Per Henrik Ling


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A Swedish gymnastics pioneer and paramedical thinker whose training in physical activity and then theology blended with an increasing preoccupation with Chinese-influenced theories of the philosophy of health and exercise also incorporating disciplined forms of contest and fighting and principles of martial arts. Ling was especially interested in fencing and was employed as the University of Uppsala's fencing master in 1805. He linked his eclectic ideas to the emergent medical curriculum of anatomy and physiology, and gained support from the Swedish government to establish the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute (1813) in Stockholm. Ling was the principal, and the Institute trained gymnastic instructors in his own pedagogical, medical, military, and aesthetic syllabus. Opposed by more scientific practitioners, Ling nevertheless attained the title of professor and was elected to the Swedish General Medical Association. His creed of gymnastics has been explained as a romantic celebration of northern European ethnicity, and as a model that provided new forms of masculinity that were a response to emergent forms of feminism in the later 19th century (Jens Ljunggren, ‘The Masculine Road through Modernity: Ling Gymnastics and Male Socialisation in Nineteenth-Century Sweden’, in J. A. Mangan, ed., Making European Masculinities: Sport, Europe, Gender, 2000). Ling's model contrasted with the competitive team games of British athleticism, and the model of exercise established by Germans Johann Guts-Muths and Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, and had extensive influence across Europe, including on the thinking and pedagogical innovations of Lingian disciples such as Martina Bergman *Österberg, a graduate of his Stockholm institute who introduced Ling gymnastics into the English education system and its system of physical education training in women's colleges.

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