Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Discussion on the three big Chinese internals, Yiquan, Bajiquan, Piguazhang and other similar styles.

Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby GrahamB on Sat May 05, 2018 1:36 am

I wrote a blog post the other day in which I said the Taoist origins of Tai Chi are historically unproven, or something similar, yet the similarity in ideas is obviously there.

My post:

Wu Wei the art of doing without doing
https://taichinotebook.wordpress.com/20 ... out-doing/

I got an interesting comment on Facebook from somebody linking to a book I wasn't aware of:

"Roel Jansen: Your information on the origins of Tai Chi is outdated. Please read ‘Tai Chi - the true history & principles’ by Lars Bo Christiansen to get up to date with the latest findings on the daoist origins of Tai Chi."

So I looked the book up and it exists - it's on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tai-Chi-True-H ... principles

You can read a lot of it on the "look inside" feature. It's about the newly found Li family manuscripts from which the author draws some pretty wild conclusions, one of which is that the Taoist link to Tai Chi has now been proved beyond doubt.

The book author has a website too, which contains his main arguments in the QnA:

http://thetaichiworkshop.dk/?page_id=346

I thought something seemed a bit 'off' with the whole thing, so I looked around and found the eminent Douglas Wile, who wrote two books on the Tai Chi Classics that are very good, and that classic essay on Chan Sang Feng, had written a massive article on these Li manuscripts, (and Lars' book) which is here:

https://mas.cardiffuniversitypress.org/ ... /download/

It's a mammoth read, but looks at the whole thing from a more balanced perspective, including all the political leanings.

The TL;DR version: It's complicated. :)

"The question of whether taijiquan is the product of Daoism creating
a martial art or a martial art absorbing Daoism is a critical issue in
Chinese martial arts historiography. If anything, Daoism is an even
more slippery term than taijiquan itself, but the issue has become highly
politicized, which is understandable in the context of Chinese history
and culture. However, for a Western scholar to stumble into this
minefield bespeaks a certain naiveté. The assertion of Daoist origins has
become associated with cultural nationalism and the search for Chinese
identity, often called ‘Chineseness’. Chinese scholars have built entire
careers out of championing either Zhang Sanfeng or Chen Wangting,
but it is very unseemly for Western scholars to insert themselves in
this politicized process of roots-seeking and competing attempts to
identify origin, creator, or birthplace as ‘transient points of stabilization’
[Laclau 2000: 53]. "
Last edited by GrahamB on Sat May 05, 2018 3:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby yeniseri on Sat May 05, 2018 7:15 am

Far from being a historian, butit is well known that the origins of taijiquan is actually Chen family style, which includes the synthesis of folk style of the era.
That is the true background despite the cultural imperative to sanitize taijiquan and attributd it to some hagiographical legendary figure, as a way to obfiscate its reality.

My basic question has always got a positive response..to wit, from what source did all taijiquan come from? Chen village is where all known historical figures have studied or, individuals learning from said source..i.e. drinking from the same stream..... just sayin'.
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Bao on Sat May 05, 2018 7:36 am

yeniseri wrote:Far from being a historian, butit is well known that the origins of taijiquan is actually Chen family style, which includes the synthesis of folk style of the era.


Chen Wangting, who is said to be the creator of Chen style, had a great interest in Daoist arts. He even wrote a poem about a Daoist classic that contains discussions on several Daoist disciplines. He took many things from here and there and we know that he already knew internal boxing. If he started Tai Chi or added Tai Chi to his art is another question. Neijiaquan, the Shisanshi and the Sanshiqi are all terms that are older than Chen Wangting. (And these terms all has a Taoist connection) So what we know for sure is that he didn’t invent Internal boxing arts and he did not invented the internal concepts that are to be found in Tai Chi Chuan.

....

Tai Chi has Daoist influence, as well as Neo-confucian and Buddhist influence. It’s an art that has developed through the hands of many different people rather than by one single individual. It’s more of a melting pot of different philosophical schools and internal boxing methods and concepts, and at the same time a unique art form of practical philosophy.
Last edited by Bao on Sat May 05, 2018 7:41 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby HotSoup on Sat May 05, 2018 8:05 am

You can easily broaden your question to something like, how much the ideas we all think are Taoist in origin are actually something specific to Taoism? Wuji, Yin-Yang, Wuxing, Bagua, TCM, etc. are all parts of Chinese culture. Conceptually, they likely had been existing long before anything that was later codified as "Taoism". They are utilized in Confucianism, Chan Buddhism, and what's called the "folk religion", as well. Guess, calling all this "Chinese" pays it more justice than "Taoist".

There is an opinion that asking a CIMA practitioner from the beginning of the nineteenth century whether his art was "Buddhist" or "Taoist" would make as much sense, as asking a medieval fence teacher whether his fencing was "Catholic" or, say, "Juwish".

Now, you can have another question, which I think is way more thought-provoking. How much the fact that some CMA got associated with Taoism by common public since the middle of the nineteenth century actually has affected the way those arts have been practices and taught from then on?
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby GrahamB on Sat May 05, 2018 10:07 am

Great post HotSoup - those are exactly the right questions. Chinese Folk Religion is by far the biggest religion in China. Also interesting to ponder wether that pure "philosophical Taoism" of the Tao Te Ching and Chang Tzu, as opposed to the religious variety with saints, gods, etc, only really seems to exist... in the West ;D
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Bao on Sat May 05, 2018 12:06 pm

HotSoup wrote:You can easily broaden your question to something like, how much the ideas we all think are Taoist in origin are actually something specific to Taoism? Wuji, Yin-Yang, Wuxing, Bagua, TCM, etc. are all parts of Chinese culture. Conceptually, they likely had been existing long before anything that was later codified as "Taoism". They are utilized in Confucianism, Chan Buddhism, and what's called the "folk religion", as well. Guess, calling all this "Chinese" pays it more justice than "Taoist".


Taiji and Wuji are 10th century post neo-Confucian concepts. How we understand Wu, Dao, De, WuweI, Bagua and Wuxing have been shaped by Daoism, Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism. TCM is very much a modern concept. Other things called Daoism as some of the numerology associated with Daoism was probably invented by Jesuits in China.

The different movements, schools, religions and philosophies have always had exchange. A strong example of this is to be found in South-West of China, now Yunnan Province. In the 300s AD when Buddhists and daoists met up and started to live side by side. There are still Daoist and Buddhist temple to be found less than 100 meters from each other and local variations of the two religions that are almost exactly the same. Only the name of the deities are different.

Specific to Daoism though are Daoyin and Neidan, types of exercises that clearly have a lot in common with Taijiquan and Baguazhang.

There is an opinion that asking a CIMA practitioner from the beginning of the nineteenth century whether his art was "Buddhist" or "Taoist" would make as much sense, as asking a medieval fence teacher whether his fencing was "Catholic" or, say, "Juwish".

Now, you can have another question, which I think is way more thought-provoking. How much the fact that some CMA got associated with Taoism by common public since the middle of the nineteenth century actually has affected the way those arts have been practices and taught from then on?


Is modern wedding and burials in Christian churches here in the west something Christian or not? Isn’t the tradition and origin of our culture still important to our lives even if we don’t believe in the same things?
Last edited by Bao on Sat May 05, 2018 12:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Steve James on Sat May 05, 2018 1:39 pm

Well, the origins of taoism, the Dao, yin-yang, etc. have nothing to do with the origins of what's called taijiquan. Philosophical Taoism, linked to Laotze,Chuantze, Mo, etc. and Taoism (as Chinese folk beliefs) have become connected in the west because both are called Taoism. The fact is that illiterate Chinese didn't talk about philosophical theories; they utilized them in their daily lives (i.e., how they survived).

One could argue that tcc is no more Daoist than boxing is Christian. But, Daoist and Confucianist thought have informed all of Chinese culture at one time or another --in the same way that Socrates and Kant have influenced ours. It might not be so easy for most westerners to explain exactly how.

Anyway, Chen style's "Buddha's Warrior Attendant" didn't come from Taoism; but, that doesn't make Chen style more Buddhist. Is "internal work" a product of Buddhist, Taoist, or Chinese folk religion? Btw, "folk" religion or thought is almost defined by the fact that it's not written down.
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Bao on Sat May 05, 2018 2:07 pm

Steve James wrote:Well, the origins of taoism ... have nothing to do with the origins of what's called taijiquan.


So what are the origins of Taijiquan according to Steve James?
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Steve James on Sat May 05, 2018 2:17 pm

I didn't say I knew either. I'm saying that their origins aren't connected. The Chen's didn't invent "taichi" (the concept) or Taoism (the philosophy) or Chinese folk religion.

Frankly, I don't care about the origin of "taijiquan."
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Bao on Sat May 05, 2018 2:19 pm

Steve James wrote:I didn't say I knew either. I'm saying that their origins aren't connected.


Why?
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Steve James on Sat May 05, 2018 2:43 pm

My next sentence was your answer.
The Chen's didn't invent "taichi" (the concept) or Taoism (the philosophy) or Chinese folk religion.
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Trick on Sun May 06, 2018 12:40 am

Bao wrote:[ Other things called Daoism as some of the numerology associated with Daoism was probably invented by Jesuits in China.

Interesting, can you elaborate a little on that
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby warriorprincess on Sun May 06, 2018 12:54 am

Isn't Tai Chi as most people know it (slow form, meditative) only about 100 years old? The story I heard was that Tai Chi masters were asked to teach the general public as there were not many doctors. They took out the jumping and stamping (Chen excepted) and slowed the martial forms down. This is mainly from a Wu style friend of mine but I can't imagine that all other forms of TC were already slow.
The Taoist connection I heard, again from my friend, was encouraged by the hippies in the 60's & 70's.
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Bao on Sun May 06, 2018 3:36 am

Trick wrote:
Bao wrote:[ Other things called Daoism as some of the numerology associated with Daoism was probably invented by Jesuits in China.

Interesting, can you elaborate a little on that


They brought Greek philosophy and western Astronomy and interpreted Chinese philosophy through their own knowledge. I will give you more details later and hopefully look up some sources. Yes, it’s interesting...
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Re: Is Tai Chi Taoist?

Postby Trick on Sun May 06, 2018 7:25 am

warriorprincess wrote:The Taoist connection I heard, again from my friend, was encouraged by the hippies in the 60's & 70's.

Aren't there any from that generation around here on the forum? 8-) ...DaLiu and Zheng Manqing as I understand referred to the I-Ching and the Tao(Taoism?) in their writing and teaching of Tai Chi, probably exitingly exotic and mysterious enough to draw to them the hippies of NY back then 8-)
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