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Reading: Marx, Myth and Metaphysics: China Debates the Essence of Taijiquan


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Marx, Myth and Metaphysics: China Debates the Essence of Taijiquan


Douglas Wile

Emeritus Professor, CUNY., US
About Douglas
Douglas Wile holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature and a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Literatures from the University of Wisconsin. He is currently emeritus professor of Chinese language and Asian Studies from Brooklyn College-City University of New York. His research interests include Chinese sexology, martial arts history and comparative philosophy.
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This article traces the mythologization, demythologization and remythologization of the origins of taijiquan in China. It describes the association of legendary immortal Zhang Sanfeng with the creation of an ‘internal’ martial art by Ming loyalists during the Ming-Qing transition, the historization of the origins by progressive intellectuals during the late Republican and Mao eras, and the reemergence of the cult of Zhang Sanfeng in the present period as a kind of fundamentalist revival. Using anonymous online informants, it documents the recent appearance of new language and philosophical paradigms – materialism and idealism, physics and metaphysics, and self-defense and self-cultivation – in debates around taijiquan’s true essence. Further, extrapolating from the latest ideological spectrum surveys, the article attempts to divine correlations between views on taijiquan’s essence and general alignments on a ‘liberal-conservative’ axis. The study concludes with an exploration of the special elusiveness of taijiquan as an object of definition and the potential for modern movement science to throw light on its essential uniqueness.

How to Cite: Wile, D., 2020. Marx, Myth and Metaphysics: China Debates the Essence of Taijiquan. Martial Arts Studies, 10, pp.23–39. DOI:
Published on 17 Nov 2020.
Peer Reviewed


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