Globalisation and the ‘Internal Alchemy’ in Chinese Martial Arts: The Transmission of Taijiquan to Britain

Ryan, Alex ORCID: 0000-0003-4316-311X (2009) Globalisation and the ‘Internal Alchemy’ in Chinese Martial Arts: The Transmission of Taijiquan to Britain. East Asia Science, Technology and Society: an International Journal, 2 (4). pp. 525-543. doi:10.1215/s12280-009-9073-x

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Taijiquan (t'ai chi ch'uan) is a Chinese martial art that has grown substantially in popularity and global reach since the mid-twentieth century. Known as an ‘internal’ martial art that combines combat techniques with meditation and longevity practices, it has influenced, and been influenced by, the global dissemination of Chinese medical and therapeutic techniques. Like other martial arts, its pedagogy and techniques were changed significantly in early twentieth century China and later during the Cultural Revolution, in line with ideals of physical fitness as a tool for social reform and nation building. In the mid-twentieth century, taijiquan migrated West, becoming aligned in the 1960s and 1970s with Western interest in holistic health, Asian meditative systems and Chinese martial arts, but its martial techniques were little known until the 1980s and 1990s. British taijiquan illustrates the complex outcomes of globalisation processes, resulting in the establishment of different hybrids. There is evidence of the transmission of simplified systems promoted by the Chinese government; of innovative adaptations, developed to suit Western needs; and practices that appear to have survived suppression in mainland China, to be reconfigured in the West. These varied outcomes have been enabled by diverse channels of transmission and by colonial relationships, for example between Britain and Hong Kong, whilst the opening of mainland China in the 1980s has added further exchanges and complexities. In Britain (as in China), at the start of the twenty-first century, taijiquan is mostlypracticed with therapeutic and meditative aims, and its naturalistic perspective on human well-being and ageing resonates with current debates in preventative medicine and public health. As a ‘traditional’ martial art, taijiquan has a less predictable future, which will be influenced by the degree to which it engages with the competitive sporting arena of official Chinese wushu (martial arts) and the extent to which martial arts become subject to formal regulation. The future identity of taijiquan will depend on the ways that technical and cultural control is negotiated between continents and on the interest shown by the global scientific community in the value of taijiquan for understanding health and well-being.

Item Type: Article
Article Type: Article
Additional Information: The full article is available from the publisher URL see below. Edited by Ryan, A. Tilbury, D., Abe, O. and Nomura, K.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Taijiquan; T’ai chi ch’uan; Martial arts; Globalisation; Tradition; Internal alchemy; Qigong; Ch’i kung
Related URLs:
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Education and Science
Research Priority Areas: Society and Learning
Depositing User: Alex Ryan
Date Deposited: 06 Dec 2019 11:43
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2023 08:43

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