The latest edition 13 of the Martial Arts Studies journal is out! Of particular interest to practitioners of Taijiquan this issue is Douglas Wile’s article on The Many Lives of Yang Luchan: Mythopoesis, Media, and the Martial Imagination. Yang Luchan is, of course, the patriarch of the Yang style, yet very little is actually known about him for sure, although that hasn’t stopped people filling the void with many colourful stories.
Here’s the abstract:
“The life of Yang Luchan, patriarch of the Yang lineage and founder of taijiquan’s most popular style, is a biographical blank slate upon which conservative, progressive, orientalist, and just plain rice bowl interests have inscribed wildly divergent narratives. Conservative scholar-disciples sought to link him with the invented Wudang-Daoist lineage, while progressives emphasized his humble origins and health benefits of the practice. His life (c.1799-1872) straddled the height of the Manchu empire and decline into semi-colonial spheres of foreign influence, while successive generations of Yang descendants propagated his ‘intangible cultural heritage’ through Republican, Communist, ‘open’ and global eras. Practiced world-wide by hundreds of millions, taijiquan’s name recognition made it ripe for media appropriation, and Yang Luchan has been remythologized in countless novels, cartoons, television series, and full-length feature films. The case of Yang Luchan offers an unusual opportunity to witness an ongoing process of mythopoesis against a background of historical antecedents and to compare these narratives with traditional Chinese warrior heroes and Western models of mythology and heroology. If the lack of facts has not constrained the fabrication of invented biographies, neither should it discourage the quest for historical context as we sift and winnow truth from trope in examining the patterns of motivated reasoning that characterize the many reconstructions of Yang’s biography.”