Lost T'ai-chi Classics from the Late Ch'ing Dynasty

By Douglas Wile

Subjects: Asian Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791426548, 252 pages, August 1996
Hardcover : 9780791426531, 252 pages, August 1996

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Table of contents



Note on Transliteration

Note on Illustrations


I Social and Historical Background of T'ai-Chi Ch'uan in the Nineteenth Century

China and the Nations

Rebellion at Home

The North China Plain

Elite Culture

Late Ch'ing Intellectual Trends

Reexamining the Biography of Wu Yü-hsiang

Approaches to Understanding Wu and Li Involvement in T'ai-chi Ch'üan

II Textual Tradition of the T'ai-Chi Classics

III Analysis and Translation of the New Texts

The Writings of Wu Ch'eng-ch'ing

Analysis of the Texts

Translation of the Texts

The Writings of Wu Ju-ch'ing

Analysis of the Texts

Translation of the Texts

The Writings of Li I-yü

Analysis of the Texts

Translation of the Texts

Yang Family Forty Chapters

4/1 Analysis of the Texts

4/2 Translation of the Texts

IV Significance of the New Texts

Authorship of the Previously Received Classics

Authenticity of the New Texts

Dijfferences between the Wu/Li and Yang Editions of the Classics

Authorship of the Bookstall Classics

Historicity of Chang San-feng

Historicity and Role of Wang Tsung-yüeh

Period and Role of Chiang Fa

Paucity of Theoretical Texts in Ch'en Village

Chang Nai-chou and the Wu/Li Classics

Survival of Manuscripts in the Wu and Li Families


Appendix I. Original Chinese Texts for the Lost Classics

Appendix II. Textual and Biographical Studies





Analysis of rich new material allows Wile to make a fresh survey of longstanding issues: the origins of T'ai-chi; the authorship of the classics; the differences between Wu, Yang, and Li; and the roles of such figures as Chang San-feng, Wang Tsung-yueh


Douglas Wile translates and analyzes four collections of recently released nineteenth-century manuscripts on T'ai-chi ch'uan. These writings of Wu's older brothers Ch'eng-ch'ing and Ju-ch'ing, and his nephew Li I-yu, together with the transmissions of Yang Pan-hou, represent a significant addition to the seminal literature. The rich new texts allow us to make a fresh survey of longstanding issues in T'ai-chi history: the origins of the art; the authorship of the "classics;" the differences between Wu, Yang, and Li; and the roles of Chang San-feng, Wang Tsung-yueh, Chiang Fa, and the formerly missing link, Ch'ang Nai-chou. The original Chinese texts of the four new sets of classics have been appended for the convenience of Chinese readers and scholars.

The book reconsiders the world of the Wu, Yang, and Li families of Yung-nien and reconstructs it against the background of the Opium Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, and the decline of the Manchu dynasty. New biographical sources illuminate the domestic and political lives of the Yung-nien circle and their orientation to the late imperial intellectual trends. The development of T'ai-chi ch'uan in the nineteenth century is explored in the context of China's cultural response to the challenge of the West and the role of body-centered arts in Asia during the drive for independence and the ongoing search for national identity.

Douglas Wile is Associate Professor at Brooklyn College. He is the author of The Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics, Including Women's Solo Meditation Texts, also published by SUNY Press.


"This book contains an enormous amount of information concerning all aspects of T'ai-chi ch'uan not available before. To say that the work is a major contribution to the field is an understatement; it dwarfs all other works so far published in the English language. This is a first-rate, scholarly book that will have a great bearing on the academic views concerning T'ai-chi ch'uan's history and value for present-day study. Because of his meticulous research and profoundly articulate text, Wile has redefined 'T'ai-chi ch'uan' for the academic world with clarity and, for the first time, with accuracy. " — Michael A. DeMarco, Journal of Asian Martial Arts