Taijiquan as a way of life: The philosophy of Cheng Man-ch’ing

September 2021 | Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 

by Andrew J. Dell’Olio


Cheng Man-ch’ing (1901–1975) is as responsible as anyone for the wide popularity of taijiquan in the West. While his stature as a master and teacher of taijiquan is legendary, he is less well-known as a philosopher. Yet Cheng wrote a number of philosophical commentaries on Chinese classics that shed light on his understanding of taijiquan. In this paper I propose that a consideration of Cheng’s philosophical reflections shows him to be a twentieth century Neo-Confucian who saw taijiquan as a key component of the overall aim of moral self-cultivation. In transmitting taijiquan to his fellow Chinese and to the West, Cheng was attempting to convey traditional Chinese thought and action as expressed in Neo-Confucian moral ideals. For Cheng, taijiquan was more than a martial art of physical exercise; it was a way of life.

About the Author(s):

Dr Andrew Dell’Olio, Professor of Philosophy joined the Hope College (USA) in 1993. He has served as department chair, director of Asian studies and coordinator of the Hope-China exchange program. He has taught classes in t’ai chi chuan for Hope’s Wellness Program since 2007. He writes and teaches in the areas of philosophy of religion and ethics, as well as the history of philosophy and comparative philosophy.

Andrew specializes in the history of philosophy and religious thought, especially during the Medieval period and the early twentieth century. He has also published on virtue ethics, comparative philosophy (e.g., Aquinas and Neo-Confucianism) and contemporary issues in the philosophy of religion, especially religious experience and religious pluralism.

He recently presented a paper on the philosophy of t’ai chi chuan at a national conference and is currently working on a book with his colleague, Anthony N. Perovich, Jr., on the secularization of Anglo-American philosophy in the first decades of the twentieth century.

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