Circulation of Kinesic Practices and Representations in Chinese Martial Arts

河北省青县练八级刀20170725_OK.jpgMartial arts, designated by the generic term wushu 武术 in Mandarin, take various forms in modern China. They are part of a collective imagery mobilised through literary and cinema productions as well as new media such as video games, cartoons, and online videos. Wushu is a popular practice in which individuals such as masters, disciples, or simple enthusiasts are part of the genealogy of specific wushu lineages. Wushu is also an institutional discipline in which new national and standardised new sets of routines  discursively constructed as part of the continuity of traditional lineages  are often practised as a sport, either in competitions or in physical education classes.  This “sportisation” takes place alongside the patrimonialisation of certain traditional lineages, which are registered as national immaterial heritage. Chinese institutions are reclaiming the meaning of popular practices, which has led to considerable structural and ideological change. Such developments raise the question of the impact on practitioners’ habits and the way they articulate these new representations.

Launched in June 2016, this four-year doctoral research project has focused on how representations of martial techniques and gestures –whether executed by real practitioners or fictional characters– are transmitted from one medium to another, creating, conserving or dissipating their contents, so that the idea of martiality appears in many different guises. The project combines (a) the kinesic analysis of visual and textual materials; and (b) ethnographic studies of martial arts practice sites such as sport teams, martial arts schools, and other relevant structures in China.

Bodily movements are not only a mode of expression but also a way of generating meaning. The project addresses the broad question of embodied knowledge –namely, its various modes of production and circulation– within the context of Chinese martial arts. It reflects on the kinesic and kinaesthetic aspects of martial arts gestures as an arena in which political and ideological constructions are continually re-negotiated.

This research is led by Dr. Basile Zimmermann in collaboration with Prof. Bruno Strasser and Prof. Guillemette Bolens.

For further details on the project, contact the project's main researcher Pierrick Porchet.





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梁定远. « 广府镇“太极之乡”所见所闻 » ,in 孙建国,武氏家传太极拳:实践篇,人民体育出版社,北京:2018. pp. 259-261.

PORCHET, P. « Process of institutionalization in Chinese martial arts : the case of its ranking system » , 3rd Baltic Alliance for Asian Studies Conference Book. 2018 (Submitted).

PORCHET, P. «Processus d'adaptation des pratiques martiales chinoises au Sport de compétition: l'exemple du style baji », Tsantsa, n°23, 2018. Pp.115-120

PORCHET, P. « L’interprétation des arts martiaux chinois ». In Blog Scientifique de l’Institut Confucius, Université de Genève, 2017. Lien permanent:

PORCHET, P « Circulation des pratiques et des représentations kinésiques des arts martiaux chinois ». In Blog Scientifique de l’Institut Confucius, Université de Genève, 2017. Lien permanent:


Conference Presentations

PORCHET, Pierrick. “The kinesic analysis of modern and traditional forms of Yang style taijiquan“, 22nd Biennial Conference of the European Association for Chinese Studies, Glasgow, August 29 – September 1, 2018

PORCHET, Pierrick. “L’art du sabre chinois“, conférence publique lors de la 12e édition de la Nuit de la Science, Genève, 8 juillet 2018.

PORCHET, Pierrick, "The adaptation of Chinese traditional martial arts to competitive sport: the case of bajiquan", 3rd Baltic Alliance for Asian studies conference:  "Dynamic Asia: Shaping the Future", Riga, April 13-15, 2018.

PORCHET, Pierrick, "Circulation of kinesic practices and representations in Chinese martial arts", 3rd Martial Arts Studies Conference, Cardiff University, July 11-13, 2017.

PORCHET, Pierrick. "Kinesic Intelligence in Literature", Seminar in the Department of English Language and Literature, Geneva University, May 2, 2017. 

PORCHET, Pierrick. "In the Thick of Images or Doing Visual Anthropology Today"CUSO Anthropology Module, Castasegna, April 27-29, 2017.

PORCHET, Pierrick. "Expériences culturelles du corps", Programme doctoral d'Histoire et Sciences des Religions, Lausanne University,  November 14, 2016.