The History of Taijiquan

Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) and Yang Luchan (1799-1872).

Taijiquan is one of the most (if not the most) popular martial arts on the planet. Each style of Taijiquan has its founder practitioners, and history, but once you go back to the mid 19th century or earlier you find that not much about Taijiquan can be said with any degree of certainty.

Its history is obscured with myths, legends and blatant attempts at promotion by different groups, all with an interest in chasing the Tai Chi Dollar.

In this series of podcasts we look at what reliable sources we actually have available to us on the history of Taijiquan and view them through a lens that looks at the actual history of China, and what was going on in the tumultuous end of the Ching Dynasty.

Here are the episodes:

The myth of Tai Chi part 1.

Did Tai Chi exist before 1850? In this episode we begin a new series of episodes on this subject by setting the scene and historical background to the mythmaking around the origins of Tai Chi that occurred starting from the middle of the Nineteenth Century in response to social turmoil and unrest exemplified by the Taiping Rebellion and Opium Wars.

The myth of Tai Chi part 2. Tai Chi as a brand.

In this episode we examine the context in which the relationship between Yang Luchan, Wu Chengqing and Wu Yuxiang developed during the years of the Taiping Rebellion and the new regime of Emperor Xianfeng.

The myth of Tai Chi part 3. Wu and Chen First Contact

In this episode we look at how the effects of the Taiping Northern Expedition and the Nian Rebellion of the mid Nineteenth Century drew the confucian Wu brothers and the fighters of Chen Village towards each other for the first time.

The Myth of Tai Chi part 4. The Fall and Rise of Yang LuChan

In this episode we look at the events surrounding Yang Luchan’s expulsion from the imperial service in 1861 in the context of the rise to power of Empress Dowager Cixi. We also examine how the involvement of the western powers in Chinese affairs directly led to the Self Strenghtening Movement and the establishment of the first public martial arts schools in North China.

The Tai Chi Myth (part 5) Modernisers vs Conservatives

In this episode we examine the Chen family’s relationship with General Yuan Shikai, the friction between modernising and conservative factions within China and the events of the Boxer Rebellion.

The Tai Chi Myth (part 6) The Same Form

In our last look at Tai Chi for a while, we examine the context of the times in which Chen Zhaopei and Chen Fake became prominent for their martial arts in Beijing, and then at a national level, joining the wave of commerciality that had been originally instigated by the legacy of Yang Luchan and the Wu brothers. In addition we explain why the forms are similar in general order between the Yang/Wu and Chen lineages.

Related articles:

Where were the Wu brothers?

Are we denigrating Chen style?

Review: Chen Taijiquan Collected Masterworks, Mark Chen

Forget Taoism, is Tai Chi a Neo Confucianist martial art?

Tai Chi History: What could Zhan SangFeng and Wang ZongYue represent?