Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Roots of Southern Chinese Martial Arts

Bernard Kwan at Be Not Defeated by the Rain posted a translation of an excellent article on the Northern Chinese roots of Southern Chinese martial arts. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The Process of transmitting Martial Arts to the South and their Localization

As the ancient martial arts left few traces in the written record, what we know is limited and the remaining content of ancient martial arts still extant in the South has been explained in the previous issues of Hong Kong Wu Lin. For a detailed exposition, please consult the essay "The Evolution of Ancient Martial Arts"

The emergence and flourishing of Cantonese martial arts actually mainly took place during the Qing period. Many people who study Cantonese martial arts, focus their attention upon actual schools, techniques or people. But due to a lack of historical records, most of the information passed down is of a rather late period, most coming from the end of the Qing and the beginning of the Republican period, with a major emphasis on the Republican period. Using the oral transmission to re-imagine the development of the Cantonese marital arts during the Qing period is unreliable. Thus when studying formation of Cantonese martial arts from the Qing to the Republican period, we have to begin with a study of society, understand the actual circumstances and investigate the relationship between marital arts and society and popular culture. The social phenomena which bear a relationship with the development of martial arts which merits our attention are : (1) The militarization and armed conflict in arising from the increasing population in Guangdong; (2) The internal migration resulting from the unrest and turbulence in the middle of the Qing period, leading to the transmission of martial arts from north to south; (3) The self strengthening movement of the twentieth century that led to a "Guoshu Fever", resulting the further spread of marital arts amongst the general populace.

The Population Explosion in Guangdong and development of a Militarized Society

Qing-era Guangdong and Fujian saw a historically unprecedented increase in population. Certain Qing policies such as the maritime embargo, caused the livelihood of the coastal population to be caught between a rock and a hard place, but it did to a certain extent place a limit on the growth of population.  However when we reached the Golden Age of Qianlong, the lessening on taxes on the general populace led to a jump in the rate of growth of the population, and at the end of Qianlong's reign, the population of Fujian and Guangdong had far exceeded that of the most prosperous times during the Ming period. This population increase let what had been a sparsely populated area to experience an invisible pressure, forcing the marginalized masses from lowest rungs of society to leave their agrarian society, to search for a new pastures to make a livelihood. Having left their homes on the farms and their family networks, and in order to protect their rights and resist the depredations of the prominent families and landowners, these  migrants formed many Brotherhoods, and through oaths of fealty created many "clans" unrelated by blood which gradually evolved into a large "underground society".

The history of Cantonese martial arts make reference often to "Overthrowing the Qing and restoring the Ming", to a large extent this was a slogan used by the secret societies to justify their existence and promote themselves. As to for the Southern Chinese Brotherhoods, secret societies and "underground society" researchers both in and outside of China have done a great deal of research, and interested readers should consult "Brotherhoods and Secret Societies in Early and Mid-Ming China: The Formation of a Tradition" (Ownby 1996) and "Rebellion and its Enemies in Late Imperial China,: Militarization and Social Structure, 1796-1864" (Kuhn 1980). What is worth noticing, is that the militarization and arming of Cantonese society and the flashpoint, was originally the conflict of family groups over land, and the formation of these non-traditional associations was a result of the worsening of the ratio between land and resources and the population. However later on, with the spread and development of these non-traditional associations, they transformed into vehicles for illegal appropriation, often taking part or even inciting local armed conflict, or even inciting mass rioting and insurrection, leading Southern China to become a large disaster area in the late Qing. With our current state of research we are unable to ascertain the role of the martial arts schools or certain marital arts teachers roles in this situation, but one thing is certain, the militarization of Southern China a close connection with the development of martial arts, and the contemporary weapons - such as the double knife (butterfly knife), cudgel staff - and their related techniques also have direct correlation with this phenomenon.

The problem of the Qing population was one affecting the whole country, apart from the Shandi Hui and Big Knife Association of southern Fujian and Guangdong, the social unrest caused by these non-traditional organizations, affected the each part of China, the Yi He Brotherhood - "Quan Fei" spread to Shandong, Henan, Hebei, and Anhui, and the Taiping Kingdom laid siege to Jinling, and spread its military strength to Guangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, Shanxi, Zhili, Shandong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan, Jiaxi and Gansu provinces. This cross provincial movement rested upon a wave of population migration, and was a trend causing the horizontal transmission of culture. The transmission of northern boxing south, taking root in a foreign land was born out of this megatrend, of which the most prominent was the Tai Ping Kingdom.

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