|2007 Chenjiagou recognised as the birthplace of Taijiquan.|
Open warfare has erupted in China over the question of Taijiquan’s origin. It appeared that the dispute over where Taijiquan was created and by who had finally been settled in 2007. After extensive investigation and evaluation by the Chinese Wushu Association, and China's People Association, Wen County, Henan Province was named as, the "birthplace of Chinese martial arts Taijiquan" and "China Taijiquan birthplace" respectively. Chen Wangting was recognised as the creator of Taijiquan. This confirmed the 1930s research of Tang Hao, often viewed as China’s greatest martial arts historian.
However, the origin debate has dramatically reared its head again in the last few weeks. On July 16 China’s Ministry of Culture accepted and announced “Zhang Sanfeng Taijiquan” as one of the approved applicants in its "Fourth Instalment of National Intangible Cultural Heritage Recommended List” under the “Traditional Sports, Entertainment and Acrobatics Category”. The Zhang Sanfeng Taijiquan group in question hail from Shaowu County in China’s Fujian Province. The level of anger at this announcement can be seen from the reactions of two of the leading members of the Chen family, Chen Xiaowang and Chen Zhenglei.
|Chen Xiaowang addressing the press over the Zhan Sanfeng issue...|
Earlier today (August 11) Chen Xiaowang, an eleventh generation descendant of the founder of Taijiquan, held a press conference in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. During the press conference he publicly criticised the Zhang Sanfeng Taijiquan farce, and requested clarification from the relevant bodies and an assurance that they would deal with the issue justly, fairly and transparently.
Chen Xiaowang pointed out a number of inaccuracies with the claims of Zhang Sanfeng Taijiquan as regards to Zhang Sanfeng's birthplace and its association with the art of Taijiquan and the evolution of the various schools of Taijiquan. He also pointed out the realistic and multi-angle damage the inclusion of "Zhang Sanfeng Taijiquan" could cause. In his words, "Once included in the list, it will create confusion regarding historical records and bound to lead to endless controversies". He also questioned the selection process of the Ministry of Culture, and went as far as stating that " there may be serious bureaucratic and other unhealthy practices." Strong words in China when speaking about the actions of officials!
In a similar vein, Chen Zhenglei reacted immediately upon returning from his world teaching tour on July 23. Hearing the news on his arrival back in China, within two days two letters were sent on behalf of the Henan Taijiquan Association and the Wenxian County Department to the Ministry of Culture and the National Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Centre about the “problem report”. Chen Zhenglei also contacted Zhengzhou's major news organisations, and "as an individual and as a Chen Taijiquan successor" made public the situation and his dissatisfaction with the whole affair.
|Chen Zhenglei - "Zhang Sanfeng story based on myth and fairy tale".|
Chen Zhenglei stated that the criteria for "intangible cultural heritage" is its lineage and continuity, generally for three generations or more, through father to son (the family), or master to disciple, or through other forms of traditional school. He went on to say that the Zhang Sanfeng Taijiquan story is based on myth and fairy tale, and the Ministry for the protection of intangible cultural heritage must not confuse the public. This is not the first time that Chen Zhenglei has spoken out against misrepresentations of Taijiquan and the damage this can do to public perceptions. Over a decade ago in an interview with BBC Radio’s Eastern Horizon programme, which we reproduced in The Essence of Taijiquan under the heading “Ancient Art or New Age Fad”?, Chen Zhenglei stated that: “There is lots of imitation Taijiquan out there, and the public do not know the difference. These eclectic styles will be passed on as authentic and there will be fewer traditionalists amongst Taijiquan practitioners”.
|The mythical Zhan Sanfeng popularised in the Jin Long novels|
So just who was Zhang Sanfeng and does it matter who created Taijiquan? In popular culture Zhang Sanfeng is closely linked to the Wudang Mountains. This is largely due to the martial arts novels of Jin Yong and the movie “Taiji Master” by Jet Li. Whether or not he was a real person, or during which historical era he lived has been variously debated. But in both myth and 'fact' Zhang Sanfeng is an alchemist and Daoist monk of Wudang. Which begs the question why does the current application come from a group in Fujian and not from Wudang in Hebei? And if the claim is recognised will all the other Taijiquan families have to acknowledge it as their ancestor?
Whatever the truth, it seems the public is lapping it up. In September 2013, Shaowu held an "Across the Taiwan Strait · Sanfeng Hometown" event, and showcased for the first time Zhang Sanfeng (original style) Taijiquan slogans. Since then almost 3000 foreign students are reported to have come to learn the “Shaowu Zhang San Feng (original style) Taijiquan and Taiji exercises." It is this stressing of the wording “original style” that has stirred up other Taijiquan groups in China. This year from March 31 to April 2, the first Shaowu Zhang San Feng (original style) Taijiquan competition, took place with nearly 2,000 people attended the event.