Chinese overseas are bound together by notions of collective identity through enactment of a common cultural heritage, such as Tai Chi, that is often stronger than territorial nationalism. In Vancouver, it is not unusual to find Chinese people from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere convening in a unified motion of Tai Chi.
I compiled a list of Tai Chi Schools in the Greater Vancouver Area on Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/JXozANYiWAEso28M7.
Out of the five schools, the two Fung Loy Kok Taoist Tai Chi are the ones that openly combine Daoism such as prayers and chanting with the movement practice. The founder, Master Moy Lin Shin’s family moved from Guangdong, China to Hong Kong after the Communist revolution in 1949 and he migrated to Canada in 1970. The other Tai Chi teachers who migrate to Canada from China do not openly promote religious teachings and keep their practices predominantly secular. In comparing the differences of Tai Chi as a religious and secular practice in Canada, there is much to be said about the emergence of a new, deterritorialized identity that emphasizes hybridity and multiple belonging.
An aspect of Chinese diaspora communities that has been undermined is their self-help ability to rely on their own resources as basic forms of social support. It is their way of overcoming language barriers and cultural gaps in their adopted countries, enabling them to solidify rather than to dissolve into multi-ethnic liberal polities. During the pandemic of COVID-19 in 2020, a lot of Chinese immigrants in Greater Vancouver are taking health into their own hands by turning to Tai Chi. This trend could be the rippling effect of how people are managing the lockdown in China by practising Tai Chi at home and staying healthy. For instance, the Li Rong Academy of Wushu and Qigong have opened new classes since May 2020 catering to Chinese immigrants who only speak Chinese and are keen to improve their physical and mental health through Tai Chi.
It is premature to conclude at this point of my research that religious elements do not weigh as heavy in my discussion of Tai Chi practice among Chinese diaspora in Vancouver. However, on par with the fervour of a religious faith, is what Matti Bunzl (2004) refers to as “deep nostalgia for a world that has disappeared” (6)—the profound yearning for a irrevocable past. There are many things that have been wiped out by the Cultural Revolution in China, but not the memories that human bodies carry, not the heritage that an ethnic culture perpetuates, and certainly not the resilience of the age-old Chinese spirit that uplifts and spreads its people across space and time.