The art of Taijiquan has its roots in Daoist (Taoist) philosophy and Martial Arts with some influence from Buddhist Shaolin practices. The movement names and postures often refer to philosophical terms and events, and the "Qi" or essence of the art can be applied to medical, martial, or spiritual studies. Taijiquan is the physical representation of the Daoist Yin-Yang symbol, and the study of Taijiquan is perhaps the best method of learning about this symbol and other concepts of Chinese philosophy... superior than trying to understand it from a book or teacher.
Serious students of Taijiquan understand many of the terms and concepts used in traditional Chinese medicine such as the "Five Element" theory, Meridians, and Pressure Points, a well as the circulation of Qi as taught in the theories of Qigong. They also recognize its historic martial arts roots and learn many of the martial applications for the postures.
In the modern world, Taijiquan is highly respected and widely practiced within China. It is controlled and organized by the Chinese National Sports Association, and falls under the auspices of the "Wushu" or martial arts area of the association. There are national "instructor" exams and coaching seminars as well as organized competitions within individual family styles. Taijiquan is also one of the official competition events in the larger national and international martial arts competitions and has been proposed as a competition event to the international Olympic committee.
But while taijiquan is highly organized and promoted within the official Chinese system, the vast majority of Taijiquan in China is practiced on the streets, away from the nationally sponsored classes. Some believe this is where one can find the "real" or "true" essence of the art, where philosophy and theory is practiced as well as the physical movements. While "sport" Taijiquan is dominated by the young athletes with extreme strength and flexibility, the "street" Taijiquan is dominated by seniors. Some of these seniors have developed amazing skills over many years of quiet daily practice.
A quick trip to almost any park in China in a metropolitan city at daybreak will uncover acres of Taijiquan practitioners (referred to as "players" in China). Some of these players are highly skilled, but most are beginners struggling to complete the complex set of movements under the watchful eye of their teachers. It is a social and cultural gathering for the elderly, a mild exercise to awaken the young, and a way of promoting and extending life for the "baby boomer" generation.
In the last 20 years, Taijiquan has spread throughout the world, propagated by immigrant populations and the opening of China in the mid-1970s. Despite the lack of respect modern Asian countries such as Taiwan and Japan developed for other traditional disciplines such as Qigong and herbal remedies, Taijiquan and Acupuncture have kept the respect of the general public. Of course, now all of these traditional disciplines are regaining their respect and public interest as they gradually become supported by modern scientific studies.
Although practiced by men and women of all ages and economic status, Taijiquan has always attracted students of philosophy, art, and those concerned with personal development. Unfortunately, like other exercise programs, many people begin to study Taijiquan, but few study long enough or hard enough to really understand or to even benefit from the practice of the miraculous system of exercise and healthcare.