18. The Chariot & the Shang

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The horse, chariot and wheel were integral to the bronze military technology. Recall that the nomadic Kurgan culture located on the western side of Lake Baikal in Central Asia was the spreading center for the bronze weaponry technology from West to East. The Chariot was a dominant feature of this military technology.

The Wheel and the Chariot

Because of the tremendous significance of the Chariot to the historical and cultural development of the Eurasia-African landmass, let us take some paper to tell its story.

The Wheel: first pottery and a cart

It begins with the Wheel, the legendary wheel that was to have such an enormous impact on all aspects of human life. First came the potter’s wheel about 3250 BC in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East.1 Shortly after 3200-3100 BC, in Uruk, Sumeria there is evidence of a wheeled cart.

From Cart to Chariot

The military advantages were quickly seen. “Our knowledge of how these early wheels were constructed is derived from "chariot burials" found in the city-states of Kish (2700-2600 BC) and Ur (2600-2500 BC).”2  (Remember that the Shang also buried the chariots with in their tombs.) We see images in Ur of chariots running people down. Oxen, onagers, and the Asiatic ass drew these early chariots. The chariot technology spread south to Assyria by 2600 BC and north to the Ukraine by 2000 BC.

Solid to spoked wheel

Early chariots had a wooden framework, an animal-skin body, and were pulled by the fast, agile onager, a form of wild ass. The chariot technology advanced relatively quickly to spoked wheels, which made the chariots faster because they were lighter. The warlike Hittites of Anatolia might have invented them early in the 2nd millennium. With the spoked wheel, the horse replaced the onager, and a bronze shield replaced the animal skins.3

Bronze fittings

Fundamental to the evolving war chariot were its bronze fittings. Prior to the introduction of metal, the connection of wheel to cart was accomplished with wood. The friction of wood rubbing against wood inhibited the speed of the chariot and wore it out quickly. With the introduction of bronze fittings, the chariots could go much faster because the friction was reduced and the connection was much more durable. Thus bronze fittings allowed for much greater speed and hence power. The chariot was the first technological advance that actually gave humans increased land speed.

Chariot married bronze, wheel, and horse

The chariot technology was an integrated combination of the wheel, bronze, and the domesticated horse. Each of the three was an essential ingredient. The classic two-wheeled chariot was invincible in the ancient world against non-military cultures. The chariot was fundamental to the bronze military technology that was spread throughout the ancient world during the 2nd millennium BCE. It was necessary to adapt to the new military technology or perish.

Spread of chariot technology

The Hyksos used the chariot to invade Egypt by 1680 BCE. India was invaded in the 14th century by chariot riding invaders from the Middle East. This same bronze chariot military technology reached China in about the 13th century. This completed the spread of the wheeled chariot to all the major Neolithic cultures of the Eurasia-African land mass.5

Farmers clear ground for chariots

The chariot could be used most effectively upon an agrarian culture. The Hunter-gatherers were located in the wooded or hilly areas where the chariots were useless. As the farmers cleared their ground for crops, they simultaneously cleared the ground for chariots. Just as bikes can exist because of roads built for cars, so could chariots exist because of fields cleared for agriculture.

Chariot not indigenous

Chariot separates Shang from prior

While the Shang possessed many indigenous features of Chinese culture, the horse-drawn war chariot with bronze weaponry was probably the result of cultural diffusion from the west.56 The ‘horse drawn chariot’ is a feature of Shang culture that separates it from the preceding indigenous cultures.

Chariot from cultural diffusion

The western cultures probably did not invade. Instead the technology was spread through cultural diffusion, via the mechanism of cultures in conflict. The diffusion was not through trade and peaceful contact, but through warfare.  It is probable that the Shang honed their military skills and technology fighting nomadic cultures to the north and west.

Chariot precedes cart and horseback riding

Another element that points to cultural diffusion is the fact that it seems the chariot preceded both horse back riding and the animal drawn cart in China.7 It is as if the chariot technology emerged full blown without the prior stages of development.

Weaponry and pottery have roots in 3 sources

Some of the Shang weaponry has indigenous roots; some of it seems to have its roots in Manchuria/Siberia, and some of it seems to reflect Mesopotamian styles. As an astute military culture, the Shang probably borrowed technology from its military neighbors to the northwest and northeast. However, much of the indigenous culture had its roots in the south. It seems that Shang society was a melting pot of three distinct cultures, the nomadic cultures of the Central Asian Steppes, the hunting cultures of Siberia, and of the agrarian cultures to the south. The same cultural influences apply to their pottery as well.

“Among the magnificent bronze weapons of the Shang there are types that seem indigenous, while others seem to reflect Mesopotamian styles and still others seem to have similarities to those weapons found to the north and northeast of China. Conditions thus would seem to repeat a pattern observed when dealing with the Neolithic painted ceramics, which likewise point toward south Russia and ancient near east as centers of diffusion.”8


It seems that the Shang culture, while sharing many elements in common with the preceding Neolithic pottery cultures, also had foreign roots. Just as the Neolithic pottery culture seemed to be inspired from outside China, so did the Shang weapon culture also seem to have foreign roots. Just as the pottery had three sources, so did the weaponry.

Importance of the Chariot for the Shang

Chinese ideogram for wheel is chariot

As a reflection of the connection between the wheel and the chariot in China, the ideogram for the wheel is a chariot drawn from above.

“The Shang rulers employed a two-wheeled chariot drawn by two (or possible at times four) horses in pairs. The chariots were of wood with spoked wheels and bronze fittings and ornaments. The Chinese character for vehicle or wheel is really a picture of one of these vehicles drawn from above (ch’e).”9

The horse drawn chariot provided an incredible military advantage. This advantage allowed the Shang to defend, conquer, and suppress. They were so grateful to their chariots that they buried the entire chariot, rider, and horse with the ruler when he died.10 Indeed in China, as in Mesopotamia, as in Egypt, we find huge tombs of rulers supplied with objects for the living, including chariots. These artifacts provide most of our information about the chariots. It seems that the ruling class worshipped their military technology as they worshipped their ancestors.

“We are grateful to you, our ancestors, for putting us in such a powerful position. And we are thankful to our military technology that allowed us to conquer, defend and suppress, our area of the earth. Furthermore maybe we are even thankful to the gods for allowing us this role in life.”

Secondary advantages of bronze chariots

Bronze chariot technology had many secondary advantages.

Exploration, Centralization, and Expansion driven by bronze

It is probable that the exploration, the centralization and political expansion of these Bronze Age cultures have their roots in the search for sources of copper and tin, with which to make bronze. Once the explorers had discovered the source, it was in the best interests of the country to either claim the territory as their own, or to at least establish dominance or control over it for national security reasons. He who controlled the production of bronze also controlled the battlefield, as both sword and shield were made from this important metal. bronze acting. Furthermore it took incredible centralization to organize such large projects. Thus exploration, centralization, and political expansion are all driven, partially at least, by the need for bronze weaponry.

Better Roads: Chariot driven

While bronze was a driving force for exploration and expansion, the chariot was a major impetus for better roads. The cart could be pulled slowly across many terrains, but the chariot worked best on smooth roads. Thus the existence of chariots inspired better roads. It is easy to see that there were many secondary effects of the bronze military technology associated with the chariot.

Chinese peasantry never sees the wheel

Just as bronze was not ‘wasted’ upon the peasantry, neither was the wheel. There is no evidence yet that the peasantry of the Shang had carts to haul things around. Indeed frequently it would take centuries for the innovations of the city to reach the countryside.11 It seems that two of the prime accomplishments of the Bronze Age, the wheel and bronze, are linked more heavily to military technology and less to social technology for the masses. This was especially true in Shang China.

Training a Warrior Class

Warrior class essential to chariot

There was one other essential ingredient that the chariot required to operate – the Charioteer. The chariot needed a skilled charioteer to manage the horses, otherwise the chariot was useless. The charioteer needed to be strong and balanced to maintain control of the 2 horses pulling his two-wheeled chariot. Charioteering was a specialized talent that had to be developed. He could not belong to the agricultural peasantry. There would not be enough time for the training. The charioteer had to come from the warrior class. A warrior class had to exist for a chariot to exist.

A warrior class unnecessary for war

It does not take a warrior class for a war to exist. There are many Biblical examples of the Israelite pastoral cultures, which had no soldier class, attacking the indigenous cultures of Canaan. The armies were made up of shepherds with a mission. David, the great Jewish general, who slew Goliath, was a shepherd who was called upon to go to war with his slingshot.

The only use of chariot is military

Farmers, hunters, and shepherds just employed day-to-day implements in their wars, requiring no special training. Slings, bows and arrows, knives and spears are all used in hunting for food and can easily be converted to military use. In protecting their land, they would break out domestic implements and use them as weapons. The chariot has no domestic use. Its only use is military. Any culture that used chariots had to be a military culture.

Warrior Class, part of ruling class

A warrior class trained to use chariots was one of the institutions of war in the Bronze Age. The warrior class was made up of the military aristocracy. It was they who led or forced the troops into battle. It was they who had something invested in the culture. It was they who had to maintain local control with their military prowess.

Being prepared militarily

Furthermore from earliest times, the culture that was unprepared militarily was was frequently defeated, plundered and/or enslaved. Having survived the Ice Age in Siberia, the Mongoloid stock had learned to be prepared. They and other military cultures, including Greeks, Romans, and Normans, devised training techniques to keep their soldiers at the ready in case of attack. Indeed our modern Olympics are based upon these games that were designed to maintain military preparedness. “When at peace prepare for war, when at war prepare for peace.”

Warrior training

The skills of these warriors were of course tuned up in actual combat. But they also trained extensively for battle. Nobody just jumps on a chariot and starts to ride. It takes a great deal of training. These military cultures would invest a great deal of time training warriors.

Cultural transmission of military skills

How did these military cultures emerge? We already mentioned how population pressures threw different cultures into conflict. The great warrior who had led his troops to victory might become king, as did David. He would then culturally transmit the secrets of his military prowess to his sons, in time honored and genetically selected fashion. These sons, if they maintained control, would then pass this knowledge on to their sons. In such a way, a military culture would be passed on. These fathers were not transmitting agricultural or craft skills. They were passing on military and leadership skills.

Aristocratic warrior class evolves

Over the centuries, the training of the sons of the aristocratic warrior class became more sophisticated and specialized. Military techniques using the dagger and spear might evolve into sword use. The two-sided hand-axes of the Paleolithic Homo erectus  became a battle-ax. The hunting bow became a military compound bow. Each of these military techniques became more refined over time. The warrior-king needed to develop his military talents in order to maintain control of his country through his own individual military prowess. David, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Genghis Khan were all great warriors as well as leaders. This was also true of the early European and English kings.

Charioteering one of the aristocratic virtues

With the advent of the chariot, charioteering became one of those aristocratic warrior talents that were necessary for leadership. The chariot was a major military feature of the Shang and also the following Chou dynasty. As such, the skill of charioteering was included in the repertoire of warrior elite.

6 Accomplishments of the Chinese aristocracy

By the Chou times, they institutionalized the necessary skills of the ruling warrior class. The necessary military skills were charioteering and archery, while the cultural skills were writing, music, science, and ritual. These are the 6 accomplishments that the Confucians considered important talents of the Chinese ruling class. The Shang and Chou aristocracy needed military skills to maintain their position of authority. However as the aristocracy became the intelligentsia, i.e. the gentle men, as we shall see, they held onto these six accomplishments. The ritualization of these six talents extended all the way to the Ming dynasty of the 1500s CE. These Confucian talents still exert influence upon the Chinese psyche in current attempts to be well rounded. 12 We’ll be back to this topic, when we deal with Confucianism.

Modern reflections

Chariot in the Tarot decks

The influence of the chariot is still with us in many ways. On the mystical level, the Chariot is the fifth card of the Tarot deck, following only the spiritual and temporal rulers. The Chariot is a remnant of the victory procession. The roots of the Tarot deck are probably in Renaissance Italy, when the chariot had long since fallen out of military fashion, being replaced by the more maneuverable knight on horseback. Hence the Chariot was still used as a symbol of victory and conquering, although its effective days were long past.

The car, our modern chariot

On the level of transportation, the car is our modern chariot. Its power is related in terms of horsepower just as the chariots were, i.e. a two-horse or four-horse power chariot. Power is a term of military prowess more than a term of transportation. Furthermore the car is an extension of power and prestige. A new car is somehow associated with modern royalty.

The Charioteer & Wu Wei

Tai Chi Chuan, Warrior training

Another reflection of the Chariot is in Tai Chi. Tai Chi Chuan is a form of warrior training that harks back to the military aristocracy of the Shang and perhaps even before to the warrior cultures of the Longshan. It is a series of moves attempting to prepare one for combat. Chinese style, it is hoped that the preparation for combat will enable one to avoid combat altogether.

He who doesn’t prepare for combat invites it in,

While he who prepares for combat wards it off.

The horse stance

Part of the Tai Chi warrior training is connected to the Horse Stance. Properly, it should be called the Chariot stance. The horse stance is a stationary posture where both feet are parallel and firmly planted, legs are bowed, and arms are held forward as if holding tight reins. When riding a chariot one’s feet must be firmly planted upon the ground, with legs bowed to enhance the incredible stability necessary to stay planted upon the chariot. The Charioteer found in the First Emperor’s tomb is standing in a perfect horse stance.

The Charioteer, Balance at all costs

Primary to Tai Chi Push Hands practice is the principle of balance – maintaining and not losing it no matter what the pressures. This could be derived from the image of the Charioteer, who must maintain balance, no matter what the terrain demands. Balance is of utmost importance as an overturned chariot may be lethal for both rider and horse.

Non-action in midst of action

Another derivative from the Charioteer is the Taoist notion of non-action in the midst of action, wu wei. The charioteer only need maintain his balance and remain steady. His chariot and maybe an archer by his side do the rest. His primary duty is to break up and soften the enemy line so that his soldiers can move in. His individual task is to remain motionless in the mass chaos of battle that churns around him. He is to guide his chariot with subtle motions, but he himself is to remain as steady as possible. Bouncing over the terrain and the bodies, the lines of farmers attempting to protect their farmland, and maintaining balance and control of the horses must have been difficult. As an analogy for life, the charioteer could have easily suggested the idea of non-action in the midst of action. Charioteering was a significant human activity that demanded absolute stillness and balance to work.

Non-action frequently taken literally

As a result of his stillness and balance, i.e. non-action, the charioteer is able to exert a powerful effect upon his environment, albeit destructive. The same is true of the Taoist concept, wu wei. Many interpretations of non-action take it literally – doing nothing. One idea is being physically still in the midst of activity all around – ‘meditation in the market place.’ Others practice their interpretation of wu wei by withdrawing from the world to practice non-action. Some also take non-action to refer to resisting desires.

Tripitaka does nothing, while accomplishing everything

In Journey to the West,  however, Tripitaka rides upon the Dragon-horse, but does nothing. Indeed when he gets off his horse to do something, he regularly gets in trouble. However Tripitaka is the one who accomplishes the most. It is he who is the leader and integral part of the Journey to the West. Without him the journey does not happen. This is the sense of non-action suggested by the charioteer.

Tripitaka Carried into Battle by Horse of Will

The horse is frequently referred to as the Horse of Will, while Tripitaka is, on some levels, associated with spiritual intention. Spiritual intention stays steady, carried along by the Will. The charioteer guides his horses into the midst of battle, but he remains steady. Neither does he go off into the mountains, nor off by himself. Instead he guides his horses into the middle of conflict. He does not avoid conflict, but instead pursues it from a position of non-action.

The Spiritual Warrior goes to the center of conflict

The Spiritual Warrior, from a position of non-action, guides his Horse of Will into the midst of Battle. For Chinese Alchemists, the Battle is to be fought against conditioning, temporal, cultural and genetic. The very first battle is way before the battle. ‘Naturally’ we run away from battle. Our flight response is programmed into our adrenal nervous system. Of course the warrior must resist this ‘natural’ urge. Instead he must guide his horses into the center of conflict. Similarly in Tai Chi Push Hands, one goes inside rather than outside. Instead of attempting to stay away, one tries to get close, in this case to more effectively neutralize negative energy. We must resist our natural urge to retreat.

Fight response also to be resisted

The flight and fight response are totally linked. With the back to the wall, out comes the adrenal fight response. Once the chariot is moving full-speed into battle, the charioteer’s back is against the wall, he has no choice now. It is too late to turn back. However again he must resist the adrenal urge to fight. He must just stay firm in the midst of non-action. His ‘natural’ fear of conflict threatens to upset his balance, which is crucial for his survival. Similarly the adrenal fear-based urge to fight must also be resisted by the charioteer to maintain his calm.

Chariot symbol of leadership and courage

In terms of the ancient charioteer, the survival of the whole army depended upon his balance. The chariot was the royal weapon of leadership. Without their supreme Charioteer, they were a headless army. In the latter days of the Chou dynasty, the chariot was made obsolete by the more mobile cavalry with a compound bow. Still the First Emperor would drive in an armored chariot surveying the field and directing the action. The bronze chariot has always had royal connotations.

Having chariots a deterrent to war

Another indication of the prime role of the chariot in development of this idea of non-action in the midst of action is the early Taoist notion that just having chariots was wu-wei, non-action, because their existence was a deterrent to attack. Because of their formidable appearance, chariots deterred attack without even having to be used. The Taoists felt that this was a perfect example of non-action in the midst of action, wu wei. Likewise being prepared for battle is a deterrent to battle, while not being prepared encourages attack.

Balance and Direction

Components of Balance

The current image is of the Charioteer moving fearlessly into the center of battle, resisting the urge to fight, instead focusing upon balance and direction. Balance has one mental and three physical components. The one mental component has just been mentioned – calm and focused in the middle of the battle. Sung is a Chinese word that is commonly translated as relaxation. Sung energy links the three physical components.

Sung energy fundamental to rooting, flexibility, and yielding

Sung energy is also a derivative of the Charioteer. In order to retain his balance, the Charioteer must be incredibly relaxed as well as rooted. His waist and arms must be flexible and relaxed so that he can gently yield to the many instabilities and jerks of the horses. Additionally his knees must be supple and relaxed and legs rounded to yield like a spring to the shocks of the chariot ride.  Simultaneously he must be rooted to the floor of the chariot, which is accomplished by relaxing into the floor. Sung energy generates flexibility, yielding and rooting energy. These three elements are central to Tai Chi push hands. The Sung energy allows the body to act like a spiral spring, bouncy, but connected.

Components of Direction, Guiding

While balance is of utmost importance to the charioteer’s personal survival, his sense of direction is essential for the survival of his army. There are two components to direction, guiding and turning. The first and primary is guiding. The charioteer must gently guide his wild horses, not one but two or more. Although the horses might want to go in different directions, he must guide them in a collective direction; only together will they accomplish anything.

Return of the Yang

The idea of gently guiding is also essential to Tai Chi Push Hands. One must gently guide and control the opponent’s energy. The return of the yang occurs with the first stirrings of unguided energy. If the energy is allowed to manifest for too long, it can easily get out of control. Nip it in the bud. The wild horses have considerably more power than the charioteer. The only possible way he can control their wild energy is to guide them back on course immediately, before they have time to get out of control. Controlling the return of the yang is certainly Taoist and could have easily derived from the charioteer’s relation to his horses.

Operating separately; no transformation

The horses represent chi energy. With a charioteer behind a chariot, they manifest explosively with concentrated energy. Operating separately, the horses might run away from the battle or never even approach it.

Chinese shadow-boxing

The idea of guiding, called yin chi, is found in early martial arts forms. Western translations call these martial forms ‘Chinese shadow boxing’. In the First Emperor’s tomb is found a very clear representation of one of these shadow boxers in a typical Tai Chi stance. He stands with feet in the traditional bow stance (we’ll get to that) for balance. As described, “The warrior presents a minimal target to oncoming adversaries while keeping his arms ready either to ward off an attacker or to strike a blow.”13

Yin chi, drawing chi

Yin chi, literally means guiding the chi, leading it, or drawing it around. This definition does not imply force, but only a guiding. An integral part of Tai Chi and Push Hands is that of guiding one’s own chi or opponent’s energy around the body with the mind. Force is not met with force. Force is only guided as wild horses only can be. Thus the image of the charioteer might also have inspired the concept of moving chi around. This is central to control the wild emanating yang energy that is so strong that it threatens us all with its impetuosity.

 Turning and Central Equilibrium


The final element the charioteer is changing direction. The Chariot bursts through the enemy’s lines but then must turn around. One way of turning is to make a wide turn. This takes up a lot of time and energy, not to mention the extreme possibility of the centripetal force of turning, throwing the rider out or overturning the chariot. More efficiently the charioteer pulls the horses up and pivots around the wheel of the chariot, i.e. on its axis, and then heads back into the fray. The rider is not thrown out of the chariot in a whipping action and the horses stay under control.

Central Equilibrium

Pivoting on an axis is inherent to the idea of central equilibrium in Tai Chi. Earlier versions of Tai Chi were called 13 Principle Boxing. These thirteen movements, postures or principles, still underlie all Tai Chi moves. Of those 13 elements, many masters consider central equilibrium to be the single most important element of Tai Chi. Central Equilibrium has to do with pivoting around the smallest axis possible.

Pivoting around the Wheel

This principle would be especially apparent to the charioteer, when he pivoted his horses around the axis of his chariot. His center remains motionless even in the middle of turning. He comes to grasp even higher levels of non-action.

Wheel is waist

In Tai Chi this rotation upon the central axis of the body is also called ‘turning the wheel’. The Wheel is the waist rotating around the vertical axis of the body. The hips and shoulders counterbalance each other. The hips are there to connect to the legs as shock absorbers, moving up and down, forward and back, only twisting to balance the pivot. It is important to keep the hips and legs aligned to avoid torquing the joints, especially the knees.

Relaxed waist, ruler of the body

The Waist is called the ruler of the body. Not just any waist, but a relaxed waist. A sung waist. A relaxed, flexible, non-rigid waist. It rules the power of the torso. Any professional athlete uses the turning of the waist to generate power: the baseball pitcher, the tennis player, the baseball hitter, and the quarterback are just a few examples. Athletes might augment the strength of the waist with other muscles, but it is the turning of the waist that accomplishes most of the work.

Hips rule the bottom

While the waist rules the torso, the hips rule the lower half of the body. The sung knees and ankles follow the powerful hip movements, and should not be an agent in and of themselves. Similarly the arms and hands should always act in concert with the waist, never acting by themselves.

Feet at the root of balance

While the hips and waist deliver the power and flexibility, the foot rules the balance. Without each foot firmly planted upon the floor from heel to big toe and the bubbling well in-between, there is no root. If there is no root ,there is no balance. If there is no balance, then everything is lost. Just ask the Charioteer.

Thoughts, Ruler of all

While the waist rules horizontal body power and flexibility, revolving as a wheel, the hips rule the vertical power, bouncing like a spring, and the feet rule the balance, rooting like a tree, and the thoughts of the mind are the ruler of all. Only the mind is light enough to grant optimum lightness essential to the flexibility of sung energy.

Trying is already too hard, just the thought

Trying to do something is already too hard. The trying is effort and force, immediately negating the essential sung energy. The thought of doing it is enough to guide waist, hips and feet. Localizing attention is a distortion. Only by focusing upon the whole is the proper balance achieved. Only the brain can integrate all the parts. Not an active brain, but a non-active brain, which nudges, but does not force.

Charioteer’s consequences hard and quick

All of these elements that have been mentioned, i.e. ‘non-action in action’, ‘central equilibrium’ and ‘rooting’, are inherent to the Charioteer. While these same principles apply equally to hand-to hand combat, the consequences are not so immediate and extreme as for the Charioteer. The lessons that the Charioteer learns are quick and hard. If he is not relaxed, rooted, and flexible, he is thrown off his chariot, endangering everyone. While an opponent has human strength \, the Charioteer has to manage the strength of two horses. He must learn sung energy or else. Thus it is more likely that the martial techniques were learned by the charioteer and then applied to hand-to hand combat rather than vice versa. The charioteer was a warrior, who used the same techniques whichever arena he was in.

Tai Chi Residuals

There are some residuals of chariot symbolism in Tai Chi.

‘ch’i pulls blood like horse pulls chariot’

Professor Cheng Man-ch’ing said, “The ch’i pulls the blood like a horse pulls a chariot; where the ch’i goes, the blood will follow.” In the context of the discussion, Cheng Man-ch’ing was pointing out that massaging a joint brings the ch’i there. If the ch’i moves there, the healing blood will follow. But the thought moved the hand, which brought the ch’i.

Thoughts, the charioteer

The thoughts are the charioteer, the ch’i are the horses that are controlled by the mind, while the blood is the chariot being drawn, which protects the charioteer. The ch’i without thoughts to guide them are like wild horses without a driver. Confused, directionless. Thoughts without ch’i are like a horseless chariot, really going nowhere. Non-action in the midst of non-action. Oblivion. The interaction of thoughts, the blood, and the ch’i are all necessary. The thoughts remain quiet. This is the non-action. The ch’i is controlled by the thoughts to pull the blood. This is the action. This is the non-action in the midst of action.

Gentle/Hard thoughts and Blood Pressure

Gentle thoughts guide the ch’i, hence the blood around gently. This is ideal. Low blood pressure. Conversely, hard thoughts pressure the ch’i, hence the blood. High blood pressure. This is not ideal. If the chi horses move too fast, they may get out of control overturning the chariot, throwing the charioteer on his head. Heart Attack.

Tripitaka over-anxious, threatens the Journey

We see examples of chi moving too fast in several episodes of the classic Chinese novel, Journey of the West. Tripitaka will be impatient to reach the goal. These ‘spiritual desires’ excite Monkey/Mind, who stings or scares the Dragon Horse of Will. This sends the Horse galloping uncontrollably, throwing Tripitaka off or getting the Pilgrims into trouble. Sometimes the Will can be overheated by the Mind energy of spiritual desire, leading to misfortune, and threatening the Journey.

Don’t burn the Bread

In a similar context, Master Ni warns against 'Burning the Bread'. Don’t focus too hard upon the fire or it will burn too hot, damaging the elixir. But don’t forget it either, or the fire will go out. All these examples have to do with hard thoughts driving the chi horses too hard and fast, threatening the stability of the Chariot. While the ch’i leads the blood, it too must be guided or led.

Summary: Chariot primary feature of Shang & martial arts

Just as bronze metal working of the Shang aristocracy is a root of the Alchemists, the Charioteer a major underlying symbol of Tai Chi and Taoism. The chariot was a primary feature of the later Shang civilization. The chariot was a major innovation of the Bronze Age warlike civilizations by which they were able to completely dominate the agricultural societies that preceded them. Furthermore the chariot joined 4 primary features of the Bronze Age in one symbol, i.e. bronze, the wheel, the domesticated horse, and the warrior-ruler. Furthermore charioteering became an integral part of warrior training which eventually led to the Chinese marital arts, including Tai Chi. Incorporated into the training of the charioteer were the concepts of ‘central equilibrium’, rooting and wu wei, i.e. ‘non-action in the midst of action’.


1 Grolier Interactive, Potter’s Wheel 1997

2 Grolier, Wheel 1997

3 Grolier, Chariot 1997

4 Grolier, Wheel 1997

5 Encyclopedia Britannica, China 5-517 c “Even so, some of the outstanding cultural possessions of the Shang people again are paralleled in the west and ultimately may have come thence: the horse-drawn war chariot, a developed system of script, and the technique of bronze casting as such.”

6 China to 1850, p. 31 “Although diffusion across Central Asia is by no means ruled out entirely, especially in the case of the chariot, it now seems probable that most if not all of the major characteristics of traditional Chinese civilization originated independently in China Proper.”

7 p. 123 Origins

8 EB, China 5-517 d

9 p. 123 Origins

10 p. 123 Origins

11 p. 120 Origins.

12 Chinese Art,  MacKenzie, 1961, p. 28 “Painting and calligraphy have from very early times been among the accomplishments of the Chinese gentleman (the other five being listed as Ritual, Music, Archery, Charioteering and Mathematics.)”

13 Plate 98 Treasures


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