Abstract

Many asian cultures have rich traditions of self-cultivation that exercise mind and body through physical and meditational training. Research and scholarship with respect to those traditions have focused fruitfully on how the body is cultivated to serve as an agent of resistance against various forms of social control. Of these many writings on this subject, I will here name only a suggestive few: Joseph Alter's study of Indian wrestling (1993), for example, tracks the wrestlers' self-conscious reappropriation of their bodies from the power of the state through a regimented discipline aimed at resisting docility. John Donohue's study of the Japanese martial art karate (1993) explores how, in the West, karate's symbolic and ritual functions create a psychological dynamic that counters the prevalent fragmentation of urban life. Douglas Wile's research on Chinese taiji quart (1996) similarly reconstructs the cultural/historical context in which this martial art was created. He shows that what motivated nineteenth-century literati to create taiji quan was its representational function rather than its practical utility. That is, Taiji quan “may be seen as a psychological defense against Western cultural imperialism” (p. 26) insofar as it produced a secure sense of the national self that helped China adapt to a new international environment (p. 29). All of these studies place the body-in-cultivation in a specific historical context; they maintain that the individual, physical body both registers and reveals the national sociopolitical landscape.

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