Review of Chen Xin’s Book (Part 2)

Preface: INBI has not gone down. Although there may have been a problem with their website I am unaware of, inbiworld.com is up and running, at least right now. I sent them an email a month ago and was informed there was a problem with the publisher in china and the book may be delayed by two months or more. I’m sure everyone’s book will arrive. Now, on with the review)

[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

The Illustrated Canon of Chen Family Taijiquan

Aaaah. Let that name sink in. This is it, this is THE BOOK.

I think the best way to do this, since it is such a large book, is to try and pin down some solid statements I feel I can stand behind about this book. I’ll start with a little history behind the book and go from there. Let’s start by placing this book in perspective for those of us who aren’t familiar with it and it’s position in the starmap of tai chi books.

First. This is not a straight up boxing manual or a book on how to do tai chi.
According to Jarek Szymanski, there are four or five known chen family boxing manuals, and this isn’t one of them. Do keep in mind however that Chen Ziming is the author of one of them, and Chen Ziming was a student of Chen Xin. Also keep in mind that there are explanations of some key points about tai chi and the postures, but you wouldn’t be able to learn tai chi at all just from the explanations or diagrams (then again, an abridged version of this book has in fact been published by Chen Xin as a “tai chi for beginners” book).

Chen Xin felt this book would be important to people who were already skilled in Taijiquan.
Again quoting Jarek’s page,

Chen Xin had no children and when he was lying in the bed old and sick he called his nephew Chen Chunyuan and gave him “Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan” saying: “this is the fruit of my whole life, publish it and give to those who deserve it, otherwise burn it, be sure not to give it to ignorant and presumptuous people!”.

The Chen Family respects the work on some level.
From Jarek’s page, again, (thanks jarek!)

In 1935 Chen Zhaopei, 18th generation descendant of Chen clan, in his “Collection of Chen Family Taijiquan” (Chen Shi Taijiquan Huizong) used many parts of Chen Xin’s book.

Yin Cheng Gong Fa’s website has an article about Chen Xin. Zhang Yun is quoted saying, “Although it is said that Taiji Quan spread out from Chenjiagao Village, there were no real quality classics written down there until Chen Xin. So today Chen Xin’s Taiji Quan classic is greatly respected in Chen family.”

Chen Xin was a scholar and wrote the book in a scholarly style native to Henan.
There’s two points here. One from Ingo Augsten, who states

A Henan local told me, that Chen Xins book is really hard to translate, since it conains regional and “old” language – even hard to read to people from Henan today. Maybe that’s why nobody dares to be authorative.

And the second point, quoted from Andy S. on EmptyFlower:

My understanding is that Chen was a scholar who wrote in purposely scholarly style, using lots of ambigious and metaphorical terms (today, he would probably be called “pretentious” or “elitist”) and so his book is very difficult to understand. This irritates me, as martial arts are, on the whole, pretty common-sensical. To put it another way: Very, very few great fighters are great scholars, so do you need to be a scholar to read a book about fighting? To my understanding, with Chen Xin’s book, the answer is: “Yes.”

The point is, that this book is pretty hard to translate into something meaningful. For the average reader, pages 1 to 108 are basically unusable; it’s an exhausive description of trigrams and the book of changes. And when I say exhausive, I mean that. Over 100 pages. I tried to read through it, ended up skimming most of it, but it just doesn’t seem applicable in any way to the physical practice of tai chi. For example take the “Square Diagram of Taijiquan’s External Form” on page 107. I just don’t see the point. Even in the square and round explanation given on the next page, it is not really clear what Chen Xin is referring to. If this was Kuo/Guttman’s book then we would see examples. There are no examples here. That’s a real pity.

To give you a better context to what I mean by the word exhaustive, let me quote from the “explaination” to the very (very) odd looking diagram (keep looking and it starts to make sense – scary) on page 46. This is just a random example, likely not the worst one:

The preceeding diagram charts the reversibly inversed sixty four hexagrams, while the diagram which follows represents the reversibly compatible sixty four hexagrams. The latter diagram also explains the relationship between the six stratums of big and small circles of the silk reeling method of taijiquan. This consists, on the one hand, of the six levels of the human body, including skin, flesh, tendons, membranes, joints and brains; and on the other hand, the circulation and compatibility of the blood (xue) and energy (qi) flows. It also includes the agglomeration of the internal essence (jing) and spirit (shen), through which the practitioner can lift up and sink down, enter inside and go outside of a circular frame, the size of which depends on the time of utmost effectiveness. Through the wisdom of everyday living one can also enter into the all-embracing spheres of self-regulation cultivated through the wisdom of everyday living.

Now go back and read that again. Wow, huh? The entire first hundred pages are like this. Granted, there are a few moments of clarity, but good luck digging them out. Me, I’ve caught glimpses, and he will suddenly stop and say something about tai chi fighting techniques (like on page 63), but still.. so much seems confusing.. Hey, let me be clear, I’m not saying that it’s incoherrent babbling or anything. There does seem to be a point, but it is (to prove a point) like how Kun turns into Gen or like how Quan might turn into Dui. Oh god, now I’m doing it. I mean to say, like two musicians communicating to each other by flute. If you’re wondering why I didn’t just say that in the first place.. I don’t have an answer for you. I could speculate, but I do not know.

In short. If you’re not a master musician, forget about trying to comprehend what Chen Xin is saying in these first 100 pages.

Illustrated Explanation of Silk Reeling
I’ve also decided to find fault with the Silk Reeling discussion on 109 through 118. Yes, there are some things that Chen Xin says which are destined to become classic quotes, such as the Zhong Qi comment, also about the primary source of taijiquan’s skill – maybe even how he talks about replenishing the energy. Also, to be honest, this is the first time that I’ve heard about Haoran zhi Qi and how it may relate to Zhong Qi. So there are definately some interesting things here. But there is no diagram or description of how to train silk reeling. There are no examples. I keep forgetting, I’m not reading Guttman. Still, if someone was really dedicated and thought about this stuff for a long time, kept an open mind and had a really good teacher, he would likely be able to use this section (pg. 109-118) to increase his taiji nei gong.

This book contains an encyclopaedia of Meridians and Accupoints
Without batting an eyelash, on page 109 Chen Xin suddenly launches into an illustrated list of hundreds of accupoints and meridians. He lists poems and songs for each one. This goes on for dozens of pages. The burning question “why” is certainly in your mind by this point. Why is never explained.

On pages 166 to 169, there is a treatise on the Ren-mai and Du-mai channels. I want to comment on this and say it seems invaluable. This is an example of one of those moment of clarity hidden within hundreds of pages of philosophical coding. Ahh but that’s not entirely true I suppose. When I say a moment of clarity, I am implying that there is enough literature available in english such that a native english speaker, sufficiently learned of the meaning of the important chinese words and philosphical concepts, would likely be able to get something out of this short essay on ren-mai and du-mai. This is an important observation because I suspect that someone who was really interested in figuring out everythgn else Chen Xin was trying to say, could use this as a key to try and unlock the symbols and metaphors Chen Xin used in other parts of his book. IOW, it’s still written in some kind of tai chi code, but it’s somewhat understandable if you’re willing to stretch your mind around it. And I do mean stretch. But don’t worry, I have faith in you 😉 I know you can do it if you try. There is a point in what Chen Xin is saying, and I feel it’s very interesting and important to a dedicated, open-minded practitioner.

Treaties and Essays
Notably missing are the two articles “Push Hands Sixteen Points” and “36 Push Hands sicknesses”, as explained in the above-mentioned article by Zhang Yun.

“Taijiquan Classics” is the first essay. No, this isn’t the tai chi classics you may have read before. This is some kind of philosphically coded description of Tai Chi. I’m not sure what it means exactly. More than anything it seems like advice you would give to a beginner. So take it for what it sounds like, I guess. There’s a “Revised Treatise on Taijiquan” which starts with a discussion of zhong qi and yuan qi, is interesting, next is “Some Statements on the Taijiquan Classics” which does not appear to be a commentary but a paraphrase (and I use that word quite loosely. See the quote above from page 47 😉 ) with no apparent references made to the “other” classics. It again mentions yuan-qi, etc – an interesting read I suppose.

“Item 65”, on page 182, “Revised Statement on the Taijiquan Classics”. seems to be a rewrite of the previous essay. Interesting in how certain points remain the same and certain others are emphasised more, or less.

Next, “regarding the name of taijiquan”. “Regarding the Origin of Taijiquan”. “Explanation of Taijiquan’s mechanism of development”. “Concepts of the human body” (quite long and covers lots of topics like feelings, beauty, neigong, different kinds of qi (zhong qi, yuan qi, haoran zhi qi etc etc).

So many mini essays. “Explanation of Taijiquan Application”. “Restricting.” “The Secret of Success in Combat”. They’re all really interesting, actually. This mini-essay section is quite worth the price of the book. It’s of varying clarity to be sure, but an intelligent and dedicated practitioner should be able to make sense of it after a few readings.

Then suddenly on page 216, in small words printed in the middle of the page…

End of Introduction.

Wow.

I guess I’ll have to write a part 3 soon 😉

Addendum:

Apparently INBIworld has gone down and email sent to the company is bouncing. I just went to inbiworld.com and everything seems fine. I want to report that I definately have my book, it is very real. However if you are panicking because you’re worried there might not be a second printing, or if you’re panicking because you fear you might not get your book, or you just really really want a copy of this book right now, I’ll sell you mine for $5,000 US. Yes, that’s me bragging. Sorry 🙂 I’m sure everyone will get their books soon. Just be patient. Maybe try sending the emails again? Mine went through last month and thats how I got my book. It was explained to me there was a problem with the publisher in china and only a few books got printed, and that the rest were delayed for a few months. Just be patient and I am sure everything will work out. Good luck and check back soon, I’ll post Part 3 of this review when I can! Feel free to ask any questions about the book I’ll answer as soon as I can.

[ Part 1 | Part 2 ]

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5 Responses

  1. “For the average reader, pages 1 to 108 are basically unusable; it’s an exhausive description of trigrams and the book of changes. And when I say exhausive, I mean that. Over 100 pages. I tried to read through it, ended up skimming most of it, but it just doesn’t seem applicable in any way to the physical practice of tai chi.”

    This book isn’t for the “average reader.” 🙂

    The problem is that the philosophy the book is based on has no correlation in Western thought. Chen goes even deeper than YiJing theory into He and Luo river diagram theory because those two models allow for an even deeper level of abstraction. The YiJing was a codification and simplification of those two earlier models. But if you don’t know about the He and Luo river diagram philosophy, this book will make no sense.

    So even if it’s translated into English, the underlying philosophy will make no sense to most people.

    Additionally, the English in the book is obviously problematic. i wonder if any native speakers worked on it.

    My hope is that this book spurs a discussion of both what Chen Xin wrote and the works importance in Chen style. He was obviously writing for a very highly educated Chinese audience, which will hamper the broader discussion in English.

  2. Chessman;
    Yes, it is certainly abstracted to a significant degree. I’ve been looking over the English translation for quite a few days now and certain things are starting to make more sense. I’m currently most interested in the dialogue cumulating on page 80; “Hence the four abovementioned techniques of Taijiquan (are) Yin, Jin, Luo and Kong…” I realise that’s an out of context quote but he is linking them to trigrams placed around a taiji tu and it’s very interesting that he is not talking about peng, lu, ji or an here. In fact come to think of it, peng and lu are not mentioned anywhere in the book to my knowledge. Granted I’ve only seriously read about 100 out of 750 pages.

    As for luo river diagrams, etc. I never really understood them. I’ve tried but perhaps I’ve just not found the right instructional material yet. Right now, I can’t even see their relevance, although Chen Xin does seem to go to great lengths to explain their significance. The book may be a lot more comprehensive with respect to linking theory to practice than I originally thought. The book has answered many key questions for me already, given that my interpretations are correct. But yeah it’s going to take a very long time to really read this book.

    On another note I have been informed the Chinese version and gift box have been canceled. I was offered a partial refund. That’s right, if you ordered the first printing gift box edition you won’t get it or the gift box – only the English book.

  3. Renli,
    I understand your confusion regarding the He and Luo diagrams. I’m a bit confused too. My teacher has told me that they are complex because they have to be to represent the complexity that they explain. Similarly, the He and Luo diagrams map the spreading of the qi much in the same manner that the body meridians map the flow of the qi and silk reeling energy from the dantian. So that’s the connection between the two. They go hand in hand, so to speak.

    A book you should pick up is Stuart Alve-Olsen’s Taichi According to the I Ching. He does a pretty good job explaining at least some of this.

  4. thanks for the reviews. I got multiple copies of the chinese version but never understood the IChing part. maybe I have to pick up a book on IChing first.

    The English translation look “very direct” but at least it is a good start for this is the most quoted book on chen style.

  5. […] presents Review of Chen Xin’s Book (Part 2) posted at 仁力的網頁, saying, “A review of the most sought after Tai Chi book, ever, […]

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