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Single Whip (單鞭 Dān Biān): the biggest mistake in Taijiquan history?

By Angelika (

The Single Whip (單鞭 Dān Biān) is a very popular and known Taijiquan move.

Yang-single (restoration).jpgIt is so common and there are so many pictures and drawings of it that I even created a Pinterest board just for the Single Whip!

BUT in this post I want to write about the name. Because really, why is that move called “Single Whip”? I always found it hard to see a whip in this posture. Where would be the end, where would be the tip?

Then I stumbled across the Single Whip Wikipedia entry. UPDATE: the text I am about to quote was taken away from Wikipedia. Because it was wrong. But I would like to share the whole story and the reason why it is wrong with you:

The paragraph was like this:

“Single Whip is historically a mis-transcription of the posture’s original name, which is “Carry Baskets” (擔扁 Dān Biăn). The mis-transcription most likely came about when Yang Chengfu’s (楊澄甫) senior student Chen Weiming (陳微明) was writing the names of the moves down (as Yang Chengfu was illiterate, not a disgrace in China at that time as typically only scholars and government officials were literate. Chen Weiming had the Chinese equivalent of a master’s degree). As Yang Chengfu pronounced “Dān Biăn” meaning “Carry Baskets,” Chen Weiming probably heard and then wrote down “Dān Biān” meaning “Single Whip.” When Chen Weiming read back “Dān Biān” meaning “Single Whip,” Yang Chengfu probably heard “Dān Biăn” meaning “Carry Baskets” and then approved the mis-transcription. The pronunciation of Dān Biān and Dān Biăn are so close that such a mistake can easily be made.” (Source: Wikipedia “Single Whip” (someone deleted the text after this blog post))

I thought WHAT? The move is called Single Whip because Chen Weiming did not understand the different Chinese tones??? I mean, this move is so important (I actually counted the moves in the long Yang form and Single Whip is the third common!). And through all the years of training Chen Weiming did not get that is was Dān Biăn instead of Dān Biān?

Especially as the name “Carry Baskets” really makes sense when you think of people carrying baskets on those long sticks.

This just looks much more like the Taijiquan move: women_are_carrying_basket_of_fruitone hand on the front end of the stick, the other at the back.

It even makes sense that the posture is different depending on how far you keep the stick to the front or to the side. (You can discover the different variations of the Single Whip in different styles and times here or here.)

However, I still cannot believe this story. I mean, that would be probably the biggest mistranscription in Taijiquan history, right?

Taijiquan (Tai Chi) move Single Whip: Dan Bian mistranscriptionSo I started researching. Unfortunately there is no reference given on this piece of information at Wikipedia.

But: this blog post was read by many people. And I really recommend you read the many interesting comments below.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that the story on Wikipedia was wrong. Because the Chen’s name for the move is Single Whip. And they called it Single Wip (Dān Biān) long before Yang Chengfu.

In the Facebook Group “Tai Chi Martial Artists”, where I posted this story, someone was so kind to show a picture of Chen Xin’s manual, in which it says “Single Whip” already. Chen Xin lived 1849-1919. Yang Chengfu lived 1883-1936, grandson of Yang Luchan who learned form the Chen. So I really think that the original name is and stays “Single Whip” (單鞭 Dān Biān)!

Thank you for all the comments here and in Facebook. As the story is deleted, Wikipedia is a more correct place again!

taiji/singlewhipmistake.txt · Last modified: 2017/04/09 03:20 by serena