Actors promote a TV series based on the life of legendary martial arts hero Zhang Sanfeng in Beijing on Nov. 18, 2013. (Photo/CNS)
An attempt to include a style of tai chi supposedly founded by a legendary Chinese Taoist priest on the China Intangible Cultural Heritage list has sparked a furore among the proponents of the other schools of the internal Chinese martial art, reports the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily.
Zhang Sanfeng is a Chinese cultural hero who has been the subject of many folktales and myths. Legend has it that he was indifferent to fame and wealth, and after declining an official position he traveled around China to live the life of an ascetic.
Much of the written material about him is mythical, contradictory, or otherwise suspect. For example, he is believed to have been born in either 960, 1247, or in 1279, and there are claims that he lived for 200 years, was seven feet tall and had whiskers shaped like spears. Some writings credit him with the development of tai chi chuan (taijiquan), though many others are dubious of Zhang's connections to the internal martial arts style and question whether he even existed at all.
Accordingly, it came as a shock to tai chi quan practitioners that "Zhang Sanfeng Tai Chi Chuan" was included as one of the 298 nominations for the fourth batch of the China Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The nomination was made along with two other schools of tai chi chuan, Wu and Li, and if passed would be included in the list's "traditional sports, entertainment and acrobatics" category.
Since the nominations were published on the official website of China's Ministry of Cultural on July 16, followers of the rival Chen-style tai chi chuan have been calling press conferences to publicly question Zhang Sanfeng's inclusion. One Chen-style tai chi chuan elder who spoke to the media on Aug. 11 called the nomination a "farce."
Chen-style and Yang-style tai chi chuan are already part of the China Intangible Cultural Heritage list after having been nominated years ago as part of the first batch. Tai chi practitioners note that Wu-style and Li-style tai chi chuan can at least be verified historically through records and documentation, but in the case of Zhang Sanfeng it is all conjecture.
Some reports have suggested that the attempt to include Zhang Sanfeng on the China Intangible Cultural Heritage list can be attributed to the city of Shaowu in east China's Zhejiang province, which has tried to turn itself into a tourist attraction through alleged links to the legendary character. State-owned media outlets have already made filmed two documentaries about the life of Zhang Sanfeng in Shaowu in 2009 and 2012, and last September held a traditional martial arts contest in the city to promote tai chi chuan.
A staff member of at China Intangible Cultural Heritage told the Southern Metropolis Daily that it has received comments on the Zhang Sanfeng nomination and that all materials submitted will form part of the adjudication process.
Zhang Sanfeng 張三豐