Wushu, a time-honoured sport in China, traces back to as early as the time of the clan communes in primitive societies. At that time, there appeared the “Xi” (sport) of Jiaodi (wrestling) and the “Wu” (dance or exercise) of Ganqi (axe and shield). These were the earliest embryos of wushu, which served as a menu to build up health, cure diseases, prolong life, temper the fighting will and train military skills for the members of these societies. During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, the applications of fighting techniques in the battlefield were emphasized. During the Qin and Han dynasties dancing sports similar to routine exercise such as broadsword-play, dagger-axe-play, swordplay, and double-halberdplay appeared successively. Activities of bare-hand fighting, competitive wrestling and sword fighting were recorded in Annals of Arts/Han Book, Biography of Emperor Wu/Han Book and Preface: On Allusion. During the Tang and Sung dynasties many civil wushu organizations came into existence. There also appeared street performers called Luqi men, making a living by performing “Exercise of Fists”, “Kicking”, “Exercise of Cudgel”, “Play of Cudgel”, “Dance with Saber and Spear”, “Sword Dance”, “Spear vs Shield” and “Sword vs Shield” in the streets. As bare-hand fighting and sumo were popular, the kind of contest on Leitai (an open ring for challenge) appeared. The Ming and Qing dynasties were the flourishing era for wushu with various schools and different styles. During the Qing dynasty, with the development of pugilism and weapon-play, various schools, such as Taijiquan, Xingyiquan (form and will pugilism), Baguazhan (8 diagram palm) formed gradually. Wrestling systems came into being and bare-hand fighting was also developed.
During the Republic of China, (1912-1949), many organizations appeared in forms of pugilistic societies such as the Martial Artists’ Society and Physical Culture Society. The Jingwu Sports Society was set up in Shanghai in 1910, and the Chinese Martial Artists’ Society and Zhirou Pugilistic Society were successively set up. These wushu parties played an important role in spreading and developing wushu. In 1928 the Central Wushu Institute was established in Nanjing by the Republic Government. After its establishment, local wushu institutes were established in provinces, cities and counties. Two National Wushu Meets were held by the Central Wushu Institute in 1928 and 1933 in Nanjing. In 1936 the Chinese Wushu Delegation was organized to visit Southeast Asia. In the same year the Chinese Wushu Team gave a demonstration in Berlin at the XI Olympic Games. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, wushu has become a component of the socialist culture and the people’s physical education and sports, and has developed spectacularly. In 1953 the Nation-wide Traditional Sports Demonstration and Competition was held in Tianjin, at which wushu was the major content. Wushu was listed as a formal course in local sports institutes and their physical education departments. In 1956 the Chinese Wushu Association was set up in Beijing, and wushu thus became an official competition event. The first draft of Wushu Competition Rules was compiled by the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission in 1958. Under the guidance of the Chinese State Physical
Culture and Sports Commission and the Chinese Wushu Association, wushu associations, wushu schools, wushu societies, research societies, wushu teams of amateur sports schools and teaching centres were set up in many counties in all provinces, cities and autonomous regions, forming a vast network for wushu activities of the masses and a wide path for the development of wushu. All schools have made wushu part of the programme of physical education. Wushu societies and teams were set up in some colleges and universities. Wushu specialty has been established in some Physical Education Institutes and Normal Institutes to bring up undergraduates and postgraduates of wushu. A Wushu Master’s degree was set up by the State Council in 1984. Approved by the Chinese government, the Chinese Wushu Research Institute was set up in 1986 as a high standard body for conducting academic and technical research on wushu. To develop this precious cultural legacy, a nation wide investigation was carried out, which uncovered the situation of wushu in China. The work of collecting and collating this information has been fruitful. The experimental competition in free sparring started in 1979 and it became a competition event in 1989. Central and local governments sent wushu delegations, teams, instructors and experts abroad to give performances and lectures on many occasions. In 1987 the First Asian Wushu Championships was held in Yokohama, Japan. In 1988 the China International Wushu Festival, International Routine Competition and International Wushu Free Sparring Challenge Tournament were held in Hangzhou and Shenzhen. This ensured that sanshou formally stepped into the international wushu arena. At the 1990 XI Asian Games in Beijing wushu was introduced as an official competition event. The International Wushu Federation was formally established in the same year. New Zealand was a founding member. There are now 102 member countries and since 1991 there have been seven bi-annual World Wushu Championships, (modern wushu), the first being held in Beijing. This year the 8th World Wushu Championships will be held in Hanoi, Vietnam. In 2004 the First World Traditional Wushu Festival was celebrated in Zhengzhou, China. Wushu was born in China but now belongs to the world.