Going to Court over Taiji

I came across an article originally published in 2007 in the Eastern Daily (from here) that illustrates how deep feelings run over historical/lineage issues in China, and thought I’d share it.

“For the last 80 years, the origin of taijiquan has been hotly disputed. One side contends that it was created by Zhang Sanfeng from Wudang mountain; the other contends that it was created by Chen Wangting.

In August of 2004, He Youlu, a 6th-generation inheritor of He style taijiquan sued a martial arts enthusiast over damage to his reputation. This not only caused great consternation in the MA community, but also attracted the attention of Chinese TV and other mainstream media.

He Youlu performing at a Taiji gathering

He Youlu performing at a Taiji gathering

On 2 June 2007, the Chinese Association of Folk Artists declared Wen county as taijiquan’s site of origin. On the 5th of June, He Youlu won the lawsuit and collected 20,000 RMB in compensation from Wen county People’s Court.

Back in 1992, the relevant provincial departments started to create the two brands of Shaolin and Taiji. Over the last 15 years, Shaolin Temple has already become a famed tourist hotspot, yet Chenjiagou’s tourist appeal is still in its infancy.

Wen county’s declaration and hard work notwithstanding, can Wen county’s taijiquan really be industrialised? How should Wen county’s taijiquan be developed?


On the 5th of June 2007, He Youlu collected 20,000 RMB from Wen county People’s Court, signalling the end to a 2-year long reputational damage lawsuit.

He Youlu talking to reporters after the verdict

He Youlu is a 6th-generation inheritor of Zhaobao taijiquan from Zhaobao village in Wen county. In June 2003, he published ‘A Manual of He Style Taijiquan’, a book that had been 2 years in the making.

In his book, in the chapter ‘The Creation of He Style taijiquan’, reads ‘He style taijiquan started with He Zhaoyuan (1810-1890), who was from Zhaobao town in Wen county, Henan province. He learnt taijiquan from the famed master Chen Qingping, and was Chen’s senior disciple…’

A martial arts enthusiast named Zhang Jie from Qinyang city (also in Henan) felt that He Youlu, by only mentioning Chen Qingping but not that He style ultimately derived from Zhang Sanfeng of Mt Wudang, was deliberately avoiding the issue of taijiquan’s origin. In the 2004 Issue 7 of Wudang magazine, Zhang wrote an article accusing He Youlu of ‘betraying his ancestors’ and ‘buddying up to Chen style’.

In August of 2004, He Youlu took Zhang and Wudang magazine to court, demanding an apology and compensation.

The court found that He Zhaoyuan was a student of Chen Qingping and indeed the founder of He style taijiquan. As for the lineage prior to Chen Qingping, the court found that there was still controversy around this subject and that it was not necessary for He Youlu to trace it beyond. The court judged that the defendant, Mr Zhang, had clearly blackened He Youlu’s reputation. It also judged that Wudang magazine had not properly carried out its editing duties.

A group picture of taijiquan masters taken at a banquet organised by Wen county government. From L-R: He Youlu, Wang Xi'an, Chen Xiaowang, Local Government Official, Chen Zhenglei, Zhu Tiancai & Chen Qingzhou

In December of the same year, the court reached a verdict: the two defendants should retract their comments in appropriate media at the same level, as well as paying the plaintiff  compensation for mental distress of 15,000 RMB and 5,000 RMB respectively.

On 23 January this year, Zhang carried out his duties after being formally detained by the police. On 29 May of this year, officers of Wen county people’s court impounded Wudang magazine’s bank account in Danjiangkou city, Hubei province.


The roots of this case actually lie in an argument over the place of origin of taiji.

In 1927, the outstanding Chen style master Chen Zhaopi set up a Leitai (traditionally, a ring for kungfu challenge matches) in Beijing, going 17 days undefeated, a feat which caused uproar in Beijing. From then on, the fame of Chen style taiji spread far and wide, but it also caused a dispute over the origins of taiji.

One theory is that taiji originated from Wudang mountain, and was created by the Taoist Zhang Sanfeng; another is that it was created in the early Qing dynasty by Chen Wangting from Chenjiagou.

So what relation is the Chen Qingping mentioned in the ‘He style taiji lineage’ to either of these?

Yuan Fuquan, the current Secretary of Wen county Taijiquan Development & Research Centre and former head of Wen county Athletics Bureau, says that records show that Chen Qingping was a 7th generation inheritor of Chen style taijiquan, who was taught by Chen Youben, his uncle. Later, he moved to Zhaobao town (4km away) for business, and it was his disciple He Zhaoyuan who created He style taiji.

He said that the Zhang Sanfeng theory is just a legend, there’s no supporting evidence.

According to Yuan, Tang Hao, the Chief Editor of “Reference Materials for History of Chinese Physical Culture”, was a trailblazer in chinese martial arts who visited Chenjiagou 3 times during the course of his research. His conclusion, that ‘Taijiquan was created by Chen Wangting and was passed down within the Chen clan’ has become widespread. Kang Gewu, the secretary of the Chinese Martial Arts Association and head of the research department at the Chinese Wushu Management Centre, also concluded after investigation that ‘Chenjiagou is the birthplace of taiji’.

Some experts, however, reject this theory. The taiji authority Wu Tunan, in his ‘A General Discussion of Chinese Martial Arts’ (Guoshu Gailun)wrote that the lineage of taijiquan was Zhang Sanfeng – Wang Zongyue – Jiang Fa – Chen Changxing. The former vice-editor of Zhonghua Wushu magazine considers that Chen Wangting is the originator of Chen style taijiquan, but not the originator of taiji as a whole.

On a separate note, Zhaobao village considers, based on the 1936 book ‘Orthodox taiji’ that Zhaobao taiji developed before Chen style taiji, and hence Zhaobao is the home of taiji.

In view of this hotly disputed topic, some authoritative figures in the martial arts world have pointed out that certain places and styles have distorted history, used legends, or even resorted to fabricating historical evidence for their own benefit. This phenomenon has been bad for the development of taiji as a whole.


To Yuan Fuquan’s delight, on 2 Jun this year, the dispute over taiji’s origins was finally settled. The General Secretary of Wen county  Literature & Arts Federation Zheng Fuzhen told reporters, in August of last year, Wen county formally applied to the Chinese Folk Arts Association to be recognised as the birthplace of taiji.

On the 20-21 of March this year, a task force made up experts from the fields of martial arts, archaeology and folklore examined Wen County’s claim to be the birthplace of taiji. The CCTV Channel 7 programme ‘Countryside’ filmed a documentary about the whole process, which was edited into an episode called ‘The Birthplace of Taijiquan’, which introduced in detail taijiquan’s origin, evolution and development.

The taskforce unanimously agreed that: Taijiquan originated in the Zhaobao and Chenjiagou villages of Wen county, and that it was created by Chen Wangting of Chenjiagou based on the martial arts passed down within his family, with contributions from many other arts. Later on Chen style taijiquan gave birth to offshoots in the form of the Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu (Jianquan), Sun and He styles.”

Note that the final decision essentially sticks to the Chen Qingping theory for the origin of Zhaobao taiji, despite the existence of Zhaobao lineages that do not descend from Chen Qingping.

About yosaku

Xingyiquan enthusiast
This entry was posted in Zhaobao taiji and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Going to Court over Taiji

  1. Jeff says:

    Love the site and the articles. I’m curious about one point you made. Wasn’t it Chen Fake who took the challenges for 17 days upone his arrival to Beijing. I thought Chen Zhaopei requested his uncle(Chen Fake) to come to Beijing and teach. It was during this time that Fake took on the challenges and gained a reputation. Is this different from your sources?

    • yosaku says:

      After doing a bit of searching around, I’m pretty sure it was Chen Zhaopi. This is based on 3 sources:

      1. In ‘Chen style taijiquan: the source of taiji boxing’ by David Gaffney & Davidine Sim (both students of Chen Zhenglei), it states that Chen Zhaopi’s Leitai fights were promoted by a scholar who was also from Henan called Li Qinglin.
      2. In Gu Liuxin’s ‘The Art of Taijiquan’ (Taijiquan Shu), he states that Chen Zhaopi went unbeaten for 16 days.
      3. An article based on an interview with the village head of Chenjiagou, Zhang Weizhen, that appeared in the ‘Great River’ newspaper (Da He Bao), that is very detailed and corroborates the Sim & Gaffney version. It states that the Leitai took place in autumn of 1928, that it was promoted by a scholar from Henan called Li Qinglin, and that it lasted for 17 days.

  2. Jeff says:

    Thanks for your reply!
    Very good to hear about this.
    If you have any interesting info about Chen Fake that you’ve come across I would love to hear about it in future post.
    Thanks again for efforts in sharing stories about internal martial artist.


  3. Pingback: Подать в суд на тайцзи | Среди рек и озер

  4. docnamedtroy says:

    Reblogged this on Ground Dragon Martial Arts and commented:
    A very interesting post about the history and birthplace of Taijiquan, a MUST read!

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