Wushu: a Culture of Adversaries

by Guo-Bin Dai & An Lu 

Journal of the Philosophy of Sport
(published online 06 August 2019) 


Wushu is widely misunderstood and its essentially combative nature is being challenged in public discussion. Understanding and recovering its essential nature has become a core issue. This paper first conducts a review of the history of the Chinese hieroglyphic 武 (Wu) which is the core of the phrase of Wushu, and explores the word’s two most widely-accepted interpretations: ‘to carry a dagger-axe to fight with’ and ‘to put away the dagger-axe and stop fighting’. Understanding these two interpretations of Wu is the key to understand Wushu which is an art about Wu. Second, this paper, referencing cultural history, analyzes different methods of Wushu practice: Gedou (free combat), Taolu (compiled routine) and Gongfa (basic prowess). Third, based on Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance, this paper analyzes the different sorts of opponents, either real or imagined, in Taolu, Gedou, and Gongfa. Finally, this paper redefines Wushu as a culture of adversaries where such adversaries implicitly transfer the practitioner’s focus ‘from non-human to human’ and ‘from others to the self’.

From the article:

“… It is noteworthy that among those visible and invisible, microscopic and
macroscopic adversaries, the biggest adversary is the practitioner himself. As
Lao Tzu once stated, ‘He who is able to overcome himself is the winner’. In
order to improve their own ability of overcoming the self, Wushu masters
not only created Taolu, but also set a series of ethical norms to overcome
their own instinctive impulse. Taking self as an adversary demonstrates the
self-control and inward-inspection of Chinese culture. Thus, as the culture of
adversaries, Wushu has civilization on the outside and a warrior in the inside.”


The authors of this paper appreciate all the reviewers’ and editors’ suggestions on the revision. Special thanks should go to Professor Paul Gaffney for his warm encouragement in helping us improve the paper. We also thank Dr. Ben Judkins for his generous help and advice. Any errors are our own and we accept any and all criticism or correction.



Invented Tradition and Translated Practices: the Career of Tai Chi in China and the West

by Gehao Zhang
(Doctoral Thesis) 


This thesis takes the primary contemporary icons of Chinese tradition –the popular practice of Tai Chi‐and subjects its career in both China and the West, to a series of critical interrogations focusing on three main moments; the invention and (re)imagination of tradition, the practice’s migration from China to the West, and its translation by its English practitioners. During the Imperial period, when Tai Chi was defined primarily as a martial art, it was the focus of a sustained struggle between its official deployment as part of the military machine and its practice by clandestine societies and insurgent movement. It was simultaneously incorporated into the push to modernization and promoted as a part of an unbroken cultural legacy that defined the uniqueness of Chineseness in various forms during Republican China, Mao’s era and Post‐Mao era. The thesis also looks at the key figures and the process of institutionalization and indigenisation as the practice generated its own national professional associations and competitions in England since 1940s. Based on ethnographic research in the Midlands, the thesis explores the contending understandings of Tai Chi among its English practitioners. It explores the ways in which British instructors locate themselves within an ‘authentic’ tradition by way of a latent lineage system. This allows them to maintain their own personal commitment to Tai Chi as a martial art conflicts while working with the market drive for mass participation based on concepts of relaxation and alternative therapy and medicine. The ethnographic research also explores the ways that students in Tai Chi classes translate it into an indoors practices with an outdoors imagination, and as a bodily discipline with a spiritual basis, and how they construct their understanding of this spiritual dimension by drawing on polysemic interpretations of oriental conceptions such as Yin, Yang and Qi rather than the standardised references to Taoism in the public representations.

About the author:

Gehao Zhang, assistant professor in Macau University of Science and Technology. He got his PhD in Loughborough University with an ethnography on British Tai Chi Practitioners, his recent research includes martial arts studies, media archaeology, digital anthropology and qualitative data analysis.






Full text available: https://repository.lboro.ac.uk/ndownloader/files/17105312