Chen Taijiquan Survival in Chen Village Through the Difficult Years Part 3

March 14, 2016 in Articles, Taijiquan Musings by Mo Ling

(By Warmond Fang)

This is the third and perhaps final article in covering the history of Chen Village and the development of Chen Taijiquan. This article will cover the time period starting from the Cultural Revolution and to the Return of Chen Zhaokui and later Feng Zhiqiang. Again, all Chinese sources will be posted and an English translation provided after. I will also list source material, author and links to original source material where available. I will start by translating a narrative given by Zhang Weizhen, the Communist Secretary for Chen Village starting from the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.


In 1966, The cultural revolution began. Zhang Weizhen who had supported the development of Taijiquan was relieved of his government position and as a result those who had practiced tajiquan lost their “protective umbrella”. The first to be persecuted was Chen Ke Zhong because of his family background and then shortly after Chen Zhaopi was also arrested due to “problems with his history/background”. The naturally upright and frank Chen Zhaopi could not endure such indignity and torture attempted to commit suicide by jumping into a well. He survived and was taken back by his family to recover. The heat of the taiji renaissance that had just begun dissipated and cooled down.

Article: Entering the Birthplace of Taijiquan – Chenjiagou

Source: Chen Taijiquan Research Academy and Wenxian Wushu Association

The next article is translated from excerpts given by Zhang Weizhen. He gives more details surrounding the situation in Chen Village as well as an account of Chen Zhaopi’s attempted suicide and the events that followed after.


In 1966, the Cultural Revolution began. Taijiquan became labelled as a serious poison to society. The Chen family Ancestral Shrine was torn down, The Chen Ancestral tablets were smashed. Chen Zhaopi, then 74 years old was charged with various crimes concerning his history and association with the previous KMT regime (Guomindang). The people that practiced taijiquan with him were charged with “forming small cliques”, “Gao Jiazhu (See translation notes)” “Forming Religious Organizations. The Red Guards accused them of “Conspiring at night and disbanding by day”. “I was the Communist Party Secretary at the time but was labelled a Capitalist Roader”; Chen Zhaopi was arrested to brought to the Commune where he would be repeatedly “pi dou” (see translation notes). Chen Zhaopi could not take such abuse and humiliation and committed suicide by jumping into a well. The water in the well was very shallow so he did not drown and was rescued.

Article: The Inheritance of Chenjiagou Chen Taijiquan: Because Taijiquan was Illegal in the past, no one dare practice.

Source: Chen Zhenglei…/…/detail_2013_09/09/29431578_0.shtml


In the beginning of Spring in 1967, Chen Zhaopi failed in this suicide attempt and while he was rescued he was injured by the bamboo poles at the bottom of the well which pierced diagonally through his leg. Because he was the main target of the “Pi Dou” (see Translation notes) campaigns, the local doctor did not have the courage to administer and medical aid. Chen Zhenglei and Chen Chunlei kneeled before the doctor and begged him to help Chen Zhaopi. the doctor still refused and had them take Chen Zhaopi home and use salt water to wash his wound. It would take till after nightfall that the doctor secretly went to find Chen Zhaopi and administered iodine to and dress his wound. The result was that Chen Zhaopi’s leg wound was not disinfected properly. Chen Zhaopi became a cripple for more than a year. Even though he could only support himself with one leg, he would still kneel on chairs and continue to talk about Taijiquan.

Article: The Inheritance of Chenjiagou Chen Taijiquan: Because Taijiquan was Illegal in the past, no one dare practice.

Source: Chen Zhenglei…/…/detail_2013_09/09/29431578_0.shtml


1) The Cultural Revolution seriously hindered the development of Taijiquan in its tracks once more as Chen Zhaopi became one of the main targets of the public shaming campaigns. Zhang notes that the Chen Family shrine was torn down and the family ancestral tablets smashed. We can pretty much surmise in this environment Taijiquan would not have flourished in this period though we know the 4 tigers practiced in secret in the evening’s when they could.

2) Chen Zhaopi attempted to commit suicide but survived but because the doctors were afraid to administer medical assistance in a timely manner, he had an infection in his leg that never recovered properly. He thus became a cripple for more than a year. Again this should give some context as to what he could have taught as a cripple with only one functioning leg.

Translation notes:

1) “Gao Jia Zhu”, this translates literally into forming a family so i decided to keep the original translation. The connotation with this term includes that members of the same family would form cliques to benefit off each other at the expense of others. It also carried a second meaning that said members of such family put their allegiance to their own family before the communist party and the state and thus were against the communist revolution.

2) “Pi Dou” literally translates into “criticize” but what it meant was more of a public shaming campaign. Targets were usually chained and dragged to a public commune where half their hair was shaved off and then they had to hang a sign on their chest reading what their charge was against the party. At these campaigns, the targets would be physically beaten, egged, stoned and fictional charges would be levied from all those around. Many people died directly as a result of the public shaming campaigns, many more committed suicide after due to the humiliation.

1968年,陈照丕得到了平反。他找到了时任陈家沟村主任的张蔚珍,问他还能否继续教太极拳,长期生活在陈家沟的张蔚珍此时意识到,作为一种特殊的文化形态,太极拳应该流传下来:“在那个时候,我首先意识到的是太极拳并没有阶级立场,所以我认为它应该被允许传授。” 尽管痴心不改但吃过太多苦头的陈照丕这个时候担心:万一出问题了怎么办啊?张蔚珍了解到这个后,非常肯定地对他说:“你放心去教吧,出了问题我来担保。”


In 1968, Chen Zhaopi received redress from the communist party. He went to look for Chen Village Director, Zhang Weizhen and asked if he could continue to teach taijiquan. Zhang Weizhen who had lived in Chen Village for a long time understood that taijquan was a unique cultural asset and should be continued to be passed on. “At that time I first realized that Taijiquan did not have class distinctions, so I thought the teaching of it should be allowed” Although Chen Zhaopi’s dedication to Taijiquan had not changed, he had endured too much suffering and still had his worries. Chen Zhaopi asked “If a problem arises, what do I do?” Zhang Weizhen confidently replied “Don’t worry about teaching, if anything happens, i’ll take responsibility” /

With that, the short hiatus of Taijiquan ended and Chen Zhaopi resumed teaching. At this time Chen Zhaopi was already very old and so Zhang Weizhen recommend that he specifically focus training several students. The internationally renowned “4 Tigers” of Chen Taijiquan, Chen Xiao Wang, Chen Zheng Lei, Wang Xi’an and Zhu Tian Cai were the results of the the focused training under Chen Zhaopi that began in this period of time. In 1970, Li Shulin then Commuist Party Secretary for Wenxian really liked Taijiquan and as a result invited Chen Zhaopi to Wenxian where he taught the party cadres every morning. He also taught taijquan to the Wenxian No.1 Secondary School. However in 1972, Chen Zhaopi passed away.

Article Name: Zhang Weizhen Saves Chen Taijiquan at a Critical Moment
Source: Chen Taijiquan Research Academy And Wenxian Wushu Association

1) Chen Zhaopi was not redressed until 1968 so for 2 years along with his crippled leg probably was not too active in teaching.

2) Zhang notes that the 4 tigers only began their intensive private training with Chen Zhaopi in 1968. This means the 4 tigers only had a short time of intense private trianing with CZP before he passed away in 1972 and this training took place in Chen Zhaopi’s twilight years. This next section will examine the history after the passing away of Chen Zhaopi and the arrival of Chen Zhaokui. The following is a narrative of events in this period by Zhang Weizhen the Communist party secretary for Chen Village.







After the death of Chen Zhaopi, Zhang Weizhen quickly realized that the 4 tigers who were trained by Chen Zhaopi had only successfully learned the taijiquan forms but did not have any real gong fu skill. The saving grace being that after the death of Chen Zhaopi, Zhang Weizhen was able to locate Chen Taijiquan 10th generation successor Chen Zhaokui (Permanent Beijing Resident) through Wu Xiu Bao who was then the Jiaozuo Director of Supplies and Department Bureau.

In mentioning this incident, these old memories still remained fresh like they were new. He explained that Wu Xiu Bao met Chen Zhaokui at park in Beijing. At the time Chen Zhaokui was practicing Taijiquan and right at that moment Wu Xiu Bao who was also a Taijiquan enthusiast passed by and the two started conversing. Wu discovered that Chen Zhaokui was an official successor to Chen Taijiquan. This event found its way to the ears of Zhang Weizhen and he asked Wu Xiu Bao to invite Chen Zhaokui to return to Chen Village form Beijing to continue to teach Taijiquan. Chen Zhaokui made three conditions to Zhang Weizhen. The first was that he must receive a salary, the second was that all his transportation costs were to be covered and finally he was to be provided with lodging and food. Zhang Weizhen accepted all his conditions and as a result Chen Zhaokui returned from Beijing to Chen Village and began in Chen Village the transmission of Taijiquan that Chen Zhaopi had not finished.

As word spread in Chen Village that Chen Zhaokui was returning from Beijing to teach Taijiquan, many students showed up to learn but Zhang Weizhen thought about the succession problem and future development of Taijiquan and suggested that Chen Zhaokui could teach everyone who wanted to learn during the day classes but in the evening he would only teach the 4 tigers privately. The purpose being to ensure that the essence of Chen Taijiquan would be continued to be passed on. At the same time, to further promote Chen Taijiquan he put forward the idea of rewarding work points to Chen Village members who showed up to learn Taijiquan by making practicing Chen Taijiquan equivalent to participating in collective labour. This policy, had a immense positive effect on promoting the practice of Chen Taijiquan.

Zhang Weizhen explained that Chen Zhaokui returned to Chen Village once every year and stayed for a number of months each time. He returned a total of 3 times to Chen Village and the total aggregate time spent in Chen Village was approximately 2 years. Throughout those 2 years, Chen Zhaokui was able to nurture the talent of the 4 tigers. At the same time Chen Zhaokui also taught a lot of the youths in the local area. Chen Zhao Kui’s teaching made a direct contribution to raising the level of taijiquan theory and skill of all the currently active Taijiquan teachers from Chen Village. Afterwards, to further promote Chen Taijiquan, Zhang Weizhen requested that the Chen Village Elementary School teach Taijiquan especially as part of the school’s physical education curriculum. To serve this end, he recruited two professional martial arts instructors form out of town to teach Taijiquan. This along with the influence and efforts of the 4 tigers outside of the village played a huge contributing factor in the promotion of Chen Style Taijiquan. This is what reporters in Wenxian, Chen Village learned through their interviews of the past. They learned that it was Zhang Weizhen who rescued Chen Taijiquan at a critical time in history which allowed this martial art to get swallowed in the annals of history with the passing of time. And not only that but to established and maintain its important role among the different styles of Taijiquan.

Article Name: Zhang Weizhen Saves Chen Taijiquan at a Critical Moment

Source: Chen Taijiquan Research Academy And Wenxian Wushu Association

Notes: 1) It really doesn’t get more straight forward than this according to Zhang the main reason that he invited Chen Zhaokui back to teach in Chen Village was because the 4 tigers did not have any real gong fu skills and only learned the forms as taught by Chen Zhaopi. The exact Chinese reads as follows: “陈式太极拳四大金刚虽然继承了他的套路,但并没有真功夫”. 陈式太极拳四大金 (Chen shi Taijiquan Si Da Jin Gang) translates directly as the “4 tigers of Chen Village” 虽然继承 (Sui Ran Ji Cheng) translates directly as “although inherited” 他的套路 (Ta de Taolu) is translated directly as “his (Chen Zhaopi) forms” Taolu. 但并没有 (dan bing meiyou) translates into “but did not have” 真功夫 (Zhen Gong fu) which translate as “Real Gong Fu”. So you put all that together” 陈式太极拳四大金刚虽然继承了他的套路,但并没有真功夫” and it translates directly as “The 4 tigers of Chen Village although inherited Chen Zhaopi’s forms they did not have any real gong fu” This may make many uncomfortable but I’m not making this up, I am giving you a direct reading of the history as it was told by someone who was there and was responsible for bringing Chen Zhaokui to Chen Village. This should be a very serious factor to consider in the continuity problem I’ve been discussing the broader context of Chen Taijiquan history and development. Real Gong fu in Chinese would be construed to mean the applications of the form, the push hand component and the use of it and general martial abilities outside of performing the form.

2) Zhang specifically notes that Chen Zhaokui went to Chen Village a total of 3 times and the total aggregate time added up to almost two years. The exact Chinese reads 差不多有两年的时间 (Cha bu duo you liang nian de shi jian) This carries the connotation that the exact time was actually less than 2 years but was close to being two years. It could have been anywhere from 20-23 months. Again, one should think about how much content the Chen Village people could have absorbed in 2 years time and not 2 years of continuous instruction but broken up over a period of time. Conclusion: 1)We have on historical record basically that Chen Taijquan would have gone extinct if not for Chen Zhaopi returning to teach in 1958. However, we know that the 4 tigers did not commence intensive private training with Chen Zhaopi until 1968. Also we know that Chen Zhaopi injured his leg when committing suicide and as a result of not getting medical treatment in a timely manner was crippled. All these factors should be considered in terms of what Chen Zhaopi could teach and what he did teach.

3) We know from Zhang Weizhen who was a close friend of Chen Zhaopi and the protector of the Chen family that the 4 tigers did not receive complete transmission of the Chen Taijiquan system. In fact he makes it explicitly clear they only learned the forms of Chen Zhaopi and did not have “real gong fu”. “Real Gong fu” in Chinese meaning that they did not know the applications and didn’t have any real fighting capabilities. I don’t think it can get anymore straightforward than this.

4) If Chen Zhaopi had transmitted everything to the 4 tigers then there just wouldn’t be an urgent concern to bring Chen Zhaokui back to teach in Chen Village, but we know from the historical record that Chen Zhaopi’s task of bringing Chen Taijiquan back to Chen Village was not completed by the time he died. It would take Chen Zhaokui to more fully complete this task and one could make the argument that even Chen Zhaokui was not able to finish this task as Zhang Weizhen would invite Feng Zhiqiang back to teach in Chen Village 3 times with the last time being in 1997. Most of you were already alive or practicing taijiquan by 1997 and Chen Village was still trying to fill the gaps left behind by a history defined by war, famine, cannibalism, mass exodus, and unfinished dreams of determined teachers. That’s something to think about in larger context about the continuity of Chen Taijiquan in Chen Village.

5) From the historical record we can with some confidence conclude that the reading of history that the laojia the 4 tigers practiced was the original chen family form as passed down from generations and that the CFK form was simply a new expression of the laojia is incorrect. Rather what happened was that the original laojia that was passed down in Chen Village was lost due to war, famine and a mass exodus of the Chen family all across China. The gong fu that the 4 tigers learned was in fact what CZP was able to teach them before he died and it was an incomplete transmission of the art due to CZP’s old age and injuries sustained during the Cultural Revolution and then of course his untimely death in 1972. So in fact what Chen Zhaokui brought back to Chen Village was in fact a more historically accurate and complete representation of Chen Style Taijiquan before it disappeared in Chen Village. The art that the 4 tigers thus practiced was not so much laojia in its comprehensive sense as it was a foundation based on Chen Zhaopi’s form with gaps in the art filled in by Chen Zhaokui and later Feng Zhiqiang.

6) There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, the Chen Family in Chen Village tried their best to rebuild what they had lost and put a great amount of effort into that endeavour. However, we should be respectful of the actual historical record and that is all things considered it was not possible that the laojia that the 4 tigers practiced in Chen Village gave birth to “xinjia” as practiced by Chen Zhaokui. The point being that up to the point before Chen Zhaokui returned, the four tigers had at best an incomplete transmission of the Chen Taijiquan system so how could that give birth to Chen Zhaokui’s art? The only thing they gave birth to was the name “new frame” which caused all this confusion in the first place because quite simply it wasn’t new at all, only new to Chen Village because they lost what was once old.

I said I this was suppose to be the final article and I was going to write about Feng Zhiqaing’s return to Chen Village and his contributions to the development of Chen Taijiquan in Chen Village, but the translation for this article took longer than expected so again it will have to wait till next time. The article on Feng Zhiqiang will be the final article of this series on the development of Taijiquan in Chen Village. Stayed tune for the last installment.