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Stewart’s Academic Work and Media

DR STEWART MCFARLANE WAS VISITING PROFESSOR at the Chung Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies in Taiwan in 1993-1994. He is a personal student of Master Zhao Wei Dong, a leading T’ai chi teacher in Penang, Malaysia. Stewart has served in the close personal security team, protecting His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his UK visits.

He is also a well known scholar of Chinese Religions and Buddhism, and a teacher of Chinese Martial Arts. He was Director of Asian Studies at Liverpool Hope University until his retirement in 2004. He now lives between England and Thailand working with rescued elephants and writing.




“Knights Errant and Inner Warriors. Asian Martial Arts in the West” The Politics of Cultural Change, S. Martin’s College, Lancaster, July 1994.


“Skilful Means, Moral Crises and Conflict Resolution”


Dae Won Sa Seminar on Buddhism for Leadership and Peace, East-West Center, University of Hawaii, June 1995.


Buddhism and the New Warriors. Eastern martial arts in western contexts” at the Seminar on Buddhism in Modern Contexts, Centre for New Religions, King’s College, London, December 1995.


“Heroes of the Water Margin. Martial Arts, Exorcism and Identity among the Sung Chiang Chen troupes of Taiwan” Association for Asian Studies, Annual Meeting, Honolulu, Hawaii, April 1996.


“Nature, Holism and Eco-feminism in the Chinese World View” Conference: Women as Sacred Custodians of the Earth? Elizabeth House, Oxford, July 1996


Chairperson of Asian Studies panel – Royal Historical Society, annual conference. University of London, July 1997.


“Nature and Buddhanature: The Ecological Dimensions of East Asian Buddhism Critically Considered” International Conference on Korean Son Buddhism. Korea, August 1998.




He is author of many publications on Buddhism, Chinese Religions and Martial Arts, including:


The Complete Book of T’ai Chi – Dorling Kindersley 1997


Master Cheng’s T’ai chi ch’uan(in Chinese) Author: Stewart McFarlane, Translated by S.McFarlane & Shie Wei Ling, Owl Press, Cheng Bang Cultural Enterprises, Taipei, Taiwan, 2003


Ta’i Chi Ch’uan PRC Publishing, Chrysalis Books, 2005


“Skilful Means, Moral Crises & Conflict Resolution” in Buddhism and Peace, ed. Chanju Man, Blue Pine Books, 2006.


“Nature, Holism and Eco-feminism in the Chinese Worldview“, chapter 12, Women as Sacred Custodians of the Earth (Editors) S. Tremaine & A. Low. Berghahn Books, Oxford & New York, December 2001.


“Making Moral Decisions” chapter 6, in Buddhism, ed. P.Harvey, Continuum, 2001.


“Buddhism and the New Warriors. Eastern martial arts in western context” in Contemporary Buddhism. An Interdisciplinary Journal Vol 2, No 2 pp 153-168, December 2000.


Bodily Awareness in the Wing Chun System The Journal of Alternative Perspectives on the Martial Arts and Sciences. March 2002. Editor: Joseph Svinth ISSN 1492-1669, See also:


T’ai Chi book for Taiwan “Coals to Newcastle”

Stewart McFarlane has worked with a Chinese translator and editor to produce a Chinese version of his bestselling book on T’ai Chi Ch’uan for Taiwanese readers and practitioners. The book is published this week.. Stewart is delighted with the result and notes that the particular style featured in the book, The Cheng Man Ch’ing’s 37 step style, was taught by Master Cheng in Taiwan from 1949 to 1975, and Stewart learned much of this style while living in Taiwan in 1993-4.

More recently Stewart has been researching traditional Taoist Tai Chi and internal martial arts in Penang, Malaysia, with Master Zhao Wei Dong, who trained at the Taoist temples of Wu Tang Mountain in Central China. While in Penang Master Zhao and Stewart were interviewed by Chinese journalists from the Penang press, about traditional Chinese martial arts and Stewart’s work at Liverpool Hope.


The psychological and meditational aspects of Tai Chi, saw Stewart demonstrate some forms, enabling students to attend the Mosaic Annual Conference, to be held at Hope at Everton, 27-29 June 2003.

Stewart’s paper and demo is titled:

“Martial arts, flow and personal growth. Some reflections on T’ai chi ch’uan and mind-body training”

It discusses the characteristics of “flow” and “optimal experience” outlined by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in relation to T’ai chi mind-body training.


“Buddhism, Skilfulness & Mastering Life. Dharma Stories Ancient & Modern”


“In compiling the material for his latest book Stewart McFarlane has used parables and stories from a variety of sources to illustrate the fundamental features of Buddhism and its ancient, venerated Masters. To an extent that is consistent with his very high standard of knowledge and teaching of the subject. He even includes a story by a Christian writer, Tolstoy, thus emphasising the universal relevance of the wisdom of the masters, whatever its source.

He demonstrates the usual expertise and skills of teaching students, practitioners and enquirers and succeeds in illustrating this wonderful religion. Whilst forging a link between them and the contemporary world.

I personally, as an ex-student, I have found it an extremely useful tool in revision and revitalisation. A strongly supportive guide for my own Rule of Life.”

Sister Megan Haisley+ Anchorite in the Liverpool Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. A former student at Liverpool Hope University in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies.





1) “The Community of Inquiry and Thinking Skills in Lipman’s Philosophy for Children” in Thinking Skills Network Newsletter No 7, Jan 1990 pp 7-10.


2) “Mushin, Morals and Martial Arts. A Discussion of Keenan’s Yogacara Critique” in Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 17/4 December 1990, pp 397-420.


3) “Footnotes to Play-doh. Reflections on the first British Consultation with Matthew Lipman” British Journal of Religious Education 13/2, Spring 1991, pp 101-108.


4) “Martial Arts and Skilful Means. The Buddhist Dimension” The Inner Way (Journal of Internal Martial Arts) No. 2 March 1991 pp 10-15. “The Mystique of Martial Arts. A Reply to Professor Keenan’s Response” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 18/4 December 1991 pp 355-368.


5) Review article of M.Kiyota & H. Kinoshita (eds) Japanese Martial Arts and American Sports Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Means to Personal Growth. Nihon University, Tokyo 1990, in Asian Philosophy 1/2, December 1991.


6) “Buddhist Identity, Soteriology and Society. Some recent issues in Buddhist Studies” in Pollumara Sorata Thera (ed) Buddhist Essays: A Memorial Volume in Honour of Venerable Hammalawa Saddhatissa Wisdom Publications 1992, pp 201-222.


7) “Wing Chun Original. An Interview with Sifu Lo Man Kam” Combat 18 (3), 1992, pp 109-113


8) Two chapters on “Buddhism” and “China and Japan” in J. Bowker & J. Holm (eds) Making Moral Decisions Pinter Press 1994, pp 17-40 & pp 168-187.


9) Chapter “Women in Chinese Religion” in J. Bowker & J. Holm (eds). Women in Religion Pinter Press 1994, pp 158-167.


10) “Fighting Bodhisattvas and Inner Warriors. Buddhism and the Martial Traditions of China and Japan” in Buddhist Forum, Volume 3, 1991-1993, D. Seyforth-Ruegg Felicitation Volume (ed) T. Skorupski and Ulrich Pagel, SOAS,1994, pp 185-210.


11) “Confucianism” in Longman Guide To Living Religions. ed. I. Harris, S. Mews. P. Morris, J. Shepherd. Longman 1994, pp 65-66


12) “Morals and Society in Buddhism” ch 23 of B. Carr & I Mahalingam (eds). Companion Encyclopaedia of Asian Philosophy, Routledge, 1997, pp 452-467.


13) Forty two entries on Chinese Religion in A New Dictionary of Religions. ed. J.Hinnells, Blackwell, 1995.


14) “Warrior Myths and Tales of Power: Asian Martial Arts in the West” in Demos Quarterly Issue 6, 1995, pp44-45.


15) Review of: W.L.King . Zen and the way of the sword. School of Oriental and African Studies Bulletin, Vol 58, No.3, October 1995.



He appears regularly on Television and Radio, discussing Chinese Religion and Martial Arts, and recently explained the connections between Taoism and T’ai Chi Ch’uan on the BBC TV “Heaven and Earth Show”.


He wrote and presented:


A four part series on the religious and spiritual significance of martial arts.

First broadcast. BBC WORLD SERVICE. September 1998. Researched, written and presented by S. McFarlane.

Includes original interviews with some of the world’s leading martial arts teachers and authorities as Master Zhen Henan, Dan Inosanto, Master Lily lau, Shih Yen Tzu of the Shaolin Temple Henan. Malaysian field work and interviews were prepared in collaboration with Nigel Sutton.


As former Visiting Fellow in the Institute of Ethnography Academia Sinica Taipei, Stewart McFarlane has extensive links with this leading research institute. Dr Yu Chien is permanent fellow there. Popular Religion in Taiwan Project. Dr Yu & Dr McFarlane collaborated in the production of two documentary films on Taiwanese festival troupes and exorcism rituals in Association with GOLDEN ORB PRODUCTIONS, Taipei.


1993 and 1994 he researched and directed two documentary films on Taiwanese festival troupes and exorcism rituals in association with GOLDEN ORB PRODUCTIONS, Taipei:


1) “Sung Chiang Chen” (Sung Chiang’s Troops) In Taiwanese, which appeared on Taiwan Television in June 1993.


2) “Wang Chuan Chai” (The Royal Ship Purification Rite)

Transmission date – 18 October 1994

Both now released on video.

Documentary films on Chinese Religion in Taiwan (Taiwan Television 1993-5) and Taiwan Television documentary films on Taiwanese Festivals, are used extensively as teaching resources.


Turning World BBC Radio 18 Dec 2000, Falun Gong & Shaolin martial arts.


BBC World Service T.V 1996, Shaolin Temple






Consultant to The Gallery of China – Website/resource centre on Chinese art and culture.

These outputs are designed to make Asian cultures and values more accessible to western students and the public. I am committed to the visual and artistic representation of Asian religions, as a means to facilitate understanding and interest through images and film; hence my extensive use of publishers such as Dorling Kindersley and Element, whose design and visual quality is of a very high standard. All these broadcast and published materials benefit my students as valuable teaching aids, and help me to present Asian religions as living phenomena to be empathetically and imaginatively engaged with.

In addition I frequently lead in visits to religious centres and places of worship. These visits enable students to develop the sensitivity to, and empathy for, diverse beliefs and practices, and to be comfortable and positive about mixing with people of other cultures, ethnicities and beliefs. I believe these are fundamental personal and social skills in a multiracial, multi-religious society.




His teaching ability.

He is an excellent teacher. I have seen this at first hand, originally when he was at Lancaster University where I was a frequent visitor, but more especially at Liverpool.

His outstanding qualities are his ability to communicate well to students; his lectures are well structured and coherent with a nice touch of humour.

At Liverpool he has for several years also taught Chinese students academic English as well his subject teaching on Chinese religions, Environmental issues and ethics. He is very well respected by students, and much sort after by MAs and Ph.D. students.


This is excellent – witnessed not only by – as far as I am aware – the unique invitation from Manchester University to do a double spell as External Examiner but when I moved to SOAS, my colleagues proposed his name as External examiner, and of course I was delighted to agree to their suggestion. He is just, efficient, reliable, perceptive and constructive. When he contributed to my New Penguin Dictionary he was again, efficient and reliable. His articles were clear, thoughtful and challenging.

He was probably the best of the 30 contributors to deal with. In all our contacts I have always found him flexible, ready to collaborate and support. At Liverpool he has been outstanding in the way he has supported both academically and personally the students he recruited from South East Asia (a role he has undertaken successfully for several years).

Further Comments.

He has spent long periods in China/Taiwan and South East Asia, a region he cares for deeply, which is a major factor in this application. Both of us undertake anthropological type work (though formally neither of us is an anthropologist). He is truly empathetic. I do not myself speak any Chinese languages, but from hearing him in conversations in Chinese I have heard at first hand his fluency – and ability to make jokes in Chinese to Chinese people.

I have seen for myself how well he communicates with people of all ages from China and other South East countries with Chinese populations. He has a deep interest in diverse Chinese practices including martial arts, which he has studied while in Malaysia.

I have read his book and articles on Chinese religion and find them fascinating, well-informed, and clear. His writing bears these qualities because they are part of his nature…

…and my estimation of him grows.

He has contributed articles to books I have edited (e.g. The New Penguin Dictionary of Religion) where he wrote the articles on Chinese religion. I have known Dr McFarlane for approximately 25 years.

Prof. John R. Hinnells, Professor of Comparative Religion at Liverpool Hope University College; previously Professor of Comparative Religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University.



Knight Errant and Inner Warrior. Meaning and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts


Martial arts convey powerful ideological and symbolic meanings in Chinese culture.

These are expressed in myths of origin associated with Buddhism and the Shaolin temple, or Taoism and the mountain retreat at Wu Tang, or with heroes from epics and folk history.

These meanings require analysis and explanation. In southern Taiwan, initiated brotherhoods continue to practise traditional martial arts and adopt the roles of the deified heroes of the Water Margin Epic (Shui Hu Chuan). They perform martial arts for temple exorcism, and communal ritual protection. The significance of these traditions and practices will be explored.


Aims and objectives

1) To discuss the complex role of Martial Arts in Chinese Culture in the following terms: cultural assertion and dramatic performance, induction into core values, symbolic resistance, fictive kinship, spiritual and personal empowerment, ritual exorcism and communal celebration.

2) To present accounts of ritual protocols, exorcism beliefs, practices, and rare hand written textual materials to a wider public, and examine aspect of Chinese martial arts which are rarely considered by Chinese or western scholarship.

3) To analyse the complex relationship between elite and popular values, symbols and motifs in Chinese martial culture. In particular to contrast T’ai chi ch’uan as representing the elite tradition of Chinese martial arts and its strong identification with Taoism, with the traditions of Sung Chiang Chen and their strong association with the popularised heroes of the Shui Hu Chuan (Water Margin Epic) and the values of local fictive kinship groups and symbolic resistance against elite authority and institutions.

4) To understand the forms of bodily discipline and expression, as mediated by different Chinese martial traditions.


Research questions and problems

On the basis of fieldwork studies of kung fu brotherhoods and shen da (spirit boxer) brotherhoods in Hong Kong, New Territories and Guangzhou, Daniel Amos has emphasised the role Chinese martial arts play in symbolic resistance against government authority and elite values. My own research on Sung Chiang procession troupes will offer some support for Amos’ argument, but with some significant qualifications. Frequently, the senior practitioners and patrons of Sung Chiang Chen represent a local elite, such as town counsellors and local representatives. Their attitude to central government is usually one of indifference rather than hostility.

Other evidence which challenges any generalisation from Amos’ work is to be found in the emergence of “modern” of T’ai chi ch’uan in the nineteenth century. The pioneers and key teachers of this style were not marginals, but members of the political and economic elite. Cheng Man-ching, who reformed the Yang style, and continued to teach it in Taiwan and New York until his death in 1975 represents a continuation of that tradition, since he was a classically educated and respected artist and calligrapher, as well as an intimate of the Nationalist leader General Chiang Kai-shek. It is clear that the Chinese martial arts a playing a more complex role than mere symbolic resistance by marginals.

One question which emerges from this evidence: are traditional martial artists as marginal as Amos’ research suggests? Another is; what is the role of the myths of origins and hagiographic account of the past masters in generating and reflecting the implicit ideology of traditional martial artists today?

What is the relationship between the myths, rituals, training protocols and transformative potential of martial arts training? Here I employ Victor Turner’s category of the power of the liminoid, or the transforming power of the practices which stand outside of official ideology and values.

How is the body construed and interpreted in the systems, are the physical explanation offered by the T’ai chi teachers very different from those of the Sung Chiang practitioners? How do the initiatory rituals in martial arts such as bai shi fu (honouring the teacher), and the exorcistic rituals of Sung Chiang Chen, function within those groups. How do Victor Turner’s categories of normative and ideological communitas, structure and anti-structure, help us understand these rituals.


Research Context

My own research considers the appropriation of the warrior/knight errant motif in Chinese popular culture, as a root metaphor. In doing so I show how the implicit ideology of the Shui Hu Chuan (water Margin Epic) is internalised and transformed into a folk ideology of communal solidarity and symbolic assertion of power through ritual and martial prowess.

I show how the formal ritual and supernatural role of the Sung Chiang procession troupes is complementary to the framing of the popular cultural motif of the “strong man” or “tough guy” (hao han), who is impetuous and headstrong, but righteous when his energies are directed to a worthy cause. In such circumstances he is transformed, in imagination, if not in reality into a knight errant.

The historian of modern China, W.J.F. Jenner, sees the survival of hao han values of the Water Margin into modern times as a negative force in Chinese society, “Ultimately hao han values have always been destructive. They glorify gangsterdom. ……while they have strong appeal as a fantasy escape from the trammel of society, as a guide to action they have always led to trouble. Yi qi (loyalty/honour) as celebrated in the hao han stories may have helped bond criminal gangs together, but that is about all that can be said for it as a force for social solidarity.”

(Jenner W.J.F. The Tyranny of History. The Roots of China’s Crisis Allen Lane, 1992). I think this is a harsh assessment which reflects very much the views of the pre-revolutionary Confucian elite and post-revolutionary officials. As a scholarly assessment it is far too dismissive, and fails to address the question why such values persist and exert such an influence. Here I think the notions of symbolic resistance and internalised resistance need to be considered. It is not necessary or helpful to simply echo the judgement of Public Security officials, who are too ready to label martial arts brotherhoods, Falun Gong practitioners and traditional martial arts teachers, as criminal elements.

It is interesting to note that in a different context, Southern Taiwan, such groups are regarded as disciplined and respected moral exemplars, providing important services to the local community as well as preserving traditional values and skills. The ritual protection, and exorcism services offered by Sung Chiang brotherhoods and the disciplined training in traditional martial arts offered to young men, are regarded as assets to the community.


Research methods

Study of primary sources such as temple records, unpublished or privately circulated lineages and training diagrams and annotations. Temple inscriptions, paintings and images. Inscribed weapons, flags, banners and instruments stored in temples.

I have already a significant amount of this material, along with video footage of training, festival performances and procession rituals.

Most of this material was filmed by me, but is supplemented by professionally filmed and edited documentary footage filmed by Golden Orb a video production for whom I served as consultant, in the production of two documentaries on Sung Chiang Chen and the Plague God Festival of Dong Kang. In addition Professor Paul Katz of Chung Cheng University Taiwan has allowed me to copy his privately filmed video material: twenty hours of tape of the 1988 and 1993 Plague God Festivals of Dong Kang. I have recorded a number of interviews with teachers of Sung Chiang troupes and leading practitioners of Sung Chiang Chen and other martial arts.


Contacts with researchers with related research interests:

I have discussed my work with the few scholars with interests in this field, Dr Dong Fan Wan of Taiwan Theological Seminary (Dr Dong kindly provide me with his unpublished M.Phil Thesis on Sung Chiang Chen and a collection of unique photographs), and Professor C.C. Fan, of Taiwan National University, has provided me with a copy of his “Study of Sung Chiang Formations” 1984. Most of my interviews are either audio recorded or carefully annotated, and a small number are on video.

Secondary sources include a valuable Ministry of Education Survey of Taiwan Folk Arts and traditions published in 1984. There are several other local surveys of folk arts and traditions that I have collected over the past twelve years. Secondary studies in English include a small number of academic studies of Chinese martial arts, and studies of early modern Chinese history, as well as ethnographic works and the work of Victor Turner.



My approach combines that of ethnology, phenomenology of religion and social history. I am interested in the views of the participants as primary data. Their understanding of the folk history, myths of origins and root metaphors of the tradition are central to forming an understanding their beliefs and values. The participants’ self-understanding and location within the ongoing tradition are vital data in an empathetic phenomenological analysis.

The interpretative concepts and categories which have proved most useful in dealing with this material are those of Victor Turner. His detailed ethnology and sensitive field work on ritual traditions and communal practices provides a model of sensitive field work in the area of complex and symbolically rich beliefs, values and practices. Turner’s understanding of ritual is to me the most convincing account yet offered in western scholarship.