’ing and Ju-ch’ing, and his nephew Li I-yu, together with the transmissions of Yang Pan-hou, represent a significant addition to the seminal literature. The rich new texts allow us to make a fresh survey of longstanding issues in T’ai-chi history: the origins of the art; the authorship of the “classics;” the differences between Wu, Yang, and Li; and the roles of Chang San-feng, Wang Tsung-yueh, Chiang Fa, and the formerly missing link, Ch’ang Nai-chou. The original Chinese texts of the four new sets of classics have been appended for the convenience of Chinese readers and scholars.

The book reconsiders the world of the Wu, Yang, and Li families of Yung-nien and reconstructs it against the background of the Opium Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, and the decline of the Manchu dynasty. New biographical sources illuminate the domestic and political lives of the Yung-nien circle and their orientation to the late imperial intellectual trends. The development of T’ai-chi ch’uan in the nineteenth century is explored in the context of China’s cultural response to the challenge of the West and the role of body-centered arts in Asia during the drive for independence and the ongoing search for national identity.

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Top notch. A rare gem amongst the few sources of accurate Chinese Martial Arts history. Excellent insights into the roots of Taijiquan. It has been a few years since I read this, but I still use it as source material and highly recommend it to not only Tai Chi followers, but practitioners of any martial art originating from Northern China.  

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My teacher & healer of 17 years - Master Yu Wen Ru - had eschewed all of my attempts for recommended reading, telling me to forget about books about tai chi - "just follow" - until he handed me this book years later. It is a straight translation of relatively recently uncovered/discovered texts as compared to known texts which includes what appears to be a scholarly discussion of their context in history. They are unfolding poetry and each time I read, I find new layers of meaning that are only revealed to me through my continued practice. You cannot understand what you don't already know. The words of the texts, in their simplicity and metaphor, allow for so much discovery and growth. I have, episodically, tried to describe the wisdom that I have uncovered and learned through my reading and my practice and always find the words unequal to the task/feeling/transmission I am attempting. Very humbling, very frustrating and VERY lovely.
There are no words and yet there are these wonderful and profound texts that lead you to yourself and these shared truths of Tai Chi and internal mastery.

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About the author (1996)

Douglas Wile is Associate Professor at Brooklyn College. He is the author of The Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics, Including Women's Solo Meditation Texts, also published by SUNY Press.

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