Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

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Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Finny on Sun Apr 25, 2021 7:59 pm

So I'm not a taiji guy, but I've always had an interest and so have read a bit through the years (including a couple of decades here)

It seems to me that I've heard effectively two (or three) different theories or versions of TJQ history, and I'm curious as to whether my impression is accurate, and what the opinions of folks here are.

It seems to me that the two competing theories are:

1. That the Chen family created TJQ, taught YLC, who then popularised it in Beijing. Not sure where/when Zhaobao fits into this theory - an early parallel branch?

2. That YLC developed his original TJQ by adding some things picked up from the Chen family - Yang style as 'original' TJQ.

Is that an accurate understanding of the history of TJQ?
Last edited by Finny on Sun Apr 25, 2021 8:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Bao on Sun Apr 25, 2021 8:38 pm

There are many different versions, depends on who you want to listen to. If you ask Zhaobao people, they would say that their style is the original and oldest tai chi.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Finny on Sun Apr 25, 2021 11:45 pm

Bao wrote:There are many different versions, depends on who you want to listen to. If you ask Zhaobao people, they would say that their style is the original and oldest tai chi.


I would've thought that goes without saying. While I understand what you say - it's my impression that the Chen line of reasoning would be far more commonly accepted, with the notion of Zhaobao as a side branch.

From your posts over the years it seems like you believe Yang style is the original?
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Bao on Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:00 am

Finny wrote:While I understand what you say - it's my impression that the Chen line of reasoning would be far more commonly accepted, with the notion of Zhaobao as a side branch.


Side branch of Chen might be a proper expression. I believe that Zhaobao style is a most recent construction. Chenjiagou and Zhaobao are just next to each other, five minutes walk apart. It’s more or less one big area, or the same village. There’s no reason to believe that what someone would do in Zhaobao would be different from what someone else do in Chen village. Also there was no public teaching. Tai Chi or whatever it was called back then was never a “village style”. Wu Yuxiang learned small frame from Chen Qingping in Zhaobao. There’s no reason to believe that there was anything else in Zhaobao and no proofs of it.

“From your posts over the years it seems like you believe Yang style is the original?


I was very surprised when one my teachers said that he thought that Yang style should be the original Tai Chi style. Because back then, I had read and listened to everything everyone else had read and listened to, and most people accepted Chen style as the original Tai Chi. But my teacher back then is a historian and knows more about Chinese culture and history, and more about martial arts history, than anyone I have met and even know about, so even if I didn’t exactly understand what he meant, I knew that there must be some truth to it.

I so I tried to study history and facts to better understand the history. My guess is that he meant that the Yang long form (regardless different variations) and what Yang Luchan taught his closest students, represents the tai chi today that comes closest to what Chen Changxing taught. Some movements, those that cannot be found in the other four styles of the big five should have been added later. (And I do believe that I have a pretty good idea about when this should have happened.)

Also, there are no real proofs that anyone else in Chenjiagou did Tai Chi, or whatever it was called back then, except for Chen Changxing and Chen Qingping, and there’s no proof that someone in the Chen village did it before them. Until quite recent I thought that Chen Wangting could have something to do with the development of Tai Chi, but examining the facts better, I can only say that there’s no proofs of that Chen Wangting had anything to do with the origin of the art. There are fabricated proofs and speculations, but IMO, even more evidence is pointing towards that he didn’t. I am not going into more details right now, but I have summed up most of my thoughts and ideas about this subject in my blog, though I think that some of it should be re-written and further explained to make history enough justice.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby GrahamB on Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:18 am

The Chen family in Yang Lu Chan's time certainly had a reputation for organising malitias, providing security gurards and fighting bandits. If you wanted to say that what you were teaching was "authentic" and "Chinese" and not just made up, then they would be a good place to claim you learned it from.

It's interesting that there is no evidence that Yang Lu Chan had ever been to Chen village. There doesn't seem to be much written evidence of his time in Beijing either. So, he's something of a man of mystery. The key players in the creation of taijiquan in beijing in the 1850s seem to be the Wu brothers.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Bao on Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:37 am

GrahamB wrote:It's interesting that there is no evidence that Yang Lu Chan had ever been to Chen village.


If he had really been Chan Changxing's servant (which was invented in a fiction novel), there would certainly have been a record in the Chen family history/genealogy.

The key players in the creation of taijiquan in beijing in the 1850s seem to be the Wu brothers.


It would be interesting if Wu Yuxiang had made up all of Yang Luchan's background and if only Wu had visited Chenjiagou and Zhaobao. But does it seem reasonable that he would make it up? If so, for what reason? :-\
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby GrahamB on Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:54 am

Bao wrote:
It would be interesting if Wu Yuxiang had made up all of Yang Luchan's background and if only Wu had visited Chenjiagou and Zhaobao. But does it seem reasonable that he would make it up? If so, for what reason? :-\


Well, we'd have to speculate, since nobody knows, but the Heretical Hypothesis is that if you look at what was going on politically at the time, the Ching Dynasty was at risk of disintegrating - war, rebellion and flood. They needed something to bring the court together - a unifying force. A physcial practice. As we know, Chinese marital arts have been used throughout history to "strengthen the nation". We are used to seeing it on the macro level - with big institutions teaching large numbers of people in national movements - first Jing Wu then Kuo Shu, for example, then later Wu Shu. I think it's entirely possible it started first of all on the micro level first, inside the Royal court in the 1850s.

Then when the Empress Dowager Ci Xi takes control in 1861, there is a regime change and we see the Yangs need to sing for their supper in a different way - public classes - commerce - commercial martial arts schools. Baguazhang appears at the same time from the Royal court, being taught publically when needs must. Martial arts become brands and use marketing. This changes everything. Suddenly everybdy is competing with each other for a slice of the pie. I think we can trust written histories even less from this point onwards.

Back in 1850/60s Wu Yi Xiang's brother (who was the real big deal, not Yu Xiang) had responsibility for the area that included, or bordered Chen village and had been there. Or he had to pass through there. Either way he'd know of the Chen reputaiton as fighters. If you need an origin story, they were perfect. The Chen's are late to the party - they don't arrive in Beijing until 1928, I think. Teaching martial arts as a social/leisure persuit is a revelation for people who were used to having to actually put their life on the line. This looks like much easier work. At that point Chen Taijiquan is taught publically in Beijing and becomes popular. Yang and Wu styles are already incumbent and urbanised. They are probably a bit scared of these rough tough Chen people. But all people have to go for history are stories that are already old (50 - 60 - 70 years ago), the first generation has already gone and nobody really knows who invented what anymore.
Last edited by GrahamB on Mon Apr 26, 2021 2:00 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Finny on Mon Apr 26, 2021 1:59 am

Bao wrote:
If he had really been Chan Changxing's servant (which was invented in a fiction novel), there would certainly have been a record in the Chen family history/genealogy.



Does that mean that there is a record which states the name of Chen Changxin's servant? If it is not YLC what does that mean? I know you say that story was invented in a fiction (wuxia?) novel - I always thought that the oral history of Yang style said YLC was a guest/servant/something? If that's not the Yang style history, what is?

My thanks for your thoughts on the matter, I understand these can be awkward topics for discussion. I'll read your blog and hope that helps my understanding.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Bao on Mon Apr 26, 2021 3:24 am

Finny wrote:Does that mean that there is a record which states the name of Chen Changxin's servant? If it is not YLC what does that mean? I know you say that story was invented in a fiction (wuxia?) novel - I always thought that the oral history of Yang style said YLC was a guest/servant/something? If that's not the Yang style history, what is?


There is an official Chen family genealogy. I haven't read them, only translated excerpts. I don't know if he had any servant. But the story that YLC would be a servant is not oral tradition, it was invented in a fiction novel. I've forgot the name. Remember that YLC had three sons. If he lived in the village as a servant for one decade or more, how on earth would he have time to have three children? He probably didn't live there. But I would presume that Yang Luchan, as a big guy and a martial artist probably went to the Chenjiagou occasionally hired as a security personnel. After all, this was what Chen Changxin worked with. YLC might have served as a body guard or protecting important goods that followed the silk road. This would make the connection higher classes more logical. And as Wu Yuxiang had business through those roads, maybe they first met while YLC served as an accompanying guard? This would make more sense as well as it would put the few pieces of history we know match together.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Finny on Mon Apr 26, 2021 4:03 am

Your speculation makes sense to me. I'm curious though - if the YLC as servant/student story is from a fictional novel, what do the Yang family give as the history of the style?
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Doc Stier on Mon Apr 26, 2021 6:57 am

All of these hypothetical narratives are what my teacher collectively referred to as 'Wild History'. They are very interesting and intriguing possibilities, yet virtually impossible to validate more than a century after the events in question. But still, what if...? 8-)
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Bao on Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:06 am

Finny wrote:Your speculation makes sense to me. I'm curious though - if the YLC as servant/student story is from a fictional novel, what do the Yang family give as the history of the style?


Well, first of all Yang family has recognized Zhang Sanfeng as the founder of Tai Chi, which is more like a symbolic history. According to this story, YLC’s teacher Chen Changxing learned Tai Chi from outside, so it was never a Chen “family style”. I’ve read several variations on Yang Luchan, as that he occasionally went to Chen Village to learn from Chen Changxing.

Doc Stier wrote:All of these hypothetical narratives are what my teacher collectively referred to as 'Wild History'. They are very interesting and intriguing possibilities, yet virtually impossible to validate more than a century after the events in question. But still, what if...? 8-)


Well, we don’t know exactly what is true. But often, truth lies in between different versions of occurrences. We should also look for what is most reasonable for a certain time and place through general understanding of the same. Through close examining and putting pieces together of what we know, we might be able to come close to what really happened. Of course, we should be humble and not try to convince ourselves that we actually know the real truth.
Last edited by Bao on Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Tom on Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:09 am

The name “taijiquan” was not used before Yang Luchan made his appearance at the Zhang pickle family’s banquet in Beijing in the 1850s. The source of that name was not the Chen family nor the Li family documents of Tang village. There is quite a bit of credibility to the Smith/Barlow hypothesis involving the Wu brothers, broader cultural/political/economic trends of the time, and the emergence of taijiquan as a named art among the Manchu elite and a handful of the military and security professionals of the time.
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby Bao on Mon Apr 26, 2021 8:21 am

Tom wrote:The name “taijiquan” was not used before Yang Luchan made his appearance at the Zhang pickle family’s banquet in Beijing in the 1850s.


Court examiner Weng Tonghe (1830–1904) wrote a poem dedicated To YLC: “Hands holding T’ai chi shakes the whole world, a chest containing ultimate skill defeats a gathering of heroes.” If he was the one who invented or coined the name, or if someone had used it earlier, is unclear. But this is the earliest source we know about.

The source of that name was not the Chen family nor the Li family documents of Tang village.


You know that the Li family documents are fake, right?
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Re: Taiji History - Chen v Yang? (Zhaobao?)

Postby yeniseri on Mon Apr 26, 2021 10:13 am

Finny wrote:So I'm not a taiji guy, but I've always had an interest and so have read a bit through the years (including a couple of decades here)

It seems to me that I've heard effectively two (or three) different theories or versions of TJQ history, and I'm curious as to whether my impression is accurate, and what the opinions of folks here are.

It seems to me that the two competing theories are:

1. That the Chen family created TJQ, taught YLC, who then popularised it in Beijing. Not sure where/when Zhaobao fits into this theory - an early parallel branch?

2. That YLC developed his original TJQ by adding some things picked up from the Chen family - Yang style as 'original' TJQ.

Is that an accurate understanding of the history of TJQ?


One of the teachers I studied with for 10 years was very knowledgeable (TCM/CCM practitioner, author on acupuncture study guide for many schools in UK and USA ??? ) and he indicated that when the 1950s came around, there were opportunists on all sides seeking to ewwrite the historical background at all costs. That being said, here is just a small inkling about understanding based on my teacher's explanations and the 'truth' of the era.
1. What we know about taijiquan today comes from the Yang variant (Luchan) ONLY because he reached the Northern capital first before Chenjiagou family (Chen style)
2. Chen Family art was the original. In the 1950s and before many people had no idea of what we called taiji, was because it was a village folk heirloom. Ynag changed that on all levels.
3. Through Yang Luchan's Beijing journey, his version became the norm and therefore more popular and because of that, Chen Family art was seen as the usurper!
4. Zhaobao style/variation is actaully a Chen template so called because of Zhaobao town is close to Chen village where a Chen family married into the village and that art merged with a similar folk system hence the changes reflecting that level and degree of synthesis.
5 Yang LuChan was taught by a Chen family member. We will never know why Yang chenged the external points of Chen art at that time! Sal Cannizaro! a sometime contributor to this forum, has shown that Chen style borrowed elements/postures from Taizuchangquan (along with a stated Li Family ??? ) so why not Yang Luchan integrating elements from Hongquan to solidify his 'skill' at that period of history!

The information is out there and we just have to separate the wheat from the chaff! One lucky thing I learned from my teacher was the distinction between 'styles' and that is an excellent objective part of instruction in the assessment criteria for ascertain the veracity of a point of view. Anyone looking at Zhaobao will see a Chen style overlay with some very interesting postural characteristics (e.g. as if the whole routine was done on a "Dragon on Ground" motif (hugging the ground seen in the duration of the form) keeping in mind that an early part of Yang training involved similar posture under a low table and exiting and raising oneslef without falling over!
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