Friday, November 2, 2007

Cheng Man-ch'ing's T'ai Chi Contributions

Cheng Man-ch'ing is often viewed as a "traditionalist," yet he was also an creative innovator. In the field of taijiquan (t'ai chi ch'uan), Cheng's contributions were numerous and influential, with international impact. With a career that spanned over four decades, Cheng:

• created a Yang-style short form; this received the imprimatur of his elder classmate Chen Weiming, one of Yang Chengfu's leading disciples
• helped increase taijiquan's popularity and helped spread it to Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States
• promoted taijiquan as a highly suitable exercise for women
• taught taijiquan as a "dao"—a method of self-cultivation in harmony with Confucian and Daoist teachings
• taught publicly without regard to students' nationality, gender, or ethnicity
• created numerous curriculum innovations and adaptations
• wrote the influential Thirteen Treatises on T'ai Chi Ch'uan that focuses on in-depth theory and philosophy
• wrote some of the first English books on taijiquan
• drew on his in-depth knowledge of the Chinese Classics and Traditional Chinese medicine for his teaching and writing
• gave countless demonstrations
• regarded taijiquan practice as a method of saving the health of the Chinese people, as well as the world

That Cheng Man-ch'ing was able to contribute in such breadth and depth to the field of taijiquan would seem sufficient for one person's accomplishments. However, he was just as prolific in his other fields, writing numerous books and articles, giving interviews, lectures, and exhibits of calligraphy, painting, poetry, and exploring the rich writings of Chinese philosophers such as Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, Wang Yangmng, and others, as well as in his last work, a commentary on the Yijing—the Book of Changes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Master of Five Excellences/Perfections

Cheng Man-ch'ing was often called a master of "Five Excellences" in reference to his skills in poetry, calligraphy, painting, Chinese medicine, and taijiquan.But what did that mean?

Since an early time, the three perfections of a Chinese artist—poetry, calligraphy, and painting—were admired talents("Excellences" 絕 jue, can also be translated as "perfections"). Noted artists were labeled as such in admiration. Mastery of the three arts became an ideal. Meaningful poetry executed with a skilled calligraphic hand enhanced a painting, the brushwork of calligraphy and painting were considered to be of the same origin, and "in poetry there was painting, and in painting, poetry." Thus the three perfections were intertwined.

Cheng Man-ch'ing became known for his three perfections by 1926, when Cai Yuanpei, the great educational reformer, inscribed a prefatory page as such for a painting album of Cheng's. In the 1930s, Cheng added the skills of Chinese medicine and taijiquan to his repertoire. Because of this, he later was known as a master of five perfections/excellences.
The illustration above shows part of a painting and poem about a narcissus from Cheng's early album. In it we can clearly see the intertwining of these arts that Cheng had already achieved by his early twenties.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Cheng Man-ch'ing's Names

Cheng Man-ch'ing was known by several names over the span of his life, and also used a number of artist names (hao)
Below are some of these names, with the Wade-Giles spelling first, followed by the pinyin, and then by approximate pronunciation:

Cheng Man-ch'ing (Zheng Manqing) 鄭曼青 (the simplified characters are 郑曼青) (jung mahn ching)
Cheng Yueh (Zheng Yue) 鄭岳 (jung yweh)
Cheng Man-jan (Zheng Manran) 鄭曼髯 (jung mahn rahn)
Hermit of the Jade Well (Yu-chin shan-jen; Yujin shanren) 玉井山人 (you gin shahn rehn)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cheng Man-ch'ing's Birth Year

Over the years, a considerable amount of confusion has arisen over what year Cheng Man-ch'ing was born. The years 1900, 1901, 1902, and even 1903 are commonly cited. However, according to his memorial inscription, he was born in the 28th year of the Guangxu emperor’s reign, the sixth month, on the twenty-fifth day—the Western date of July 29, 1902.