Early Yang Style Photos
by Christopher Dow
The photos in this article are from a book I’ve had for many years but did not know much about because it is in Chinese, which I cannot read. I knew it was by Chen Weiming because his photo is the frontispiece, and I have since learned that it is a later edition of his, The Art of Taiji Boxing (1925). A translation of the first edition of the book by Paul Brennan can be found on his website, Brennan Translations.
Even if I can't read this edition of the book, it is interesting because of the many photos it contains. There are two sequences of photos depicting Yang Style, one set of photos showing the rudiments of push hands, and a group of school photos, with masters and students arrayed in front of the school buildings. All are from the first couple of decades of the 20th century, and all are of an extremely poor quality that belies their historical importance, though it’s hard to say how much of that is due to faulty reproduction or to defective originals.
The school photos open the book, which, of course, begins at the back for English readers. There are seven, five on single pages and two on the front and back of a fold-out page. One of the school photos—of the Yang Family school—is fairly well known. A copy with some of the more significant people highlighted, is reproduced, for example, in Douglas Wile’s T’ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Transmissions. But most of the other group photos are less known. The one unifying presence in all of them is Chen Wei-ming, who is absent from only one photo. Yang Cheng-fu—in his older appearance—is in a few, along with a handful of other Tai Chi notables, but in most of the photos, I recognize only Chen. The sizes of the groups range from well over a hundred to only about twenty-five—perhaps a provincial school. One photo was taken in front of the building housing S.H. Second Middle School. I’m assuming that the “S.H.” stands for Shanghai, where Chen established his Chih Jou School of Tai Chi. The group in this shot is quite large. Indeed, most of the photos seem to be of the school—or perhaps multiple schools—that Chen established in and around Shanghai.
The two groups of form photos are separated by the photos depicting push hands, but I’ll cover both here briefly. The first group intersperses shots of a young Yang Cheng-fu with shots of Chen performing the Yang Style of the time. I’ve seen a few of these shots of Yang reproduced elsewhere, but not nearly so many. There are thirty-seven shots of him, and between him and Chen, pretty much every significant posture is shown, though, being a Northern Wu stylist, I can’t attest to the completeness of the sequence. Yang was such an important influence on Tai Chi that his postures as a younger man are well worth investigating no matter what style you practice.
The second group of form photos shows only Chen doing the majority of the routine. The push hands photos, of which there are thirteen, show either Yang pushing with a slender gentleman identified as Xu Yusheng or Chen pushing with a bearded man identified as Chen Zhijin. In all cases, their stances are all superlative.
It’s not likely that this book is easy to find, but if you do locate a copy, perhaps you also will value it in for its many great and little-seen historical photos.
The School Photos
Presented in order of appearance in the book. Note that the final two school photos are panoramas on fold-out pages.
The Form Photos
Samples of pages featuring a young Yang Cheng-fu and Chen Wei-ming
Push Hands Photos
Sample page of Chen Wei-ming pushing hands with a man who looks like a young Cheng Man-ching.