I am in Chicago teaching and all out of brain cells, so instead of a blog post this week I will give you some stray paragraphs I am working on from my upcoming book! Enjoy!
“Humor was, up until the 1930s and even into the 1940s, a central and glorious part of Chinese culture. As I will show, humor was an important part of Chinese martial arts. The Chinese traditions of humor were tortured and crushed in mainland China beginning in the 1930s before the Communists took power, but after 1949 China became a humorless desert. Of course, humor is part of human nature and it keeps popping up no matter how many times it gets pounded down. But the story is a bleak one. One reason to know the mythic and cosmological origins of Tai Chi and Baguazhang is so that we can recover the glorious and powerful jester-like energy that they intrinsically embody.”
“The first half of the twentieth Century saw a fight over the origins of Tai Chi. Initially everyone said that it came form the Immortal Zhang Sanfeng. Because Immortals were considered superstitious and therefore the cause of China’s misery, the origins of Tai Chi were shifted to a lineage that came directly from a real person named Zhang Sanfeng. This was a sloppy sleight-of-hand because Zhang Sanfeng was obviously an immortal, and it came under attack by China’s first martial arts historian Tang Hao. Tang Hao was the head of propaganda for the Guoshu Institute. He argued that Zhang Sanfeng was not a real person, and even if he was, he had nothing to do with martial arts. Instead, Tang Hao argued that Tai Chi came from a Ming Dynasty General named Qi Jiguang. In the year 1563 General Qi Jiguang published a poem that described weaponless fighting techniques and used twenty-nine of the Tai Chi movement names. That was a good argument, but Tang Hao neglected to mention that Qi Jiguang was a student of the Golden Elixir and that his teacher claimed to be a direct student of Zhang Sanfeng. This was a rather large omission, an omission that has been repeated over and over.”
When Buddha finds Zhang Sanfeng he asks, “Why are you so dirty?” Zhang answers, “The stinking skin bag cannot be escaped.”
Buddha asks, “If you cannot escape it, how can you get fruition?”
“Zhang then gives the Buddha a comic lecture about the nature of enlightenment. The answers he gives in the text were lifted from one given by the leader of the Eight Immortals, Lu Dongbin, in the earlier published epic Journey to the East. I believe this part of the play is meant to be improvised. A debate between Zhang Sanfeng and the Buddha about the importance of having a body is a great set-up for laughs! Actors in this era were expected to improvise much of the dialog.”