Cultural Immersion

We are starting our penultimate day here in Chenjiagou. I think my first trip here was in 2005, and my, how things have changed in those 11 years. When I first started coming, the village was very underdeveloped. We stayed in a hotel in the nearby town of Wenxian and bussed to the village for our classes. The dorms were for the live-in students, and the school bathrooms were basically troughs that emptied into the field behind the school. I developed some pretty amazing bladder control in those days.

The roads were unpaved, and Chen Xiaowang was famous but not the rock star that he is now. Visitors were rare other than serious taiji students. We did our disciple ceremony here in 2006 and that seemed to be the start of the ascension of the village into the commercialism of the Birthplace of Taijiquan. In 2007 we did our first duan wei test in the Czech Republic, and that seemed to be a turning point for CXW and his place in the cultural pantheon of Chinese martial arts. His worldwide teaching of taijiquan was demonstrated center stage for the Chinese Wushu Association leaders by his group of students representing countries around the world. Since then, his teaching has become more concentrated inside China as his unparalleled contributions to the art are recognized.

Chenjiagou has grown with the Chen family’s increased visibility. A modern center has sprung up near the original homes and shops, along with a hotel, an arena and a college of some sort. A Taijiquan museum has been built in a Taijiquan park honoring the birthplace of the art. Visitors and tourists are now commonplace, and we the students have grown used to being filmed during our classes, another stop on the bus tour of Chinese martial arts. This time, our teacher Chen Xiaoxing is shooing away the people who try to film us, keeping our class mostly private and his attention on us. It’s been wonderful learning from him, as always, and he is so generous and clear in his lessons.

I have mixed feelings about all the growth. I can’t tell if it’s good for the people or if it’s an unwanted intrusion. When I walk the village, the old part, I see the elders sitting on their little stools, watching us go by, sometimes smiling and sometimes not. The children are not surprised by us anymore. The stores do a great business when visitors are here, and unlike in the old days, they won’t bargain anymore. Prices are set because they know people will buy. I know I miss the quiet training times we used to have, but I love the world wide acknowledgement of our art and all that this family has done to advance it. Still, on my 9th visit in 11 years,  I feel the roots, the qi of the ancestors, at every ceremony and ritual, and as I walk through the gravestones of the ancestors. Progress, growth, it’s all inevitable, and I’m glad I was here when…to appreciate the early years.  Chen Xiaoxing continues to teach us the way he always has, with patience, clarity, and care. Some things never change, thank goodness.

Tomorrow we leave for 2 days on Haushan, a Taoist holy mountain, and our focus will shift from taijiquan to Taoism. We will go from Huashan to Louguantai, the place thought to be the site of the creation of the Tao Te Ching by Laotzu.

More later!