Reconstructing China’s Indigenous Physical Culture

Taijiquan: Symbol of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture
Bajiquan (Eight Cardinal Boxing) and Liuhe daqiang (Six Harmony Spear)
Summer 2009 Issue 1
Shaolin Kung Fu–a Cultural Treasure for Humanity
Next Issue
Reconstructing China’s
Indigenous Physical Culture
Ma Mingda
Shaolin Kung Fu-a Cultural
Treasure for Humanity
Shi Yongxin
Bajiquan (Eight Cardinal Boxing)
and Liuhe daqiang (Six Harmony Spear)
Ma Mingda
Preamble on the Origin and
Development of Hung Kuen
Lam Chun Fai
China’s Duanbing Movement
Ma Lianzhen
Symbol of Traditional
Chinese Martial Arts Culture
Stanley Henning
The Archery Tradition of China’s
Boreal Hunters
Zhao Shiqing
Boxing Manual and Key Principles
of Boxing Methods
Luo Zhengcheng
Main Stories
05 Editors’ Bios
06 Editors’ Foreword
Summer 2009 Issue 1
• Ma Fengtu –
Martial Arts
Scholar &
Ma Mingda
• Chinese Archery
Stephen Selby
• Taijiquan:
Heavenly Pattern
Wong Yuen-Ming
• From Ape Worship in
Ancient China to
Animal Imitation in
Modern Competition
Ma Lianzhen
• Ji and Ge in ancient
China - from Western
Zhou to End of
Warring States Period
Kenneth Blair
• Hung Kuen
12 Bridges
Jesse Gooding
Zhao Shiqing
Wong Yuen-Ming Wong Yuen Ming
Stanley E. Henning
Ma Ming Da
Deng Changyou
Wong Yuen-Ming graduated with a BSc. in Engineering Studies in 1987. He has been studying Daoism and Taijiquan
for almost 30 years, doing fieldwork and research in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong where he currently lives. His
research work mainly focuses on Daoist Sects and practices of the Ming Dynasty, relationship between Daoism and the
Martial Arts and lesser known Taijiquan lineages.
Ma Lianzhe
Ma Lianzhen graduated from South China Normal University with a Doctorate degree in Education in 2008.
Currently, he is a member of the teaching staff at the Sports Science College of SCNU. As a researcher, he has been
active in martial arts related studies and practices and has published many papers and articles. In addition, as a
family member and third generation successor of Ma’s Tongbei martial system, he is fully devoted to continuing the
family tradition and the duty of preserving China’s ancient martial heritage.
Stanley E. Henning served 28 years (1965-93) in the US Army in a wide variety of assignments throughout the
Asia Pacific region, and served as an interpreter in the Pentagon when the US and China established diplomatic rela-
tions in 1979. Since retiring from active military service, he taught English language and literature at Yunnan Normal
University from 1995-96, and served as a civilian China policy officer in the US Pacific Command between 1999 and
2004. In 2000 he attended the Chinese People’s Liberation Army National Defense University International Sympo-
sium Course. Henning has written articles on Chinese defense strategy, language, and Chinese martial arts history. He
studied Yang style Taijiquan and Shanxi Che style Xingyiquan under Wu Chao-hsiang in Taiwan, and holds a Masters
degree in Overseas Operations from the University of Hawaii and a BA in History from the Virginia Military Institute.
Deng Changyou, graduated from Jinan University,
majoring in History of Sino-Foreign Relations, with a
doctor’s degree. Personal research interests mainly focus
on sports culture, exchange of international sports culture
and sports translation. Major recent publications include
Qian Zhongshu’s Philosophy of Cultural Fusion and Aca-
demic Methodology (Social Science in China, 2001, no.
1), Deconstruction and Reconstruction —— the Formation
and Evolution of the Pattern of Discourse of May Fourth
Literature (Social Science in China, 2001, no. 1), On Over-
stepping the Original in Translation (Translatio Nouvelles
De La Newsletter, 2001, no. 1-2), Splendor of Qinghai
(Guangdong Travel & Tourism Press, 2006), Travel in
Beijing (Guangdong Travel & Tourism Press, 2007), Chinese
Wushu Treasure Stamps Album (China National Philatelic
Corporation, 2008), Wushu and the Olympic Games Stamp
Collection Album (China National Philatelic Corporation,
2008), etc.
Zhao Shiqing graduated from University of
Durham in Great Britain with a Bachelor’s degree in
Philosophy in 2000. Since a young age he has been
studying the martial arts and is proficient in several
disciplines. He has studied southern styles Chinese
martial arts, holds a second dan black belt in Budokan
style karate, and is a qualified instructor in kick box-
ing. Currently, he is studying the Tongbei system of
martial studies with Prof. Ma Mingda. In addition,
since founding the Orochen Foundation in 2004 he
has been active in documenting, promoting, and pre-
serving endangered minority traditions in northeast
China, with a focus on numerically small, marginal-
ized ethnic groups. He is also the writer and editor for
the Uncooked magazine.
Ma Mingda is professor of history at Jinan University and holds visiting professorships at Northwestern Uni-
versity of Nationalities, Northwestern Normal University, and Guangzhou Institute of Physical Education. In an
academic career spanning over three decades, he has published extensively on ancient Chinese history, classi-
cal literature, Chinese sports history, Chinese philology, and Islamic history in China. Prof. Ma is also a pioneer
in Chinese martial studies, with decades of research and practice in classical armed traditions, such as the great
spear, two-handed sword, staff, and whip-stick. He is the editor for the Encyclopedia of Chinese Martial Arts
(1995), and his previous publications such as Shuo jian conggao and Wuxue tanzhen (2 volumes) are now
standard reference works in China’s martial arts and sports history. Today, as head of the Tongbei system of
martial studies, he is devoted to promoting and reviving China’s classical martial arts and indigenous sports.
Summer 2009 5
Reaching the perfect balance of literary
skills (wen _) and martial prowess
(wu _) has been the aspiration of
generations of martial artists in China
although sadly, in the past as well as
in modern times, few have achieved
this goal. It was therefore without
hesitation that I accepted Prof. Ma
Mingda’s proposal to be involved in
this project that he had been planning
passionately for some time, that is the
set up and publication of a periodical
specifically on Chinese Martial Studies.
Our aspiration is to appeal to both the
scholar of Chinese Studies, with a focus
on martial studies but not necessarily
limited to that field, and to those
martial arts enthusiasts determined
to go beyond the knowledge of
the concepts and history of Physical
Culture in China which should help
the reader put the whole subject into
perspective. While Shi Yongxin takes
us on a journey across Shaolin and its
culture, Ma Mingda again investigates
the prominent Bajiquan style and its
relationship with the ‘six harmonies’
Lam Chun Fai talks about the origin of
popular southern style Hung Kuen and
Ma Lianzhen gives a detailed account
of Chinese ‘short weapons’ (duanbing)
with a vivid report of the important task
his group is trying to achieve in keeping
the tradition alive in practice.
Stanley Henning provides us with
food for thought when he inquires
into one of his favorite subjects of
A Word from
The Publisher
Wong Yuen-Ming
Ma Mingda
Zhao Shiqing
Ma Lianzhen
Deng Changyou
Stanley E. Henning
Ma Lianzhen
Wong Yuen-Ming
Zhao Shiqing
Asia Brand Media Ltd.
Journal of Chinese Martial Studies is a semiannual
magazine published two times a year by Three-In-One
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Blending Martial
and Literary Skills
Reaching the perfect balance of literary skills
(wen ) and martial prowess (wu ) has been the
aspiration of generations of martial artists in China
practical skills and eager to look at the
theoretical and historical background of
the subject. The task and the challenge
we face is to become the first periodical
in the Martial field to approach the
matter from an academic point of
view and to entice a wide range of
readers with correspondingly different
The orientation we have chosen is to
combine the depth of scholarly research
with some easier-to-read articles,
to merge references and academic
quotation with some elegant and
seldom seen iconography in an attempt
to create a publication charming for
both the brain and the eye.
This launch issue opens with an
exploration by Prof. Ma Mingda on
Taijiquan while Zhao Shiqing presents
his important research into the lesser
known tradition of Archery among the
Orochen minority.
We close this launch issue with an
introduction to an old boxing manual, a
feature we are considering to continue
on all future issues.
We strongly believe this new
publication has great potential and can
draw the attention of a wide variety
of readers from all walks of life. We
value your comments and suggestions
to improve it constantly and shall
appreciate the submission of your
‘Martial studies’ is one of the oldest
disciplines in the world, but at the same time it is a new and
rapidly developing academic subject. At the dawn of human
existence, the occurrence of warfare made possible the
accumulation of combat experience and knowledge, which
led to continual innovations in weapons and martial skills,
and quietly sowed the seeds of martial studies. As time
went on, martial arts’ social functions gradually expanded,
while political and military leaders became increasing
attuned to the importance of mastering these skills. From
hard won battle experiences different martial skills were
distinguished and classified into different theoretical
frameworks, giving rise to self-containing traditions and
spawning specialist treatises, which in time generated the
unique field of martial studies.
In China, martial studies reached maturity some time
between 722 BCE and 221 BCE, corresponding to the
Spring and Autumn and Warring States period, which was
also the era that witnessed the birth of Confucianism.
Confucius’ thinking had a profound impact on Chinese
martial studies. In fact, he was a keen promoter of martial
studies, and a thinker and educator who placed equal
emphasis on literary and martial cultivation. At the time,
a specialist discipline known as ‘jian (sword) discourse’
appeared in China alongside professional martial artists
who taught fencing techniques and ‘jian discourse’, as
well as experts in unarmed combat and related literature.
In addition, skills and training in archery, charioteering,
and weaponry all underwent significant development, and
produced many well-known exponents and texts. In the
same period, concepts of ‘the dao of combat’ and ‘the
dao of jian’ were expounded, which elevated ‘discussion
of military strategies and jian discourse’ to the lofty
philosophical and moral planes of the Eternal Way and
Confucian ethics. This suggests that Chinese martial studies
had already evolved into a complete system, and had
achieved a high level of rationalization.
Generally speaking, however, as the era of cold weapons
drew to a close, martial skills inherited from antiquity
gradually fell into disuse, until some were completely lost in
the near-modern period, and we could only steal glimpses
of them from historical arms and a limited amount of extant
textual data. Nonetheless, a number of martial skills survived
because of their social value, while others made a timely
transition into competitive sports, in which new guise they
now appear in sports stadiums around the world. Out of
these the most popular and successful are various types of
unarmed combat sports, but also include archery, fencing,
wrestling, and others.
In the modern period martial studies throughout the world
experienced the same neglect and transformation. However,
there has been a revival of interest in traditional martial
studies since the second half of last century. This is due
in part to the popularization of sports in society, but also
linked to the rising demand for pluralism in global culture,
particularly in the field of sports. Substantial growth in
interest in traditional martial studies has strengthened
the discipline, which eventually broke loose from the
shackles of physical education. Additionally, beside a
few traditional events such as archery, fencing, boxing,
judo, and taekwondo, which have been already accepted
as Olympics events, diverse new forms of combat sports
continue to spring up in different parts of the world, and are
boasting an increasing number and variety of tournaments
At the dawn of human
existence, the occurrence
of warfare made possible
the accumulation of
combat experience and
knowledge, which led to
continual innovations in
weapons and martial skills,
and quietly sowed the
seeds of martial studies.
Summer 2009 7
and championships. More important, the techniques and
theories related to these combat sports are growing more
vibrant, with intensified research being conducted into
understanding their principles. All the while, the academic
perspective directed to their study continues to expand,
involving scholars from many different disciplines, and
are gradually giving shape to an interdisciplinary ‘modern
martial studies’. This demonstrates that the ancient
discipline of martial studies is alive and continuing to
develop, and that in the contemporary society of growing
economic and political homogenization, there is still space
for martial studies — a discipline founded on the basis of
cultural pluralism — to develop.
China’s ‘martial studies’ has followed a long developmental
path. It is steeped in the sediments of history and preserves
to the present day a large amount of textual information,
technical theories, and diverse popular sporting forms,
including the familiar martial arts, archery, wrestling,
dragon boat racing, equestrian sports, etc. Because of their
historical relation to military activities, these sports may
rightfully be included in the domain of martial studies.
What needs to be emphasized is that China is a vast country
with immense cultural differences across its regions, and
that it has been a multi-ethnic country since the ancient
times. As a result, over the course of time Chinese martial
studies had appropriated diverse cultural elements, giving it
a rich and exceptionally complex structure. Moreover, long
before large scale import of Western culture in the modern
period, Chinese culture already possessed foreign elements
and had been considerably enriched from interaction with
external socio-cultural groups. In this process, overland and
maritime routes of the celebrated Silk Road provided a vital
channel for cultural exchanges between east and west.
The same is true of martial studies. The development of
Chinese martial arts was profoundly influenced by cultures
of the Indian sub-continent and Western and Central Asia,
or more specifically, by Buddhism and Islam; and since the
Ming Dynasty, by Japan’s warrior tradition, particularly in
regard to the development of swordsmanship. On the other
hand, Chinese martial arts continued to spread overseas and
exert influence on martial arts developments in neighboring
countries and regions.
All in all, martial studies are one of the most important
components of traditional culture. It is at once a classical
discipline and a new and challenging academic subject.
Combining motion and stillness, physical training and
bookish research, martial studies simultaneously strengthen
the body and exercise the intellect. Indeed, to expand
one’s intellectual horizon and integrate diverse fields of
knowledge into a coherent system had been the lifelong
goal pursuit of Ma Fengtu, perhaps the most outstanding
martial scholar in modern China. Guided by this principle,
he inherited and developed the ‘Tongbei system of martial
studies’, whose central philosophy is ‘to integrate different
aspects of knowledge in readiness for all eventualities’.
Following this precept, we would like to commemorate his
120th birthday by launching the inaugural issue of Journal
of Chinese Martial Studies. Through this publication, we
aim to promote international exchanges in martial studies;
to present information and research results to students
and enthusiasts of Chinese martial studies; to disseminate
knowledge of historical martial arts techniques and health
methods; to explore with scholars and fellow martial artists
the heritage of global martial arts cultures as well as their
contemporary forms; to discuss the problems related to
understanding these cultures; and to introduce the most
noteworthy, reliable, and representative texts and figures in
Chinese martial studies. In a word, we hope to make this a
platform for exchange, a repository of knowledge and ideas
in martial studies, and an authoritative academic journal
that focuses on China’s martial heritage. This is indeed
the editors’ statement and the common goal of everyone
involved in this endeavor.
At the launch of our journal we realize many aspects of
this publication still need improvement. We welcome your
criticisms, generous contributions, or the provision of
information relating to activities in martial studies around
the world.
We would like to dedicate the present launch issue to the
memory of Mr. Ma Fengtu, who had made outstanding
contributions to martial studies. Indeed, to a certain extent,
the establishment of this journal was in fulfillment of his
Thank you
Reconstructing China’s Indigenous
Physical Culture
By Ma Mingda
bstract: China has been a multi-ethnic country
from ancient times, and the joint creative efforts
of diverse ethnic groups have created the Chinese
civilization, in the process giving rise to an indig-
enous physical culture. Chinese physical culture is a native
tradition distinct from Western sports and physical tradi-
tions of other countries. It is a rich, multi-layered cultural
system that has evolved through China’s long history and
fully reflects its complex social history and multiculturalism.
However, from the end of the 19th century as China went
through the throes of modernization, its indigenous physi-
cal tradition has also been set on a difficult path. The tran-
sition from dynastic imperialism to modern nationalism was
riddled with obstacles, and in the process China endured
a prolonged period of foreign political intervention and
internal turmoil. As a result, many problems encountered
in the modernization of Chinese physical culture have not
been satisfactory dealt with, with misguidance and mis-
handling of important issues often becoming the norm in
applied situations, and a prevalent trend of superficiality
continued to seriously undermine the indigenous physical
tradition. Even today the reconstruction of China’s physical
culture into a new system according to modern, scientific princi-
ples has not been successful. Consequently, a substantial amount
Chinese physical culture is a native tradition distinct
from Western sports and physical traditions of other
countries. It is a rich, multi-layered cultural system that
has evolved through China’s long history and fully re-
flects its complex social history and multiculturalism.
of theoretical research and reflection is required, great adjust-
ments need to be made, and a resolute spirit of reform is needed,
to render the theoretical and technical structures of China’s physi-
cal culture into a mature and complete system. The author be-
lieves this is the most significant task facing contemporary Chinese
sports. At the same time, it presents an important opportunity to
exhibit China’s indigenous physical culture to the global audience,
which, if successfully undertaken, will be integral to China’s cul-
tural renaissance. In conclusion, China needs to have its own in-
digenous sporting event, and it further needs to organize its native
physical traditions into a viable system. Such an attempt will have
profound implications, for not only will it assist in preserving and
rescuing China’s indigenous physical culture, but will also consti-
tute a significant step in promoting multiculturalism and breaking
the Olympics’ hegemonic grip on global physical culture.
A 1950’s or 60’s magazine drawing of a traditonal Chinese archer
A late Qing Dynasty newspaper drawing showing Chinese wrestlers practicing
Dragon boat pictures courtesy of Boston Dragon Boat Racing Club
Summer 2009 9
hina has been a multi-ethnic
country since antiquity, and the
joint creative efforts of diverse
ethnic groups helped create the Chinese
civilization, giving rise to an indigenous
physical culture. The indigenous physical
tradition in China is a rich, multi-layered
cultural system that has evolved through
its long history, and is a veritable mine
containing a wealth of cultural treasures.
In ancient times, as a result of repeated
conflicts and cultural intercourse among
diverse ethnic groups, China’s indigenous
physical culture was subjected to a
concatenation of reconstruction and
re-creation. In the process, several
distinct developmental stages may be
discerned. In respect of specific events
in physical culture, some have retained
a fairly consistent form and displayed
a discernible developmental pattern
through the millennia, whose fundamental
structure was unaffected by the changes
that had occurred; others were subject
to fluctuations and trends to a much
greater degree, and went through cycles
of development and decline, with major
changes in contents and formal expressions
over diverse periods. Still others vanished
altogether after enjoying a short period of
popularity, so that we could only conjecture
about their historical forms through textual
records and archaeological data.
China’s most important educator,
Confucius, advocated both literary and
martial cultivations, and was himself
proficient in the arts of charioting and
archery, which he incorporated as two of
the ‘six arts’ in his curriculum.
the ritualized activities he promoted
contained important aspects of physical
education, including ritualized competitions
which were in reality ancient prototypes
of sports events. However, after the Han
and Wei Dynasties physical activities were
increasingly frowned upon by Confucian
scholars, who regarded them as lowly
and unfitting for gentlemanly conduct.
Subsequent dynasties saw an intensification
of this attitude, and after the Song and
Yuan periods the majority of Confucian
scholar-bureaucrats opposed all forms of
physical competitions –– philosophers of
the Li school in particular espoused the
notion that ‘action should be replaced
by stillness’ (yi dong bu ru yi jing ¬¿
¯Q¬{), and regarded young men
engaging in physical activities as a sign
of deviancy. Social prejudices, combined
with official intervention and prohibition,
led to proscription of all kinds of physical
competitions including dragon-boat racing,
which was at one stage patronized by
the Song court, and extended to all types
of contact sports such as wrestling and
grappling (zhengjiao __), bare-handed
martial arts (shoubo _j ), staff-fighting
(dabang j] ), and football (tiqiu ¸]).
In time, espousal for civility and literary
cultivation became dislocated and evolved
into a cultural prejudice against all martial
and physical activities. Lacking support from
official authorities and local magnates,
popular physical culture was relegated to
a subsistence zone and appeared in public
only as festive entertainment.
By comparison, physical culture was valued
to a much greater degree in non-Han
societies, where aspects of physical culture
had evolved out of productive activities in
herding, hunting, and fishing, and steadily
developed as their skills and traditions were
passed down the generations. In these
societies, individuals were not restricted in
their behavior with such severity by feudal
conventions and ritual etiquette, while
riding, archery, wrestling, and trials of
strength were part and parcel of everyday
life in production and war, and provided
their chief mains of entertainment. In this
way, the minority ethnic groups played a
vital role in the development of China’s
indigenous physical culture, particularly in
periodic episodes when China was overrun
A dragon boat race in the Pearl River, photograph
taken in the 1940s
Etched figures of Chinese wrestlers in the Qing
period, original copy in the National Palace Museum
and conquered by alien hosts. In each
instance, dynamic clash of cultures and
values gradually gave way to a ‘fusion
between Chinese and the barbarians’ (hua
yi hun yi ®¶_¬), which injected vitality
and diversity into China’s physical tradition,
and in time became one of its defining
characteristics. On the other hand, Han
populations continued to hold an absolute
numerical advantage over other ethnic
groups in the social order, and anti-martial
sentiments — as represented by the popular
phrase ‘applauding literary cultivation
while belittling martial attainment’ (zhong
wen qing wu __{_) — continued to
affect the denouement of indigenous
physical culture and hindered its technical
and theoretical developments. Therefore,
in spite of ancient China’s extraordinarily
diverse physical culture, in the vast ocean
of historical texts and literature there is a
dearth of writings that deal meaningfully
with the subject, with perhaps the
exceptions of martial arts and archery. As
a historian and a Chinese philologist, this
phenomenon has deeply impressed upon
my mind and is a constant cause of regret
in moments of reflection.
Fortunately, after several millennia of
uneven development and in the aftermath
of Western sports’ forceful introduction
into China, a number of ancient exercises
manage to survive and occupy important
positions in popular culture. Some of
them are practiced for health reasons and
entertainment value, while others have
transcended local origins to become national
pastimes. In particular, in remote areas
where modern sports facilities are absent,
traditional exercises provide a welcome
means for body training and relaxation,
and allow unnamed multitudes to enjoy the
benefits of physical and mental exercise.
In many ways, China’s indigenous physical
culture is an important medium through
which its cultural values and humanist spirit
are channeled, as for instance the spirit of
humility (xierang jinsheng j_ ¡¸),
stress on maintaining balance and harmony,
and the dual goals of cultivating physical
and mental wellbeing through exercise.
Indeed, such traditional values continue
to have significant, pragmatic relevance
for today’s rapidly changing Chinese
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
Illustrations of Chinese body exercises from the text, Health Practices of the Thirteen Taibao
Summer 2009 11
and a prevalent trend of superficiality
continued to seriously undermine the
development of indigenous sports. An
example of this was the creation of
‘competition wushu’, which was supported
and monopolized by the official governing
body. In significant ways, however, China
took a positive approach in meeting the
society, and significantly contribute to the
undiminished vitality of China’s indigenous
physical culture.
Over the last century China has undergone
a painful process of modernization, and
its indigenous physical culture has likewise
been set on a twisted road laden with
From the late Qing onwards, against the
onset of Western imperialism and modern
sports, a generation of Chinese pioneers
endeavored to construct a national
physical regime. It is true there were
many setbacks along the way, but in the
end, through untiring experimentations
and after overcoming many failures, they
managed to achieve concrete results.
However, as the country was beleaguered
by external invasion and internal turmoil,
and experienced political upheaval over
a protracted period, many problems
encountered in Chinese physical culture’s
modernizing process were not satisfactory
dealt with. Misguidance and mishandling
of important issues often became the norm
China’ s most
important educator,
Confucius, advocated
both literary and
martial cultivations,
and was himself
proficient in the arts
of charioting and
archery, which he
incorporated as two
of the ‘ six arts’ in his
Figure from a martial arts manual published during
the Qing Dynasty
an inadequate theoretical framework.
Furthermore, longterm planning and
a consistent policy were absent in the
organization of events. In this way, several
decades have passed without any significant
reforms, and China’s indigenous physical
culture has largely remained stagnant, a
non-descript jumbled heap which is neither
ancient nor modern, neither indigenous nor
Western, which continues to play second
fiddle to mainstream sports, and has failed
to develop into a cohesive system.
All in all, even though China has achieved
outstanding results on the stage of
international sports under the current
centralized system, its indigenous physical
culture remains in a very unsatisfactory
condition with a worrying prospect for the
future. Even today we cannot present a
complete image of China’s native physical
culture to the world. On the other hand,
that such an ancient civilization has nothing
to show for our physical heritage, which
remains obscure, seems to have largely
eluded researchers’ attention. In this
regard we lag behind Japan, and even
Korea. Hitherto, none of the signature
competitive events in China’s physical
traditions, such as wrestling, archery,
dragon-boat racing, martial arts, etc., has
been included in the Olympics. In fact,
some of them are not even included in the
National Games. Indeed, given how little
we value our indigenous physical tradition,
it is unsurprising that others have given it
such scant attention. There is not a single
Chinese event in the Olympics to this day.
Although this need not be our goal it
necessarily remains a regret, particularly as
our Eastern neighbors, Japan and Korea,
have succeeded where we have failed.
We can affect equanimity and continue
to ignore the facts while our press keeps
silent on the subject, but I personally feel
this is far more distressing than the fact our
national soccer team has failed to make an
impact beyond Asia.
The fact the reconstruction of China’s
indigenous physical culture remains
incomplete to this day, and continues to
subsist in a state of fragmentation and
confusion, signifies it has not truly made
the transition into modernity. Substantial
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
challenge and actively copied the model
of Western competitive sports. Moreover,
tremendous efforts were exerted to
guide physical education in China toward
international standards, incorporating many
new elements that did not previously exist
in China. But at the same time we have
to admit that we never successfully found
a middle ground between indigenous
and Western physical cultures, giving
insufficient thought to the proper relation
between the two, and failed to find a way
to fuse disparate cultural elements into an
organic whole. Instead, a general trend
of Westernization prevailed in society,
and indigenous culture was often hastily
brushed aside to make way for new
foreign elements, with irreparable cultural
losses. Serious research was lacking for
the evaluation, dissemination, and creative
development of indigenous physical
culture, and the academic discipline
specifically created for its study suffered
many weaknesses, including superficiality,
lack of interdisciplinary perspective, and
Tang Dynasty xiangpu wrestlers, from a mural painting in one of the scripture-ghrottos in Dunhuang
Summer 2009 13
theoretical research and reflection is
required, great adjustments need to be
made, and a resolute spirit of reform
is needed, to mould its theoretical and
technical structures into a mature and
complete system. I believe this is the most
urgent task facing contemporary Chinese
sports, whose fulfillment will go some
way to answering the call for diversity in
global physical culture, and will represent a
significant step forward in reviving China’s
national heritage.
One – Traditional Structure of China’s
Indigenous Physical Culture
The so-called ‘indigenous physical culture
of China’ refers to the native physical and
sports tradition in China which are clearly
distinct from Western sports and the physical
traditions of other countries.
In the first half
of the twentieth century (1911-1949) when
Western sports were being introduced into
China, some people referred to the original
physical culture that existed in China as
‘indigenous physical education’ (tu tiyu _
China’s indigenous physical culture is often
referred to as a ‘dense cultural system
with a complex structure’ because it is
the crystallized product of a long process
of exchange between different societies
and cultures. Of all these activities, the
most significant were inter-ethnic cultural
exchanges, but also included regional
cultural exchanges within China as well
as intercourse between China and foreign
states. These exchanges took many forms
and often occurred through military conflict.
Over the course of several millennia, the
fusion of cultures may be compared to
diverse rivers and streams converging into
a single confluence that finally enters the
sea. In such a way, a multitude of cultural
streams poured into the ocean that is the
Chinese civilization. Therefore, even though
Chinese culture — and in particular its
physical tradition — may appear prima facie
to be the product of a single society, upon
closer examination it reveals its complex and
multiple cultural origins, whose marks can
readily be found in such classical physical
events as polo, archery, and wrestling.
In many ways, inter-ethnic cultural exchange
is a familiar notion whereas the idea of
Competitions at the 8th National Minority Games, held in Guangzhou in 2007
Top; Jianzi (shuttlecock)
intercourse between China and foreign
states is rather less so, as the latter is seldom
mentioned by Chinese scholars. In fact,
long before Western sports propagated into
China, China’s indigenous physical culture
already contained foreign elements, and
bore evidence to an on-going process of
cultural exchange and cross-fertilization.
Despite the closed-door policy pursued over
extended periods, the flow of information
and material goods between China and
the outside world was never completely
cut off and persisted through diverse
channels. Taking for example the native
martial arts heritage, which is commonly
regarded as guocui _| (the ‘national arts’
of China)
, its development was shaped
by diverse cultural influences from the
Indian sub-continent, Asia Minor, as well as
Central Asia — more specifically, Chinese
martial arts were influenced by Buddhist
and Islamic cultures. The Ming Dynasty
witnessed large-scale popularization of the
martial arts and a concomitant blossoming
of different schools and styles. Indeed, it
was during this period that martial arts
made an incipient transition into a ‘sport’.
During this period, both military and popular
martial arts absorbed elements of Japanese
swordsmanship, as well as sword techniques
imported from Egypt.
Later, Western sports’
transmission into China brought about a
wave of exchanges between China and the
West in physical culture, which appeared
on the surface to be a one way commerce.
In reality, however, incremental numbers of
Chinese migrants brought their indigenous
physical traditions to foreign countries,
and in the process of setting up overseas
Chinese communities they created a global
platform to showcase China’s physical
heritage. In time, martial arts, dragon-dance,
lion-dance, dragon-boat racing, walking
on stilts (caigaoqiao ¡¸¸), etc., came
to symbolize Chinese culture. Gradually,
foreigners started to take part in these
events and appreciated Chinese culture
through direct participation. Conversely,
Western sports were also transformed in
the process of indigenization and spawned
hybrid events that combined indigenous and
Western elements. To give an example, my
native province of Gansu is relatively remote
and obscure, but old photographs show
that around the year 1906, towards the end
1 “
Guo-cui’ literally means “the quintessence of Chinese culture’, however, in this context, it has the same meaning as the National Arts (“guo-shu’).
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
Over the last century China has undergone
a painful process of modernization, and
its indigenous physical culture has
likewise been set on a twisted road laden
with obstacles.
A Chinese archer of the Republic period, photograph taken in October 1935 at the Jiangwan Stadium
Summer 2009 15
can basically be divided into two main
categories: to the first category belong
those which were jointly created by
different ethnic and cultural groups in
China, whereas the second category
includes the remaining events which have
a more localized identity. The former
are national in nature and belong to the
Chinese nation as a whole, while the latter
are local and often limited in dissemination.
Over the millennia, in the process of
exchange, conflict, and amalgamation
among diverse ethnic groups, a number
of major competitive events in physical
culture gradually took shape in China,
which were created by the joint efforts of
China’s multifarious societies and cultures,
containing their wisdom and exhibiting
their cultural features. In ancient China,
political ties and diplomacy between
different social and ethnic groups were
often enforced and conducted through
physical competition, particularly between
Lion dance
of the Qing Dynasty, the city of Liangzhou
(today’s Wuwei city) in western Gansu
already had a soccer team. Of course, this
in itself does not signify that soccer was
widespread. However, until the 1940s
and 1950s I know that a type of small,
compact ‘soccer ball’ made of sheep-wool
called maodan __ (literally ‘furry egg’)
was played in local primary schools, and
competitions in maodan were often held
between different classes. Although the ball
was a lot smaller than a standard soccer ball
and the field was also smaller than a soccer
pitch, the rules were basically the same
as the English game, and the judge even
used English terms. In the interior of China,
sports events similar to maodan can still be
found in many places. It is very difficult to
ascertain how they came into being, but
what is certain is that they were adapted
from Western sports and ‘indigenized’
according to local conditions.
There are many extant events in China’s
indigenous physical traditions, but they
the polities of agrarian Chinese and the
nomads, which in the long run served to
gravitate disparate cultures and societies
closer together. In this connection,
examples abound which illustrate the
historical import of physical culture in
mediating political diplomacy, particularly
through the medium of archery rituals and
Many ethnic and cultural groups that
had participated in the creation of these
competitive events had long ago vanished
from history, lost in the crucible of Chinese
civilization, while others continue to be
represented in China’s multi-ethnic state to
the present day, proudly preserving their
cultural distinctiveness and an independent
identity. Indeed, at different temporal
junctures in the course of history, many of
these events have disappeared. This is a
very regrettable loss. However, those that
have survived tend to be deeply rooted
in China’s history and possess condensed
cultural substance. It is not difficult to see
from such events as wrestling, archery,
and dragon-boat racing — whether in
respect of the selection of athletes, the
training methods they used, the rules and
regulations formulated for competitions,
and their educational and entertainment
values — that long before Western
sports were introduced into China,
indigenous physical (sporting) activities had
independently attained a very high level of
development comparable and could easily
be accepted in the world of international
Of the surviving competitive events in
China’s physical heritage, which ones
belong to the category of being jointly
created by its different ethnic and cultural
groups? I believe there are four main
activities as well as a number of smaller
ones. By the four main activities I mean
martial arts, archery, wrestling, and dragon-
boat racing.
It needs to be pointed out here that China
historically had a rich and varied tradition
of ball games, which included cuju ¿¡
, polo ¸], chuiwan
_], etc. Taking
cuju as an example, it was a popular game
with a solid social foundation in the Song
Jianzi (shuttlecock)
A nobleman on horseback holding a bow for shooting pellets, hand-scroll painting by Qian Xuan
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
Summer 2009 17
period, and attained a relatively mature level
of development. We could even glimpse
aspects of how it was played from related
literature. Unfortunately, it was banned in
the early Ming Dynasty, and even though it
was revived subsequently, it had by that time
transformed into a minor pastime played
only in the courtyard, until it disappeared
from history altogether. If cuju — that is to
say, Chinese-style soccer — still existed, it
would represent the ‘fifth main activity’ in
the schema of China’s indigenous physical
culture. Additionally, the insignificant jianzi
__ (shuttlecock) is also played by people of
all ages across the expanse of China, with a
trend of growing popularity in recent years.
Jianzi has a long history and a popular basis,
it can be played solo or in a group, and has
an innate competitiveness built into the
game. It is therefore a pity that jianzi lacks
proper social organization and continues
to exist as an isolated event in the popular
There are other activities and events in
indigenous physical culture which have a
smaller radius of dissemination and a more
limited audience-base. Even so, it should be
pointed out that the majority of these events
and activities are still owned in common by
China’s diverse cultures and ethnic groups,
and evolved out of a long history of cultural
change. They include the equestrian sports,
tug of war, weightlifting, pellet shooting _
_, gangzi (Chinese-style weight- lifting) |
_, ice-skating (binxi __), swing (qiuqian)
¡¿, and skipping. In 1982, the National
Minority Games (shaoshu minzu yundonghui
_¿__¿¿_) was inaugurated, where
a number of erstwhile little known
competitive events made their appearance,
which included extensions and recreations
of traditional events, such as crossbow
archery, qiuqian, jianzi, etc., as well as
events culled from the traditions of other
ethnic groups, such as qianghuapao

_, zhenzhuqiu
¿)], muqiu
,], etc.
After developments over two decades and
six meets of the National Minority Games,
some of these competitive events gradually
approach maturity and are in the process of
developing into national competitive events.
In addition, under the ‘National Physical
Exercise Movement’ (___¸¿¿ quanmin
“Cu-ju’ was a style of football game popular mainly during the Song dynasty.
Chui-wan was a popular ball game in ancient China during the Song, Jin, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties, Many scholars in China believe the modern golf game is derived from chui-wan..
“Qiang-hua-pao’ is a type of ball-game originating in the physical traditions of the Dong and Zhuang nationalities, and is one of the most representative competitive events in the Minority Games. It is also
known as “Chinese-style rugby’ and its rules are based on the modern English game.
“Zheng-zhu-qiu’, literally “pearl-game’, originated as a Manchu game and is also a representative event in the Minority Games.
A type of ball game popular in Islamic communities in northwest China which has been incorporated into the Minority Games.
A type of ball game inspired by Taiji-quan.
jianshen huodong), new methods of body
training are continually being created
throughout the country, as for example
the rapidly developing Mulanquan ,¡_,
Taiji ruoqiu ¸_¸]
, etc., which are fast
becoming nationwide phenomena and are
even beginning to spread overseas.
At this point, it is necessary to give further
explanations on the ‘four main competitive
events’ I mentioned earlier.
I will begin with archery. China has one of
the oldest archery traditions in the world.
Around 28,000 years BCE early inhabitants
of China already knew how to manufacture
and use bows and arrows, and through this
acquisition had made the first momentous
technological leap in remote prehistory.
In historical times, archery became an
activity of even greater socio-cultural
import, whose significance far extended
beyond a purely military role. Archery
served multiple functions in ancient China,
and beside its utility for war and hunting,
archery was very early on incorporated as
part of the official education and given a
pedagogic function. Indeed, archery was
the earliest form of exercise to partake of
the nature of ‘sport’ in China. Different
types and practices of archery rites and
touhu __ (tossing arrows into a vase) in
the Western Zhou period, various methods
of archery contest such as ‘boshe’ and
‘dushe’ popular from the Han and Wei
Dynasties onwards, diverse competitive
archery activities such as ‘willow shooting’
(sheliu _]) in the Song, Liao, Jin, Yuan,
and Ming Dynasties, and various styles of
archery competitions such as yuanshe ¿
_, pingshe ¯_, tongshe ¡_, zhunshe
¸_, etc, all exhibited typical sports
characteristics. In the Three Kingdoms
period, the emperor of Wei, Cao Pei, ‘was
It needs to be pointed out here that
China historically had a rich and varied
tradition of ball games
fond of archery and riding in his youth,
whose passion remained undiminished [to
the end of his life], chasing wild beasts
over tens of li, and frequently practiced
at shooting targets from over a hundred
paces, in order to maintain his health and
keep up his spirits.’
It is worth remarking
that the reference here to ‘maintain his
health and keep up his spirits’ (ri duo
ti jian, xin mei bu yan ¿¸__·__
¯_) makes a claim about the value of
archery for bodily and mental health,
and shows in the clearest possible way
that the ancient Chinese understood and
recognized the value of physical exercise.
Eventually, the health (‘sport’) element in
archery practice extended to other forms
of physical exercise. On this basis, I believe
archery is the leading competitive event in
the realm of China’s traditional ‘sports’,
which for several thousand years walked
at the forefront of China’s indigenous
physical culture, and continued to extend
the scope of its activity and influence until
it finally formed an independent discipline
— ‘archery studies’ (shexue __).
n the history of Chinese archery, a
division occurred early on between
‘barbarian methods’ (hushe ¸_) and
‘Chinese methods’ (hanshe __); and after
the appearance of the crossbow, a further
distinction may be drawn between northern
and southern styles (in respect of both
equipment and techniques), which reflect
inter-ethnic and inter-regional cultural
differences. On the other hand, not only
was a clear boundary impossible to draw
between barbarian and Chinese techniques,
the two maintained constant interaction
and continued to influence each other
throughout Chinese history, absorbing the
best features from each other’s tradition
until they finally merged into one. Beginning
with King Zhao Wulin’s reform to ‘wear
barbarian clothes and practice riding and
archery’ in the Warring States Period,
developments after the Tang Dynasty when
standards for horseback and foot-archery
became increasingly refined in official martial
examinations, activities in archery exchange
between China and its ‘barbarian’ neighbors
never ceased, until an ultimate model of
‘Chinese-style archery’ finally took shape
in the Qing Dynasty, as represented by
horseback and foot-archery practices in
martial examinations of the Qing period.
Therefore, Chinese-style archery has not
only been a major component in China’s
physical tradition since ancient times,
it embodies the very process of cultural
intercourse and fusion among China’s
diverse ethnic groups, and that its practices
— in particular, the notion of ‘she bu zhu
pi’ _¯__ (archery practice whose aim
is not to hit the target) and the tradition
to she yi guan de _¸Q_ (observe
virtue through archery practice)ix — made
manifest the archetypal humanist spirit in
the Eastern physical (sporting) traditions.
It is regrettable that from 1959, after
China accepted the international standards
of archery practice and competition,
competitive events in Chinese-style
archery came to a complete halt. After
several decades of desuetude China’s
ancient tradition of ‘archery studies’ has
basically discontinued, ‘archery rituals’
have disappeared, and the craft of making
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
Illustrations of jiaodi, a form of ancient
wrestling in a tomb painting from the
Weijin period
Summer 2009 19
traditional bow and arrows and other
supplementary equipment is all but lost.
Today, it would be no mean task to recover
this ancient system of physical culture and
re-discover its traditional ritual formulas.
Next, let us discuss Chinese-style wrestling.
Wrestling and barehanded combat is
humans’ most primitive and universal urge
to exercise, and represents our ancestors’
earliest and most important means to
express vitality and fullness of life. Ancient
exercises in wrestling and grappling existed
in every society throughout the world
and came in a variety of forms. In China,
wrestling developed through a long and
complex process, beginning with jiaoli ¡_
in the pre-Qin period, to jiaodi ¡_ during
the Qin and Han Dynasties, and gradually
took shape as xiangpu ¸_ between
Wei-Jin and Tang-Song Dynasties, whose
form is preserved in the sumo tradition
of Japan today. Then, after a new wave
of cultural and demographic influx in the
Song and Yuan Dynasties, a distinctive new
style of wrestling known as zhengjiao _
_ appeared. Finally, under Manchu rulers’
patronage and promotion in the Qing
Dynasty, a team of professional wrestlers
in the imperial service – the shanpu ying _
__ camp – created a complete system
of wrestling which became the basis for
Chinese-style wrestling.
As most historical
records about wrestling techniques tend to
be crude and unclear, and because ancient
writers were wont to employ fancy phrases
of obscure meaning and often used different
names for the same techniques, it is difficult
to make sense of the primary sources, which
often leaves the reader with the feeling
he is gazing at a flower through the mist.
However, in reality one needs only carefully
examine the documents and compare textual
records with surviving iconography and
archaeological data, to gain a clearer view
of the developmental pattern of Chinese
wrestling. In my opinion, of all the different
Montreal mixed team at the 2008 Boston Dragon Boat Festival, picture provided by the Dragon Boat Committee
types of wrestling in the world, Chinese-
style wrestling has the longest history and
attained the most mature development.
It is a product of cultural intercourse over
an extended period, which manifests
distinctive characteristics of the Chinese
civilization, and is stylistically representative
of East Asia’s physical culture.
Xiangpu of ancient China transmitted to
Japan in the east and is preserved there
today as a living national monument.
Wrestling techniques of the Qing court
also had a profound influence on China’s
neighbours: it is a well-known fact that
Japan’s judo, which has become an
Olympics sport, owes its development to
Chinese-style wrestling.
Third, let us turn our attention to dragon-
boat racing.
In ancient times dragon-boat racing was
called jingdu _¿ (literally, ‘competition
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
Chinese martial artists performing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
in crossing’) and was known under a host
of different names. Various hypotheses
have also been put forward for its genesis
but these speculations need not concern
us here. Dragon-boat racing is the longest
living water sport with the widest scope of
dissemination in China. Nowadays, dragon-
boat racing has spread to different corners
of the world, including Germany, and
participation is no longer limited to Chinese
competitors but include athletes from
many countries. From the point of view of
dragon-boat racing’s international influence
and recognition, it is undoubtedly the most
successful sport in all of China’s indigenous
sports. And the esprit de corps expressed
in a dragon-boat race, as well as the joy
and festive atmosphere of the occasion,
powerfully conveys China’s distinctive
sporting spirit. For these reasons, dragon-
boat racing has been embraced globally
and is now one of the most visible symbols
for Chinese national sports. Indeed, I
believe China would have had a better
chance of success if it had chosen to apply
dragon-boat racing as an official Olympics
event in place of ‘competition wushu (jingji
wushu ___¸), and in certain ways the
representative value of dragon-boat racing
is greater. Unfortunately, this idea obviously
did not occur to those in charge.
Finally we should consider the martial arts.
As the most popular and widely practiced
form of exercise in China, the reason I have
chosen to talk about it last is because its
present condition is disappointing in many
Wushu has a huge support-base in China.
For a long time it received the greatest
attention from the government and has
been a regular event in both the National
Games and the Asian Games. Over the
last few years, Chinese from all over the
world had hoped with great anxiety and
anticipation that wushu would be accepted
into the holy Olympics sanctuary, to
remedy Chinese sports’ regrettable absence
from the biggest international stage of
Summer 2009 21
sports all these years. Unfortunately, the
applications to enter wushu as a formal
event and as an exhibition in the 2008
Beijing Olympics were both turned down by
the International Olympics Committee, and
thus the international wushu competition
organized by the Chinese governing body
during the summer games had no relation
whatsoever with the actual Olympic Games.
This represents a major setback for the
international development of Chinese
martial arts, for the last time they were
exhibited on the greatest global stage was
back in 1936 at the 11th Berlin Olympics.
As I have always maintained, martial arts
are priceless gems in China’s physical
cultural heritage, which were created
through the sustained efforts of diverse
ethnic groups over many centuries.
However, with a little care we would
discover that the current ‘competition
wushu only came into being in the 1950s,
when traditional forms of martial arts
competition were rejected in a social
environment dominated by extreme ‘left
winged’ politics. At the time, the historical
name of changquan was borrowed for its
use, although in reality this new type of
martial arts performance bears no relation
whatever with the historical changquan,
and is in fact a standardized form which
integrated popular martial arts styles
(principally huaquan). As for the so called
‘competition’, the outcome is determined
through an adjudication process of set-
performance, in lieu of traditional agonistic
competition. This type of ‘competition’
is modeled on gymnastics, but without
the same stringent guidelines for point-
scoring based on rigorous scientific criteria.
As a result, many problems exist in the
adjudication process, which has elicited
strong criticisms from an early stage in
it should be pointed out that the majority of these
events and activities are still owned in common by
China’s diverse cultures and ethnic groups, and
evolved out of a long history of cultural change
modern wushu’s development. Since
antiquity Chinese martial arts have placed
an equal demand on set-performance
and combat training and emphasized the
integral relationship between the two,
stressing that one should xian zi wu, hou
bi shi _¿|·__¡ (first dance on his
own, then engage in competitive matches),
which included matches in both empty-
handed and armed martial arts. Generally
speaking, the competitor would first
perform a routine set, and would progress
to an agonistic match if he passed — here
too, different grades were given to set
performance, but that was point scoring
and not a competitive match, for the latter
could only be resolved by victory or defeat.
Throughout the course of Chinese history
competitive martial arts matches never took
the form of set-performance, for it was
deemed too abstract and could not truly
determine the difference in skills between
practitioners. ‘Competition wushu’s’
monopoly over an extended period has
inadvertently led to Chinese martial arts’
being bifurcated into two disjointed parts
–– ‘competition wushu’ and ‘traditional
martial arts’ –– and later spawned a third
component of ‘sanda’ (which should not
be confused with sanshou), which is an
extension of competition wushu, but is
utterly unrelated to the purely performance-
based wushu. In the end, competition
wushu and sanda went separate ways and
engendered a second partition in Chinese
martial arts. The contemporary situation of
Chinese martial arts is extremely confusing,
which is facing a shrinking market and an
encroaching threat posed by mysticism.
No ready solution is available to solve this
quandary, and we can only put our faith in
time, hoping that the governing body will
introduce reforms that will address these
issues at root levels.
n any case, archery, wrestling, dragon-
boat racing, and martial arts are the
four pillars of China’s indigenous
physical culture, which have stood the
test of time and retained a strong vitality.
One of the most salient characteristics of
these four activities is that they have long
ago developed into complete systems,
which combine performance aspects with
competitive elements, exhibit rich and
varied modes of expression, with mature
theoretical and technical frameworks, and
possess a rich literary tradition that has
formed the basis for present-day research.
Some of these activities are popular in China
and overseas communities, and are receiving
increasing attention from international
scholars in sports science and other related
disciplines. However, some of these events
have been neglected or marginalized, while
others have been set on the wrong path in
the process of development and promotion.
Nonetheless, looking at it in a long-term
perspective, these physical activities have
deep-rooted foundations and I believe in
time they will again shine with true colors,
and contribute to enriching the international
sports scene.
Two – Reviewing the ‘Guoshu’
The Qing Dynasty was the last feudal
Dynasty in China, and it was under Manchu
rule that China’s indigenous physical culture
reached its ultimate form. Most of the
surviving native physical traditions in China,
as well as the framework of traditional
Chinese physical culture, were completed
during the Qing period. In significant ways,
therefore, the Qing Dynasty represents a
key stage in the development of China’s
indigenous physical culture when many of its
aspects reached maturation and completion.
Let us consider a few examples.
As mentioned above, Chinese-style wrestling
has a long history with many guises and
forms in diverse dynastic periods, which
finally developed into a homogeneous
system in the Qing Dynasty. The ‘shanpu
ying’ (___) camp was established in the
Qing period as early as the emperor Kangxi’s
reign, together with the ‘boke’ system and
a series of important tournaments, which
often took place under the emperor’s direct
supervision . This system integrated the
techniques and traditions of different ethnic
and regional wrestling styles, including
Mongolian-style wrestling, Manchu-style
wrestling, as well as various wrestling styles
– such as the Mongols – who had a strong
tradition in wrestling. The shanpu ying
camp was composed of the best athletes
from different cultural and ethnic groups,
and likewise techniques in Chinese-style
wrestling were multicultural in origin,
as manifest in the synonymous name of
jiaoban (_¡). Towards the end of Qing,
shanpu ying camp was disbanded, and over
a hundred ‘boke’ wrestlers were scattered
into society, which had a significant impact
on popularizing wrestling. From that point
on, wrestling descended from the imperial
court to the popular domain, transmitting to
southern parts of China during the Republic,
and subsequently diffused to overseas
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
zi, shi dun zi
(¸[_·¸Q_)– became
popular forms of physical exercise in urban
centers in Qing-period China. For a while
shepu (archery ground __), gongjianfang
(archery chamber __¿), bashifang
(trainers’ chamber __¿) and other arenas
for martial practice were set up throughout
the empire and many professional martial
artists made their living from teaching these
skills. All in all, Chinese-style archery has a
long and complex history and, like Chinese-
style wrestling, took a definitive form and
acquired the characteristics of ‘sport’ in the
Qing Dynasty.
Beside wrestling and archery, the same
also holds true for martial arts and
dragon-boat racing, as well as a host
We should also consider the example
of archery. Historically, archery has
taken many different forms and styles
–– from ritual, costume, personal
adornments, related gifts, training
methods, examination, competition, and
performance, its contents have changed
significantly over time. However, only
in the Qing Dynasty did a united form
of Chinese-style archery with distinctive
competitive features finally emerge, which
became an important part of court culture
and a popular form of exercise among
the upper social classes. This undoubtedly
has to do with the fact the Manchus
were ethnic minorities who originated
from the northern hinterland, and that
archery played a decisive role in their
conquest of the Middle Kingdom. But
an even more significant factor was the
strict implementation of official martial
examinations in the Qing period. As a
result of the martial examinations, archery
and weightlifting – including the wielding
of a heavy sword (dadao ¸¸), shi zhi
of other physical activities such as the
equestrian sports, ice skating, swimming,
and weightlifting, which underwent a
fundamental transformation during the
Qing period into ‘sports’. In Qing Dynasty,
the most important representatives of
China’s indigenous sports were the martial
arts, archery, wrestling, and dragon-boat
racing, which embodied the spirit of China’s
physical culture. These events promoted
traditional values through competition,
espoused the precept to yangshen jianti
(¸¸__ improve mental and bodily
health), promoted the idea of relaxation
and pleasure through exercise, and extolled
the ideal of harmony and humility, by
stressing the importance of spirit rather
than focusing on the results. In particular,
the creation of Taijiquan led to a new
model of martial arts competition that
emphasizes aspects of leisure and health .
This indeed represents a leap in martial arts
development and a physical extension of
Eastern Daoist philosophy.
practiced by the Han Chinese, to create an
ultimate form of Chinese-style wrestling.
Many different terms were used during the
Qing period, such as liaojiao (j_), liaojiao
(j_), guanjiao (__), shuaijiao (¸_),
and shuaijiao (¸¡), but the fundamental
skills and competition rules were the same.
More important, a distinctive wrestling
culture developed under court patronage
which embraced different aspects of
wrestling, including costume, rituals,
selection of athletes, techniques, teaching
methods, equipment, and competition
regulations. Wrestling matches and
performance made up an integral part of
important court celebrations, and served
vital political functions in Qing rulers’
diplomatic relationship with various ethnic
groups, particularly the northern peoples
They are both types of stone-weight used for body conditioning.
As I have always maintained, martial arts
are priceless gems in China’s physical
cultural heritage, which were created
through the sustained efforts of diverse
ethnic groups over many centuries.
Summer 2009 23
Ritual archery in the Ming court from Yangzheng tujie (Ming Dynasty)
hen Western sports started to filter
into China from the end of the
Qing Dynasty, they first established
a foothold in the coastal cities and later
spread to the interior. Around the year 1900,
competitive Western sports such as track
and field, gymnastics, and ball games, were
played in missionary schools throughout
the country. Under their influence, many
public and private schools gradually adopted
Western sports in their curriculum. In
this process, the Young Men’s Christian
Association (YMCA), whose first branch in
China was established in 1876 in Shanghai,
played a particularly significant part in
subsequent promotion and dissemination of
Western sports. Its contributions included
building the first modern stadium in China,
and organizing some of the earliest sports
tournaments in the country, such as in
Tianjin and Shanghai in 1902; and even
more noteworthy, YMCA was responsible for
creating China’s first National Games, which
was held under the old regime in Shanghai
in 1910. Further, in a series of public
promulgations on education policies in
1902 and 1903, namely, Imperial Decreed
Charter for Schools (popularly known as the
“1902 School Regime”) and Regulations
Governing Higher Education, the Qing
government laid down clear guidelines for
the development of physical education at
different levels, which signified physical
education had already officially been
incorporated into the domain of education.
On the eve of the 1911 Revolution, many
competitive events in Western sports had
already entered China, and theories and
ideas about Western physical culture and
competition, particularly in respect of
physical education and ‘physical education
based on militarism’ were well known and
widely disseminated in China.
In the 1920s and 1930s when Western
sports had come to successfully dominate
mainstream physical culture in China, a
number of pioneers, led by martial artists,
attempted to counteract this trend by
constructing their own system of physical
education. This led to the so-called ‘battle
between indigenous and Western sports’.
Representatives of the ‘indigenous
physical tradition’ undoubtedly included
conservative elements who voiced narrow
jingoistic views, but we should also
acknowledge their dedicated commitment to
espousing the cause of indigenous physical
culture. Under Western sports’ dominance,
indigenous traditions fell into increasing
neglect and marginalization, and faced
a very real threat of discontinuation. At
this time, a number of farsighted pioneers
proposed to reform indigenous sports
based on the Western model, taking lessons
from Japan’s experience in protecting and
developing native sports, in order to select
representative competitive events in China’s
indigenous tradition and re-organize them
into a complete system, which could be put
on the same track as international modern
sports. However, restricted by contemporary
circumstances and the reformers’ own
limitations, particularly their lack of
theoretical training and knowledge, major
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
Hanging scroll painting ‘Four items of Performance at the Royal Dinner’ preserved at the Palace Museum, Beijing
Summer 2009 25
obstacles stood in the way of development,
leading to a series of miscalculations and
mistakes, and the reform in indigenous
physical culture stagnated for a time in
the quagmire of nationalism. However,
overall these explorations were meaningful
exercises that remain valuable as case
studies and points of reference. Personally,
I believe that among the many different
experimental models adopted in private
and official initiatives, the ‘national arts’
(guoshu) project directed by Mr. Zhang
Zhijiang achieved the most outstanding
results and had the most far-reaching
Today, we should review this
historical precedent with due respect and
try to learn from its experience.
The construction of Zhang Zhijiang’s guoshu
system revolved around a central precept,
that ‘practice and agonistic competitions
should exist side by side, and technical
knowledge should be acquired at the same
time as rational understanding’ (lianda
bingzhong, shuxue jianbei ¡j__·¸_
¸ÿ). This provided a concrete guideline
to developing a new system of indigenous
sports and martial arts competition — the
so-called ‘guoshu’ system — with martial
arts at its core and surrounded by other
sports competitions. Although constrained
by contemporary circumstances, Zhang was
wholeheartedly devoted to the project,
and no effort was spared in constructing
the ‘guoshu’ system. In the end he failed
to attain the lofty goals set forth at the
beginning, but we must admit that some
measures of success were achieved — the
term ‘guoshu’ has been etched in people’s
hearts, and his efforts left in indelible broad
strokes an important chapter in the history
of China’s indigenous physical culture.
However, his most significant contribution
was the creation of a preliminary system
of indigenous sports with ‘national
examinations’ (guokao __) in its center.
The Central Guoshu Institute founded
by Zhang Zhijiang was the first official
organization in China to regulate and
control indigenous sports. He brought in
talents from around the nation and formed
a team of experts in indigenous physical
culture. With their support and based on
the models of Western sports and reformed
Japanese martial arts, he restructured the
chaotic popular martial arts competitions
into a framework of yipin sanbi ¬¸_
_ (one performance and three matches),
which included one set-performance
(and point-scoring) and a series of three
competitive matches in sanshou j_
(barehanded combat), duanbing ¿¸
(short weapon), and changbing ¸¸ (long
weapon). Under this new system, athletes
could enter a single or multiple events . It
is true that many flaws were still present
in this system of martial arts competition
— known as the ‘guoshu examination’
(guoshu kaoshi _¸_¡) — as experience
was lacking, and considerable problems
existed in respect of regulation, safety
facilities, and the standard of training.
However, I am inclined to think that it was
heading in the right general direction, as
it was anchored in the ancient tradition to
‘first [engage in] solo dance [practice] and
afterwards a competitive match’ (xian zi
wu, hou bi shi _¿|·__¡), and drew
ideas from the successful experience of
Western sports. If it had been supported by
adequate funds, and was given sufficient
time to develop and evolve, I strongly
believe that the guoshu system would have
been a success.
The ‘guoshu’ proposed by Zhang Zhijiang
belongs to the same category as ‘national
painting’ (guohua __), ‘national
medicine’ (guoyi __), and ‘national
music’ (guoyue _¸), which emphasize
their indigenousness and are conceptually
distinct from ‘martial arts’ (wushu _¸)
or ‘new martial arts’ (xin wushu ¿_¸).
As stated above, the principal distinction
between the national arts (guoshu _¸)
and martial arts (wushu) lies in the fact the
former is not a single sport, but a system
of sports with agonistic competitions in
bare-handed and weapon- fighting in
its core. From technical classification to
management principles, from theoretical
structure to competition rules, it forms
a preliminary, self-containing system.
Even though certain flaws may be found
within this system, and certain problems
had appeared during implementation,
we must acknowledge that under the
conditions of the time, it was a structure
that best represented Chinese sports and
The Qing Dynasty
represents a
key stage in the
development of
China’s indigenous
physical culture
when many of its
aspects reached
maturation and
their principal expression in the Republican
It is a well known fact that the ‘guoshu
examination’ was one of the main activities
organized by the Central Guoshu Institute,
and represented the most important form
of competition in ‘guoshu’. Regulations for
National Arts Examinations (guoshu kaoshi
tiaoli _¸_¡¸¡) and Detailed Rules
(xize _[) specified that examinations at
the national, provincial, and county levels
be divided into separate academic and
technical examinations, and thereby upheld
the Confucian tradition of placing equal
emphasis on literary and martial cultivation.
For our purpose, it is unnecessary to
dilate further on the academic aspect. The
technical examination, on the other hand,
was in reality an open ‘guoshu’ competition
and was divided into the preliminary and
official stages. The official examination
was further separated into preliminary,
second, and final rounds. There were five
weight categories in the preliminary test,
and participants were matched up by draw
to engage in examinations in four different
subjects, comprising empty-handed combat,
wrestling, and bayonet competition, and
progressed by elimination into the second
and final rounds, with three competitors
remaining in the last phase of competition.
For various reasons, the development of the
guoshu examination was very uneven across
the country and national level examinations
(guokao) only occurred twice. Nevertheless,
it cannot be denied that the guoshu
examination made significant contributions
to promoting indigenous physical culture.
he first ‘national examinations’
(guokao __) held in Nanjing in
October in the seventeenth year
of the Republic (1928) was experimental
in many ways. Participants had to
first go through a preliminary round
of competition, which consisted of
performance in routine sets in dao ¸
(single-edged sword), qiang _ (spear), jian
_ (double-edged sword), gun _ (staff)
and quan _ (boxing), and were allowed to
engage in agonistic matches only after they
had passed the first round. Agonistic events
included sanshou, duanbing, changbing,
and wrestling, etc. By the second ‘national
examinations’ in Nanjing in the twenty-
second year of the Republic (1933), the
competitive procedure followed closely the
guidelines set forth in the Regulations and
Detailed Rules. Beside the two ‘national
examinations’, many provincial cities also
held local competitions, with adjustments
in competitive events across regions, but
fundamentally following the regulations of
the Central Guoshu Institute.
The structural composition of ‘guoshu’ was
varied and included many independent
events in traditional martial arts that had
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
survived in the popular domain. There
were performances in a variety of empty
handed and weapon styles, agonistic
matches in unarmed and weapon combat,
wrestling events — which had enjoyed a
complementary relation with the martial
arts since antiquity — as well as other
competitive activities that are intimately
related to traditional martial arts such as
archery, pellet-shooting (dangong), jianzi,
and weight-lifting. These events were
integral parts of the Central Institute’s
training and dissemination at different
levels, and were incorporated into the
‘national arts’ activities at schools. At
the sixth National Games in Shanghai in
the twenty-fourth year of the Republic
(1935), guoshu was included in the official
competitions, and was represented by six
individual events — including sanshou,
weapons, wrestling, archery, pellet-
shooting, and tijian — which were selected
on the basis of practical considerations.
Limited by the standard of the ‘guoshu’
at the time, the majority of athletes only
entered a single or two competitive events,
though a few athletes did enter multiple
events, such as Yang Weibu from Qingdao
who competed in wrestling, weightlifting,
archery, and boxing, and Wang Zhi, a
member of the Zhejiang team, who took
part in boxing, weapons, wrestling, and
archery competitions. It is also worth
mentioning that a number of well known
The construction of Zhang Zhijiang’s guoshu system revolved
around a central precept, that ‘practice and agonistic
competitions should exist side by side.
Summer 2009 27
contemporary martial artists such as Tong
Zhongyi, Wang Ziping, Jiang Rongjiao,
and Wu Junshan were both martial arts
and wrestling judges at the sixth National
Games, as many accomplished martial
artists at the time were also skilled in
wrestling. The following year a team
of Chinese martial artists attended the
eleventh Olympics at Berlin in Germany,
where they performed jianzi and feicha
beside martial arts demonstrations.
About seven or eight years ago, I put
forward the proposal to review guoshu,
which I hoped would persuade the
governing body in China to discard old
prejudices and convince them of the need
to broaden their horizon, carefully consider
the successes and failures that had occurred
in the development of contemporary martial
arts, and seriously consider whether there
is anything worthy of study and emulation
in the ‘guoshu’ experiment. Regretfully,
I did not receive any response, neither
affirmation nor refutation, as if nothing
had happened. A few years later, those
who had been in charge at the governing
body silently departed from the scene and
were taken over by new officials. For a time
we eagerly awaited reforms and changes
which many believed were sure to come. In
the end, nothing changed. All efforts and
attention were focused on getting wushu
into the Olympics as an official competition
event, or else they flew the banner of
‘traditional martial arts’ as a way of getting
out of financial straits. Everything else is
considered secondary and not given much
thought to. I made a statement at the time,
which I wish to recite below to conclude
this section:
Traditional culture is an important
medium through which to instill a sense
of national pride. Among the diverse and
variegated fields of traditional culture,
physical culture has the greatest ability to
convey national spirit and character, for
it possesses to an extraordinary degree
vitality and continuity, and regardless
of the obstacles that come in its way it
continues to pertinaciously develop and
This is the case everywhere in the
world. For this reason, the only way to
truly inherit and develop traditional culture
to is treat its history with respect, and to
continue to learn from our predecessors’
experience. To blindly reject the past, and
to follow the so called ‘political standards’
when making cultural evaluations –– such
simplistic and crude ways of thinking had
led to grievous mistakes being committed
in my country, and caused irreparable
losses in traditional culture and great
suffering to my nation and its people.
Indeed, the lessons learned in respect of
martial arts heritage and development
have been particularly heavy and grave,
and are worthy of profound reflection.
Three – Reconstructing China’s
Indigenous Games
Not long after the founding of the new
China, in November 1953, ‘National
Photographs taken during the proceedings of the 2nd National Examination (1933)
a) A female boxer b) Ladies’ changbing c) Wrestling match d) Ladies’ duanbing
Indigenous-style Games and Exhibition’
(quanguo minzu xingshi tiyu biaoyan ji
jingsai dahui ____]__¡___
_¸¸_) was held in Tianjin which had
over 400 competitive events (including
individual martial arts performance) and was
attended by 396 athletes representing ten
ethnic groups. In the same period similar
games were held in many cities across the
nation, and for a while ‘indigenous sports’
became a popular trend. In many ways, the
indigenous sports movement was both
innovative and meaningful, and
laid a firm foundation for its
development in the new China,
where indigenous physical
culture would be given the
proper attention and position
it deserved. A series of
ideas put forward at
the time, such as ‘to
confer greater value
on indigenous sports
through scientific
research and re-
organization’, and
‘using indigenous
sports as a path to
national health’,
addressed key issues
in the development
of indigenous physical
culture and had significant
value as policy directives.
Regrettably, competitions and tournaments
for ‘indigenous-style sports’ (minzu shi
tiyu) only had a transient existence and
soon disappeared from the official scene.
Even the idea of ‘indigenous-style sports’
became increasingly distant until it ceased
to be mentioned altogether. The eagerly
anticipated ‘scientific’ system of indigenous
sports never developed to any significant
degree, and in any case only applied to
a limited number of competitive events.
Soon after, official authorities spent three
years ‘re-organizing’ popular martial arts,
until in 1957 a brand new style of martial
arts ‘competition’ — ‘competition wushu’
— based on a system of point scoring
on set-performance, was installed as the
official format for martial arts competition.
Thereafter, a great deal of criticism
was directed at agonistic competitions
until they were completely abandoned.
Without the restriction and guidance of
competitive matches, set performance
developed into a choreographic dance which
placed ever greater emphasis on technical
embellishments, and was distinguished by
being ‘high, difficult, new, and pretty’. In
reality, ‘competition wushu’ progressively
lost its original spiritual characteristics and
became dislocated from its cultural origin,
until it transformed into a protean ‘Chinese-
style gymnastics’, or perhaps one should say
a form of ‘martial dance’. In the foregoing
it has been stated that Chinese-style archery
had vanished from the sports scene since
1959, and continued to be practiced only
in isolated places in remote mountains and
plains. A direct consequence of long period
of neglect is that the traditional craft in
making Chinese-style composite bows is
almost completely lost. Today, a descendant
of a traditional bowyer silently carries on
this craft in Beijing, but we cannot say we
have rediscovered our lost heritage, for what
has been preserved is but fragments and
we cannot realistically hope to reconstruct
Chinese archery from mere ruins within a
short period of time. According to a news
report, a member of the national archery
team did not even recognize an unstrung
Chinese bow. Hearing thus I cannot help
lament the fate of traditional archery!
But perhaps the most pitiable of all is the
situation of Chinese-style wrestling. Prior
to the Cultural Revolution Chinese-style
wrestling was a popular sport which boasted
a host of excellent coaches and athletes, with
well established national tournaments and
inter-city competitions, and was in addition
an official event in the National Games.
Chinese-style wrestling was suddenly banned
in the midst of the Cultural Revolution and
thereafter fell into sharp decline. It was
de-listed in the National Games and was
practiced only by scattered groups in the
popular domain. Only in recent years is there
a revival of popular interest in Chinese-style
wrestling, with a slight upturn in its fortunes.
Under the patronage and promotion of
overseas Chinese communities, dragon-boat
racing has been embraced by many nations
with international competitions in different
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
Summer 2009 29
parts of the world. In certain countries,
the enthusiasm for dragon-boat racing
seems to have even eclipsed its popularity
in China. Indeed, its unparalleled success
offers important hints and fully demonstrates
that the arena of international sports can
accommodate Chinese sports; the key to
success is rather to be found in proper
organization and promotion.
In the post-reform period the Chinese
government inaugurated the ‘National
Traditional Games of Ethnic Minorities of
People’s Republic of China’ (zhongguo
shaoshu minzu chuantong tiyu yundonghui
(__¿__]_¿¿_) at Holhot in
September 1982. The competitive events
were selected from the ethnic minorities’
sporting traditions, and the majority of
participants were athletes with minority
background from various provinces and
autonomous regions. The games were
held thereafter once every four years
and were designated as national-level
sports events on par with the National
Games, the University Students’ Games,
and the National Games of Peasants. The
games have been held seven times since
the inaugural event in 1982. Later, the
authorities recognized the 1953 Tianjin
‘National Indigenous-style Games and
Exhibition’ as the first meet of the ‘National
Traditional Games of Ethnic Minorities of
People’s Republic of China’. According to
this ordering, the latest and eighth meet
was held in Guangzhou in 2007.
Contemporary böke wrestling in Inner Mongolia today
Unquestionably, the organization of
the National Minority Games shows
that the Chinese state is aware of the
importance to protect and develop the
heritage of indigenous physical culture.
Correspondingly, the direct participation
of the National Bureau of Ethnic Affairs
in its organization, and the vast monetary
and human resources invested in its
development and promotion, have led to
outstanding achievements and generated
much interest in indigenous physical
culture. This sporting event has served
to bring about a closer unity among the
nationalities, significantly contributed to
building a harmonious social order, and
fully demonstrated the party’s and the
state’s commitment to preserving and
promoting minority culture — its political
Reconstructing the Indigenous Physical Culture in China
The structural composition of ‘guoshu’ was varied and
included many independent events in traditional martial arts
that had survived in the popular domain.
significance is clearly beyond doubt.
However, I should point out that ‘minority
physical culture’ (shaoshu minzu tiyu _¿
___¡) and ‘indigenous physical culture’
(minzu tiyu ___¡) are two distinct
concepts: there are fifty five official ethnic
‘minority’ groups in China, representing
nearly 8.4% of the entire population, and
the ‘National Minority Games’ are organized
for these ethnic groups, which is why all
the participating athletes have to belong
to the ethnic ‘minorities’. This type of
event is clearly different in nature from the
‘indigenous-style sports games’ in 1953
and it is illogical to string them together.
I personally attended the Minority Games
on two occasions — in Xinjiang in 1986
and in Ningxia in 2003 — and discovered a
certain confusion in media reports, which
sometimes referred to the event as the
Minority Games, but more often directly
called it ‘People’s Games’ (minyun hui _¿
_) or ‘Indigenous Sports’ (minzu yundong
__¿¿). This inconsistency reflects a lack
of conceptual clarity.
‘Indigenous physical culture’, ‘indigenous-
style physical culture’ or ‘native physical
culture’ refers to an embracing concept of
Chinese physical tradition, with Han culture
in the core but is owned in common by
the fifty six official nationalities. As stated
above, many phenomena in this domain
have been jointly created by different ethnic
groups, whereas others are specific to
certain group(s) with localized dissemination.
Moreover, whereas ‘indigenous physical
culture’ is an encompassing concept that
contains ‘minority physical culture’ (shaoshu
minzu tiyu _¿___¡), the latter has
a rather more restricted meaning and can
neither subsume nor replace ‘indigenous
physical culture’. After the experiences of
the past decades, and on the basis of a solid
foundation laid by previous occasions of
the ‘Minority Games’, I personally suggest
we should revert its name to ‘Chinese-style
Indigenous Sports Games’ (zhongguo shi
minzu yundong hui) or ‘China’s Games in
Traditional Indigenous Sports’ (zhongguo
minzu chuantong yundonghui (___]
_¿¿_). Further in-depth studies may be
conducted to determine the component
events of the games, but the fundamental
principles are clear: the games must neither
overlap with the Olympics nor be subsumed
under similar games, and the individual
sporting events must be indigenous to China.
n sum, we need to have our own
‘indigenous sports games’, in order
to protect and rescue China’s physical
culture from its present predicament. Such
an event will also represent a significant step
in advancing the cause of multiculturalism
and breaking the Olympics’ hegemony
on global physical culture. As a scholar I
am wont to give expression to my ideas,
which, though long considered and sincerely
expressed, I fear may not necessarily be
correct. Nonetheless, I hope the relevant
authorities will seriously consider my words,
for there is a great urgency to act with little
time to lose. I hope we will seize the present
opportunity to bring to life a complete
system of ‘China’s indigenous physical
culture’, long in the making, which is nothing
less than our historical responsibility.
Summer 2009 31
Guocui literally means ‘the quintessence of Chinese culture’,
however, in this context, it has the same meaning as the National
Arts (guosh).
Cuju was a style of football game popular mainly during the Song
Chuiwan was a popular ball game in ancient China during the
Song, Jin, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties, Many scholars in China believe
the modern golf game is derived from chui-wan..
Qiang hua pao is a type of ball-game originating in the physical
traditions of the Dong and Zhuang nationalities, and is one of the
most representative competitive events in the Minority Games. It is
also known as ‘Chinese-style rugby’ and its rules are based on the
modern English game.
Zheng zhu qiu, literally ‘pearl-game’, originated as a Manchu game
and is also a representative event in the Minority Games.
A type of ball game popular in Islamic communities in northwest
China which has been incorporated into the Minority Games.
A type of ball game inspired by Taijiquan.
They are both types of stone-weight used for body conditioning.
Confucius, lunyu (Analects), zi han dijiu, “Someone from Da xiang
dan said, ‘Confucius is a great man, so learned in every respect that
he cannot be praised in any particular. Confucius heard and said
to his students, “In what area do I excel? Charioteering, or archery?
I believe I am better in charioteering.” Also, Zheng, Xuan (Han),
Annotations on Book of Rites, chapter 62, sheyi, ‘Confucius practiced
archery in Jue xiang’s garden, and attracted so many spectators that
they resembled a wall.’
liji zhu shu (Annotations on Book of Rites), chapter 62, sheyi,
‘Confucius once said that a gentleman has no quarrels with anyone,
but if he is forced to compete how about an archery contest? Before
the contest proper etiquette should be observed, and afterwards the
contestants should have a drink together, such is the way of contest
between gentlemen.’
iii Zhang, Zhijian (et el), tu tiyu yu yang tiyu (Indigenous sports
and Western Sports), Taiwan International Research Association in
Physical Education: zhongwai tiyu wenxian xunji (Selected Writings
on Physical Education in China and Overseas), Taipei: 1969. See
Cui Lequan, xifang jindai tiyu yinxiang xia de chuangtong tiyu
(Traditional Sports under the Influence of Western Sports in Early
Modern Times), in zhongguo jindai tiyu shihua (History of Sports in
Early Modern China), Beijing: Zhong-hua Press, 1998, p. 49.
Ma, Mingda, lishi shang zhong ri chao jian dao wuyi jiaoliu kao’
(An Examination into the Historical Exchanges between China,
Japan, and Korea in Classical Swordsmanship), mixi dao xiao kao
(Preliminary Examination into mixi-dao), both in shuojian conggao
(Manuscripts on Sword-discourse), Lanzhou: Lanzhou University
Press, 2000.
See Ma, Mingda, songdai de yujinyuan yanshe’ (Archery rites at the
Banquet of Yujin Garden in the Song Dynasty), in xibei minzu yanjiu
(Studies of Northwestern Nationalities), 2006 vol. 2, p. 13.
jiu shiqi shidai wanqi wenhua: Zhiyu Site in Suoxian county, in
xin zhongguo de kaogu faxian he yanjiu (Archaeological Finds
and Studies in New China), edited by the Institute of Archaeology,
China’s Institute of Social Science, ‘In 1963… a stone arrow-head
was discovered, which was made of a piece of long and very thin
rectangular rock. It is very evenly shaped and has a sharp, tapering
point. On the basis of past discoveries at Salawusuan River,
Shuidonggou sites, which yielded similar stone arrow-heads, we
may deduce that the use of bows and arrows could be traced back
to the late palaeolithic period.’ Beijing: Cultural Relics Publications,
1984, p. 20. In addition, according to Yanghong, zhongguo gu binqi
luncong (Essays on Ancient Weapons in China), part eight, gong yu
nu (Bows and Cross-bows), p. 190, carbon-dating techniques have
dated Zhiyu Site to 28,945 years ago.
Chen, Shou, sanguo zhi: weishu (Annals of the Three Kingdoms:
History of Wei), chapter 2, wendi ji dier (Records of Emperor Wendi,
part two), Beijing: Zhonghua Press, 1963, p. 89.
See Yang, Kuan, zhanguo shi (History of the Warring States),
chapter 8 part 3, ‘zhao wulin wang “hufu qishe”’ (King Zhao Wulin
espoused “barbarian customs”’), Shanghai People’s Publications,
1980, p. 335.
shebu zhupi is an important principle in Confucian archery rites,
which means that hitting the target is not the only or chief aim in
archery rituals, see lunyu (Analects), baqiao. sheyi guande (observing
virtue through archery practice) is an important tenet early
Confucian philosophy, which means archery training and contests
are avenues to observe a person’s virtues and moral education, see
li-ji: she-yi (Book of Rites: Significance of Archery Practice) and other
pre-Qin literature.
Ma, Mingda, and Ma, Lianzhen, ‘zui xun shiluo de shexue’ (Searching
for the Lost Archery Studies), in tiyu wenhua daokan (Journal of
Sports Culture), 2004, vol. 6.
See, Zhou, Shibin (et el), shuaijiao jifa yu shuaijiao shiliao
(Wrestling Techniques and Wrestling History), Xuelin Publications,
See Ma, Mingda, Wuxue tanzheng (Examination of Truth in Martial
Studies), 2 vols., Taipei: Lion Publications, 2003.
Zhou, Shibin (et el), op. cit.
See the standard textbook in higher education, tiyu shi (History of
Sports), 2nd edition, Beijing: Higher Education Publications, 1997.
Zhang, Zhijian (et el), op. cit. See also Cui Le-quan, op. cit., p. 49.
About Zhang, Zhijiang’s life, see Zhang, Rensu, zhang zhi jiang
zhuanlue (A Short Biography of Zhang Zhijiang), Shanghai: Xuelin
Publications, 1994.
Ma, Mingda, yingai chongxin shenshi guoshu (The need to re-
evaluate the national arts project), tiyu wenshi (The Cultural History
of Sports), 1999, vol. 5.
xin tiyu (New Sports) 1953, vol. 12, Discussion: ‘ba minzu xingshi
tiyu yinxiang gen jiankang de renmin de daolu’ (To set Indigenous-
style Sports on the Path of Improving People’s Health).
Summer 2009 33
The first ‘World Guoshu Competition’ will be held in
the international metropolis of Hong Kong in July 2009.
The event will be a celebration of China’s martial culture
and will serve as an international arena of exchange to
promote China’s indigenous sports. Our aim is to construct a
global platform for practitioners and enthusiasts of Chinese
sports and martial arts to engage in dynamic dialog, and to
facilitate global development of traditional Chinese culture
through promotion of China’s sports and martial heritage.
The World Guoshu Competition also aims to correct endemic
misunderstandings surrounding Chinese sports and martial
arts and restore them to their proper place in Chinese culture,
by reviving etiquette and rituals traditionally associated with
Chinese sports.
World Guoshu
‘Guoshu’ is a clearly defined concept similar to ‘Guohua’
(National Chinese Painting) and ‘Guoyi’ (National Chinese
Medicine). It is a system of indigenous sports with barehanded
and armed martial arts competition at its core, but which
includes other independent events in traditional sports,
encompassing set-performance of boxing and weapon
routines, agonistic matches in unarmed combat and long and
short range weapons, indigenous styles of wrestling, as well
as archery, pellet-shooting, shuttlecock, and weight-lifting,
all of which are closely related to traditional martial practices.
For this reason, besides competitions in unarmed and weapon
set-performance, there will also be agonistic events in
sanshou (Chinese kick-boxing), duanbing (Chinese fencing),
Shuaijiao(Chinese wrestling), Wing Chun sticking hands,
Taiji push-hands, Boji, Xinquan, as well as demonstrations
in shuttlecock (jianzi), changbing, and Chinese archery.
It is hoped that the unique concept and occasion of the
Competition will re-introduce China’s indigenous sports —
‘Guoshu’ — to the global audience in a modern, competitive
This event is organized by International Guoshu Association
Ltd. and supported by a team of experts and professionals.
Professor Ma Mingda, a leading authority on Chinese martial
studies and the sole martial arts adviser to Songshan Shaolin
Temple, will serve as the chief adviser. Prof. Ma’s participation
and guidance will ensure the event will remain faithful to its
cultural roots to the greatest extent possible, and be informed
by the most up-to-date academic research. The competition
will also receive guidance from Abbot Yong Xin, chief abbot
of the Songshan Shaolin Temple in Henan province, as well
as from other renowned masters in Chinese martial arts, such
as Ma Xianda, Shen Shaosan, Yang Ziming, Xia Baihua, Yang
Zhengduo, Liang Mintao, Lam Chun Fai, Zheng Baolin and
Ma Linda. Without exaggeration, World Guoshu Competition
has the strongest team in Chinese martial culture in the world
It is projected that between 3,000 and 4,000 athletes will
participate in this Competition, with teams representing
different nationalities and regions in China and around
the world. It will be a celebration of five thousand years of
Chinese martial culture, whose aim is to protect, promote,
and develop the unique heritage of ‘Guoshu’.
Summer 2009 35
Shaolin Kung Fu–a Cultural Treasure
for Humanity
By Shi Yongxin
Summer 2009 37
haolin kung fu was created at the Shaolin Temple, Mount
Songshan, in China. For generations, the techniques and
knowledge of Shaolin kung fu were handed down and
preserved by guardian warrior-monks known as the Sangha.
Today, Shaolin kung fu is recognized as an invaluable and
unique cultural heritage not only in China but for the whole of
In general, Shaolin kung fu, as transmitted and taught by
the Sangha, refers to ancient martial practices created under
specific cultural conditions at Songshan Shaolin Temple, and
embedded in the temple’s long historical development. At the
core of Shaolin kung fu is the tenet of protecting the Buddhist
dharma, which permeates every aspect of Shaolin Sangha’s daily
activities and religious life, and the belief of using martial arts
as a vehicle to understand and practice Chan (Zen) Buddhism. In
time, guided by the principles and spirituality of Chan teachings,
Shaolin kung fu evolved into a spiritual activity to cognize the
fundamental principles of Mahayana Buddhism and cultivate
instinctive wisdom.
Shaolin Temple has been the center of Chan Buddhism since
the Wei Dynasty (5th century AD). Through a prolonged and
dynamic process of development and exchange, Buddhism
absorbed Confucian and Daoist ideas into its doctrines, and
finally transformed to a new orthodoxy known as Chan.
Strongly imbued with Chinese ethical values and philosophical
notions, the concept of the ‘unity of man and Heaven’ lies
at the very heart of Chan Buddhism, and its practice focuses
on the pursuit of esoteric, transcendent knowledge through
meditation. In important ways, therefore, Chan Buddhism was
a syncretic belief system born out of cultural exchanges among
different religions and philosophies. In turn, Chan Buddhism
was to exert an enormous and lasting influence on Chinese
culture and spiritual life.
Shaolin Kung Fu–a Cultural Treasure for Humanity
Summer 2009 39
uring the political turmoil at the end of the Sui Dynasty
(AD581—681), Shaolin monks began to organize militia
units for self-defense, thus inaugurating the emergence of
Shaolin Temple as a military force. The perfect utilization of body
movements in Chinese martial arts, together with the threefold
notions of spiritual harmony (of inner being), social harmony
(between man and society), and cosmic harmony (between man
and nature), coalesced to develop the unique culture of Chan
Buddhism at Shaolin. On the one hand, Chan Buddhism elevated
martial arts into a spiritual endeavor and a vehicle of cultivating
awareness, whereas on the other, meditation provided a gateway
to empowerment for martial artists, by opening the door to self-
knowledge. This combination laid down the foundation for a system
of knowledge that incorporated the duality of Chan Buddhism and
martial arts, in consonance with human progression towards greater
spiritual peace and social harmony. Indeed, the continuing relevance
and value of this philosophy and unique way of life is recognized
not only within the temple, but acknowledged and practised by
people hailing from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Over
the past millennium, this fusion of Chan spirituality and martial
arts became the cornerstone of Shaolin kung fu, which in time
blossomed and spread to every corner of the world.
For generations, the
techniques and knowledge
of Shaolin kung fu were
handed down and preserved
by guardian warrior-monks
known as the Sangha.
Shaolin Kung Fu–a Cultural Treasure for Humanity
Summer 2009 41
Shaolin kung fu is the most outstanding representative of
traditional Chinese martial arts. It includes 708 sets of empty-
handed and armed martial arts routines and 156 sets of qigong
breathing exercises, some of which are preserved and documented
in historical martial arts manuals. Within this system, Shaolin
kung fu is divided into several coherently related classes, whose
techniques are based on an intimate understanding of the human
anatomy and scientific principles of body movements. It stresses the
dynamic intercourse between motion and stillness, quick and slow
movements, the importance of proper breathing, and puts into
martial practice traditional philosophical concepts about yin and
yang, the equilibrium between hardness and softness, and unity
between man and Heaven. Moreover, for Sangha warrior-monks
who follow the martial way, Shaolin kung fu is an indispensable
means to cultivate Chan Buddhism, to realize the nirvana state of
‘all things but one mind’, and to ‘perceive the Buddha nature in
oneself with an enlightened heart’. That is why Shaolin kung fu,
qua a vital channel of Chan Buddhism, puts special emphasis on
moral training, and seeks to instill virtues of self-restraint, discipline
and peace through a regime of physical training. Combat is open to
the Sangha warrior only as a last recourse, who is taught to strike
at the eight vital spots that may immobilize without causing fatal
injury to the opponent, in accordance with Buddha’s teaching to
respect the sanctity of life. In this way, the unity of Chan Buddhism
and martial arts makes Shaolin kung fu a unique, life giving form
of martial arts, and allows Shaolin kung fu to play an active role
in promoting dialogue, mutual understanding and respect among
individuals and communities.
For hundreds of years, Shaolin Sangha have practiced martial
arts as a vehicle of observing and intuiting the principles of Chan
Buddhism. In this process, Shaolin kung fu has been imbued with
the spirit of ‘justice, harmony, and peace’, and thus become an
important heritage of traditional Chinese culture.
fter the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and
Intangible Heritage of Humanity in November 1997 and
adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of
the Intangible Cultural Heritage in October 2003, Shaolin kung
fu was listed as a cultural item under municipal, provincial and
state protection; and since 2004 it has been short listed by the
Chinese government for submission to UNESCO as a masterpiece
of intangible heritage. If this application is approved, Shaolin
Sangha may assume the duty of passing on their knowledge with
a strengthened sense of identity and purpose; while the Chinese
state, and the public at large, will work together towards providing
Shaolin kung fu is recognized as
an invaluable and unique cultural
heritage not only in China but
for the whole of humanity.
Shaolin Kung Fu–a Cultural Treasure for Humanity
Summer 2009 43
a better environment for the future development of Shaolin kung
fu. Indeed, the value of Shaolin kung fu is increasingly appreciated
and recognized through both public and private efforts to protect,
promote and perpetuate it as an intangible cultural heritage. Today,
Shaolin kung fu has an immense global following in excess of
1,000,000 students, while literature, films, TV programs and stage
performances based and inspired by Shaolin kung fu afford popular
entertainment to the peoples, societies, and nations around the
Right now, we are doing everything in our power to safeguard the
heritage of Shaolin kung fu and the Temple. Firstly, the Shaolin
Temple has actively participated in the process to nominate Shaolin
kung fu as an intangible cultural heritage at different administrative
levels in China. Secondly, as custodians of Shaolin kung fu, we
have taken legal measures to register and protect its trademarks,
in order to prevent further damage to Shaolin kung fu’s public
reputation by unauthorized and illegal use of its name and image.
Thirdly, the Shaolin Temple has endeavored to improve its system of
teaching and dissemination. Over the past few years, the temple’s
ancient patriarchal clan system has been fully restored, a wide
range of materials about Shaolin kung fu has been collected, and a
concerted effort has been made to comprehensively document the
heritage of Shaolin kung fu.
t the same time, acknowledging the fact that the Shaolin
Temple is where Shaolin kung fu is practiced, maintained,
and taught, the Temple and its principal affiliated struc-
tures have been recognized as key cultural monuments under state
and provincial protection. From 2001, the Shaolin Temple, directed
by the of ‘Law of Cultural Relics of the People’s Republic of China’,
initiated a thorough clean-up of the surrounding environment and
restoration of its historical architecture and related facilities. Areas
where Shaolin kung fu is practiced, such as the meditation halls,
commandment altar, and martial arts training halls have either
been restored or rebuilt. As a result, the space for transmitting
Shaolin kung fu has been fully restored and upgraded in recent
years. Further, in order to promote scientific research and greater
understanding of Shaolin kung fu, in 1999 the Shaolin Temple
established the Shaolin Cultural Research Institute. To date, three
international symposiums have been held, while dozens of books
on the study of Shaolin kung fu have been published. In addition,
to oversee and more closely supervise research projects directly
related to the Temple and its culture, we founded the Shaolin Press,
which includes Chan Lu among its publications, a quarterly journal
with research papers and reports pertaining to the study of Chan
Buddhism. We have also launched an official website (www.shao- in bilingual (Chinese and English) versions. Last but not
least, the Shaolin Temple has organized Shaolin kung fu perform-
ance teams to promulgate Shaolin kung fu and conduct cultural
exchanges worldwide.
What we are doing is not only for the preservation of Shaolin’s
martial tradition; but in so far as Shaolin kung fu is an integral
part of China’s martial culture, to preserve, promote, and revitalize
China’s classical martial arts heritage, which is increasingly
pressurized by the economic and cultural forces of globalization.
It is our duty to protect this cultural treasure, and to ensure that it
continues to develop and play an active role for the betterment of
humanity and world peace.
Bajiquan (Eight Cardinal Boxing) and Liuhe
daqiang (Six Harmony Spear)
By Ma Mingda
Ma Mingda’s calligraphy
In one sense, ‘liuhe’ or ‘six harmony’ refers to the different spatial directions and may be taken to embrace the entire universe; it can also mean ‘under the heaven’, or be equated with the phenomenal world of
experience. In martial arts nomenclature, and in particular when the term is used in the context of spear practice, ‘liuhe’ traditionally means ‘six combined methods of combat’.
In this short paper I will discuss the relationship between Bajiquan /Q¶
and Liuhe daqiang /ýyg,
My late father Ma Fengtu composed a treatise called Bajiquan Three Character Stanzas
(Bajiquan sanzi jing /Q¶_¶§) back in November 1953, which opens with the following
stanzas:- /Q¶·ý@@gq_·@§Q_||·g§§·¶g_·@@]·
[The art of] Bajiquan,
Was passed down by Wu Zhong;
He was known as ‘King of the Spear’,
He lived in Zhuangke Village, Qingyun County;
He set the standard.
Taught by Master Zhang,
With exemplary courtesy.
Summer 2009 45
he ‘Bajiquan’ referred to above is an integrated concept,
which represents both a martial arts style (liupai ¸_) and
a school (menpai |_), and should not be understood to
stand for a form of boxing alone. Just like Taijiquan, we should not
understand ‘Baji’ as merely designating a form of empty-handed
martial arts: when we say ‘Taiji’ or ‘Baji’, we commonly refer to
the entire system of martial arts subsumed under that name,
which beside boxing techniques also include other weapon forms
and practices such as ‘Taijiqiang’ ¸__ (Taiji spear) and ‘Taijijian’
¸__ (Taiji double-edged sword). Indeed, one of Baji’s most
salient characteristics is its intimate link to Liuhe daqiang, which
complements and is in many ways inseparable from Bajiquan. This
is the reason why when my late father wrote the Bajiquan Three
Character Stanzas, he clearly set forth Liuhe daqiang’s position in
the Baji system in the opening stanzas, stating that the Baji master
Wu Zhong was known as ‘king of the spear’ in Zhuangke village in
Qingyun county, which tacitly conveys the inseparable relationship
between quan (_ boxing) and qiang (_ spear) within the Baji
Liuhe qiang represents the mainstream spear form in China since
the Ming Dynasty. Diverse spear forms have been practiced from
the Ming period onwards, but if we look carefully into their origins
we will discover that they invariably stemmed from Liuhe. In a
word, Liuhe constitutes the core of spear techniques in China.
Amongst the rest of the spear forms, some of them are branches
that grew from its trunk, others are localized techniques known
only within a limited geographical area, while yet others are spear
techniques that have lost all applied functions and are useful only
on the stage. In any case, the historical genesis of Liuhe qiang is
fundamentally clear, and in spite of the complexities involved in
its dissemination and inheritance in the Ming and Qing Dynasties,
enough evidence survives to guide a devoted inquirer through this
entangled web of relationships. Naturally, this is a specialist issue
and does not concern us in the present paper.
Nevertheless, it is
worthwhile to consider the following questions:-
When did Bajiquan become so closely bound up with Liuhe qiang?
And how did the two come to form such an inseparable alliance?
The first Bajiquan master in the Cangzhou area was Wu Zhong,
who was famous for his mastery of the spear and bore the
epithet ‘divine spear Wu Zhong’ (shengqiang Wu Zhong ¸__
_). From Wu down all subsequent Baji masters liked to advertise
their expertise with the spear and were commonly known as ‘the
divine spears’. In particular, Luo Tuan’s Baji branch in Cangzhou
boasted consecutively such luminaries as ‘divine spear’ Zhang
Keming, ‘divine spear’ Li Dazhong, ‘divine spear’ Zhang Jinxing,
and the celebrated ‘divine spear’ Li Shuwen. Similarly, my father
Ma Fengtu, shishu ¡_
Han Huacheng, and uncle Ma Yingtu all
set much store by their skills with the spear, and were wellknown
‘Shi shu’ is an honorific title for a person who studied with the same teacher of one’s master.
Figure with a ‘great spear’; part of Mianzhou tu by Li Gonglin of
Song Dynasty
Bajiquan (Eight Cardinal Boxing) and Liuhe daqiang (Six Harmony Spear)
A rare photograph of Bajiquan practice in the late Qing period; picture of
Qiang Rei
in contemporary circles for their expertise in this weapon. Thus in
a certain way Bajiquan’s renown was won with the point of the
spear and not with the thrust of the elbow. In olden days, when
Baji masters held a contest with martial artists of other schools, they
commonly fought with a spear rather than engaged in unarmed
combat, which they perceived as a lowly, plebeian art. In this way
those who dabble in Bajiquan are necessarily conversant with Liuhe
daqiang. As to Baji practitioners who do not know the use of the
spear, or those who have not been taught its proper techniques,
who incessantly ‘make violent leaps and sudden thrusts [with their
elbows]’ (¿_¸1 benghan tuji) are in reality shallow in their
understanding who have given up the ends to pursue the means.
To return to our main subject, if indeed the great spear occupied
such an exalted position in the Baji system, when did the fusion
between Liuhe daqiang and Baji occur? During his life my late
father often talked about this problem and offered a number of
hypotheses, although he was unable to come to any conclusion
due to a lack of reliable historical sources. According to accounts
he heard in his native village in his youth, Wu Zhong learned the
principles of Liuhe from a certain Mr. Zhang from Yueshang. Before
this encounter Wu Zhong already knew the use of the spear, but
did not understand the principles of Liuhe spear, particularly ‘the
combined combat methods of advance and retreat’ (¿_¿[__
jintui hezhan zhi fa). After he received the teaching from Zhang,
he devoted his efforts to studying and mastering Liuhe spear.
Eventually, while visiting Beijing and Tianjin he managed to defeat
a number of well known spear masters, and earned the nickname
‘divine spear’. Thus, my late father points out very clearly in the
Three Character Stanzas that when Mr. Zhang from Yueshang
taught Wu Zhong Baji, his teachings included the principles of Liuhe
daqiang, and Wu Zhong treated Master Zhang with exemplary
reverence and courtesy, and afterwards set up in Zhuangke village,
in Qingyun county, a ‘paradigm’ school for teaching Baji and Liuhe.
In fact, with a little care we will also discover that the ancient terms
‘liuhe’ (six harmonies) and ‘baji’ (eight cardinals) have a clear and
discernible relationship, especially when they appear in the same
Ma Mingda practising Bajiquan
Summer 2009 47
martial arts school. Indeed, the founder who originally conferred
the name ‘Baji’ on his school of martial arts must have first
considered its resonance with ‘Liuhe’, as the latter term appeared
much earlier in martial arts nomenclature and was already well-
established by that time. In this way, by conceptually fusing
Baji and Liuhe and ascertaining their complementary character,
he successfully elevated an established and well recognized
technical term to a higher philosophical plane. The denomination
of Bajiquan was an instance of this transformation, as were the
subsequent Taiji, Xingyi, Tongbei, and Bagua. This phenomenon
represents a significant stage in the development of
classical Chinese martial arts, where a high degree
of rationalization occurred. In this connection, I need to point out
that the ‘six harmony’ (liuhe) in spear techniques originally meant
‘six combinations of combat’, which refer to six combinations in
training that systematically integrate different techniques into
fixed routines. To counterpoise liuhe with baji connotes a sense of
interdependence between the two terms, and is indeed a touch of
On the other hand, the popular interpretation of ‘liuhe’
current in martial arts circles – as a combination of ‘hands, elbows,
shoulders, feet, knees, and hips’ – is rather strained and probably
only arose in recent times, which has deviated from the original
sense of ‘liuhe’ in Ming Dynasty spear use.
oreover, the fusion of Baji and Liuhe extends beyond the
conceptual domain to the technical level. In many ways,
the two have an interdependent and complementary
character. Simply put, to practise Bajiquan, to study the methods
of generating force (_¿ jingdao) in Baji, and to receive the special
‘zhuang kaojing’ (¸¸_) training in Bajiquan, etc., are most ben-
eficial to spear practice, to generating the type of power closest to
spear use, which may directly assist in understanding the applica-
tion of spear techniques and their adaptations in certain antago-
nistic situations. In this respect my late father once advanced the
remark that ‘from Baji liuhe, its power transmits directly without
obstacles’, and was fond to use the adage ‘zhulian pihe’ ()]_
¿ literally, ‘united pearls and merged jade’) to describe the two’s
“Make violent leaps and sudden thrusts” - calligraphy by Ma Mingda
Illustrated figures in the martial arts text Shaolin Staff Techniques
The ‘Bajiquan’ referred to above is an
integrated concept, which represents
both a martial arts style (liupai) and
a school (menpai) [...] when we say
‘Taiji’ or ‘Baji’, we commonly refer
to the entire system of martial arts
subsumed under that name.
relationship. He also liked to cite Confucius’ teaching, ‘without
learning poetry, one lacks the words for language’,
to stress Baji’s
importance for spear practice, saying that without knowledge of
Baji one lacks the foundation for spear practice, and that if one
does not study the use of the spear after mastering Baji he is akin
to ‘riding on an empty saddle and pretending to be on a horse’. In
addition, my father often said that between the end of Qing and
the beginning of the Republic of China era, he met Li Shuwen on
three occasions in Beijing and Tianjin, and in their conversations Li
only spoke about spear and never raised a word about boxing, even
though he also trained in the latter and that his ‘Bada zhao’ (]¸
_ Eight great techniques) and ‘Jingang bashi’ (_¡]_ Nryana
eight movements) – which he learnt from Li Ruidong – were very
strong and well practised. My father said that it was not Li’s custom
to demonstrate Baji in front of an audience, and in public he only
performed with the great spear. In a certain sense, therefore, Baji
training lays the foundation and is the best preparation for great
spear practice.
s a traditional martial art that has preserved a considerable
degree of classical character, the most distinctive feature
about Bajiquan is its simplicity and absence of embellish-
ments. Its simplicity is made manifest in two principal ways. First,
Baji have a simple structure with only three main sets: Baji xiaojia
(]__¸ Baji small set), Bajiquan (]__ Baji set), and Baji duijie
(]___ Baji sparring form). The three are learned sequentially
with each focusing on specific aspects of Baji training, and the rela-
tion among them is very clear. There is a further ‘Liu zhou tou’ (,
__ Six elbows) which is a basic training method used for enhanc-
ing hitting and resistance abilities. The ‘Six openings’ (,¸ Liukai)
and ‘Eight techniques’ (]_ Bazhao) used in closed-door training
are also simple, clean, and direct, without unnecessary flowery
embellishments. Second, the force employed in Baji (jingdao) is
likewise simple, clean, and direct, drawing a clear line between
movements and still postures, empty feints and concrete strikes,
and is devoid of complicated twists and turns and their accompa-
nying exegesis: so long as a vigorous youth applies his efforts, he
will grasp the principles of Baji and reap the benefits of training,
and will not be befuddled by empty mysticism. Unfortunately, the
development of Chinese martial arts has fallen under the shadow
of superficiality in recent years. In this atmosphere, and pushed on
by personal ambition and greed, certain individuals have taken the
initiative to ‘transform’ the gems in classical Chinese martial arts
(including Bajiquan) for their own gain, freely adding branches and
leaves and foisting theories from other martial arts styles on to Baji,
about which they have not a single sensible word to say, and merely
adding froth and theatrics in order to enhance their weak tech-
niques, even going as far as to invent ‘secret ancestral formulas’. It
has eluded them that unembellished simplicity is the most sublime
form of beauty between heaven and earth! This is particularly true
for such a fine specimen of classical martial arts as Baji, whose
structure gradually took shape through several centuries of develop-
ment. In the process it has received improvements by past masters,
and has changed here and there in minor details, but in general a
single principle has prevailed, which is that the utmost care must
be taken not to facilely introduce changes, and thereby be guilty of
Artist’s impression of Leopard-headed Lin Chong (figure on the left)
Bajiquan (Eight Cardinal Boxing) and Liuhe daqiang (Six Harmony Spear)
Summer 2009 49
‘adding feet while drawing a snake’. Whoever is guilty of such an
act is also guilty of destroying a valuable national cultural heritage,
guilty of offending our predecessors who have faithfully preserved
and passed on Baji, and should be punished for his crime.
Indeed, it is under the premise of simplicity that Baji accomplished
its fusion with Liuhe daqiang. Anyone with a rudimentary
knowledge of the martial arts knows that the daqiang (great spear)
has to have a certain length. If the spear shaft is too thin it becomes
soft and cannot be properly wielded, which means it must possess
a certain thickness, and requirements of length and thickness
necessitate a certain weight. I will not burden my readers here
with the manufacturing standard of the daqiang, for those who
are interested I refer their attention to Qi Jiguang’s New Book on
Military Discipline (__¿_ jixiao xinshu) and Cheng Chongdou’s
Selected Readings on Long Spear Techniques (¸__¿ changqiang
faxuan). In the Baji tradition, long shafts not lighter than four or
five jin are customarily used for spear practice, while some of the
past masters, such as Mr. Zhang Gongcheng and Mr. Li Shuwen,
used shafts weighing up to eight jin for daily practice; and my late
father employed a wooden staff of about five to six jin even into his
seventies. Such long and weighty staffs can scarcely be held without
adequate strength in the arms, let alone employing techniques of
lan ¸, na _, quan _, zha _ and move up and down with it while
making advancing and retreating movements. Of course, staffs
used for performance and competition tend to be much lighter, for
too great a weight impedes free use of techniques, and without
techniques one is no better than ‘a clumsy man tamping a wall, or a
labourer chopping fire-wood’ as the old saying goes. On the other
hand, it is a well-recognized principle that one should always use
heavy equipment in training.
Baji is a powerful form of boxing effective in close range combat.
Long periods of training in Baji, coupled with other supplementary
training methods, are conducive to increasing muscular strength
in the arms. Baji lays particular emphasis on the use of explosive
force – which can be employed in short and sudden attacks – and
overwhelming the opponent with strong attacking movements. This
use of force may be adapted to spear practice, and is suitable for
wielding a spear both in training and in applied combat situations.
Daqiang stresses ‘long motion with quick rhythm’ (_¸_¿
shichang jieduan), as exemplified by the dynamics of crossbow,
whose arrow lies pregnant with energy while sitting in the
mechanism. The parallel here is self-evident and I need not dwell
further on this point.
One of the salient and most impressive aspects of Baji performance
is daduozi j¡_, which is also called zhengjiao (__ stamping).
Youthful performers often stamp their feet with a great deal of
force, which has led some observers to comment that Baji can cause
concussion. For example, Mr. Xu Zheng (Zhedong) wrote in the
introduction to Bajiquan, authored by Liao Jinjie, that ‘I have often
seen Baji performers apply too great a force when stamping their
feet, which can damage the brain, so I advised them not to stamp
so fiercely. Even though Baji practitioners insisted on the importance
of stamping, I strongly advised against it.’
In the 1950s, when
Mr. Xu Zheng was teaching at the Northwestern Institute for
the Baji master Wu
Zhong was known as
‘king of the spear’ in
Zhuangke village in
Qingyun county, which
tacitly conveys the
inseparable relationship
between quan (boxing)
and qiang (spear)
within the Baji system
Ma Fengtu practising great spear in his backyard in Lanzhou
Bajiquan (Eight Cardinal Boxing) and Liuhe daqiang (Six Harmony Spear)
Summer 2009 51
Nationalities in Lanzhou he frequently visited my house. The
institute was not far from my home, and Mr. Xu liked to walk
over after dinner to watch me and my brothers train in the open
courtyard. On those occasions he was always excited and spoke
much, only he had a heavy southern accent and we could barely
understand what he said. He once broached this subject with my
late father, who just smiled in return and added a few short notes
by way of explanation. Afterwards he said to me that Mr. Xu was
a literati who had taken to the martial arts, specializing in Taiji, but
was too small and slight of built to wield a daqiang, and did not
understand the use of duozi, so what purpose would it serve to talk
about it? Mr. Xu was a learned scholar with a keen sense of inquiry,
but he was not physically very strong. In fact, to a very large
extent duozi is a necessary method in the training of daqiang, and
represents a stepping movement that is employed in some of the
most important techniques in the Liuhe spear – such as ‘white bull
drilling its horns’ (¡'|¡ bainiu zhuangjiao), ‘white ape hoisting
a sword’ (¡__¸ baiyuan tuodao), etc. To put it simply, in certain
situations duozi helps to make sudden adjustments in the use
of force, changing in an instant the spatial relationship between
the protagonist and his opponent, and helps to psychologically
threaten the antagonist with an unexpected jolting movement. This
is a crucial technique in daqiang practice and must be rehearsed
repetitiously over a long period, so that it may be spontaneously
employed in combat situations. There is an ancient saying that ‘a
thousand ounces of gold cannot buy a sudden commotion, and a
sudden commotion sends one to the king of the underworld!’ (¬
_]_¬¸_·¬¸_¿_¸_¸qianjin nanmai yi sheng xiang,
yi sheng xiang chujian yanwang) This proverb is hard on the ear
but its rationale is unquestionably correct. Naturally, some of the
practitioners have not grasped the true principles of Baji and falsely
believe they demonstrate their prowess by forcefully da duozi in
performance. Obviously, this is incorrect practice and I would like to
take this opportunity to point out this mistake to Baji practitioners
among my readers.
ore important, Baji stresses the need to ‘draw slow
postures (¸_ jiazi) and hit quick punches’ (__¸_·
¸j_ man la jiazi, kuai daquan). In a broad sense the
jiazi here refers to all the postures, but more specifically it means
the Baji xiaojia set. Xiaojia has a rather small number of movements
but its structure is extremely taut; it demands the practitioner not
to rush through the motion and to execute each movement with
great clarity, which has to be slowly and patiently ‘drawn’ out. Each
movement should be executed with the proper power, and each
posture should be made with precision, circulating one’s breath as
one goes through the routine, so that the qi is complete and full
force is manifest, like a cloudless blue sky or a spotless window,
or sitting down leisurely to read Liu Gongqun’s calligraphy, such
as shence junbei ¸¸H[. Undoubtedly, as far as spear practice is
concerned, this is an extremely important method of training that
is beneficial to both physical and mental wellbeing. There are many
important elements in spear practice, but as Mr. Ma Fengtu said
there is none more important than ‘stillness’: ‘Once the daqiang
is held in the hand, the first thing to do is to still one’s qi. There is
an ancient adage which says that “whenever a momentous event
occurs one must always manifest a still qi”, this also holds true for
use of the spear. Lone practice requires stillness, a two-person set
practice requires stillness, and agonistic practice involving real at-
tack and defence requires even more stillness, for proper techniques
cannot be employed when stillness is absent, and when one’s hand
does not follow his heart he is likely to suffer losses. In the past
when people practiced with spears, it often happened that one of
the antagonists lost as soon as he made a movement with his spear.
There are many reasons for this but the most important is impa-
tience and too great a desire for victory.’
There are many other technical similarities between Bajiquan and
Liuhe daqiang that cannot be exhausted in this short paper. I
believe to truly inherit a traditional martial art, the most important
criterion is to clarify its basic principles, to understand its integral
structure, and progress step by step through devoted study and
practice. During this process it is most important to simultaneously
deepen one’s cultivation, understanding, and techniques. Only then
can one hope to slowly penetrate into the depths of its core until
he finally attains its essence. If one becomes filled with pride after
learning only a few sets, and starts making up new combinations in
order to flaunt his knowledge, or deludes himself into thinking he
Prof. Ma Mingda with an antique spear
Illustrated figures of Water Margins heroes; Lin Chong and Xu Ning
Bajiquan (Eight Cardinal Boxing) and Liuhe daqiang (Six Harmony Spear)
Summer 2009 53
In one sense, ‘liuhe’ or ‘six harmony’ refers
to the different spatial directions and may be
taken to embrace the entire universe; it can
also mean ‘under the heaven’, or be equated
with the phenomenal world of experience. In
martial arts nomenclature, and in particular
when the term is used in the context of spear
practice, ‘liuhe’ traditionally means ‘six com-
bined methods of combat’.
‘Shi shu’ is an honorific title for a person
who studied with the same teacher of one’s
Wu Zhong, also known as Hongsheng, was
a Muslim from Zhuangke village, Qingyun
county, who lived during the emperors
Kangxi and Yong Zhen’s reigns. He was
the first person to teach Bajiquan in Hebei
and Shandong provinces. Wu Zhong learnt
Bajiquan and liuhe daqiang from Zhang
Yueshan, who was a private martial artist
from jiaozuo yueshan ¸])_ Monastery in
Henan, and is alluded to as ‘Master Zhang’ in
the Three Character Stanzas. Qingyun county
was originally part of Cangzhou city in Hebei
province, but is now part of Dezhou city in
Shandong province.
Many different styles of Liuhe spear
were practiced in the Ming Dynasty, the
most famous being the Yang family, the
Sha family, and the Ma family styles, which
display distinct technical characteristics
and have different specifications for the
dimension and material of the spear. Of the
extant historic spear manuals the best known
and most complete is the Yang family spear
manual preserved in the tenth chapter – ‘On
the short methods of long weapons’ (¸¸¿
[_ changbin duanyong shuo) – of New Book
on Military Discipline (__¿_ jixiao xinshu),
which was written by the celebrated general
Qi Jiguang. Yang family style Liuhe-spear is
also called ‘Pear blossom spear’ (¸¡_ lihua
qiang), whose name is frequently met with in
Chinese popular culture. The various spear
techniques contained in Selected Readings on
Long Spear Techniques (¸__¿ Changqiang
faxuan), written by the Anhui native Cheng
Chongdou in the late Ming, and Records of
Arms Shoubei lu _;j), composed by Wu
Shu in the late Ming and early Qing period,
are basically similar in contents, and may be
identified as falling under the Liuhe-spear
umbrella. The Liuhe-spear preserved in the
Baji system belongs to the Yang-family style.
Even though some of its techniques and
terms have changed over time, in principle
it has remained faithful to the original
teachings. Among traditional martial arts
schools and styles in China, the Liuhe qiang
in the Baji system is the most complete form
and has best preserved the characteristics
of classical martial arts. However, most
contemporary practitioners of Bajiquan tend
to focus on bare-handed techniques and
know very little about the use of the spear,
sometimes even making up new methods and
skills which have no bearing to the historical
Liuhe techniques.
The six ‘combinations of combat’ refer
to six routines in spear practice which
integrates various offence and defence
techniques. These methods were employed
in military training in the Ming period, which
incorporate the principal elements in attack
and defence in spear-use. For the sequence
of these combinations I refer the readers’
attention to Chapter 10 in New Book in
Military Discipline (___ Qi Jiguang).
Private martial artists have different
interpretations of the term ‘Liuhe’ ,¿ (six
harmony); one such explanation divides ‘six
harmony’ into ‘inner three harmony’ (nei
sanhe ¡_¿) and ‘outer three harmony’ (wai
sanhe ¸_¿), and some martial artists even
named the style(s) they practiced Liuhe.
Looking at it within a temporal framework,
it seems quite clear that all subsequent
use of ‘liuhe’ derived from ‘Liuhe daqiang’,
and its increasing use in ‘lay’ martial arts
circle should be seen as a result of the
popularization of military martial arts.
Confucius made the statement ‘without
learning poetry, one lacks the words for
language’ (¯_¸·±¸_ bu xue shi, wu yi
yan) while educating his son, Kong Li. The
sense of it is that without a good command
of poetry one does not know how to speak.
See Yang, Bojun, lun yu zhe zhu: ji shi bian
di shi liu ¿¿¸_÷__¸±,, Zhonghua
Publication, 1965, p. 185. Ma Fengtu used
this paradigm to stress the importance
of Bajiquan training as a foundation for
learning Liuhe daqiang.
Xu Zheng (1898-1967), aka. Zhe Dong, was
a native of Changzhou in Jiangsu province.
He was a well-known author who published
widely on topics related to martial arts
history and the study of Taijiquan, including
Taijiquan kaoxin lu (¸____j Records of
Inquiries into Taijiquan), guoji lunlue (__¿
[ On the National Techniques), etc. See Xu
Zheng die wen ji: Xu Zheng jianjie (¸_j_
_¸_¸, Xu Zheng’s Selected Writings:
Brief Introduction to Xu Zheng), Shanxi
Scientific Technology Publication (shanxi
kexue jishu chubanshe), 2006.
Quoted from Ma, Fengtu, Recorded Sayings
on Martial Arts: On Spear (Quan yu lu: lun
qiang), unpublished manuscript.
has mastered the art, I believe this is symptomatic of lack of true
understanding – or at best a very superficial understanding – and
has grossly underestimated the value and profundity of historical
martial arts. Traditional martial arts share common features with
any other type of traditional culture, one of which is that martial
arts ‘sets’ were created under particular historical circumstances
and possess a certain formulaic quality. Such quality is in itself a
cultural heritage and should be regarded as a manifestation of a
given society’s inner cultural pattern. As inheritors of culture we
are not at liberty to introduce changes, and must not add or delete
according to our whims, for doing so would create confusion
and lead to the art becoming deformed, falling into decline, and
finally condemned to death all but in name. The misfortune of
contemporary Chinese martial arts lies in the fact that the official
body openly promotes ‘self-selected sets’, and determines the
standard of such superficial creations of purely performative value
on the basis of ‘regulations’, even giving additional scores to those
sets which are deemed to be ‘good’. In this way Chinese martial
arts have become a jigsaw puzzle that can be assembled and
dissembled according to one’s wishes, or a pliable pile of mud which
can be freely manipulated into any shape. With the help of an
anachronistic name and a cover of mysticism, any garbled creations
may be elevated to the pedestal of ‘traditional martial arts’. At
present, although there is a revival in interest in traditional martial
arts, their future is besieged by a host of problems, and they are yet
to be rescued from the on-going crisis. From my personal point of
view, to protect and pass on our true martial arts heritage, the first
thing we need to do is address this problem, by imposing restrictive
measures to prevent counterfeits from posing as ‘authentic’
historical martial arts, and raising the relevant department’s ability
to verify the genuine articles, which in addition should be cautioned
to proceed with care. Otherwise, the future of traditional martial
arts is bleak and worrying, and Bajiquan’s present predicament is a
case in point.
ung Kuen (¸_) is one of the
most important and representative
martial arts styles from southern
China. Many theories and hypotheses
surround the origin of Hung Kuen but
most deal with legends and have little
factual basis. From my father I have heard
many anecdotes about Hung Kuen’s
early history, particularly apropos the life
and times of Lam Sai Wing (|_¸), but
being of pragmatic rather than theoretical
disposition and not having made any
in-depth investigation, I can only offer
my own interpretations and personal
According to popular tradition, the origin
of Hung Kuen is related to the destruction
of the Southern Shaolin Temple during
the Qing Dynasty. In some editions of the
martial arts manual Gung Ji Fuk Fu Kuen (_
_j__), written by Master Lam Sai Wing
during the early 20th century, it is said
that the Buddhist monk Ji Seem (__,¡)
Preamble on the Origin and
Development of Hung Kuen
Lam Sai Wing; Iron Wire Boxing
Lam Sai Wing
By Lam Chun Fai
Summer 2009 55
ranks of officialdom and rewards on the
monks. However, being ascetics they
accepted only paddy fields and grains
as reward. Then it suddenly occurred to
the Qing government that if the temple
harbored men of such extraordinary
talent and ability, it could easily threaten
the state if it decided to take up the
revolutionary cause. Goaded by a mixture
of caution and jealousy, secret orders
were dispatched to use the grains as
incendiary, and in the course of the night
the temple was set on fire. As soon as
the monks realized what was happening
they fled from the temple and scattered
to other provinces. Ji Seem alone fled to
Guangdong province where he settled at
Nam Hoi Zhong Temple in Guangdong .
From then on he started to teach martial
skills inside the temple.’
Master Lam Sai Wing’s book is among the
earliest martial arts manuals to be published
in Guangdong. It is a seminal work for
popular martial arts in Guangdong and a
major contribution to the development of
southern Chinese martial arts.
ven though the origin story recorded
here cannot directly explain Hung
Kuen’s historical genesis, it offers
valuable clues to understanding its early
development. In the ‘Brief Introduction’ to
Gung Ji Fok Fu Kuen Master Lam Sai Wing
makes several significant claims: (1) Hung
Kuen started in Fujian but developed in
Guangdong; (2) for an extended period
Hung Kuen was suppressed by the Qing
government; (3) its early development
and dissemination was to a large extent
founded Hung Kuen after escaping from
the destruction of Shaolin:
During Emperor Yongzhen’s reign of
the Qing Dynasty the Japanese invaded
and occupied Taiwan. The Qing state
was shaken by the news, but in spite
of repeated attempts by civil and
military officials throughout the domain
to recapture Taiwan, the Japanese
repulsed every effort. It happened that
a group of Shaolin monks from Fujian
province came upon the battle scene.
Fighting courageously, they defeated
the Japanese and retook Taiwan. Upon
hearing the news, the Qing court was
greatly pleased and wished to confer
ldom and rew ank
Hung Kuen is one of the most important and
representative martial arts styles from southern
represe pre
China. C
Lam Sai Wing; Tiger and Crane Boxing
Lam Chun Fai (left) and Lam Jo (centre)
|_¸¸·¸__j__)·__75¬·¿_®]¸__f¡ Lam, Sai Wing, Gung ji fuk fu kuen, Seventy fifth year of the Chinese Republic, Taibei: Hualian Press
conducted underground and only became
legal around Master Lam Sai Wing’s lifetime
during the early Republic of China era.
What is noteworthy is that Hung Kuen’s
origin story is fundamentally the same
as the Hong Men Society’s foundation
myth; the earliest information on the
destruction of the southern Shaolin comes
from Hong Men’s surviving texts. Indeed,
Fujian’s specific socio-historical and cultural
background made it a breeding ground for
secret societies in the late Qing Dynasty,
notably Hong Men, and according to
contemporary historical research, secret
societies often used local temples as
centers for their activities, towards which
the state pursued a steadfast policy of
persecution and suppression, and regularly
destroyed illicit temples. The precise
relationship between Hung Kuen and Hong
Men is scholars’ specialist domain, and
their underlying relationship awaits further
historical research. But I am certain is that it
is not purely accidental that Hung Kuen and
Hong Men share a common origin myth.
Preamble on the Origin and Development of Hung Kuen
Lam Chun Fai with students
Lam Chun Fai and Lam Jo at Lam Jo’s Birthday Banquet
Summer 2009 57
When did Hung Kuen become an
independent martial arts style? This is a
difficult question but from the early 20th
century at the latest, five family-styles,
consisting of ‘Hung, Lau, Choy, Lei, Mok’
( ¸, _, ¸, _, _), were acknowledged
as the leading martial arts styles in
Guangdong. That Hung Kuen is listed at the
head of the five families says much about
its prestige and influence at the time. A
hundred years ago Guangdong abounded
with martial arts schools and organizations,
and the social position of a given martial
arts teacher depended directly on his
pugilistic abilities and martial prowess.
Unquestionably, a significant reason for
Hung Kuen’s status as the premier martial
arts family in Guangdong boils down to
Master Lam Sai Wing’s unparalleled skills
as a martial artist. According to my father,
back in those days any martial artist who
wished to open a school in Guangdong
had to first pay a courtesy call to Lam Sai
Wing and obtain his approval. This indicates
he held a position of great prestige in
Guangdong martial circles. Indeed, such
was the extent of his influence that most
of the Hung Kuen practiced today descends
directly from Lam Sai Wing’s teaching
–– an eloquent testimony to the unique
contributions he has made to traditional
Chinese martial arts. Naturally, this is not to
say that the techniques and sets preserved
and passed on by Master Lam Sai Wing
represent the entire Hung Kuen repertoire
in Guangdong at the time. However,
popular martial arts had suffered grievous
losses during the catastrophic decade of
the Cultural Revolution, and it is impossible
to gage either the extent of damage or the
nature of these losses. All I can say is that
Master Lam Sai Wing laid the foundation
for the Lam Family Hung Kuen, and that
most contemporary Hung Kuen styles have
derived from this system.
Master Lam Sai Wing’s Hung Kuen system
has diverse sources, the core of which
descends from Master Wong Fei Hung (_
_¸) — Gung character Crouching Tiger
Boxing (Gung ji fuk fu kuen), Tiger and
Crane Boxing (Fu hok sheung ying kuen _
¸_]_), Iron Wire Boxing (Tit sin kuen
¿¸_), Ng Long Eight Trigram Staff (_¡
]]_ Ng long ba gua gwan), etc. — but
also includes Hung Kuen techniques passed
down within the Lam family, such as War
Palm (Jin zhern [±) and Che Chong
Double Broadsword Æ,_¸, as well as
unarmed and weapon techniques and sets
absorbed from extraneous styles, including
Plum Blossom Spear (|¡¸_ Mui fa ying
chern), Commander’s Broadsword (_]
¸ Ji fai dou), Yu’s Family Great Fork (¸_
¸j Yu gar tai pa), etc. During the 1920s
and 1930s, under the patronage of the
Republican Government, traditional Chinese
martial arts became the national symbol
for ‘New China’ and a burgeoning Self-
strengthening Movement; by the end of
the war, martial arts development entered
a golden period of growth and popularity,
which saw a blossoming of schools from
around the country with an unprecedented
exchange between the North and the
South. For a time a strong martial spirit
infused the whole nation, and Hung Kuen
became the symbol for a relentless self-
strengthening spirit in southern China.
ollowing Lam Sai Wing the second
Hung Kuen grandmaster to emerge
is his nephew, Master Lam Jo, who
not only inherited Master Lam Sai Wing’s
teachings, but introduced important
innovations and reforms to the inherited
Lam Chun Fai performing Juchong Double Jao
What is noteworthy is that Hung
Kuen’s origin story is fundamentally
the same as the Hong Men Society’s
foundation myth; the earliest
information on the destruction of
the southern Shaolin comes from
Hong Men’s surviving texts.
Master Lam Sai Wing’s Hung Kuen system has
diverse sources, the core of which descends from
Master Wong Fei Hung
Lam Chun Fai performing Yu gar tai pa
Preamble on the Origin and Development of Hung Kuen
techniques. His reforms mainly concern two
aspects, in respect of contents and sam fa
(¸_ body positioning and movement).
Regarding the former, the repertoire of
today’s Lam Family Hung Kuen is almost
twice as large as the original corpus.
The reason for this is that Master Lam Jo
composed a number of two-person sets
based on existing routines, such as Tiger
and Crane Two Person Set (_¸_]_
j Fu hok sheung ying dui cha), Single
Broadsword versus Spear (H¸__ dan
dou dui chern), Double Broadsword versus
Spear (_¸__ sheung dou dui chern),
Double-ended Staff Two-person Set (_
___j sheung tao gwan dui cha),
Great Broadsword versus Spear (¸¸_
_ dai dou dui chern), etc. At the same
time, he integrated a number of sets from
other martial arts styles and schools into
the repertoire. These include boxing sets,
such as Lau Family Boxing (___ Lau gar
kuen), Bang bou ¿¸, etc., as well as sets
in weapon training, such as Lau Family Staff
(___ Lau gar gwan), Butterfly Double
Broadsword (|j_¸ Wu dip sheung dou),
etc. Concerning the latter, Master Lam
Jo’s innovations transformed Hung Kuen
stylistically and technically from the ‘hard
bridge and stance’ (_¸_¸ ngan kiu ngan
ma) of old into a more agile and flexible
style; greater emphasis was placed on
control over distancing and positioning, to
avoid and neutralize attack through skillful
body movements, and to maximize power
by utilizing body momentum. Conversely,
Master Lam Sai Wing was exceptionally
well-built and possessed enormous physical
strength; and added to this, years of hard
training, the fighting style of ‘hard bridge
and hard stance’ was well suited to maximize
his body advantage.
Summer 2009 59
is rich in southern flavor but not limited by
the techniques of traditional short-range
ssentially, martial arts are a
dynamic cultural phenomenon. As
conceptions and understanding of
the human body evolve through time, or
as one’s body condition alters, changes
necessarily occur in martial practice and
performance. Today, living in a society
increasingly governed by the rule of law,
martial arts are largely separated from the
reality of combat and needs of self-defense,
and have transformed into a cultural
activity to cultivate the mind and the body,
a way to enrich one’s physical and spiritual
wellbeing, and a channel to experience
and rejoice in traditional culture. At the
same time, reviewing the development of
traditional martial arts, particularly southern
style Chinese martial arts over the past
decades, I have mixed feelings about their
future, commingling hope and optimism
Martial arts from southern China are
commonly perceived as belonging to the
system of ‘short-range striking’ (¿j)
suitable for close-range combat only.
Actually, this is not completely correct;
take Hung Kuen for example, even
though its methods and principles possess
characteristics of duanda, they also contain
techniques typical of Northern style long-
range striking (¸_), and thus may be more
appropriately seen as a combination of
Northern and Southern martial arts. Hung
Kuen also possesses techniques that involve
big swinging arm movements, which are not
seen in more conservative southern martial
arts, as for instance the combination of ‘Seoi
long paau ceoi’ ___¸ and ‘Ling wan za
ngo’ _¸__, which are reminiscent of
Northern Pigua sequences. Nonetheless,
fundamentally Hung Kuen has retained
salient features of southern style martial
arts — firm, immovable stances and low
kicks not higher than the waist — and in my
opinion represents a style of martial arts that
Lam Chun Fai performing Yu gar tai pa 1970s
with a sense of worry and anxiety. On the one
hand, in both China and Hong Kong, fewer
and fewer people are taking up traditional
martial arts, such that the martial spirit in the
days of my youth has all but vanished. This
probably has to do with the Westernization
of society over the past half-century, and
the impact of globalization on indigenous
sports. On the other hand, traditional martial
arts (including Hung Kuen) have maintained
a vital role in the cultural life of overseas
Chinese communities; and in the wake of
transnational kung fu movement in recent
decades, Chinese martial arts are attracting
a rising following in the west, whose interest
and devotion to the martial arts exceeds
even that in China and Hong Kong. What I
find regrettable is that on the evidence of
this contemporary trend, traditional southern
martial arts are slowly becoming an overseas
‘Kung Fu Culture’.
Please note that some transliterations based on Cantonese
pronunciation have been used in this article in order to avoid
confusing those that are already accustomed to their usage.
By Ma Lianzhen
China’s Duanbing Movement
ian (_ double-edged sword) was one of the most important
weapons in ancient China and enjoyed a golden age of over a
thousand years from the Western Zhou Dynasty to the end of
the Han period. During this period, jian was venerated, served to
symbolize a person’s social position and dignity, and, possessing a
ritualistic attribute comparable to jade, was instrumental in “honing
a gentleman’s morality”.
After the eclipse of the Han Dynasty, jian’s military function
gradually declined and its position in the arena of warfare was
replaced by dao ¸ (single-edged sword). Thenceforth, even though
jian continued to exist and to be beloved by some military officers,
it was no longer the principal weapon for soldiers. Instead, its
developmental space transferred from the military to a domain
beyond it, which eventually came to depend on the patronage of
private martial artists, and even became the plaything for men of
letters. However, the former glory of jian culture is undiminished,
as jian continues to command veneration and respect, and its image
continues to serve as the symbol for China’s ancient martial culture.
What does jian culture encompass? And where do we draw its
boundaries? This is indeed a complex and thought provoking
question. In the pre-Han period, there were a number of terms
reserved for various uses of jian, such as “shuojian” (__
discussion of sword), “jijian” (1_ fencing), “wujian” (|_ sword
dance), “xiangjian” (¸_ sword appreciation), and “lunjian” (¿
_ sword discourse), which refer to specific, well defined activities,
fully reflecting the richness of jian culture in ancient China. In my
opinion, however, irrespective of the enormous spectrum of jian
culture, it must still center around “jijian”, for fencing practice is
fundamental to improving swordsmanship skills and raising the
level of swordplay, and offers a significant avenue to nurture and
hone moral character. What was referred to as “jijian” in ancient
China is in fact a competitive, agonistic sport in jian use, or a form
of friendly fencing contest. For thousands of years, it was a highly
respected and popular sport, one of the longest living competitive
events in China’s sports history, and a vital component in China’s
classical martial arts system.
It is not difficult to imagine that the earliest form of jijian must
have been a cruel sport, as corroborated by records in ancient texts,
not dissimilar to gladiatorial combat in ancient Rome. However,
any sport that seriously maims and puts human lives at risk is
unlikely to enjoy popularity for long, and even in imperfect feudal
regimes such sports were often deemed too harmful to be legally
sanctioned. Therefore, long ago our forefathers began to search
Han period sword fighting with shield
I. Duanbing’s ¿] Origin in Ancient Jijian ¶¿
Pictures courtesy of Maximilian Piers Holland
Summer 2009 61
for a safer method of fencing — representing the “sportization” of
fencing in ancient China — culminating in jijian, which remained
popular over an immense temporal span. Not many historical
materials that deal with jijian have been preserved, but enough
survive to permit a glimpse into its ancient form.
In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, there are
records of swordsmen vying their skills with “canes” (¸ zhang).
In the famous fable about Yuenu and Yuangong’s fencing match,
where the two contested their skills with bamboo canes, we are
given a faithful portraiture of everyday fencing practice in ancient
China. In this way, “cane” became a by-word for sword in ancient
discourse. Likewise, the fencing match between Cao Pei, Emperor
Wen of the Wei Kingdom, and General Deng Zhan, in the Three
Kingdoms period, which made use of surrogate canes, is among
the best known and most talked about historical anecdotes. After
the Song and Yuan Dynasties, the use of bamboo and wooden
canes in military training and fencing contests abounds in historical
records, and Yan Yuan’s and Li Mutian’s fencing method, which
had been referred to by Mao Zedong, also made use of “a bamboo
cane as a replacement for dao”. In sum, in order to minimize
bodily injury and increase its value as a sport, and as a result of
strict laws against the wearing of arms, which prohibited civilians
from carrying or engaging in matches with real weapons, not only
was the use of bamboo and wooden canes required for fencing
activities in the private domain, they were also used for military
training, as clearly recorded in Qi Jiguang’s Truthful Records of
Military Training (¡¸¿_ Lianbin Shiji).
Jijian is a heritage of China’s sports culture that best conveys its
humanist spirit. Indeed, in both the Orient and the West, through
diverse forms and guises, the sport of fencing is seen to represent
the quintessential qualities of traditional sports, symbolizing
courage, dignity, and moral integrity. For this reason, people from
both sides of the world have devoted efforts to transform ancient
fencing into modern sports.
It is not difficult to
imagine that the earliest
form of jijian must have
been a cruel sport, as
corroborated by records
in ancient texts, not
dissimilar to gladiatorial
combat in ancient
One of the very few duanbing fighting photos remaining
Ma Xianda (Right) the first national Duanbing champion post-1949
The attempt in the West has met with
great success. The threefold structure of
modern fencing, comprised of foil, espée,
and saber, is among the earliest events
to be included in the Olympic Games.
Today, it is practised throughout the world
and has a large following. For over half a
century, through the channel of the former
Soviet Union, fencing gradually developed
and expanded in China, with a steady rise
in the level of skills, and in time gave rise
to some outstanding athletes such as Luan
Japan has also successfully transformed its
indigenous style of fencing into a modern
sport. As is widely known, kendo is a
cultural heritage much treasured by the
Japanese people. Today, it is a popular
sport with a well organized schooling
system and has been designated a
“national art” (__ guoji) in Japan. Kendo is looked upon as an
important tool for nurturing the national spirit, and many kendo
dojos have been established in primary and secondary schools
throughout Japan, where it is taught as a mandatory course. In
addition, kendo instructors are frequently highly respected figures
in academic institutions, on account of their moral strength and
personal integrity. Today, kendo has developed into a global sport
with many international organizations and competitions.
Starting from an early date, kendo transmitted and was known in
China; by the Ming Dynasty at the latest Japanese swordsmanship
skills and manuals had diffused to China, which were greatly
valued by Chinese martial artists. Further, towards the end of the
Qing Dynasty, during the popular wave to study in Japan, a large
number of Chinese students received instruction in kendo, while
some Japanese coaches also taught kendo in China, which exerted
a significant influence on fencing developments in my country.
Indeed, the creation of duanbing in China was to a certain extent
inspired and catalyzed by Japan’s kendo.
Pioneers in China’s indigenous sports also endeavored to
transform Chinese fencing into a sport, and devoted efforts to
merge swordsmanship skills in dao and jian into an integrated
competitive form, which eventually gave rise to “duanbing”
(short range weapon) under the Republic of China government.
Regretfully, duanbing fell into obscurity soon after its appearance,
and remained an unfinished project with only a beginning. Today,
few know anything about duanbing even within professional
martial arts circles, let alone the average enthusiast. Ironically,
Chinese martial arts, which have often flaunted their breadth and
depth under the motto “bodajinshen” ¸¸¡¸, have only two
competitive forms — set-performance and sanshou — without
competitions in either long-range or short-range weapons, which
lag far behind Japan, and also other neighboring countries such as
The creation and disappearance of duanbing is a thought-provoking
historical phenomenon that is worthy of serious reflection.
II. Duanbing’s Rules and
In the sixteenth year of the Republic, Zhang Zhijiang founded
the Central National Arts Institute and formally established the
“Guoshu Examination” system. Ma Mingda said on numerous
occasions before, “guoshu” _¸ was a project in indigenous sports
whose aim was to transform popular martial arts into modern
sports, and to complete a competition structure for the martial arts.
China’s Duanbing Movement
Duanbing training in a Taiwanese Guoshu Center
Duanbing training in a Taiwanese Guoshu Center
Summer 2009 63
Endemic corruption within the Republican administration, the
poverty and weakness of the nation, insufficient attention
from the “party-nation”, and lack of funds to support this
type of “non-urgent duty”, meant that the “guoshu” project was
besieged by problems and difficulties and never attained the goal
set by Mr. Zhang Zhijiang. This project had crystallized the efforts,
thoughts, talents, and wisdom of an elite group of contemporary
martial artists, and left behind a legacy worthy of our study and
emulation. Indeed, it should be said that the “guoshu” project
is an invaluable cultural resource for indigenous sports. In this
connection, the development of duanbing, which was a constituent
part of the system of “guoshu” and martial arts competition at the
time, was an attempt by Zhang Zhijiang and a surrounding group
of martial artists to design a competitive sport that integrated the
techniques and styles of all the short-range weapons.
As stated above, the development of duanbing resulted from
the collective effort of a group of “guoshu” masters under Mr.
Zhang Zhijiang’s leadership. It was created under specific historical
circumstances and suffers from the limitations of its time. Due to
dearth of information, we know very little about its background,
which awaits deeper and more intense research in the future. The
earliest rules for duanbing competition we can find today are the
Detailed Principles in Fencing Competition published in the twentieth
year of the Republic of China (1931), which is collected in the
Regulations for Guoshu Competition (published in April 1935) in
the fourth chapter of the book. As certain facts about duanbing
competitions in the Republic of China may be gleaned from a
perusal of Detailed Principles, which may in addition assist in further
understanding the developmental process of the duanbing sport, I
think it is necessary to take a closer look at the book.
Regulations for Guoshu Competition was part of the materials the
Central Guoshu Institute prepared for the National Games, in the
hope guoshu would be included in the event. For this reason, the
book was published under the title, the “National Games in the
Twentieth Year of the Republic”, which refers to the Fourth National
Games held in Hanzhou in 1931. In fact, guoshu did not enter the
Fourth National Games but was included for the first time in 1933,
and only became a formal event in 1935 at the Sixth National
Games. Regulations for Guoshu Competition addresses three events,
namely combat (j1 boji), wrestling (¸_ shuaijiao), and fencing
(jijian), and besides laying down the general regulations it includes
only scanty information concerning the rules for individual events. In
the Regulations, what is referred to as boji is the same as sanshou,
and jijian may be equated with duanbing.
A Duanbing team in South China Normal University
Pioneers in China’s
indigenous sports also
endeavored to transform
Chinese fencing into
a sport, and devoted
efforts to merge
swordsmanship skills in
dao and jian into an
integrated competitive
form, which eventually
gave rise to ‘duanbing’
Detailed Rules specifies that both male and female athletes may
compete in duanbing competition, which has five weight divisions.
With the exception of the back of the head, ears, abdomen,
and groin, any other parts of the body are considered legitimate
targets for attack. The body is further divided into “primary”
and “secondary” targets, with score on the primary target being
awarded a full point, while a half-point is awarded for score on
the secondary target. The match has three rounds with each round
delimited by three scores, and the first to score two points or more
is awarded the round, while the match is decided by the winner
of two rounds. There is no time limit for the match. Of the rules
that deal with illegitimate strikes, the most important concerns
“the application of boji and wrestling methods on the opponent”,
whereas the rest forbid attack on certain parts of the body.
The passages above describe the first formal rules and regulations
for duanbing competition. In general, such rules tend to be rather
crude and are problematic for implementation; at the same time,
there are no concrete rules and guideline in respect of competition
venue, equipment, protective gear, and etiquette, which indicates
that the Detailed Rules were drafted at a time when competition
experience was lacking, and that duanbing competition was still in
its incipient, experimental stage.
After the twentieth year of the Republic, duanbing
competition became more frequent and
improvements were made to the rules
and regulations.
After the twentieth year of the Republic, duanbing competition
became more frequent and improvements were made to the
rules and regulations, but in this regard we have not found
any contemporary information and cannot say for certain what
these changes were. The competition rules at the 1953 Tianjin
Indigenous-style Games were likely based on the amended rules,
but even these cannot be found. Fortunately, Wushu, published
in 1961 by People’s Sports Publication and originally written for
a bachelor’s course at the Sports Institute, which after numerous
amendments continues to be used to the present day, contains a
section on duanbing (including the 1983 edition), which includes
aspects of technical training and competition rules.
The information on duanbing in the 1961 and 1983 editions
remains fairly crude in respect of technical training and leaves many
gaps in the rules, but it is a clear improvement on the Detailed
Rules published in the twentieth year of the Republic. I am not
certain who wrote the duanbing section for the 1961 edition, but
Mr. Zhang Wenguang and the late Mr. Wen Jinming, who sat on
evenly spread cotton around it, wrap it over again with a piece
of cloth to tighten the bundle, then finally fit a soft leather
coat over it. The body of duanbing is now ready. Afterwards,
stitch together two pieces of thick, hard leather, to fashion a
flat, round hand-guard with a three-inch diameter. Cut out
a circular hole an inch in diameter, insert the duanbing, and
fasten the hand-guard to a position six inches from the end.
Thus the duanbing is made. (see figure)
Venue: clearly mark out a white circle measuring sixteen feet
in diameter on a flat ground, lawn, or floor, and the space
within the circle is the competition space.
Regarding the competition rules, quite a few changes were made to
the Detailed Rules. As a case in point, whereas Detailed Rules admit
both male and female competitors and has five weight divisions,
Wushu specifies that “duanbing competition is suitable only for
adult male athletes and has no weight divisions”. In my opinion,
this is where Wushu is at fault while making adjustments to the
China’s Duanbing Movement
the editorial board, were both graduates and instructors in the
former National Arts Institute and thus familiar with duanbing,
and my guess is that they wrote this section. Mr. Ma Xianda was
added to the editorial team for the 1983 version. He is an expert in
duanbing and I am inclined to question whether some amendments
were also made at his instigation. By inference, the “competition
methods” outlined in Wushu are probably adopted from the rules
introduced in the twentieth year of the Republic and enforced
(with amendments) until 1953, and thus represent an exceptionally
precious resource for the present movement to revive duanbing
Wushu contains clear specifications for venue and equipment for
duanbing competition, which provides important guidance to
private efforts to develop this sport. As most people are unfamiliar
with duanbing today, I will take this opportunity to introduce the
specifications, which I hope will assist my readers to understand
more about duanbing.
Equipment: duanbing measures three feet long with a
diameter of one inch. In making the equipment, find a
bamboo stick with a half-inch diameter, or four pieces of
bamboo slips tied together with iron wires, wrap a layer of
Summer 2009 65
may be made in the future given sufficient research and investment.
Advances in science have also made available such technologies as
electronic scoring aids which were not possible in the past. In my
opinion, the most difficult part lies rather in establishing the rules
and a proper training program, which are urgent tasks that demand
immediate attention. The former requires much experimentation
and meticulous research, whereas the latter needs a well-designed
curriculum, which is prerequisite for any meaningful training
Rules and regulations serve to guide technical developments,
which is a common principle in all sports. I believe the success of
duanbing’s revival will depend to a large extent on the development
of techniques, which in turn is largely circumscribed by the rules
and regulations. Therefore, a conference with participants from
diverse background should be organized as soon as possible, in
order to discuss, research, and finalize the rules. Partially influenced
by Prof. Ma Mingda’s personal efforts to promote duanbing in
recent years, many regional and national teams have been set
up in overseas countries, which are intensifying their training
and endeavoring to improve the rules through trial and error. A
demonstrative competition is due to be held in the United States of
America in the near future which, though small in scale, is already
attracting some public attention. Furthermore, duanbing training is
also underway in Canada, Japan, and Macau, where the drafting of
new rules and regulations is being eagerly discussed.
I sincerely hope that more and more people will participate in
duanbing and that it will again become a popular sport in the not-
too-distant future.
rules. The removal of weight divisions is clearly unreasonable, and
to limit participants to men represents a conceptual regression.
Other adjustments made in Wushu are more logical, for example,
Wushu regulates that there are three two-minute rounds in each
match, with a minute of break in between, and the outcome being
determined by the score at the end of the match. This makes more
sense than the Detailed Rules where the outcome is decided by the
winner of two rounds. In sum, however, many flaws still exist in the
rules contained in Wushu, which pose considerable difficulties for
Duanbing competition was halted for nearly half a century, and
reviving it today naturally involves many problems and difficulties,
not least in respect of equipment, protective gear, as well as the
materials for their manufacture, which require an experimental
process of trial and error. Nonetheless, the question of equipment
does not pose insurmountable problems, for newly available
materials means that better and higher quality duanbing equipment
Training of the Duanbing team in South China Normal University
China’s Duanbing Movement Movement Sequence
Summer 2009 67
China’s Duanbing Movement Basic Techniques
Summer 2009 69
China’s Duanbing Movement Basic Techniques 2
Summer 2009 71
China’s Duanbing Movement Basic Techniques
Summer 2009 73
China’s Duanbing Movement Basic Techniques
Summer 2009 75
China’s Duanbing Movement Basic Techniques (slow motion)
studied Taijiquan and Xingyiquan in Taiwan between 1970-72,
and during that time I became deeply interested in Chinese
martial arts history, culture, and theory; and especially where
Taijiquan fits into this complex and fascinating study. Taijiquan
was treated as somehow different from other martial arts; often
hailed as the crowning example of an “Internal” martial art. But
what does this really mean? I quickly discovered that understanding
this was no easy task as no reliable text on Chinese martial arts
history was available in English at the time; making it hard to place
Taijiquan in its proper perspective. The 1930s saw the beginnings of
various attempts to apply serious, scholarly research into the origin
of Taijiquan, and we are greatly indebted to both Tang Hao and Xu
Zhen for their pioneering contributions. Building on these efforts,
in 1991 Shen Shou published Taijiquan Manual (¸___) through
the Chinese Martial Arts Association, the official governing body for
martial arts in the People’s Republic of China, which tried to lay the
issue to rest once and for all by offering the ‘official’ account. It does
so by arbitrarily attributing Taijiquan’s foundation and development
to the enigmatic Wang Zongyue (___) and others. However,
Taijiquan: Symbol of Traditional
Chinese Martial Arts Culture
By Stanley E. Henning
Morning Taiji practice; 1980s
Summer 2009 77
in spite of this pronouncement Taijiquan’s genesis remains open
to debate, and the subject continues to fuel new speculations and
spawn alternative origin myths. The latest episode in this ongoing
saga revolves around a genealogical register recently ‘discovered’ in
Henan, which ‘proves’ that the Li family village of Tang Cun, rather
than Chenjiagou, is Taijiquan’s ‘real’ birthplace.
In this article, however, I will not indulge in further speculations on
Taijiquan’s putative origin, or discuss the continuing struggles to
try and identify it with the so-called internal school of martial arts
and the legendary Daoist hermit Zhang Sanfeng (__¸). Instead, I
will attempt to objectively compare the basic principles espoused in
Taijiquan Theory (¸__¿) and other key writings by Wu Yuxiang
(_±¸, 1812-1880) with martial arts concepts expounded in
classical Chinese texts and historical manuals, including the Story
of the Maiden of Yue (¿_¡_, c.100 CE), Tang Shunzhi’s (__
_, 1507-1560) Martial Compendium (__), Qi Jiguang’s (___·
1528-1587) Boxing Classic in the New Book of Effective Discipline
(__¿_·_____) , Yu Dayou’s (¡¸¸, 1503-1579) Sword
Treatise (__), and other well known Ming-Qing period martial arts
writings, including Chang Naizhou’s (_][·1724-1783, known as
the Scholar-Boxer ¸_¡) Martial Arts Book (_____) and Boxing
Classic: Essentials of Boxing (1784, ____ÿ_), which contains
writings possibly passed on by a Ming period Shaolin Monk named
Xuan Ji (__, Profound Opportunity). I think this comparison will in
turn help determine Taijiquan’s proper place in traditional Chinese
martial arts culture irrespective of its origins.
A statue of Zhang Sanfeng
I will not indulge in further
speculations on Taijiquan’s
putative origin, or discuss
the continuing struggles to
try and identify it with the
so-called internal school
of martial arts and the
legendary Daoist hermit
Zhang Sanfeng.
I will begin by referring to the Story of the Maiden of Yue in the Spring
and Autumn Annals of Wu and Yue (¿_¡_, _¿¡¡, circa 100
AD), which offers the earliest and most succinct description of Chinese
martial arts theory. The crux of the theory concerns the interaction of
yin and yang in martial practice, and the interrelation between inner
concentration and external calm. In fact, the dynamic application
of the yin and yang principle were later developed to a much more
significant degree in the martial arts systems that collectively came
to be known as Taijiquan. Similar to the Story of the Maiden of Yue,
Taijiquan’s central principle, described at the beginning of Taijiquan
Theory, is adherence to the principle of yin and yang, which is now
couched in terms of Taiji, or the unifying ‘Supreme Ultimate’ concept.
It was in the Song period, about 900 years after the Story of the
Maiden of Yue was written, that the philosopher Zhou Dunyi (1017-
1073) created the Taiji symbol, which translated the principle of the
yin and yang interaction into a graphic medium, and thereby indelibly
imprinted the concept on people’s minds. Later, the philosopher Zhu
Taijiquan: Symbol of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture
‘Crush with the weight of Mount Tai’, one of 12 illustrations from ‘Secretly Transmitted Short Hitting Methods’, an addendum to New Book of Military Preparedness
(1630). This form is listed in a Sparring routine recorded in Chenjiagou Village (Note 1). Illustration courtesy Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library, Ichimura Collection
Summer 2009 79
‘Twisted and Lean Seizing Method’, another of the 12 illustrations from Secretly Transmitted Short Hitting Methods (1630), the earliest known illustration of applying
a ‘winding’ technique similar to that stressed in Chen Family Taijiquan. Illustration courtesy Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library, Ichimura Collection
Xi (1130-1200) incorporated the Taiji concept into what came to
be known as Neo-Confucianism, which became the most influential
school of thought in China until the introduction of Western science.
If one subscribed to the view that Taijiquan Theory was written by
Wang Zongyue, as the martial arts historian Tang Hao claimed, then
the name ‘Taijiquan’ may be traced to the 1790’s. However, Tang
based this claim on papers he found in a used bookstall in Beijing in
1935. Prior to this it was only known that Wu Yuxiang claimed to
have obtained Wang Zongyue’s Taijiquan Theory between 1852-1854.
While the name ‘Taijiquan’ may only be safely traced to the mid-19th
century, ‘Taiji’ as a martial arts concept is used in earlier writings,
including Wang Yuyou’s (_¡y1615-1684) Thirteen Broadsword
Methods (±_¸_) (late 1600’s), Chang Naizhou’s Martial Arts Book
(late 1700’s), and Boxing Classic: Essentials of Boxing (1784). Indeed,
yin and yang and its associated opposites –– hard and soft, empty and
full, movement and rest –– appear in all five of the Ming-Qing period
sources I consulted (see chart below for comparisons).
Taijiquan: Symbol of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture
Woodblock depiction of General Yue Fei
The second important concept in Taijiquan Theory that is described
in all referenced materials is that of ‘knowing one’s opponent
while hiding from him one’s intentions’. This might be described as
managing the element of surprise, or as Boxing Classic: Essentials
of Boxing puts it, taking advantage of ‘profound opportunity’ (__
xuanji). It also involves a combination of careful observation of one’s
opponent with a swift spontaneous response which attempts to mask
one’s own techniques, or as a famous Daoist thinker Ge Hong (¸
¸ 284-363) once said, “all the martial arts have secret formulas to
describe important techniques and have secret mysterious methods to
overcome an opponent. If an opponent is kept unaware of these then
one could defeat him at will.”
The third major concept in Taijiquan Theory is actually of Confucian
origin and expounded in Mencius’ writings –– ‘to give up one’s views
and follow others’. This concept is expressed in various forms in
three of the five Ming-Qing period writings I referenced, but perhaps
best encapsulated in Yu Dayou’s laconic, pragmatic phrase: ‘I quietly
await while the opponent is busy, I keep cadence and allow him
to contest.’ (Sword Treatise) That Yu called his staff manual Sword
Treatise may seem strange at first, until one realizes that he may be
alluding to the Story of the Maiden of Yue, where Yuenu describes
her sword technique as applicable to ‘all forms of combat’. One’s
attitude, a crucial psycho-physiological factor in hand-to-hand
combat, is described in the Maiden of Yue Story as “strengthen[ing]
the spirit within, [while] appear[ing] calm without.” One can tell that
both Taijiquan proponents, Wu Yuxiang and Chang Naizhou, quoted
this passage from memory, while it is described in more layman terms
in Shaolin Duanda Techniques Combined Boxing Manual, in Boxing
Classic: Essentials of Boxing, which appears to be a manual within the
manual. This section or portions thereof may have been copied from
a military manual left in the monastery during the Ming period, this is
likely because martial arts trained monks from the Shaolin Monastry
were commonly incorporated into militia groups during the Ming
period. General Yu Dayou, mentioned above, insisted on observing
the monks’ staff fighting skills, he was not impressed with what he
saw and took two monks along with him on his mid-16th century
anti-Japanese pirate campaigns to give them practical training in
hopes that that at least one of them might use this experience to
improve the staff fighting skills in the monastery.
Shifting attention now away from the theory of Taijiquan to the
practice of Taijiquan I would like to compare source references on the
key elements of qi (¸ vital energy) and jin (_ power/force) and the
evolution of Taijiquan’s forms and techniques.
Looking at the key elements of qi (¸ vital energy) and jin (_
power/force) in martial arts practice, the Story of the Maiden of Yue
describes qi at two levels — first, mental alertness and calmness; and
second, physical coordination of breathing and movement. Taijiquan
Theory describes the interaction of energy and power as key to
effective practice as does Boxing Classic: Essentials of Boxing, while
discussion of the role and different aspects of qi occupies a large part
of Chang Naizhou’s Chang’s Martial Arts Book, particularly in the
opening chapter, entitled ‘Discussion of Central Qi ((¸¿)’, where
he discusses the Taiji concept and he identifies martial preparedness
with what he calls ‘central qi’.
The action of linking
circles and spiral
motions, which is core
to the winding hands
techniques and key to
generating force in Taiji
application, clearly shares
some commonality with
traditional Ming-dynasty
spear techniques.
Summer 2009 81
Taijiquan Comparison Chart
1. ____ÿ_– Plum Flower Five Steps = Taiji |¡_¸]¸___
2. _____– Central Qi (¸= martial preparedness _ÿ¸(¸·one’s central equilibrium is called Taiji __¿¬¸__(·
Principles/ Maiden of Taijiquan theory Boxing Chang’s Sword Martial New Book of
Concepts Yue story and Insights on Classic: Martial Arts Classic Compendium Effective
executing the Essentials book Discipline
Thirteen Forms of Boxing
_[·§_ ¿_¡_ ¸__¿[±_ ____ _____ __ __ __¿_·__
_¡¸__ ÿ_ ___·¸¸¿

Yin and Yang
__ X X X X X X X
Hard and Soft
¡¸ X X X X X
Empty and Full
_¿ X X X X X X
Movement and Rest
¿{ X X X X X
Opponent does not
know me but I
know him
¸¯_____¸ X X X X X X X
Internally alert,
externally calm X X X X
Yield oneself and
follow the opponent
__¸¸ X X X X
Energy and Force
¸¸_ X X X X
Term Taiji
mentioned X X (1) X (2)
a description of winding hands, as that of Shaolin Yinshou Staff
(___). In either case, one uses this technique to deflect, push
away, and neutralize an opponent’s blow in an alternating helical
drill shaft motion which facilitates the issue of various modes of
force, including punching, seizing, twisting, pulling, pushing, and
even throwing an opponent to the ground. Indeed, we may easily
interpret Tang Shunzhi’s phrase — ‘hand palm-down covers and
hand palm-up lifts” (______) from a Shaolin Yinshou Staff (_
__) manual — as a description of winding hands.
As the foregoing discussion reveals, Taijiquan is a traditional
Chinese martial art in both form and theory, which integrates the
concepts of yin and yang, taiji, etc. into its practice, and developed
from historical forms in unarmed and spear martial arts. Indeed, the
very name ‘Taiji’ connotes the unity of internal and external forces,
which is a key concept lying at the heart of Chinese thinking,
thus making it an ideal symbol for mainstream traditional Chinese
martial culture.
Taijiquan: Symbol of Traditional Chinese Martial Arts Culture
Secondly, one discovers that with rare exceptions the thirty-two
forms (most references claim twenty-nine out of the thirty-two
forms) illustrated in General Qi Jiguang’s Boxing Manual are
found in the sets practised in the Chen Family Taijiquan system.
An additional technique, taishan yading ¸___ (Crush With
the Weight of Mount Tai) is used in sparring practice (sanshou j
_), which related to a routine titled Short Hitting (duanda ¿j)
( Xu Zhen ¸_ ,¸¸____j)·[¯·13·j_¸). This
discovery is very interesting as it hints at a deeper connection
between Taijiquan and Qi Jiguang, with a potential connection
to materials not included in New Book of Effective Discipline, but
later published in Secretly Transmitted Short Hitting Methods (¸
]¿j_) in New Book of Military Preparedness (_ÿ¿_, 1630).
Taijiquan’s techniques clearly owe much to General Qi Jiguang’s
thirty-two boxing forms and other Ming period sets. This is
particularly true of Chen Family training practice, which has several
important contact training routines: pushing hands / tuishou (__),
expanded / diagonal dalu (¸_) and the all-encompassing winding
hands / chanshou (__) technique or more commonly know as ‘silk
reeling energy/force’ (___) in modern Chen manuals.
The action of linking circles and spiral motions, which is core to
the winding hands techniques and key to generating force in
Taiji application, clearly shares some commonality with traditional
Ming-dynasty spear techniques that also require the linking
and sticking circular work to control and gain advantage over
the opponent. I exhort my readers to compare the technique of
winding hands to descriptions in contemporary spear manuals,
particularly Meng Lu Tang Spear Method (Meng Lu Tang Qiangfa,
±¡___, purportedly written by the Shaolin Monk Hong Zhuan
¸|, in Wu Shu’s (__, 1611-1695) Record of the Arm _;j).
Indeed, we may as easily interpret Tang Shunzhi’s phrase — ‘hand
palm-down covers and hand palm-up lifts” (______) — as
a famous Daoist thinker Ge
Hong (284-363) once said,
“all the martial arts have
secret formulas to describe
important techniques and
have secret mysterious
methods to overcome an
opponent. If an opponent is
kept unaware of these then
one could defeat him at will.”
Xu Zhen¸_¸¸¸____j)¸[¯¸13j_¸.
Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073)
Summer 2009 83
Davis, Barbara, The Taijiquan Classics: An Annotated Translation, Including a Commentry by Chen Weiming,
Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2004.
Fung, Yu-lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1962.
Henning, Stanley E., “Chinese Boxing: The Internal Versus External Schools in the Light of History and Theory”,
Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1997, 10-19.
_____, “Chinese Boxing’s Ironic Odyssey”, Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Vol. 8, No. 3, 1999, 8-17.
_____, “The Maiden of Yue: Fount of Chinese Martial Arts Theory”, Journal of Asian Martial Arts ,
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______, “Ge Hong: Famous Daoist Thinker & Practical Martial Artist”, Journal of Asian Martial Arts,
Vol. 16, No. 3, 2007, 22-25.
Kennedy, Brian L. “Taijiquan Wrestling”, Classical Fighting Arts, Vol. 2, No. 13, 44-50.
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Wells, Marnix, Scholar Boxer: Ch’ang Naizhou’s Theory of Internal Martial Arts and the Evolution of Taijiquan,
Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2005.
Wile, Douglas, T”ai Chi’s Ancestors: The Making of an Internal Martial Art, New York: Sweet Ch’i Press, 1999.
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Qi Jiguang ¿§_ ¸__¿_), ¸j_ ¿j, ¸__¡¸__, 1988.
Shen Jiazhen ¿QQ ¸[_¸__)__¿___·1968.
Shen Shou ¿§ ¸¸___)¸__¡¸__·1991
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Wang Xingya, Li Libing, _¿¸¸¸¸__¸¸¿_¸,¸()_[)2005¬7)¸4¸.
_@Q, Ç_Q,
Wang Zongyue, etc., _¿§@ ¸¸___)·¸_ ¿j· ¸__¡¸__·1995.
Wu Wenhan ý_Q ¸__¸___[__), ___¡¸_¸__·2001.
Xie, Sanbin @_§. 1630. ¸_ÿ¿_)· [_·___j§·¸]¿j_·16a-28b. ±_¸_(¸___·±|_g¸.
Xu Zhen Q§, 1935, ¸¸_____¡y¿_), ¿____¸__·1965.
_____. Q§, ed., 1936, ¸_____)¿_: (®_¸¸__, 1973.
_____. Q§ , 1936, ¸¸____j)·¿____¸__, 1965.
Zhang Ru’an gp¿· ¡__¡___ _¯¡¸¸, ¸_¡__), No. 4, 1988, 28-30.
Zhao Ye @@, ¸_¿¡¡_¸), _y· ¸_·_)¸_¸__ ·1994.
he Orochen are one of the smallest ethnic groups in China
with a population of just over 8,000. On the eve of Communist
Liberation in 1949, Orochen bands ranged over a vast land
covering the entire Great and Small Khingan Mountains, stretching
from the edge of Hulun Buir plains to the Russian fort of Khabarovsk
along a west-east axis. Their hunting grounds were bounded by the
river Amur in the north, beyond which lay the taiga of the Russian
Far East and Siberia, with a contracting border to the south, as the
boreal forest steadily retreated before the northward progression of
agrarian settlements. They were part of an extensive ethno-linguistic
family which the Soviet anthropologist Shirokogoroff christened the
‘northern Tungusic complex’ and are last of a long line of hunter-
gatherers who subsisted in the forested hinterland of northeastern
China, representing an archaic way of life that had held sway in this
By Zhao Shiqing
Orochen children with toy bow and
arrows; photograph taken at Tuohe
in the early 1960s by Song Zhaolin
Bone arrow collected by the German
ethnographer Walther Stotzner
when he conducted research among
Orochen hunters in the Great
Khingan Mountains in the late
1920s. Courtesy of Dresden State
Museum of Ethnology
The Archery Tradition of
China’s Boreal Hunters
Pictures courtesy of the Orochen Foundation, Leipzig & Guan Xiaoyun
Summer 2009 85
remote corner of Asia since antiquity. When the Orochen moved into
settlements under the Socialist ‘civilizing’ campaign in the 1950s, the
final chapter had closed on the history of China’s northern nomadic
This is not to suggest that the Orochen were unchanging in
their customs and lived in an ahistorical bubble of stagnant
‘ethnographic present’ up to the fateful moment of Socialist
Liberation. Indeed, quite the contrary. Between the mid-sixteenth
century when Manchus from the White Mountains and Black
River founded the Qing empire and the mid-twentieth century
when the Communist Party inaugurated a new era of socialism
in China, important changes took place which significantly
altered Orochen society and culture. These included technological
innovations — such as introduction of horse and firearms — which
re-molded fundamental aspects of their culture, as well as
transformations in their social order, which came about both as a
result of internal structural changes as well as external pressure.
The catalyst for these changes was the incorporation of Orochen
groups into the Qing empire, as the conquering Manchus sought
to bring frontier groups living in the margins within the ambit
of imperial administration and economy. We know from Qing
records that formerly dispersed Orochen bands were organized
into administrative units called ‘lu’ (literally, ‘roads’) beginning
in Kangxi’s reign, and hereditary chiefs were created among the
Orochen to rule over these units, under the overall command of
the general of Heilongjiang.
At the same time, they were subject
to an annual taxation payable in the form of sable pelt tribute
and served in the imperial armies, both as patrols in the Amur
region along the Russian border, and fought in campaigns in the
northwest and southwest. In the thirty-fourth year of Emperor
Qianlong’s reign, for example, three hundred Orochen cavalrymen
were sent to fight in the war in Yunnan, of whom a hundred and
thirty-seven perished by disease and war.
However, it appears
many of the reforms were quite superficial and in spite of sustained
efforts to organize Orochen huntsmen into administrative-
territorial units, the success of these policies was at best qualified.
Throughout the Qing Dynasty, reports to the imperial court
constantly complained of the difficulty of ‘reforming’ the habits of
‘wild’ Orochen who resisted the Manchu rulers’ ‘civilizing’ efforts
with recalcitrance and stubbornly clung on to the old ways.
No other aspect of Orochen culture from the beginning of the
Qing period to the dawn of Socialism was more enduring than the
practice of hunting and gathering. Undoubtedly hunting methods
evolved as new technologies were made available through contacts
with other ethnic groups, particularly as the bands living on the
western margins of the Manchurian forest slowly moved into the
Hulun Buir grassland, and began to intrude upon the land occupied
Orochen riders photograph taken in Alihe Orochen Autonmous Banner
Inner Mongolia in the early 1960s
Qing period pictures of an Imperial Tribute showing the Orochen with reindeer
by Mongolian pastoralists, following a well trodden, ancient migratory route in the footsteps
of Solon Evenk, who had moved along the same path a century earlier. During this period,
one of the most crucial changes was the adoption of the horse: whereas the Orochen first
appeared on the historical stage as reindeer herders, by the late Qing period many Orochen
bands were firmly established as horse breeders, and began to exhibit marked differences
from other North Tungusic groups in Siberia, with whom they once shared a common culture.
In time, Orochen bands living in the western Khingan ranges developed a horse breeding
nomadic culture entirely divorced from reindeer husbandry, which eventually gave rise to the
popular image of the nomadic Orochen hunter astride a shaggy Mongolian horse. However,
the ancient association with reindeer herding may still be seen from the name ‘Orochen’,
which was etymologically derived from ‘oron chen’ — ‘reindeer-people’. Nonetheless,
a salient feature in the Orochen’s cultural make up and socio-economic orientation that
persisted through this period of change was the focus on hunting as their primary economic
activity, which distinguished them as the only sub-arctic hunters in China.
The Orochen’s heavy reliance on hunting was in common with many indigenous groups
inhabiting the taiga belt across the Eurasian continents, as severe climatic conditions impose
a natural limit on the role of other subsistence activities in the far north. Thus, unlike foragers
in tropical forests who place a greater emphasis on gathering, hunter gatherers living in the
boreal forest are first and foremost hunters, whose economy is supplemented by fishing and
a limited extent of gathering in the summer. In many respects, hunting was the only viable
mode of existence in much of Siberia and northern Manchuria, whereas conversely, Orochen’s
nomadic hunter-gatherer culture represented an extreme adaptation to the sub-arctic
environment. In this connection, it is worth considering the Soviet scholar A. P. Okladnikov’s
comment that the Neolithic age in Siberia was precipitated by a series of important
technological breakthroughs, chief among those being the invention of the bow and arrow,
which enabled rapid social developments and the occupation of large parts of Siberia which
were until then unpopulated.
The Archery Tradition of China’s Boreal Hunters
‘Morgen’ artist’s impression of a mounted Orochen archer
Summer 2009 87
The significance of the bow in north Asian indigenous cultures can
hardly be overestimated, for prior to the introduction of firearms
it was the most important tool to the hunter in the boreal forest,
and proficiency in it use could carry a band over the fine line
separating subsistence from starvation. The continuing relevance
of archery as a subsistence activity is testified by the persistence
of bow and arrows and their derivative hunting tools even in
the early 1960s, despite the fact that firearms had been known
among them since the early Qing period.
morgen’ — is used
synonymously to describe a person of intelligence and ability, which
in native society is inevitably connected with skills in archery and
the hunt. The symbolic value of the bow is also made manifest
through taboos associated with its handling. To the present day,
women are forbidden to touch men’s hunting equipment in many
indigenous societies in north Asia, which they believe would
pollute the weapons and bring bad luck. This ritual prohibition
not only highlights the sacrosanct nature of hunting activities but
also reinforces the hunter’s elevated (sacred) ritual position. And
lying at the center of all hunting activities is the bow, which is the
‘loci’ of spiritual power and, as we shall see, a potent tool used
in the communion with the spiritual world. And to the Orochen
hunter nothing symbolizes his status as provider of food as well as
No other aspect of Orochen
culture from the beginning
of the Qing period to the
dawn of Socialism was more
enduring than the practice of
hunting and gathering
his bow (or in a later period, his rifle), which beyond its value as
a subsistence tool is also a social marker carrying great symbolic
significance. This may be seen in the first place in the semantics of
the Orochen language, where the term designates a good hunter.
n many ways, the ability to hunt defines the Orochen adult
male and gives meaning to his existence. Naturally, there are
many skills and different aspects of knowledge incumbent on
an aspiring hunter, including intimate geographic knowledge of his
hunting ground, the ability to track animals, and an understanding
of their movements and seasonal habits, but none is considered
as vital as the ability to shoot well, which is the sure mark of a
true hunter, a morgen. The symbolic significance of the bow and
the cultural value attached to its mastery is deeply embedded in
Orochen consciousness, and in their myths the morgen inevitably
appears as a cultural hero and defender of society, who combats
primeval monsters and overcomes impossible odds by performing
supernatural feats with his bow. The story of Morgen and Mangee,
which I retell below, may be taken as representative:
There was a Mangee (monster) living in the forest. Many
hunters have been caught and eaten by Mangee and
eventually they decided to invite Morgen (the best hunter)
to deal with him. Thereupon Morgen went along to find the
cannibalistic Mangee and challenged him to a contest. First,
they had a trial of strength. Mangee picked up a massive
boulder and threw it to the other side of the river. Then
Morgen picked up a boulder just as big and landed it on
top of a hill across the river. Then they decided to have an
archery contest, with the boulder on top of the hill as the
target. Again, Mangee was the first to try. The first arrow
pierced a hole in the edge of the boulder; but the second
arrow only reached the foot of the hill; and the third arrow
did not even make it across, but landed in the middle of
Bayartu; last Orochen bowyer
the river, and was immediately washed away by the current;
Mangee tired easily. Then it was Morgen’s turn to shoot;
his first arrow penetrated right through the middle of the
boulder. Terrified by Morgen’s strength and skills, Mangee
fled and never returned.
In this myth, the hunter was able to drive away the man eating
monster with an impressive display of strength and archery skills.
Significantly, the figure of mangee is universal in the mythic
traditions of indigenous societies across north Asia — known, for
instance, as manggus in Mongolian — which symbolically embodies
the untamed elemental forces that continually threaten man’s
fragile existence within nature. In all these traditions mangee is
invariably portrayed as shaggy and massive with human if troll like
characteristics, possessed of tremendous strength, and preys on
human beings. To understand the significance of this imagery we
have to understand the lived-in environment of the Manchurian
forest and Siberian taiga, in whose vast wilderness man is exposed
to the unremitted harshness of nature and competes with other
animals of prey for limited resources. Man the hunter lives at the
mercy of the elements, and in every hunting expedition he runs
the risk of forceful currents, storms, snowdrifts, and attacks by
bears and wild boars, so that at any given moment he could have
the table turned against him and become man the prey. Among
Orochen elders I have heard heart breaking tales of husbands and
fathers lost in the forest, and when their bodies were eventually
found they bore unmistakable signs of a fierce struggle against
amaha, the grandfather, which is the name by which they call the
The Archery Tradition of China’s Boreal Hunters
Solonbow1; photograph taken and printed with the permission of the Dresden
Museum of Ethnology
Orochen bow detail of the nock
Orochen bow detail of the limb and bowstring
Uliren (Orochen encampment); photograph taken in Alihe Autonmous
Banner Inner Mongolia
Summer 2009 89
in the National Museum, inaccessible to the public, in Beijing. There
is also a simple trapping device, consisted of a short wooden self-
bow and a releasing mechanism (also made of wood), in the National
Museum of Ethnology in Japan, which was collected in Inner Mongolia
in the 1930s. The only other Orochen bow I know of is in my own
personal collection, which was made by the oldest living Orochen
hunter, Bayartu, as a gift to me in 2004. To my knowledge it is the
only Orochen bow that has been made in recent times. Different
types of wood seemed to have been used, according to the bowyer’s
preference and the materials available. The bow Song collected is
made of birch (or so he believes), while Qiu Pu, who studied the
Orochen around the same time, gave pine and elm as the preferred
materials. However, regardless of the type of wood used for bow-
manufacture, its basic shape is consistent and shows a classic “D”
cross section typical of self-wood longbows.
For the sake of comparison, it is worth quoting in full Bayartu’s
account of bow making:
The most important consideration in making the longbow (per)
is the choice of material. First of all, the wooden stave must be
selected from a limb on a pine tree growing on a slope directly
exposed to the sun. After the bark is removed from the limb it
should have a slightly red hue, which indicates the tree received
direct sunlight and was strong and healthy. It is important that the
limb is free from any lumps and has a nice curve, which gives it
flexibility. It has to be balanced on both ends, with a circumference
of about 6cm, and not tilted to one side.
The bow-string (per ushiin) is made from deer’s neck skin, which is
cut into a leather string with a width of about 1.5cm, of about the
same length as the bow.
revered Asiatic Black Bear. Only against this background of daily
struggle for survival can we truly appreciate the symbolic force of
the story of mangee and morgen, for the only security an Orochen
hunter has as he ventures out into the forest are his personal
weapons, of which the most important are his bow and arrows.
owever, what does the Orochen bow look like? According to
Song Zhaolin, one of the earliest Chinese ethnographers to
study the Orochen in the early 1960s, they had two types of
bows: the standard composite bow used in the Qing military, and a
type of wooden self-bow manufactured by the Orochen themselves.
vii viii
Other ethnographers indicate pine as the wood of choice for
making bows — a fact corroborated by Bayartu, the last Orochen
There are very few extant Orochen bows today, and the
tradition of archery and bow making has discontinued since their
settlement in the 1950s. Most of the surviving specimens were
collected by Chinese ethnographers in the early 1960s and are stored
Orochen bow made by Bayartu
In many ways, the ability to
hunt defines the Orochen
adult male and gives meaning
to his existence
To make the bow, the tree limb is reduced to a stave measuring
about two arms in length, and the bark is removed with a hunting
knife. It is gradually fashioned into a flat, round shape, adjusted
to the desired weight, with the middle of the bow slightly broader
than the ends. It is then laid down on a long stool, flattened, and
firmly fastened to the stool with leather ropes. It remains in this
position for a day or so, out of the reach of the sun, to increase the
bow’s flexibility.
The leather string for use as a bow string should be made as taut as
possible. Then it should be thoroughly rubbed back and forth with
a short leather belt, so that the tension is even across the string.
After that it should be tightened again and left for a while.
Finally, removing the bow from the stool, indentations are made
about 3cm from both ends to fashion the nocks, which should have
sufficient depth for fastening the bow string. Then, the string is
tied to the bow, adjusting the pull weight as you do so. After this
the bow is complete.
The Orochen bow belongs to the type of north Asian bow used
by indigenous groups across much of northeastern Siberia. An
unstrung Solon bow collected in the Hulun Buir plains in the early
20th century by the German ethnographer, Walther Stötzner,
which is now in the Museum of Ethnology in Dresden shows
essentially the same characteristics with a rounded body, subtly
tapering towards the limbs, and displays nocks of identical design,
albeit somewhat smaller. Undoubtedly, the basic design of the
bow is archaic and its structure is similar to primitive self-bows
found in large parts of the world, including northern Asia, the
Japanese archipelago, northern Europe and north America. Being
a perishable material, there are not many surviving specimens of
ancient bows in north Asia. However, the simplicity in the design
of the Orochen bow suggests its form has changed little from
prehistoric times, which is perhaps a little surprising given the
significance of the bow in Orochen culture. Below, I postulate
two main reasons for the stability in Orochen bow design over an
extended temporal span.
In the first place, the relative homogeneity of the flora across the
sub-arctic zone in north Asia means indigenous bowyers have a
limited selection of wood to choose from. Superior woods for bow
manufacture, such as yew, cedar and osage-orange, which have
good compression strength, resilience and flexibility, are simply
not available to hunter gatherer groups living in the far north.
The properties of these types of wood allow the manufacture of
The Archery Tradition of China’s Boreal Hunters
bows that are lightweight and powerful, and whose shape can be
manipulated for the best design for casting an arrow.
Not having
these materials at their disposal, Orochen bow makers made up for
the lack of strength and flexibility in the native woods by creating
bows of immense size and weight.
Secondly, technological innovations and developments often arise
in response to new economic, social, and political challenges, and
the very stability in bow form suggests it was perfectly adequate
in meeting the needs of subsistence hunting. Indeed, throughout
the historical period, the Orochen have shown great readiness and
aptitude in adapting new technologies to subsistence activities,
as demonstrated by their active import of equestrian skills and
technologies from the Mongols and Manchus and adoption of
firesarms. Indeed, given that the composite bow was also known
among the Orochen, that the old, native self-bow continued to be
in use suggests it was sufficient for hunting purposes. Due to the
paucity of functional Orochen bows today it is hard to gauge the
actual (range of) weight of their bows, but if the bow made by
Bayartu could give us any indication then a typical Orochen hunting
bow would probably be around 45 pounds at 24” draw. Studies
have shown that war bows characteristically have a much heavier
draw weight than hunting bows. As a general rule, bows used in
hunting seldom pull over 50 pounds whereas war bows frequently
have draw-weights in excess of 70 or even 100 pounds, particularly
where they were designed to pierce protective armor.
This would
explain why the Orochen bow never developed features that would
enhance the bow’s performance in battlefield — such as the ability
to withstand stress over a sustained period of use, a heavier pull,
and a more stable and smooth cast — neither acquiring the great
length of the English war bow,
nor developing the sinew backing
of the Eskimo bow,
which are different ways of allaying the
tremendous tension put on the back of a heavy war bow when it is
in full draw. In this regard, I am inclined to think that an important
reason for the Eskimo’s advanced bow technology was the
frequency of inter-tribal warfare — a fact attested by the elaborate
pieces of Eskimo amour collected by ethnographers in the 19th
although according to Orochen oral traditions warriors
of old employed massive pine bows which could out-perform more
elaborate composite horn bows used by the Manchus.
At our
present state of knowledge we cannot verify the claim one way
or the other, and have no way of determining whether surviving
specimens of Orochen bow are indicative of ‘cultural degeneration’,
or whether they did in fact possess a more powerful bow which
had been forgotten and fallen into disuse, and was replaced by a
cruder type of bow used only for hunting.
Summer 2009 91
A photograph of Orochen riders taken in Alihe Orochen Autonmous Banner Inner Mongolia in the early 1960s
technological innovations and
developments often arise in response
to new economic, social, and political
challenges, and the very stability in bow
form suggests it was perfectly adequate in
meeting the needs of subsistence hunting
The Archery Tradition of China’s Boreal Hunters
Orochen Ritual Archery: photograph taken in the 1980s courtesy of Guan Xiaoyun
Summer 2009 93
How did the Orochen shoot? On the basis of the limited available
materials, it is difficult to reconstruct the Orochen shooting
methods, for early ethnographers did not pay too much attention
to indigenous archery practices, and there are very few old hunters
left who are cognizant of the use of bow and arrows. Song
Zhaolin, one of the only Chinese ethnographers to have studied
the Orochen’s hunting methods, suggests that the thumb-ring
was probably used in archery practice. By his own admission,
his argument is based on the accidental discovery of an elk
bone thumb-ring during the process of assembling an Orochen
ethnographic collection, although he also says that the Orochen
had already forgotten how it was used.
However, Song did not
seem to have studied their archery methods, and the method he
proposes of how the Orochen used the thumb-ring is contradictory
to what we know about its use in general, and in any case his
hypothesis betrays a lack of understanding in fundamental archery
ortunately, there is a black and white photograph from the
1960s which shows an Orochen hunter taking an aim with a
bow, and presents a clear picture of how they shot — or at least
one version of it. The photograph shows an Orochen hunter clothed
in deer skin holding a typical Orochen D-shaped self-bow, with a
rounded body slightly wider in the handle than the limbs, and what
appears to be a twisted leather rope for bow string. Interestingly, the
arrow is unfletched and is without an arrowhead, which suggests he
was posing for the photographer and that the equipment he was
using might have been made specifically for this purpose, for an
unfletched arrow has no aerial stability. In fact, I should point out
that most of the arrows I have seen in museums (including those
made by Bayartu) do not have feathers attached to them. On one
occasion, I brought up this issue with Bayartu who explained that
arrows were fletched in the past, and the reason why the ones he
made for me were bare was that he did not have suitable feathers.
This suggests that most of the arrows — made after the 1920s
and 1930s — were specimens made for ethnographic collection and
not intended for use. On the other hand, the type of arrow shown in
the picture fits very well with Qiu Pu’s description, which states that
some of the arrows were made from a single piece of birch wood and
sharpened at one end.
xix xx
The shooting method is what one might
expect from this type of wooden self-bow, which has a short draw
length and is pulled back employing the ‘Mediterranean draw’ — a
misnomer given that this is one of the most common techniques in
archery traditions around the world. We cannot tell from this picture
whether the bow is at full or half draw, although the properties of
this type of self-bow and the performance of my own Orochen bow
suggest it is close to a full draw. Indeed, studies of archery traditions
in North America show that what we consider to be a full draw was
not used in many indigenous societies, which often favored a shorter
— and quicker — release.
Perhaps there was another method of arrow release in Orochen
archery practice that made use of the thumb-ring. It has already
been shown above that beside the indigenous pine self-bow the
Orochen also had the Manchu composite bow. In so far as the
Orochen were part of the Manchu military organization and served
in its armies, it seems likely that they also learnt the standard
method of using the composite bow with the thumb-ring release.
The presence of thumb-rings in a number of Orochen ethnographic
Orochen hunter with bow and arrow, photograph taken circa 1960s
In this myth, the hunter was
able to drive away the
man eating monster with
an impressive display of
strength and archery skills.
Uliren (Orochen encampment); photograph taken in Alihe Autonmous Banner
Inner Mongolia
Summer 2009 95
collections –– including two thumb-rings at the Museum of
Ethnology in Dresden, one at the Museum of Ethnology in Leipzig,
and at least one at the National Museum in Beijing — indicate that
thumb-rings were common among the Orochen. That many of them
were locally manufactured (made of animal — and particularly elk
— bones) further suggests that the wearing of thumb-ring had
become part of the local custom, even if it was originally brought in
from outside (which seems likely given that the wearing and use of
thumb-ring is not practiced among other northern Tungusic peoples).
Nonetheless, given the fashion of the wearing thumb-rings among
upper class Manchus, it is possible that thumb-rings were worn for
aesthetic and symbolic reasons rather than used in actual archery
practice. In any event, the original purpose of the thumb-ring seems
to be quite forgotten by the mid-20th century, at a time when
hunting was itself beginning to fade into memories of the past.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s when Chinese ethnographers
visited Orochen settlements in Heilongjiang province and Inner
Mongolia, the bow had already been replaced by modern rifle as
the primary hunting tool, and the hunters they interviewed were
the last Orochen bowyers and archers. Already by that time, few
hunters used bow and arrows for subsistence hunting, though many
The Archery Tradition of China’s Boreal Hunters
Orochen ritual archery; photograph taken in the 1980s courtesy of Guan Xiaoyun
continued to make a shorter type of wooden bow as part of a
self-releasing mechanism for protecting their horses at night, which
they called ‘ground-arrows’. Many Orochen hunters had forgotten
the art of bow making, though the elders still remembered how
their ancestors hunted with arrows tipped with iron or bone
Within a few short years, the Cultural Revolution
would bring about changes that would transform the social and
natural landscape of the Khingan Mountains beyond recognition,
and draw a curtain on the Orochen’s history as hunter gatherers.
However, even as the bow retreated from the Orochen’s daily
activities, it continued to play a part in their cultural life and
identity. Even though fewer bows were made for subsistence
purposes, hunters continued to make miniature bows for their
children — one of my Orochen friends, Meng Luanfeng, recalled
playing with a toy bow and arrows his father made him when he
was growing up in the 1980s. Another surviving archery practice
until recent years was the use of bow and arrows in funerary ritual,
whereby a hunter would release an arrow into the forest to guide
the spirit of a deceased relative.
This custom reminds us of the
bow’s unique significance to the Orochen hunter, which protected
him and his family during his lifetime, and served as a guide to his
spirit after he had moved on from this world.
Summer 2009 97
In the 6th year of the emperor Kangxi’s reign (1667) the institution
of zuolin (jiangin in Orochen) administration was imposed on the
Orochen, with the creation of five lu – corresponding to five major
rivers in the Khingan Mountains – and eight jiangin officials. See
Song, Zhaolin, The Last Hunters (zui hou de pu lie zhe), Shandong
Posters Publications, 2001, pp. 18-19.
The Orochen were the most important suppliers of sable-pelts
to the Manchu court, and most of the imperials records that deal
with the Orochen were concerned with sable-pelt tribute. See Bai,
Ying & Wu, Yuanfeng(ed.), The Compendium of Chinese and Manchu
Records in the Qing Dynasty (Qing dai elunchun man han wen
dangan huibian), Nationalities Press, Beijing: 2001.
Ibid., pp. 640, 643, §§189, 197.
Okladnikov, A. P., Ancient Population of Siberia and Its Cultures,
Peabody Museum, Massachusetts: 1959, P. 12-21
Song, Zhaolin, op. cit., pp. 83-87.
The story of the mangee and morgen is popular among the
Orochen and there are many different versions of it. See for example
‘Legend of Gaxian Cave’, Orochen Folk Stories (Elunchun minjian
gushi ji), Inner Mongolia People’s Publications, 1981:Holhot, pp.
Song, Zhaolin, op. cit., p. 12.
Ibid. p. 12; Qiu, Pu, Orochen’s Social Development, Shanghai
People’s Publications, Shanghai: 1980, p. 21.
See Shirokogoroff, S. M., Social Organization of the Northern
Tungus, Garland Publishing, NY & London: 1979, originally
published by the Commercial Press, Shanghai: 1929; also Zhao, Fu-
xing, The Culture of Orochen Nomadic Hunters (Elunchun zu youlie
wenhua), Inner Mongolia Peoples’ Publications, Holhot: 1991, pp.
The account is based on an oral interview with Bayartu in summer
2004, after he completed making his bow. It was previously
published in the Orochen Foundation’s annual magazine, Uncooked,
issue 1, December, 2005, pp. 10-13.
For discussion on the properties of yew and osage bows see
Strunk, J., ‘Yew Longbow’, and Hardcastle, R., ‘Osage Flat Bow’, both
in The Traditional Bowyer’s Bible, vol. One, The Lyons Press, 1992:
Conneticut, pp. 117-131, 131-148. It is also worth remarking that
of the other types of wood discussed by Paul Comstock for making
bows, he does not mention pine although he includes birch in his
Baker, Tim, ‘Bow Design and Performance’, The Traditional
Bowyer’s Bible, vol. One, p. 78.
Soar, Hugh D. H., The Crooked Stick: A History of the Longbow,
Westholme Publishing, 2005.
Callahan, Errett, ‘Archery in the Arctic’ (Parts One to Three),
Primitive Technology II: Ancestral Skills (Wescott ed.), Gibbs Smith,
2001, pp. 119-133.
Burch, Ernest S., Jr., ‘War and Trade’, Fitzhugh, William W. &
Crowell, Aron (ed.), Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and
Alaska, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988, pp. 227-232.
Zhao, Fu-xing, op. cit., p. 27.
Song, Zhao-lin, op. cit., pp. 14-15.
Qiu, Pu, op. cit., p. 21. Qiu Pu states that the Orochen used swan
and wild goose feathers as fletches.
Bohr, Roland, ‘Indigenous Archery on the North American Plains:
Adaptation and Survival’, World Traditional Archery: The Current
Situation and Tasks Ahead, published by the World Traditional
Archery Festival, 2007, pp. 151-206.
Abridged History of the Orochen (Elunchun zu jianshi), Inner
Mongolia People’s Publications, Holhot: 1983, p. 34. By the time
socialist ethnographers conducted their survey archery was no
longer practiced as a subsistence activity, although the old people
remembered a time when it played a more important role in the
See Song, Zhaolin, op. cit.; Zhao, Fu-xing, op. cit.; etc.
By Luo Zhengcheng
Boxing Manual and Key Principles of
Boxing Methods
Introduction to the Boxing Manual and Key Principles of Methods.
The present edition was issued by Tan Yin Lu (¡¡_) in Shanghai during the twenty-fifth
year of the Republic (1936), and was reprinted from an original copy published in the
twenty-sixth year of the Guangxu period (1900).
Summer 2009 99
he Tan Yin Lu series were edited by Luo Zhengchang, a well
known scholar and book collector of the near-modern period.
He was a native from Shanglu, Zhejiang province, and the
younger brother of Luo Zhengyu, who was an outstanding scholar in
the study of inscribed steles of the Jin period.
In the introduction Luo Zhengchang says that the Boxing Manual is
made up of just one chapter called Key Principles of Boxing Methods
¸__ÿ_), and that the original was a private hand written copy.
Furthermore, he states that the methods it contains belong to the
Shaolin style. Allegedly, the manual was compiled by Zhang Kongzhao
and annotated by Cao Huangzhu, and judging from its contents, the
methods it describes were derived from Kongzhao but written down
by Huangdou. In the Chinese textual tradition, annotations are usually
inserted below the original text for ease of identification. In this case,
however, the original text and the annotations are put together
without a clear boundary separating the two. No author is given for
Key Principles of Boxing Methods¸__ÿ_), though the fact all the
illustrations were added by Cao suggests that he might perhaps also
have written the text. An original mnemonic rhyme appended to the
section entitled ‘secret methods of the double channels’¸__¸_)
(shuangguan mifa) in Boxing Manual¸__), which was attributed
to master Zhang, suggests that the original text was not written by
Zhang, for it was customary for a disciple to record the techniques
orally transmitted by the master. However, Cao and Zhang did not
live in the same period, and it was stated in the introduction that the
author learned the techniques from a combination of reading Zhang’s
book and instruction. We may conjecture thus that Cao probably
learned Zhang’s techniques from one of his students, some of whom
might have still been alive during emperor Qianlong’s reign. Otherwise,
it was unlikely that the author could have learned the techniques from
reading the text alone (we may discard the reference to the author
learning the skills from two old men who appeared in his dreams). The
martial arts flourished during Kangxi’s reign but declined thereafter.
A line towards the end of the book states that a certain Wang hand
copied this book in the twenty-sixth year of the Guangxu period
–– the year when the boxer rebellion broke out. In fact, the claim
the book was copied from an ancient text dating to the mid-Qing
dynasty was probably apocryphal, though the methods it contains are
genuine, as opposed to other martial arts texts published under the
boxer influence at that time. In any case, regardless of its genesis, the
book is encyclopedic in scope and contains a wealth of information
ranging from analysis of the functionality of different human parts
(encapsulated in the twelve secret methods), to advanced techniques
in body exercise, generating force, and stepping movements. In
addition, the etched illustrations are well executed and exceptionally
detailed, and it is a complete martial arts manual of the finest quality.
The book has previously been published in China and Taiwan.
Boxing Manual and Key Principles of Boxing Methods
Summer 2009 101
Boxing Manual and Key Principles of Boxing Methods
Summer 2009 103
Boxing Manual and Key Principles of Boxing Methods
Summer 2009 105
Boxing Manual and Key Principles of Boxing Methods
Summer 2009 107

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