Interesting thoughts Chinese History and the Martial Arts

Juany118

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I actually found this interesting...

From Danny Xuan's "The Tao of Wing Chun."

...The reason for this brief history lesson is that it is vitally important to understand the history of China to truly understand the history of Chinese martial arts. During these turbulent years of war, the reality was that no one had the time to engage in the practice of martial arts, as China was being perpetually bombed, invaded, and occupied by the Japanese. The citizens, martial artists included, were raped and massacred. There was a huge shortage of food and drinking water.

If the Chinese people didnt die from the war, they died from starvation and dehydration. When Mao became the leader of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 he implemented the Land Reform, which nationalized all privately owned properties. Land was taken from landlords and given to peasants. Millions of landlords, wealthy merchants, religious leaders and their congregations, Kuomintang members and soldiers, and political opponents were either publically executed or beaten to death. Those who survived were sent to labor camps for reeducation. Historically, martial arts in China were only practiced by the upper- and middle classes, since the poor were only concerned with their own day-to-day struggles to survive. There is an old Chinese dictum that says, The poor studies literature, but the rich plays martial arts. As a result, most of Chinas martial artists were in this group of wealthy landlords and merchants, therefore, were either executed or persecuted.

Between the years 1959 to 1962 an unsuccessful campaign to boost agriculture and industry was followed by natural disasters that killed or starved an estimated thirty million Chinese people. During this era the Chinese citizens were rationed one kilogram of meat per year per person, and one liter of cooking oil per person per year. You can be certain that no one was practicing Tai Chi in the parks or pounding on Ip Mans wooden dummy in Foshan (Fatsan) during this period. All private property became nationalized. Houses and apartments were communized, with large properties being occupied by several families or made into commune offices. There was no such thing as one house for one family or one bedroom for one person. It was one room for one family. Everything in the house was shareda commune leader made sure of that. Knowing this, it is almost impossible to conceive that a human-sized martial arts training device such as a wooden dummy would have existed in a commune household shared by several families. It would have better served as firewood for cooking or heating a Chinese familys house in the winter. In 1966, Mao saw and feared that the revolution was replacing the old bourgeois class with a new ruling class; therefore, he and his wife implemented the Cultural Revolution, banning any practice of traditional culture such as ancestor or deity worship, martial arts, classical opera, music, dances, or anything else that was associated with the old China. He encouraged the citizens to police each other, causing children to accuse their parents of breaking the lawthe result of which pitted neighbor against neighbor. Young people formed policing and tribunal groups they called the Red Guards. The Red Guards ran amok, destroying ancient temples, old artifacts, and schools. They then began the persecution of educators and intellectuals, banishing them to the countryside for hard labor and reeducation. The practice of religion, traditional philosophy, and culture were also banned. So, you can be sure that there werent any Buddhist monks or Taoists practicing martial arts or meditating inside the Shaolin or Wudang temples during this period.

When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) first took power in 1949 they banned all martial arts for fear of a revolution. Chinese history is full of revolutions that were instigated by martial artists, so to ensure that this didnt happen again, the CCPs solution was to obliterate them. The Cultural Revolution, which started in 1966, hammered the last nail onto the coffin of the Chinese martial arts, in what was probably the lowest point for Chinese martial arts in the history of China. When Mao eventually died in 1976, China began to change under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping and most of Maos Cultural Revolution reforms were abandoned by 1978. However, the citizens were fearful and suspicious of new reforms, lest they should change again, and no one wanted to be exposed to further persecution. As a result, during the 1980s the Chinese people conducted themselves as if the Cultural Revolution was still in effect. It wasnt until the CCP officially declared that all of the ancient Chinese traditions, religions and martial arts practices that were under government control would now be legal that people started to feel comfortable about practicing them. The Government began to re-allow the celebration of some traditional festivals by designating those days as holidays. It returned properties that had been seized by the state back to their rightful owners, but with the proviso that the land itself remained state-owned. It allowed the return of religionproviding that the religion met with government approved (and selected) religious leaders; the government rejected leaders from outside of China, such as the Pope in Rome or the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. It selected representatives for martial arts but they were encouraged to remove the fighting aspect from their arts, revising them for health and exhibition purposes only. The government oversaw the creation of a new art called Wushu, and then simplified the Tai Chi forms, placing the emphasis on the arts health promoting properties rather than its fighting component.

With the popularity of Hong Kong action movies (even Mao was said to have been a fan of Bruce Lees movies), the Chinese Government began producing them also, the earliest and most popular one being The Shaolin Temple, starring a young Jet Li, who had won several national Wushu forms competitions. It was only when the Government had opened the doors of China to the West, and particularly to the revenue generated by tourism, that they realized that there was a significant market for martial arts and cultural tourism. As a result they began to resurrect and renovate the temples throughout China that had been destroyed and neglected, especially those that had a deep martial arts history like the northern Shaolin Temple.

And, with the arrival of Western martial-arts tourists, many Chinese martial-arts masters suddenly surfaced. But where did they come from? How did they survive Maos persecution? How did they survive the famine and starvation that had beset the country? How did they survive the Cultural Revolution? How, where, and when did they practice their martial arts diligently enough to achieve master status? Who were their masters? How did their masters survive? Where did they dig up people with any knowledge of Buddhism to fill the temples after eradicating both the religion and its practitioners since 1949? The truth of the matter is that those who were not killed or persecuted before and immediately after the Communist takeover of China had escaped to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and to the West. These refugees were the ones who truly preserved the Chinese culture and Chinese martial arts. It was through these individuals that the Chinese martial arts came to be known today throughout the world. They may not have been the best of Chinas martial artists, but they were the ones who kept the traditions alive, and passed the various Chinese martial arts on to the next generations...

It makes a lot of sense but I am interested in other people's thoughts.
 

Midnight-shadow

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A very interesting article and it explains a lot of why Chinese Martial Arts switched its focus from combat to performance. That said, this event wasn't the first time this has happened in Chinese history. The northern Shaolin monastery has been destroyed many times, either by invading forces or by the various Chinese governments, and then rebuilt. It's honestly a miracle, given the history, that any ancient Chinese culture has survived.
 
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Juany118

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A very interesting article and it explains a lot of why Chinese Martial Arts switched its focus from combat to performance. That said, this event wasn't the first time this has happened in Chinese history. The northern Shaolin monastery has been destroyed many times, either by invading forces or by the various Chinese governments, and then rebuilt. It's honestly a miracle, given the history, that any ancient Chinese culture has survived.

No doubt. I also omitted an earlier part where he notes how the Dowager Empress, who had secretly supported the Boxer Rebellion held a mass execution of he surviving Boxers who didn't escape to appease the Foreign Powers. Agreed how incredible it survived.
 

Xue Sheng

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Some of it is right, some is wrong but for the most part it is an oversimplification.

Not going into great detail at the moment bit...

For starters, the suppression and or killing of Martial artists is nothing new to Chinese Dynastic Change. This is one of the contribution factors to an old Chinese idiom, the nail that stands up, gets pounded down.

Second there is currently a lot of privately owned property in China and it has been that way for at least 20 years.
 
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Juany118

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Some of it is right, some is wrong but for the most part it is an oversimplification.

Not going into great detail at the moment bit...

For starters, the suppression and or killing of Martial artists is nothing new to Chinese Dynastic Change. This is one of the contribution factors to an old Chinese idiom, the nail that stands up, gets pounded down.

Second there is currently a lot of privately owned property in China and it has been that way for at least 20 years.


Yes but to clarify one point, he only speaks, in terms of ownership, up to the point of the 1980's (roughly)... so that would be consistent with your point about ownership.

Second. I think people underestimate the power of the Communist Party under Mao, especially during the Cultural Revolution. Not just the control but the technology behind the control (radio communications, the possibility of mechanized travel), the re-education camp concept? The Imperial dynasties never thought of that sort of control in their wildest dreams.

As such I would suggestt that even if the author simplifies things, the essence is correct. As an example picture where legend says WC was actually developed, SW China. It would have taken the Imperial court, if they wished to suppress it, 100 days to get troops there by horse, infantry, a year. The utter efficiency of the Japanese then Maoists simply pales in comparison imo.
 

JowGaWolf

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"Historically, martial arts in China were only practiced by the upper and middle classes, since the poor were only concerned with their own day-to-day struggles to survive." I have doubts about this statement. I'm pretty sure the poor still practiced martial arts. I can't think of one culture where poor people don't have it tough all the way around including the lack of safety. If you look at today's society, you'll see that the violence is higher in the poor areas than it is in the rich and upper income areas. This has always been the case since humans have been living in cities and towns.

One only needs to look at a crime map to verify that violence is more prominent in poor areas. You'll also see and hear reoccurring themes where the founders were poor and came for poor villages. The same way professional fighters come from tough streets and rise to fame, is exactly how some of the famous martial artists got their fame.

The other issue is the time frame being discussed 1949, which omits the warring periods of China's history. It also omits the unstable periods after that. Martial Arts didn't just come out of no where. Family Martial Arts systems are common in Chinese martial arts so even though the government cracked down on martial arts, many of the families were still able to pass it on to family members.
 

Xue Sheng

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First let me say, my wife and her family lived through this, in Beijing

Yes but to clarify one point, he only speaks, in terms of ownership, up to the point of the 1980's (roughly)... so that would be consistent with your point about ownership.

I know and some of it is right, some is wrong and some is an over simplification

Second. I think people underestimate the power of the Communist Party under Mao, especially during the Cultural Revolution. Not just the control but the technology behind the control (radio communications, the possibility of mechanized travel), the re-education camp concept? The Imperial dynasties never thought of that sort of control in their wildest dreams.

True, but I am not one of those people, and we are takling martial arts here.

As such I would suggestt that even if the author simplifies things, the essence is correct. As an example picture where legend says WC was actually developed, SW China. It would have taken the Imperial court, if they wished to suppress it, 100 days to get troops there by horse, infantry, a year. The utter efficiency of the Japanese then Maoists simply pales in comparison imo.

Again, in some cases yes, in other no. Some of that over simplification gives the wrong view of what happened and the players involved.

This is part one of the original what had quote issues. I will go though part 2 and post later
 

Xue Sheng

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OK, let me try this again

...The reason for this brief history lesson is that it is vitally important to understand the history of China to truly understand the history of Chinese martial arts. During these turbulent years of war, the reality was that no one had the time to engage in the practice of martial arts, as China was being perpetually bombed, invaded, and occupied by the Japanese. The citizens, martial artists included, were raped and massacred. There was a huge shortage of food and drinking water.


This is speculation. It also appears to negate the training of the Big Sword unit who were trained in Xingyiquan and the Da Dao to fight the Japanese. But yes the Chinese people were brutalized throughout this period by Japanese, Communists and the Kuomintang. And there was famine as well. But there were also martial artist that were training. If not, then where did those martial artists, that the author latter claims left under Mao, come from


If the Chinese people didnt die from the war, they died from starvation and dehydration.


True and there was disease, murder, victims of war crimes, casualties of war, and old age too.


When Mao became the leader of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 he implemented the Land Reform, which nationalized all privately owned properties. Land was taken from landlords and given to peasants. Millions of landlords, wealthy merchants, religious leaders and their congregations, Kuomintang members and soldiers, and political opponents were either publically executed or beaten to death.


Here is where it starts to go off the rails a bit with a hint (only a hint mind you) or propagandized politics. The Communists and Japanese were not the only ones killing Chinese throughout this time.


The communists were cruel, but the western (and Taiwanese) view seems to make the Kuomintang into heroes. Here is something to consider. If, prior to the Communist defeat of the Kuomintang, if there was a person who was a spy for the Kuomintang living in a large complex with multiple other families, the communists would kill that spy and possibly his family, and they made no secret of it. If there was a person who was a spy for the Communists living in a large complex with multiple other families, the Kuomintang would kill that spy and pretty much everybody else in the complex to cover it up. Also lets not forget the first thing the Kuomintang did when they got to Taiwan was to try and kill off the indigenous people of Taiwan. Both sides of the Communist vs Kuomintang fight were incredibly cruel and murderous.


Those who survived were sent to labor camps for reeducation. Historically, martial arts in China were only practiced by the upper- and middle classes, since the poor were only concerned with their own day-to-day struggles to survive. There is an old Chinese dictum that says, The poor studies literature, but the rich plays martial arts. As a result, most of Chinas martial artists were in this group of wealthy landlords and merchants, therefore, were either executed or persecuted.


Mao did execute some land owners and wealthy individuals, but then there were a lot of people executed, both rich and poor executed. My wifes family wealthy and was part of those land owners that lost a whole lot of land, but they were not executed or sent for re-education, nor did they practice martial arts. Actually I believe they felt it was more for the poor people.


Between the years 1959 to 1962 an unsuccessful campaign to boost agriculture and industry was followed by natural disasters that killed or starved an estimated thirty million Chinese people. During this era the Chinese citizens were rationed one kilogram of meat per year per person, and one liter of cooking oil per person per year. You can be certain that no one was practicing Tai Chi in the parks or pounding on Ip Mans wooden dummy in Foshan (Fatsan) during this period.


Chen family (Taijiquan) documents training during this time. They were not wealthy and they were farmers. I believe the authors view is mostly that of Wing Chun and not the majority of other Chinese Martial arts


All private property became nationalized. Houses and apartments were communized, with large properties being occupied by several families or made into commune offices. There was no such thing as one house for one family or one bedroom for one person. It was one room for one family. Everything in the house was shareda commune leader made sure of that.


My wifes family also had their home taken and they were pushed into a home that was shared with multiple families, but they had more than one room. However it was a shared kitchen. But as for the rest I have never heard of any mention of a commune leader in that household. Not saying one did not exist, just saying she has never mentioned it.


Knowing this, it is almost impossible to conceive that a human-sized martial arts training device such as a wooden dummy would have existed in a commune household shared by several families. It would have better served as firewood for cooking or heating a Chinese familys house in the winter.


That is true, but again looking form a point of view of Wing Chun. Many arts, particularly in Nortnern China used trees, walls and poles and not all trees were burned, and there was practice, just not in public parks and not to the magnitude it was prior to the Japanese invasion. Actually not to the magnitude it was prior to the boxer rebellion. Also Sanda was developed in the 1950s, just something else not taken in to consideration by the author, IMHO


In 1966, Mao saw and feared that the revolution was replacing the old bourgeois class with a new ruling class; therefore, he and his wife implemented the Cultural Revolution, banning any practice of traditional culture such as ancestor or deity worship, martial arts, classical opera, music, dances, or anything else that was associated with the old China.


This is an oversimplification.


What is written is true, but it was not that cut and dry, if you want to subjugate a people, one way to do it is to separate them from their past. Mao also simplified the writing system as well at this time so that in a generation or so, no one would be able to read any of the old books or documents. If he was successful, and he wasnt, this would be a major break from the past and then subjugation is much much easier. Also part of it was Mao losing his oldest son to a border conflict. The Beijing Chinese view is that this put Mao over the edge and he went a bit crazy and took it out on his people. He also purged a lot of his old frineds in the communist party (one of those being Deng Xiaoping by the way) And even this is a bit of a simplification.


He encouraged the citizens to police each other, causing children to accuse their parents of breaking the lawthe result of which pitted neighbor against neighbor. Young people formed policing and tribunal groups they called the Red Guards. The Red Guards ran amok, destroying ancient temples, old artifacts, and schools. They then began the persecution of educators and intellectuals, banishing them to the countryside for hard labor and reeducation.


No argument there, but again, my wifes family was not targeted nor was a friend of mine who was a Chinese national and English teacher in Guangzhou at the time. But that is not the norm for that era. My wifes family was lucky due to my wifes mothers family and my friend in Guangzhou was lucky as well, His words my students liked me and help protect me.


The practice of religion, traditional philosophy, and culture were also banned. So, you can be sure that there werent any Buddhist monks or Taoists practicing martial arts or meditating inside the Shaolin or Wudang temples during this period.


Yes, but this did not kill it and there are more Buddhist and Taoists in China than you find and Shaolin and Wudang. And lets not forget that Zhou Enlai wanted to preserve historical Chinese culture and played a big part in the preservation of the Forbidden city


When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) first took power in 1949 they banned all martial arts for fear of a revolution. Chinese history is full of revolutions that were instigated by martial artists, so to ensure that this didnt happen again, the CCPs solution was to obliterate them. The Cultural Revolution, which started in 1966, hammered the last nail onto the coffin of the Chinese martial arts, in what was probably the lowest point for Chinese martial arts in the history of China.


Every Dynasty that came to power feared, suppressed and killed martial artists. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) did not hammer the last nail in the coffin of Chinese martial arts. The Chen family was still there as were many others. They were not practicing in public, but they were still there. It is this type of suppression that gives us an old Chinese saying the nail that stands up gets pounded down They were not openly training, and if you look at Martial arts history in China that is not an uncommon practice.


When Mao eventually died in 1976, China began to change under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping and most of Maos Cultural Revolution reforms were abandoned by 1978.


Yes things began to change under Deng Xaioping, but lets not forget who ordered the tanks into Tiananmen Square in 1989, it was Deng


However, the citizens were fearful and suspicious of new reforms, lest they should change again, and no one wanted to be exposed to further persecution. As a result, during the 1980s the Chinese people conducted themselves as if the Cultural Revolution was still in effect.


That is not exactly true. There was a change, a rather large one leading to Tiananmen. Then suppression began anew for a bit.


It wasnt until the CCP officially declared that all of the ancient Chinese traditions, religions and martial arts practices that were under government control would now be legal that people started to feel comfortable about practicing them. The Government began to re-allow the celebration of some traditional festivals by designating those days as holidays.


Some yes, some no. Not all holiday celebrations were suppressed, but many were


It returned properties that had been seized by the state back to their rightful owners, but with the proviso that the land itself remained state-owned.
Not 100% true. The land my wifes family owned was never returned nor was the land of a whole lot of other people. However the property they did end up with later was and is theirs, not the governments. But I do not know the exact date that they were given their own place to live. But something I do not think the author understands abot China. At anytime, and this is common throughout Chniese history, the government can take your property and there is little or nothing you can do about it. These days they will relocate you, but you have no choice in the matter. However, the property is yours, you can sell it, remodel it do what you want with it, but it can be taken if the government needs it for whatever purposes they have in mind.
It allowed the return of religionproviding that the religion met with government approved (and selected) religious leaders; the government rejected leaders from outside of China, such as the Pope in Rome or the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.


Not going here, this would turn into a flame war and change the entire post.


It selected representatives for martial arts but they were encouraged to remove the fighting aspect from their arts, revising them for health and exhibition purposes only. The government oversaw the creation of a new art called Wushu, and then simplified the Tai Chi forms, placing the emphasis on the arts health promoting properties rather than its fighting component.


Yes it did, but these representative were mostly old school martial artists who were traditiaonlly trained. But the author of the article previously said that they were all gone, so where did they come from. This is a bit of a contradiction on the authors part.


Note; the person largely responsible for the Beijing 24 form was Li Tainji who was a traditionally trained marital artist who was mostly a Xingyiquan guy.


With the popularity of Hong Kong action movies (even Mao was said to have been a fan of Bruce Lees movies), the Chinese Government began producing them also, the earliest and most popular one being The Shaolin Temple, starring a young Jet Li, who had won several national Wushu forms competitions. It was only when the Government had opened the doors of China to the West, and particularly to the revenue generated by tourism, that they realized that there was a significant market for martial arts and cultural tourism. As a result they began to resurrect and renovate the temples throughout China that had been destroyed and neglected, especially those that had a deep martial arts history like the northern Shaolin Temple.


Yup, Shaolin and Wudang are big tourist attractions, but marital arts comes from many other places in China. Chen Jiaguo was not a tourist attraction, but sadly it is now becoming one. Emei mountain was not a tourist attraction either, but it may be now.
The Chinese government to this day looks to Marital arts a tourism and money


And, with the arrival of Western martial-arts tourists, many Chinese martial-arts masters suddenly surfaced. But where did they come from? How did they survive Maos persecution? How did they survive the famine and starvation that had beset the country? How did they survive the Cultural Revolution? How, where, and when did they practice their martial arts diligently enough to achieve master status? Who were their masters? How did their masters survive?


Interesting question since the author previously claimed they were used to make Wushu. Note on the word Wushu; it is defined as Chinese martial arts, not a fighting removed version of Kung Fu. Kung Fu means hard work and has been used by the west to talk about Chinese marital arts. The realitly is that Kung Fu is being used based on a translation error.
But that is a lot of questions that can mostly be answered with some were there and trained in hiding; Mao did not kill them all. However some were also manufactured as well, see head of Shaolin Temple.


Where did they dig up people with any knowledge of Buddhism to fill the temples after eradicating both the religion and its practitioners since 1949? The truth of the matter is that those who were not killed or persecuted before and immediately after the Communist takeover of China had escaped to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and to the West.


The truth is that it is not that simple and that part of that statement is, IMO, a bit politicized. They did not dig them up, like I said, there were more Buddhist and Taoist temples than Shaolin and Wudang. Many were persecuted, killed, and left under Mao. Some stayed, some returned when things got better. No real mystery here.


These refugees were the ones who truly preserved the Chinese culture and Chinese martial arts. It was through these individuals that the Chinese martial arts came to be known today throughout the world. They may not have been the best of Chinas martial artists, but they were the ones who kept the traditions alive, and passed the various Chinese martial arts on to the next generations...


Yes those that left help preserve the arts, my sifu left China because of the advancing Communists, and went to Hong Kong where he trained with his shifu (my shiging) who had also left China for Hong Kong.

But here is where I think the author is being a little offensive, What about those that stayed and endured and trained, The Chen family, some of the Yang family, Zhaobao practitioners, Wang Xiangzhai and many of his students, many shifus and students of Baguazhang and Xingyiquan, Shuaijiao people, Changquan people, and many many more that stayed, risked persecution but stayed and trained. Even those that stayed in Mainland and kept training Wing Chun. Those lineages are still there and not from Yip Man.


Yes a lot left and yes a lot were persecuted and even killed, but to say they all left and the only true martial artists are outside of China is insulting and shows a lack of understanding of Chinese history and makes a statement that is more than a little politicized.


Im done, not much more to say, take it for what it is worth and believe what you choose to. I will stick with actual history.

And if you are interested in the actual history I suggest starting with sites like Kung Fu Tea there is a great article there on what changed CMA and it had more to do with money than politics.
 
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Juany118

Juany118

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Just one thing. And maybe this is part of the issue. This is not an article but rather a summary of a rather lengthy chapter in a book. Perhaps the appearance of gross over simplification is because of this? As an example, you mentioned Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan, and it's surviving master, so does the author, I just couldnt quote an entire chapter of a book.
 

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