in Tao the only motion is returning
Shanghai World Expo 2010 ©
With their long hair in buns and wearing white cotton robes, the Taoist disciples wander in at a gentle yet fast pace, and speaking in slow and soft tones. They begin doing taijiquan, a Chinese martial art practiced for both its defensive and health benefits. This is not a recreation of a scene from a martial arts novel shot on a film set; it is being preformed by actual monks and nuns at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.
They are members of the Wudang Taoist Kung Fu Mission, from Wudang Mountain, mainly known to Westerners as the inspiration for the name of the influential hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan. The monks have been invited to the Expo to perform "Wudang - Tai Chi and Dao," giving three shows daily and 276 shows in total from July to the end of September. It aims to show Taoist traditions and philosophy through performances of traditional Wudang kung fu and other Taoist practices. "It is not our first time in Shanghai, but it is our first formal public appearance where we are performing for people from all over the world," said Pan Kemin, a Taoist nun and kung fu coach, who has been practicing Taoism for nine years.
Compared to their tranquil life on the secluded Wudang Mountain, in Hubei Province, living in Shanghai is a massive adjustment, especially as they are watched by hundreds of thousands of people daily. However, the Taoists manage to remain true to their Taoist disciplines.
At 5:30 in the morning, the Taoists rise and exercise until 8 am, much shorter than their exercise sessions on Wudang Mountain where they practice kung fu for eight hours a day. Following their morning exercises the Taoists then begin religious study, where Confucius and Taoist texts are read. Texts studied include The Four Books of Confucius (selected by Zhu Xi, a famous Confucius scholar from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), as an introduction to Confucianism and was used as the core of the official curriculum for civil exams in later dynasties), The Five Classics (allegedly compiled by Confucius himself), the Taoist canon Zhuang-zi (parts of which were written by influential Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi in the 4th century BC) and Tao Te Ching (believed to have been written in the 6th century BC by Lao-tzu, the founder of Taoism). After their morning routine, the Taoists leave for the Expo Park at 11:30 to perform their first show. They spend the whole afternoon resting to prepare for two more shows starting at 5 pm and 7 pm.
Several times a day the Taoists have to travel back and forth between the Expo Park and their accommodation at Lujiabang Road, Huangpu district. They have dinner after finishing all of the three performances; sometimes even going to sleep at midnight. Their full schedules mean that they have no spare time to explore the Expo pavilions; however, some of the Taoists have visited the China Pavilion. "At the beginning, we were not used to life in Shanghai, because it is incompatible to practicing Taoism. However, for a qualified practitioner, one should always be in a serene state of mind no matter where they are. So, Shanghai is a good challenge for us," said Song Xianghui, a Taoist monk. "The noisier the place, the more inner peace one needs. For us, it's a good opportunity to see exactly how much we can embrace the spirit of Taoism," said nun Pan Jingyuan, another member of the Taoist disciples.
Joost Warsanis, from the Netherlands, has traveled to Shanghai from Wudang Mountain. He planned to visit Wudang Mountain to learn Taoist kung fu this summer, however, the Taoist performance at the Expo made him change his schedule and meet them in Shanghai. "I have spent 20 years studying Chinese martial arts, such as Shaolin kung fu and taijiquan. But I find myself more and more drawn to Wudang taijiquan, so I decided to go to Wudang Mountain to learn it in detail," said Warsanis. "Here in Shanghai it is my first time learning Wudang taiji."
Wudang kung fu has a history of more than 2,500 years. It is a pure representation of traditional Chinese culture and philosophy and continually attracts many people from all over the world. From June to September every year, many travel to Wudang Mountain, the Taoist holy land, to study. "A few days ago, I met with my former student, a girl from London. During her three-day visit to Shanghai, I helped her to consolidate the old stuff she had learnt from me last year," said Pan Kemin, who has had many foreign students.Li Yuting