In 2007, Zhang, a teacher of the health-promoting exercise of taijiquan, traveled from Shanghai to the United States and Europe to conduct a short series of workshops and demonstrations of his art. Zhang soon came under fire from the prominent Shanghai martial arts family that led his martial arts association for teaching ‘family secrets’ to foreigners. In this paper, I attempt to open a window into understanding how definitions of social structures can take place when symbolic conjunctions, histories of colonization, and individual needs come together to create the kind of rupture that Zhang and the association experienced in Shanghai. How does an exercise like taijiquan, billed as promoting both individual physical health and social stability, become subjected to surprisingly destructive forces as the art and its teachers move across geographical,generational, racial, political, and temporal borders? How do members of a taijiquan association reconcile long and painful memories of the ever-colonizing foreigner with a publicly stated mission to promote health internationally through their art? How do teachers like Zhang negotiate their own openness about certain elements of the art with their desire to remain well-respected members of formal social structures like the martial arts association? And, perhaps most significantly, what role do foreign ‘consumers’ of taijiquan play in changing the rules of how and to whom teachers communicate the secrets of taijiquan? I attempt to answer these questions by framing them within the context of an old scholarly debate between Marshall Sahlins and Gananth Obeyesekere regarding the circumstances of Captain Cook’s death in Hawaii.
How to Cite:
Frank, A.D., (2014). Unstructuring Structure and Communicating Secrets inside/outside a Chinese Martial Arts Association. JOMEC Journal. (5), p.None. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18573/j.2014.10269