Peng: Is it written 掤 or 棚?

by cshum00 on 2012/04/26

I hope someone who knows Chinese and/or TaiChiQuan literature help me on this one.

Peng is the first and one of the eight fundamental principles in TaiChiQuan. It is followed by lu (履), ji (擠), an (按), cai (採), lie (列), zhou (肘) and kao (靠). In some TaiChiQuan context, peng is translated as ward-off. In the practical method, it is identified as the structural expanding power.

All the introduction aside, my question is; it is written 掤 or 棚? I see in different websites written with either one of them. But when consulting to Chinese dictionaries, i find that it should be 棚 (with the wood radical) and not 掤 (with the hand radical). For it, the character 棚 uses “peng” as the character pronunciation and romanization. While 掤 uses “bing” instead for character pronunciation and romanization. They also mean different things. 棚 means shed. 掤 means a quiver or container for arrows.


{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Calvin Chow April 27, 2012 at 8:09 pm

It is 掤 not 棚. 掤 begin with a 手 at the left side which is hand in Chinese. As it is Peng energy using hands, so it is 掤. 棚 begins with 木 which is wood in Chinese, 棚 means wood frame. Sometimes, people cannot find 掤 in typing Chinese as it a not a common Chinese word, so they use 棚 instead. However, there is a close relationship between 掤 and 棚. As in Peng, the body actually form a structure to expand and match the component’s force, that was how 掤 was created from 棚.


cshum00 April 27, 2012 at 10:42 pm

@Calvin Chow, thanks for the reply. Let’s divide this discussion into parts so that we have a more clear conversation.

1) Pronunciation: I find the pronunciation of 掤 to be “bing” everywhere i look. Does it mean that this word have multiple pronunciations?

2) Meaning: What is the literal meaning of 掤? What i find on dictionaries are “quiver” or “container for arrows”.

3) Relating to TaiChiQuan: Peng in TaiChiQuan is supposed to be a impenetrable force if you push against it. That is why in some TaiChiQuan context it is translated as “ward-off”. 棚 with the meaning of “shed”, “shack” and “wooden frame” does seem to describe this perfectly. After all, having peng in your arms means to structure your arms; so your opponent feels like he/she is pushing a wall.

4) My thoughts: I am not Chinese/TaiChiQuan literate; so don’t know. But i think the catch might have been that because TaiChiQuan is a martial art, people think of it as being physical. So people end up re-writing the content with characters that try to simulate the body like hand-radicals.

Just because peng can be done with the hands doesn’t mean that it should be written with hand characters. If it is a principle, it can be done with any body part. And if i go by the meaning of 掤 i currently know, i don’t see how a “container” describe the fullness of peng in TaiChiQuan. Unless, the other meanings of 掤 is a hand action and not the meaning i know of “quiver” or “arrow container”.

The reason i say this is because i have also seen Lu (履) written with a left-hand-radical. Unless, it is because 履 is a simplified form of an older traditional-character which originally contained the left-hand-radical. Or if are they completely different characters with similar meanings like 掤 and 棚? But again, i don’t know Chinese well enough so i don’t know.


Calvin Chow April 28, 2012 at 9:41 am

I am not sure original pronunciation of 掤, we pronounce Peng anyway.

Peng (掤) has its own meaning in TaiChiQuan not the original meaning as lid for container of arrows. There are Taiji old saying described Peng energy as boat on water or flea on surface of drum. What I learnt from Master Chen is that Peng energy is like trampoline. When someone jumps on the trampoline, the surface of trampoline is stretched and the weight dropped on the trampoline is equally contributed. When we “peng” with the opponent’s incoming force, we do not apply force directly against the contact point but stretch out the body like trampoline until we match the force of the opponent. Suppose the force is 100 pounds, the force will be equally distributed in the body structure and different part of your body may bear say 5 pounds to match it. It is like the surface of the trampoline have 20 springs linked the outer frame and the surface and if the weight is 100 pounds so each spring shares 5 pounds to match it.


cshum00 April 28, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Thank you Calvin Chow. I take it as it is then; 掤 with the hand radical.

I do see the “matching force” on the boat on water and trampoline examples; not much in the flea on drum surface though. Specially since Chinese drum surfaces are made of thick piece of cloth. But what i seen in common in between the boat on water and flea on drum surface is describing a tiny speck on a large surface.

As for the reason why people can’t find how to find 掤 with the hand radical for websites/writing, is probably because they are trying to find “peng” piying while it is registered “bing” on their typewriter dictionary.

It is sad that we don’t know much the roots of the word; so that we understand why TaiChiQuan use that literal meaning to describe a principle. Then only meaning i can try to extract from it is by decomposing into (扌 手) and (朋) where the hand radical implies an action using the hands while the double moon provides the pronunciation; which is why we are reading it “peng” instead of the dictionary reading “bing”.

Or a personal pun for joking purposes i just created now; where instead of double moon (朋), it is double meat (⺼ 肉). And the character would look very similar like this (扌⺼⺼) meaning hands on a large meat surface (lol). That aside, i am very confused how Chinese to English translations arrived from dictionary definition of 掤 “quiver for arrows” to “ward-off”. Unless someone was reading a text that had 棚 instead of 掤; and arrived to a wrong conclusion like i did.

And it seems that there are a lot of lost information even among Chinese interpretation of TaiChiQuan texts. It looks like when i saw about lu (扌履) with the hand radical might have been right. It is not without the hand radical. And that is not the only one, lie (扌列) might have been with a hand radical too. Which makes me wonder if zhou (肘) also originally contained a hand radical and then was degraded into elbow.


Carlos Hanson April 27, 2012 at 10:43 pm

This is one of the very reasons I want to learn Chinese. I think there may be much to be gained by reading about Taijiquan with a greater understanding of the characters that are used to describe it. I listened to a few podcasts by Derek Lin about his translation of the Tao Te Ching. I found it very enlightening as he described the meaning of the characters, especially in combination, and the resulting translation. I would enjoy the same reading about Taiji, even the names of the postures in the form.


Kelvin Ho April 27, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Carlos, if you are interested in Chinese characters, you should learn the traditional ones instead of the simplified version.


Carlos Hanson April 28, 2012 at 12:55 am

Thanks. That is my intent. I went as far as purchasing Level 1 Part 1 of “Integrated Chinese” Traditional Character Edition, so it’s on my list of things to do. :-)


Dax August 29, 2013 at 11:48 am

I’d have to disagree. If you’re going to learn Chinese, learn the simplified version. 1, it’s much easier and you’re much more likely to actually learn it, and two, it’s much more widely used than the traditional characters, which are mainly found in HK and Taiwan. Since both of them have their own spoken dialects anyway, the writing can be convoluted with characters you’re never going to learn that come directly from those dialects.

I mean I assume you want to learn traditional characters for Taiji, but the truth is that most of the characters come from very esoteric routes in ancient Chinese. Because Taiji was a rural martial art, they often refer to very specific agricultural phenomena, like the fence one uses to corral a pig. Even among Chinese scholars, there is much debate about the exact meaning of these characters (in that specific example, the fence can be used to stop a pig, or to guide a pig through a run, which has sparked much debate about whether this type of energy should be static or dynamic). The long and short of it is that these characters are so esoteric, and so specific, whether you learn traditional characters or simplified, you’re still going to have to look each one up as it was used hundreds of years ago, so the extra step you’re saving by knowing traditional characters directly isn’t worth the practicality you’re losing.


Kelvin Ho April 19, 2015 at 1:45 pm

The difference is like to learn “ASAP” vs “as soon as possible”.


davidfadjar April 28, 2012 at 5:59 pm

I think this is one of the reason why “indoor student” and meeting with a competent teacher face to face have great value in the old days (it still is even now). Those competent teacher in taiji may have different sets of known written words as well as different dialects in the Chen village.

What happens when the teacher goes to beijing or other places in China to teach… Different regions have different dialects and pronounciation.

When one student ask a question to the teacher “is this “peng” written as “bing” or “geng” or is it “beng”? ? and then the teacher does not know which is which because those characters they never see… or pronounced differently in their local dialects? How, if you are a teacher, would you explain it? Good teacher will show it and let the students touch hands with the teacher to understand and feel what is this “peng” thing he talked about.

GM Hong Junsheng followed Chen Fake for more than a decade and that companionship with Chen Fake allowed him to see past those different dialects and different written manuals to grasp the essence of what Chen Fake tried to teach to the students.

And I think we are most lucky because as a teacher, Master Chen Zhonghua is greatly capable to translate this essence of taiji into concepts that we as english speaking person can better understand. He showed, he formulated concepts and link it with things that we can see and understand in our modern living this days. From shoveling snows, civil and building engineering concepts (pre-tension concrete building), gear box movements, etc..


bruce.schaub April 29, 2012 at 9:46 am

Knowing that some chinese characters are pictographic (wood being one of them), from a purely visual standpoint the wood character appears more accurate… 5 points extending in all directions with a true center that is slightly longer than the two legs giving us agility? perhaps only a coincidence. But shouldn’t the whole body be peng? not just the hands? ultimately no matter where we are touched we should be able to produce peng….


Calvin Chow April 29, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Peng should be generated by whole body not only hands. But most people only see hand movement so there is “push hands” not “push body”.


cshum00 April 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm

It is funny because “push hands” is a watered version for friendly and beginner practice. Only people on high level can display high degree of complex resistance while keeping the look of push hands.

The thing is that people are “too used” to dealing with objects that can get the work done with just hands alone. If you make people wrestle, you start seeing Shen Fa but the amount of varying resistance makes people start getting out of the alignments and stuff.

For example, if a person needs to lift a car using a rope in a downward hill. You will see that the person would have to stop using the hands to pull because the rope easily slips away. You would start seeing the person start using the hands to catch. The person will make his body aligned so he doesn’t fall down. And the power will come from the legs and other places.

It is a funny phenomenon is also seen in sparing with punches. For example, your opponent throw punches at you. You deflect the punches of your opponents by hitting his arm away from your body. There is a point where you don’t have yo hit the opponent arms. You only touch his incoming punch and your opponents already gives up on the punch because he thinks it has been detected.


bruce.schaub April 29, 2012 at 10:30 am

as an extension of the possibility for wood, as a tree grows it expands proportionally, the trunks diameter expands evenly in all directions, the biggest branches are usually mirrored by the biggest roots running in the same direction (on the same plane) and in many trees the drip line falls at the outer point of the root spread…so i would say there is a reasonable argument to be made for the wood character?


Calvin Chow April 29, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Actually (棚) is my concept model for Peng (掤) energy. We use (棚) in construction site a lot. They are built of long bamboo sticks with fine nylon strapes to make strong knots. Our bones are similar to those bamboo sticks but we have a ball hinges at the joints with rubber cord like tissues around it. In Taiji, I consider long rubber cord warpping around the bones in spiral way and form a fast lock system. This allow power goes through and can fast lock the structure to produce the stick power. To tighten the joint by turning our joint like rope forms a very strong joint. When the energy alignment forms by using “chan fa” twist the joints form a structure allow the force passing through elbow to shoulder to kua to knee to feet and the structure then can root on ground.


cshum00 April 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm

It is ironic how we don’t know the meaning of the original word. And yet we borrow a different word for explanations.


Calvin Chow April 29, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Language really cannot describe martial art. I don’t think you need to pay too much attention on the meaning of the word as it is just a symbol for an energy. I think you can understand Peng by practicing Yilu and apply it through push hands. Body can understand it better than brain.


cshum00 April 29, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I agree and disagree. It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. What cannot be seen must be felt. But even so, when passing down information of a martial art; communication is very important. If the wrong information is passed down, it has serious implications on the future of the art and development.


Calvin Chow April 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm

I agree communication is important but if the original word of Peng means lid of arrow container it may come to a dead end and it may also block one to look at it as structural power.


cshum00 April 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm

True. Well the possibilities are that:
1) It was re-written/passed-down incorrectly with time.
2) It had other meanings before it was used as lid of arrows.
3) Two different regions of China wrote two different words with the same character.
4) There was a meaning that was relevant in the past on how arrow lids were used; and no longer meaningful since archery is no longer practiced like it used to be.

But i don’t see it as being so bad. At least this discussion made me confirm that Lu (履) and Lie (列) were not right as it is neither. I mean i had my suspicion on their meanings literal meanings. And it made me dig deeper to find out that the correct characters for these two words also happen to contain a hand-radical.

Maybe sometime in the future some historian will come along and clear out the real meaning of those characters.


bruce.schaub April 29, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Oh…that’s an awesome explanation! I like that alot… are you describing bamboo scaffolding??


Calvin Chow April 29, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Yes, it is bamboo scaffolding. Imagine about using rubber cord instead of nylon strap for the joint. If you apply force on this bamboo scaffolding structure, there will be elastic energy stored in the joint as well also in the bamboo. Our body is not cubic form but we can use S line as mentioned in Master Chen’s online video. Opponent’s energy can be stored in the S structure and rotate and return it back to the opponent. You can find it in the first half of circle stores the energy and push it out to the opponent in second half circle. The whole circle exercise is in a internal stretching state which I depict it as Peng. My understanding of Peng, every part of the body is like spring, the whole body forms a big spring.


Allan Haddad April 30, 2012 at 11:37 am

Master Chen enlightened me that “it’s push hands, not hands push.”


bruce.schaub April 30, 2012 at 2:37 pm

i happened to watch the “Concave Circle 2″ video today which is one of the few videos available on the site which I had not purchased and watched multiple times. It really describes PM peng energy manipulations very clearly. Principally it shows to always expand the upper half of the body from the inside making the inside longer as we extend which opens us up, releases power, and creates a one sided stretch drilling as we extend. The other thing that really struck me after watching is that even when our outside appearance looks like its getting smaller (as in the first half of the circle) we are still actually expanding by stretching the tendons on a series of opposing directions so still becoming longer and still connected in that sense it’s visually very clear how that springy tension is produced in a closing movement..even when were folding in we are still producing peng….of course thats if we can do it correctly which i’m pretty sure i can’t…not completely anyway. I like the bamboo scaffolding concept. I remember seeing it for the first time in 1996 on a trip to compete in taiji in shanghai…totally amazing to see such tall buildings going up using only bamboo as scaffolding. I really didn’t have a good concept of what peng was back then. I wish Master Chen and his generosity and openness on this website had existed back then. We should all consider ourselves very fortunate.


Frank April 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Though 掤 is probably recognised by many people as the correct word, it gives the impression that PENG has something to do with the hand. While 棚 gives structural meaning, but it is a static wooden structure (bruce: wood grows too slow, and when it is made into 棚, it will not grow anymore) and therefore also doesn’t convey the proper idea of PENG. Maybe it is time to be bold to use new word, such as 弸, which has ‘bow’ energy, or 澎, which has ‘water’ energy.


Calvin Chow May 1, 2012 at 6:44 am

膨 is straight forward for PENG as it simply means expansion. I personally like 弸 as it is more understandable to combine bow energy with structual power. Imagine we uses bows instead of bamboo for the bamboo scaffolding structure. Body has five bows弓, (arms, legs and back) and they are all connected visually and some linkages are invisible such as front hand and rear foot. I like 澎 too but it is more abstract. It describes energy like water fills in the opponent’s negative space unroot him and issue him out like he meets big wave.


Frank April 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm

or 膨, or create new word like (水⺼⺼).


bruce.schaub May 1, 2012 at 6:23 am

I’m sure you all are correct about the hand character… I like Calvin’s bamboo scaffolding concept because it’s a structure that can be quickly set up under the opponent that carries their force immediately and directly to the ground while at the same time providing a framework to initiate leverage edging them ever closer to the cliff (or the edge of the building in this case :-) ) but it’s such a complex idea to understand and explain in it’s totality…. i suppose it would be unlikely that a single character or even phrase would be able to comprehensively express it (regardless of it’s ability to hint at a deeper meaning). For me, Master Chen’s explanations and demonstrations have more successfully bridged the gap in my understanding than anything I have ever read. I have heard in other styles of Taiji of that in order to be Peng we must be Song…but i think in order to be Song we must be Peng! funny


Calvin Chow May 1, 2012 at 8:17 am

It is good to check out Berlin 2012 mini lessons. Master Chen taught move vs no move as well stretch. The power actually comes from no move. After you match the force with your opponent and then add a little force on him and he could be issued out. Last time Master Chen demonstrated PENG in the open house, the opponent was like opening an umbralla with the handle on hand while Master Chen stretch in a concave form. But note that this umbralla was fixed on a no move frame as he did not retreat. After the forces matched, he stepped in and bounced him back.


bruce.schaub May 1, 2012 at 11:52 am

Thanks Calvin, I watched it this morning and it made me think of your scaffold. Once we move in and set up that structure, it must be fixed and unmoving like a scaffold or like the pillar Master Chen stabilizes his back on. We must become part of the pillar (or the ground with proper angles) then our small force is very powerful and concentrated. I really like the emphasis in PM on the bow of the spine, which gives you so much extension as well as that proportional expansion. Pulling tailbone down to open Mingmen and poking out the head, emptying the chest and plucking out the back… all things that we must have very good control over to absorb oncoming force, and anchor a structure that connects to the ground.


Frank April 19, 2015 at 9:17 am

This topic somehow surfaces in the ‘Taiji FAQ’ section and I remember there were enthusiastic discussions at the time and I also wrote something about it; so I was interested to find out what I wrote a few years ago. Not surprisingly, I feel like writing on the subject a little more.

1. It is probably more accurate to translate ‘八法’ as ‘eight methods’ than ‘eight principles’. The word ‘法’ can have different meanings such as ‘law’, ‘principle’, ‘method’, etc. so one must consider the context in which it is used in order to translate it into proper meaning in English. In this case the ‘八法’ are more about ‘methods’ rather than just ‘principles’. The eight ‘methods’ are derived internally from eight different ‘勁’ (jin) so they are also called as ‘八勁’.

2. It is probably better to translate ‘Peng’ as ‘掤’ as the other five methods ‘捋擠按採挒’ all have the ‘hand’ symbol on the left side of the characters so it would be consistent to use ‘掤’ rather than ‘棚’. But this strongest reason to use ‘掤’ is that it is a ‘method’ or ‘jin’ so there is action involved. In contrast ‘棚’ is not a ‘method’ or a ‘force’, it is really about the ‘structure’ of the body, or the ‘structural strength’ of the body, on which all the eight ‘methods’ or ‘jins’ are built.

3. If one wants to learn Chinese for practical purpose, the simplified Chinese characters would suffice; however, if one wants to truly appreciate Chinese culture, traditional Chinese characters are the ones to learn. The simplified Chinese characters practically ‘butchered’ the beautiful Chinese characters into something very ‘ugly’, as demonstrated by the following examples:

The phrase is arranged in this way: traditional (simplified) [missing meaning]
親(亲)[不見] => you have relatives (parents, etc.) but you don’t see them
愛(爱)[無心] => you have love with no heart
產(产)[不生] => you produce by not growing/making
廠(厂)[空空] => factory is empty
麵(面)[無麥] => flour has no wheat
運(运)[無車] => transport with a cloud (but no car)
導(导)[無道] => guide without tao (principles)
兒(儿)[無首] => son has no head
飛(飞)[單翼] => fly with one wing
湧(涌)[無力] => surge with no force
雲(云)[無雨] => cloud with no rain


James Tam April 19, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Thanks Frank. I like your summary, especially the “butchering part” with simplified Chinese characters that you well exemplified using examples that clearly explained it.


Hayden May 22, 2016 at 7:53 am

“a bow, stretched to its fullest”


Kim February 18, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Thanks Frank for your comment way back in April 2015. To concur, I prefer learning traditional characters. They seem easier to learn than the “simplified” as they carry more meaning and a deeper connection with Chinese culture (as your examples illustrate).
Re 掤 vs 棚 Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming on page 152 in Taijiquan Theory, YMAA Publication Centre, Boston Mass. USA, 2003, indicates that 掤 was “created in Taijiquan society and does not exist in regular dictionaries. … [hand + two moons] … This indicates that the word Péng 掤 means to arc both arms like two moons and coordinate them with each other. …”.


pingwei February 19, 2017 at 8:41 pm

I’ve been reading/studying running style of calligraphy. Noticed ancient scholars used “simplified” characters quite often. Here is one example by 八大山人 (1627-1705), in one of his writing, he wrote “乐“ instead of “樂“。(From Shanghai Museum publication.)
Sorry it’s off the Tai Chi topic a little bit.
Master Chen Zhonghua has very clear and specific teaching about 掤 in Practical Method system.


Nicholas May 21, 2017 at 10:08 pm

乐 might be what is referred to as 間筆字. Prior to the existence of “simplified” characters, there were only characters. 会, for example, has a Japanese original, and it is the Japanese version of “simplified” characters. Many terms and characters are reborrowed from Japan.

When learning a language, one should learn it for its entirety, and not go for what you feel is easier. That would be like learning another form of Taiji where they don’t do open kua exercise because it would be easier. Many Chinese scholars (ones in China) end up learning characters, they conclude that the linguistic evolution of the “simplified” characters do not make sense (as mentioned above by Frank) and inconsistent, which is the reason why it is harder to learn. And should writing a few more strokes be deemed as harder, especailly when we now punch characters in phonetically anyway?


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