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Why all these different spellings of Tai Chi? Really, isn’t this one name confusing enough?

I remember the beginning and middle of the 90s how the modern, shortened T’ai Chi form “24 Forms” was promoted as the “Beijing style”. Note the spelling: “Beijing Style” and not “Peking Style”. Here in Sweden when Tai Chi got known to the public it was spelled “T’ai Chi” or “T’ai Chi Ch’uan” (using the Wade-Giles system of Romanization), not “Taiji” and “Taijiquan” (Pinyin). But I don’t ever remember seeing “Qigong” spelled “Ch’i Kung” here in my country.

Those who still use and keep the old forms of spelling are generally older practitioners, people who are still involved in T’ai Chi as a fighting art and also Ch’i Kung (Qigong) teachers who has a medical background from TCM. When the modernized, so quick and easy to learn forms of Tai Chi got popular here in the West, they were eagerly marketed from China with the support of the Chinese government and thus launched with the official Chinese romanization, or Pinyin.

Now you might have noticed the differencies here in the blog between “T’ai Chi” and just “Tai Chi”. Without the apostrophe, T’ai Chi isn’t really spelled correctly. “Chi” in the ol’ Wade-Giles system, is spelled “ji” with pinyin. The W-G variation of Ch’i is spelled qi with Pinyin. Ok, so what? you might ask. The point is that Tai Chi is not Tai Qi. The Chi in Tai Chi has nothing to do with qi. Yet, many people who are more familiar with the older W-G spelling believe that chi means “qi”. T’ai Chi Ch’uan is often translated to “Grand Ultimate Fist, but a better translationwould be “Supreme Polarity Boxing”. I will go into this translation later when I get time. But it’s quite important to not screw up the names too much.

An example of what might happen: I know a quite well known Tai Chi group and organization here in the northern parts of Europe. They are absolutely convinced and sincere with their belief that Tai chi and the board game Weiqi (“Go”) are opposites. This means that you need to play Weiqi to balance your Taiji practice. How did they come up with this idea? Somehow, they must have confused the Wade-Giles spellings if certain terms, mistaken “Wei chi” with, or mixed it up, with the Daoist principle wuwei “non-action” and the true “opposite” in Chinese philosophy Taiji which is “Wuji” or “non-polarity”.

You can see how similar the names become if you use Wade-Giles trascription and give up the apostrophes: tai chi, wei chi, wu chi, wu wei. It’s not that hard to do mistakes if you are not a scholar or have studied Chinese thought. Anyway, this group of Tai chi people have gathered together for the last 30 years playing Weiqi together. That’s a very nice tradition. And maybe it doesn’t matter much that they do this partly for wrong reasons. It’s not like they screwed up treatments with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Far worse and fatal mistakes have been made due to lack of linguistic understanding. By people experimenting with Traditional Chinese Medicine for example…