Professor Benjamin N. Judkins co-editor of the Journal of Martial Arts Studies, the driving force behind the excellent Kung Fu Tea Blog and the rise of martial studies as a academic discipline chose our blog as the best of 2017.
Happy New Year! And welcome to Kung Fu Tea‘s annual “awards show.” The New Year post is a great time to take a look back and celebrate some of the achievements of the last year. It is also a good opportunity to get some recommendations on long-reads for the year ahead. In years past I have selected the “best” blog or webpage devoted to the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts. We will be doing that again this year, but I will also be expanding our categories to include the “best” new article and book in martial arts studies, and a single selection representing the “best” of Kung Fu Tea in 2017.
Attentive readers will have noticed a lot of scare quotes in the preceding paragraph, so lets talk about the selection process. A webpage or blog can only win this category once as the purpose of this exercise is to continually introduce and explore the work of new authors and researchers. Further, I am most interested in the actual essays or posts that a blog creates rather than its social media presence. And given the focus of KFT, priority is given to those blogs that explore the cultural, social or historical aspects of martial arts studies, as well as their practice. That sounds like a healthy checklist, but one would be surprised how little these guidelines help to narrow things down. There is just too much good stuff out there. As such, each of these selections should be understood as a gesture of appreciation rather than a hard and fast selection of “winners and losers.” If you would like to recognize a blog that has done fantastic work in the last year, be sure to tell us in the comments below.
The Best Blog of 2017
All of this brings us to our selection of Best TCMA blog for 2017. I have been following William Acevedo and Mei Cheung’s work for years now. They have always impressed me with the depth of their original research and insightful commentary on Chinese martial arts history. Their articles can be found in a number of print publications, but those seeking to get a fuller picture of their research would be well advised to check out their excellent blog, Zhongguo Wu Xe: Chinese Martial Arts Research.
Their historical research and discussion, especially as they related to the events of the Republic period, should never be skipped. But this blog covers a range of other topics as well. Over the last year they published interviews with important Chinese scholars and practitioners, done comparative studies, and even tackled some “lighter” subjects. Their recent article on the Republic dadao would be a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with their work.
Congratulations on a job well done, and thanks for your many contributions to the study of Chinese martial arts history! Best of luck on your upcoming research in 2018. I am always excited to see what topics Zhongguo Wu Xe will be posting on next!
Similarly, our short paper “Republican Period Guoshu Periodicals.” Classic Fighting Arts. Vol 2. No. 26 Issue 49. pp. 56-68, was well received and included as one of the references in the book “The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts ” (SUNY, 2015). The complete review of our paper can be found here. We thank professor Judkins for his continuous support.
The Printing Press and the Sword: How Republic Era Periodicals Shaped the Chinese Martial Arts.
William Acevedo with translations by Mei Cheung. 2014. “Republic Period Guoshu Periodicals.” Classic Fighting Arts. Vol 2. No. 26 Issue 49. pp. 56-68.
Despite frequent assertions to the contrary, it is not true that the Chinese martial arts lack a written history. I suspect the main reason that this myth persists is that individuals insist on looking for documents that would validate mythological narratives of the past. It may be the case that the fantasy of the “ancient and unchanging” martial arts left no record. But even in this case there are a myriad of novels, short stories, serialized radio programs and early films documenting the evolution of this fantasy corpus.
The Chinese martial arts as they exist today are very much a product of the late Qing dynasty and the following periods of warlordism and Nationalist Party rule. These were times of tremendous change and social upheaval. The first decades of the 20th century saw rapid economic reforms, urbanization, increased global integration, social liberalization, modernization and rapid growth of nationalism. Most of the martial arts that are practiced today emerged out of this process. Indeed, we can learn a great deal about how these variables impacted different regions and eras of Chinese popular culture by taking a closer look at how specific fighting systems evolved and were discussed by the local community.
Fortunately for both historians and students of cultural studies, the first half of the 20th century also saw the rapid growth of both an urban middle class and rising literacy rates. Short chapbooks and manuals on topics like archery and boxing had been printed and distributed during the 19th century. But the transformation of the martial arts marketplace in the early 20th century saw a veritable explosion in printed resources. Most of these sought to introduce the newly empowered (and economically potent) urban middle class to the mysteries of traditional boxing. Indeed, teachers and reformers across the country realized that if the martial arts were to survive they would have to find a foothold in this new market. The end result of all of this is that for a supposedly “oral tradition”, both the technical evolution and social debates surrounding the development of the modern Chinese martial arts are surprisingly well documented.
Unfortunately the vast majority of these resources remain unavailable outside of a handful of university libraries and private collections in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. A few scholars, notably individuals like Andrew Morris, Stanley Henning and Brian Kennedy have sought to introduce some of this literature to western students. Yet our understanding of what resources are potentially out there remains sketchy at best.
Nor do most modern martial artists realize that there were often very sophisticated debates on many of the same topics that we still discuss today in the early 20th century. I personally suspect that half-remembered echoes of these discussions had an important impact on the evolution of the martial arts in places like Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s, and their effects are still lingering. Yet by in larger the early 20th century Chinese language literature remains an undiscovered country for most students of martial studies.
Gratefully there has been some progress in this area in recent years, but many questions remain. Some corners of this literature have barely been discussed by western researchers. This post reviews a recent article by William Acevedo (with translations by Mei Cheung) that makes an important contribution to our understanding of the popular literature on the Chinese martial arts between the 1920s and the 1940s.
In a recent edition of the magazine Classical Fighting Arts Acevedo published and explored a database of 44 different journals dedicated to the study of hand combat during the Republican period. There is a lot of variation in these periodicals, both in terms of their geographic origin, ideological orientation and relationship with the larger Guoshu project. About half of these magazines struggled to survive and had print runs of less than a year. A few managed to stay in circulation for decades and had a major impact on the national conversation surrounding the martial arts.
After presenting a brief survey of his findings, Acevedo used these resources to describe the goals, accomplishments and challenges of the Nationalist sponsored Guoshu project in greater detail. Other authors, including Henning and Morris, have already provided us with a basic framework for understanding the Guoshu era of the traditional Chinese martial arts. Nevertheless, the research discussed in this article makes a fascinating and original contribution to the literature.
Acevedo’s emphasis on popular publication between the 1920s – 1940s brings much needed depth to our understanding of the public debates that happened during this period. Further, his database of period publications will be a valuable resource for both historical and cultural students seeking to understand what resources are available to them (and need to be consulted) when writing on more specific topics. As such I suspect that a wide variety of readers here at Kung Fu Tea will find this article to be both helpful and interesting.
Para nuestros lectores de habla hispana y portuguesa nuestro libro Breve Historia del Kung Fu el cual recopila y presenta un panorama general de investigacion histórica publicada en el idioma inglés (pero no en lengua hispana) desvelando las leyendas que han creado una apreciación errónea de estas prácticas. El capítulo acerca de la Academia Central de Artes Nacionales se basa en nuestra investigación y artículos publicados en el idioma inglés en Classical Fighting Arts. Algunas de las reseñas de nuestro libro son:
RESEÑA DEL LIBRO “BREVE HISTORIA DEL KUNG-FU”/Resenha do livro “Breve história do Kung-fu” por Gerardo Lopez Sastre
Breve Historia del Kung Fu, Revisión por Pablo Pereda González.