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Tai Chi recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO


Taijiquan, or more commonly known as Tai Chi, was inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on Thursday, 17th December 2020 during the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, chaired by Jamaica.

This centuries-old martial art, born in the mid-17th century in a small village named Chenjiagou in Central China’s Henan province, is practised by many people around the world, including in Mauritius, with over 100 million practitioners worldwide. 

The term Taijiquan is a Chinese cosmological concept for the flux of yin and yang (opposing elements thought to make up the universe that need to be kept in harmony), where qi means an energy force thought to flow through the body; and ‘quan’ means fist in Chinese. 

Tai Chi is said to unblock and encourage the proper flow of qi and promote the balance of yin and yang generally whilst making slow-motion exercise, without pausing, through a series of motions named for animal actions. UNESCO describes it as “a traditional physical practice characterized by relaxed, circular movements that work in concert with breath regulation and the cultivation of a righteous and neutral mind.”

The philosophy of Tai Chi could be represented by Lao Tzŭ’s writing in his book Tao Te Ching when he wrote, “The soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong.” The study of Tai Chi primarily involves three aspects, namely, health, meditation and martial art. 

According to the Harvard Medical School through its Harvard Health Publishing, Tai Chi, often called “meditation in motion”, addresses the key components of fitness — muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and, to a lesser degree, aerobic conditioning.

In China, Tai Chi is practised in parks, and in public open spaces by people of all ages.  Tai Chi has also made its way to the western world, where it is very popular and practised by celebrities such as model Gisele Bundchen and actor Mel Gibson. 

Tai Chi has also been widely represented in film and other media such as the ‘Karate Kid’ in 1994, the Hong Kong movie ‘Ip Man’ in 2008, and lately in its last movie in the series ‘Ip Man 4 – the Finale’, which came out in 2019.  We have of course heard of Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan!  Even Jack Ma, the chairman of China’s largest e-commerce firm, Alibaba Group, made a short film called Gong Shou Dao in 2018, in which he plays a tai chi master who is able to defeat a string of foes as per the newspaper South China Morning Post.

It has however taken 12 years for Tai Chi to be added to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list after China first applied for recognition of the ancient martial art. The inclusion of taichi marks that China has, now, 42 intangible cultural heritage items on the UNESCO list which currently has up to 584 elements.


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