The earliest cogent textual claims on “Zhang Sanfeng’s creation of taiji quan” made by Li Yiyu in his “Short Preface to Taiji quan” in 1880, which was originated in his uncle Wu Yuxiang’s 武禹襄 (1812-1880) legacy. The same claims were also made in the manuscripts of Li Yiyu’s nephew Ma Tongwen 馬同文 and Li Yiyu’s neighbor Hao Weizhen 郝為真 (1840-1920). According to the taiji quan historian Shen Shou 沈壽, the latter manuscripts were copies of Li Yiyu’s original manuscript from 1867. (Shen Shou, 16) For unknown reasons, Li Yiyu rewrote his “Short Preface to taiji quan,” and began with “The Creator of taiji quan is unknown” in September 1881 after his uncle Wu Yuxiang died. (Hao Shaoru, 141)

Nonetheless, the legends of “Zhang Sanfeng’s creation of taiji quan” continued in some of the most important modern taiji quan books, such as Xu Yusheng’s 許禹生 Taijiquan Tushi Jie 太极拳势图解, or a Elucidation of Taijiquan Postures in 1921, Sun Loutang’s 孫祿堂 Taiji Quanxue 太極拳學, or the Learning of Taiji Quan in 1924, Ceng Weiming’s 陳微明 Taiji Quan Shu 太極拳術, or the Art of Taiji Quan in 1925, and Yang Chengfu’s 揚澄甫 Tiaji Quan Tiyong Quanshu 太極拳體用全書, or the Essence and Applications of Taiji Quan in 1934, and in the oral traditions as well. According to Xu Zhen 許震 (1898-1967), the source of Zhang Sanfeng’s association with Taiji quan must have been the Yang family partisans no earlier than Guangxu 光緒 reign (1875-1904) of the Qing dynasty. (Xu Zhen, 112) The attribution of “Zhang Sanfeng’s creation of taiji quan” was seriously taken as a creed, and this creed has been concretized via lineage records, ceremonies, altars, and iconography to the majority of taiji quan enthusiasts.

A. Tang Hao (1897-1959), born into a tailor's family, the foremost modern intellectual martial arts historian, was also a martial artist. He started the new era of critical studies on the history and development of taiji quan during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s; credited Chen Wangting of Chen Village with creating taiji quan in the late seventeenth century; believed Wang Zongyue learned taiji quan in Chen Village.
B. Xu Yusheng 許禹生 (1879-1945), was born into a family of martial arts, a student of Yang Jianhou 揚健侯 (1839-1917). He devoted himself in revitalizing of the theory and practice of Chinese martial arts, a firm promoter of “Taiji quan began with Zhang Sanfeng of Song dynasty” in the 1920s and 1930s.

It is indisputable that neither Tang Hao nor Xu Zhen discovered any evidence of “Zhang Sanfeng’s creation of taiji quan” being part of the written or oral traditions in Chen Village during their researches in the 1930s, and it is not mentioned in the early text of Wu/Li “Classics.” (Wile, 106) The questions are: did Zhang Sanfeng create taiji quan? Why did Li Yiyu change his story swiftly? Where and why did Wu Yuxiang instigate the legends in the first place? Today, most taiji quan scholars and historians are convinced that the source of Zhang Sanfeng’s association with taiji quan was borrowed or modified from Huang Zongxi’s “the Internal School began with Zhang Sanfeng” in his “Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan 王征南墓志銘,” (Huang Zongxi) which was taken by Ningpo fuzhi 寧波府志 or Ningpo Annals later. (Cao Bingren)

Regardless of the grafting of Zhang Sanfeng and the Internal School lineage onto the Chen family lineage reflected Wu Yuxiang’s belief or the Yang embroidery, there are several discomfited questions compelled:

1.Despite the discrepancy of the names between ( 張三峰 and 張三丰), “Zhang Sanfeng 張三峰 of Song dynastycannot be found in any related textual documents.

In Huang Zongxi’s original text, “Shaolin School 少林 was worldly prominent by its pugilism…there was something called the Internal School… began with Zhang Sanfeng 張三峰 of Song dynasty, and Sanfeng was an alchemist of Wudang Mountains. The Song Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗 (who was in reign between 1101-1125) summoned Zhang Sanfeng, but the road was obstructed. The night Sanfeng dreamt of receiving the transmission of the art of boxing from the God of War. The next morning he killed over a hundred bandits single-handedly.” (Huang Zongxi)

There are in fact several stories about “the martial arts transmission of the God of War” in Xuantian shangdi qishenglu 玄天上帝啟聖錄, or the Sacred Documents of the God of War by Dong Huangsu 董黃素 in 1184, but no references to be found regarding Zhang Sanfeng or the Emperor Huizong. (Dong Huangsu)

There are 781 male immortals and 120 female immortals recorded in Lishi zhenxian tidao tondjian 歷世真仙道體通鑒, or a History of True Immortals edited by Taoist Zhao Daoyi 趙道一 in 1276. “Wudang alchemist Zhang Sanfeng” is nowhere to be found. This work is collected in the Taoist Canon. (Zhao Daoyi)

There are 21 Wudang Mountain Taoist Immortals specifically recorded in Wudang fudi congzhenji 武當福地總真集, or the Complete Biographies of Immortals from Auspicious Wudang Mountain edited by Wudang Taoist Liu Daoming 劉道明 in 1291. “Wudang alchemist Zhang Sanfeng” again is nowhere to be found. The work also is collected in the Taoist Canon. (Liu Daoming)

In Yuan yitong zhi 元一統志, or a Cohesive History of Yuan Dynasty edited by Bei Bolan 孛勃蘭 and Yue Xuan 岳鉉, there are 11 prominent Buddhist and Taoist Adepts recorded, “Wudang alchemist Zhang Sanfeng” is not to be found. The editing of this work began in 1285, and completed in 1303. (Bei Bolan)

We find no traces of “Wudang alchemist Zhang Sanfeng” in the following related local Gazetteers: Xiangyang junzhi 襄陽郡志, or Xiangyang Prefecture Annuls, (Zhang Heng) Xiangyang fuzhi 襄陽府志, or Xiangyang Prefecture Annuls, (Hu Jia) Huguang tujingzhi 湖廣圖經志, or the Annuls of Charts and Records of Huguang, (Wu Yanju) Huguang congzhi 湖廣總志, or the Cohesive Annuls of Huguang, (Xu Xuemo) Xiangyang fuzhi 襄陽府志, or Xiangyang Prefecture Annuls, (Chen E) Junzhouzhi 均州志, or Junzhou Annuls (Dang Juyi), Junzhou xuzhi 均州續志, or the Continued Junzhou Annuls, (Jia Hongzhao) Dayue taihe shanzhi 大岳太和山志, or the Great Taihe Mountain History, (Shen Dan) Dayue taihe shanzhi 大岳太和山志, or the Great Taihe Mountain History, (Lu Chonghua) and Dayue taihe shanzhilue 大岳太和山志略, or the Concise Taihe Mountain Annuls. (Wang Gai)

2.There are a number of textual documents that confirm Zhang Sanfeng’s 張三丰 existence in the earlier Ming dynasty. Half of the textual sources are related to the Ming imperial court. The other half of the textual sources is from the local histories and gazetteers, but there is no evidence of Zhang Sanfeng’s association with martial arts.

The biography of Zhang Sanfeng in the official Ming History describes that Zhang Sanfeng was an eccentric but highly achieved alchemist, the Imperial and populace admired whose super natural powers. He was summoned by the founder and the first Ming emperor Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元章 (1328-1398) in 1391, by the third emperor Zhudi 朱棣 (1360-1424) in 1412, and by the sixth Ming emperor Zhu Qizhen 朱祁鎮 (1427-1464) in 1459. (Zhang Tingyu)

The first imperial source is the poem tribute to Zhang Sanfeng wrote by Prince Xiang Bo 湘王 柏 (1371-1399), the twelfth son of the first Ming emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. (Ren Ziyuan) The archeological finding Jinlong yujian 金龍玉簡 or the “Golden Dragon Jade Inscription” in 1982 proves Prince Xiang’s Taoist devotion and his Wudang Mountain association. (Hu Changfu)

Among the Ming imperial sources, we also have two more poem tributes to Zhang Sanfeng that were written by Prince Shu Chun 蜀王 椿 (died in1423), the eleventh son of Zhu Yuanzhang; Yuzhi shu 御製書 , or the “Imperial Mandate Invitation” to Zhang Sanfeng issued by the third Ming emperor Zhudi in 1412; (Ren Ziyuan) and Gaoming 誥命 or the Imperial Mandate: Yuci Zhang Sanfeng tongbei 御賜張三丰銅碑, or the “Imperial Bestowed Zhang Sanfeng Bronze Inscription” granted by the sixth Ming emperor Zhu Qizhen in 1459.

The most coherent biography of Zhang Sanfeng is found in Dayue taihe shanzhi 大岳太和山志, or the Great Taihe Mountain History edited by Ren Ziyuan 任自垣 in 1431. (Ren Ziyuan) There are a number of other sources that also indicate Zhang Sanfeng’s existence. Huangming enming shilu 皇明恩命世錄, or the Records of the Imperial Bestowed Orders by the Emperors by Zhang Yuchu 張宇初; (Zhang Yuchu) Chanxuan xianjiaobian 禪玄顯教編, or the Collected Documents of Buddhism and Taoism by Yang Pu 楊溥; (Yang Pu) Daming yitongzhi xianshi 大明一統志, or the Cohesive History of the Great Ming by Li Xian 李賢 in 1461; (Li Xian) Zhang Sanfeng yiji ji 張三丰遺跡記 or “the Monument of Zhang Sanfeng’s Legends” in the Taoist Jintai Temple of Baoji County dated in 1462; Guizhou tujing xinzhi 貴州圖經新志, or the New Annuls of Charts and Records of Guizhou; (Shen Yang) Guizhou tongzhi 貴州通志, or a Cohesive History of Guizhou in 1597. (Wang Shuxian)

We may also get some clues for the times of Zhang Sanfeng’s death and birth, and life activities from the local gazetteers and the literary sources. In the poem “Drifting Song,” Zhang Sanfeng wrote: “Drifting song, drifting song, loafing after forty-eight years, how much more time do I have? For sixteen years I lingered in Heng Mountain, wandering back and forth between Yan and Zhao like settling ripples on water. Taking my sword and zither, and packing my straw hat and cloak, I shall go to Penglai Mountain, and sing the Song of Tao.” This was written in 1294, according to Yunshui ji 雲水集, or the Collection of Cloud and Water, which is a poem collection attributed to Zhang Sanfeng. (Zhang Sanfeng)

According to this poem, Zhang Sanfeng was born in 1247. At the age of forty-eight, he still had not received the true transmission of Tao. According to Baoji jingtaiguan bi 寶雞金臺觀碑, or “Baoji Jingtai Temple Monument,” Xiangfu xianzhi 祥符縣志, or Xiangfu County Annuls, (Li Tongheng) Shenjing tongzhi 盛京通志, or a Cohesive History of Shengjing, (E Gui) Chenzhou congzhi 郴州總志, or a Cohesive History of Chenzhou, (Chen Zhao) Zhang Sanfeng was seen at the end year of tianshun 天順 reign (1457-1464). This time frame agrees with the time “Imperial Bestowed Zhang Sanfeng Bronze Inscription” was granted by the Ming court.

3.Some textual sources indicate Zhang Sanfeng’s association with magical powers, healing powers, and practice of kanyu (fengshui), appearance reading, horseback riding and archery.

Chanxuan xianjiaobian 禪玄顯教編, or the Collected Documents of Buddhism and Taoism, (Yang Pu) Jionghua ji 瓊花集, or the Collection of Jade Flower, (Cao Rui) Gujin tushu jicheng 古今圖書集成, or the Great Collection of Ancient and Present Books (Gujin tushu) state Zhang Sanfeng’s ability to manifest thousands of Jade Flowers from the void, and the ability to levitate and fly at a fast speed.

Qingxi xiabi 清溪暇筆, or the Casual Writings of the Clear Stream, (Yao Fu) Baishi huibian 稗史匯編, or a Collection of Anecdotes, (Wang Qi) Shaanxi tongzhi 陜西通志, or a Cohesive History of Shaanxi (Jia Hanfu) reveal Zhang Sanfeng’s healing powers (probably qi gong).

Guizhou tongzhi 貴州通志, or a Cohesive History of Guizhou, (Cao Shenji) Pingxi weizhi 平溪衛志, or Pingxiwei Annuls, (Zheng, Fengyuan) Yuping xianzhi 玉屏縣志, or Yuping County Annuls, (Zhao Qin) Huguang congzhi 湖廣總志, or the Cohesive Annuls of Huguang, (Xu Xuemo) Xiangfu xianzhi 祥符縣志, or Xiangfu County Annuls (Li Tongheng) state Zhang Sanfeng’s practice of kanyu 堪輿, or fengshui, and xiangshu 相術, or a form of fortune telling by reading one’s appearance.

The closest document that indicates Zhang Sanfeng’s connection with martial arts is Dayixian zhi 大邑縣志, or Qiongzhou Annuls. (Zhao Qin) It states Zhang Sanfeng’s association with horseback ridding and archery.

According to the above materials, the conclusion may be: Zhang Sanfeng was born around the year 1247 and died around the year 1464. He was a long-lived (218 years) and highly achieved alchemist and he had certain super natural powers. Zhang Sanfeng was highly admired not only by common people but also by the Ming imperials and nobilities for his super natural powers and longevity. However, his closest association with martial arts was “horseback ridding and archery.” So far there has not been a single word that states Zhang Sanfeng’s association with boxing, whether it is internal or external, to be found in any extant historical documents.

A portrait of Zhang Sanfeng from Portraits of the Three Greats, no matter how far removed in time from when he lived, or how generic the style of painting, always depict Zhang in a contemplative stance, with no hint of boxing in the picture.

The second crucial element in the argument of Zhang Sanfeng’s camp is the historicity of Wang Zongyue 王宗嶽 and Jiang Fa 將發 . Despite the dispute whether Wang Zongyue was a student and recorder of the teachings of Chen masters, or he brought the art to Chen Village, Tang Hao and Xu Zhen accepted Wang as a historical figure who was from the Qianlong regime (1736-1795) of the Qing dynasty, and active as a teacher between 1791-1795 in Luoyang 洛陽 and Kaifeng 開封 areas. (Tang Hao) Tang Hao’s studies reflect the story of Li Libing of the Tang Village, or vice versa. However, there are two questions remain: a. the notion of Wang Zongyue’s existence during 1736-1795 is only supported by the one single anonymous document yinfu qiangpu xu 陰符槍譜序, or “ Preface of Yinfu Spear Manual” provided by Tang Hao, which can not be verified from any other sources. Moreover, the “Preface” failed to state Wang’s full name and his native county, we cannot tell if Wang, who wrote the Taiji quan Treaties, was Wang Zongyue since Wang is the most common sir name in Chinese. b. If Wang were a teacher living at the time, he would have held degrees at least as xiucai 秀才 (one passed the Imperial examination at the county level), or gongsheng 貢生 (one was the tribute student for the provincial level examination), and thus should have been recorded in the local gazetteers. So far nothing has been found, as Wile and many others are aware. (Wile, 112)

On the other hand, there is very little except Wang’s name mentioned in the Yang and Wu/Li versions of the taiji quan Classics. According to Li Yiyu, “Wang Zongyue captured the most essence and mysteries of taiji quan,” but why there has not been a “Wang lineage” in taiji quan ? Likewise, there has been no indication of any recognition of Wang Zongyue’s taiji quan transmission in the Chen tradition textually or orally. Moreover, the Yang, Wu/Hao, Wu, and Sun partisans avow that Wang Zongyue was from the Ming dynasty, but they could not prevent their own partisans, for instance, Zhao Bing 趙炳 (the maternal grandson of Yang Chenfu’s brother Yang Zhaoyuan 揚兆元 ) averting Wang Zongyue to the mid-Qing dynasty, which viewpoint agrees with Tang Hao. (Zhao Bing)

We don’t have any textual evidence regarding the third quasi-historical figure Jiang Fa. While the Yangs, Wus/Haos, and Wus have sought to elevate Jiang Fa to the eminence of a vital link from Zhang Sanfeng— Wang Zongyue to the Chen family, the Chens have admitted Jiang, but marginalized his role. According to Chen Xin’s great grandson Chen Dongshan 陳東山, the short ditty appended to the last page of Chen Xin’s monument book Chen Family Style Taiji Quan Illustrated and Elucidated that is labeled “Du Yuwang 杜育萬 (Yuanhua 元化) Description of the Songs and Transmissions from the Master of Shanxi to Jiang Fa” was forged and added on after Chen Xin’s death by Du himself, and Du was demanded for an apology and paid one hundred silver dollars fine for his conduct in 1935. (Chen Dongshan)

Meantime, the Zhaobao partisans have built a movement on Jiang Fa shifting the cradle of taiji quan to Chen Village’s neighbor Zhaobao town. (Du Yuanhua) According Zheng Wuqing 鄭悟清 and his son Zheng Rui 鄭瑞, during the Ming Wanli 萬歷 reign (1576-1619), Wang Zongyue traveled by Zhaobao town and took Jiang Fa as a student. Because of Wang’s advanced age, Wang’s only daughter transmitted Jiang taiji quan, thus the Zhaobao taiji quan is also called daguniang quan 大姑娘拳 , or the “Big Girl Taiji Quan.” (Li Shirong)

These accounts have variously placed Jiang Fa in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries and made him a teacher of Chen Wangting (ca. 1600-1680), Chen Changxing 陳長興 (1771-1853), and Chen Qingping 陳青萍 (1795-1868). Thus, Wile proposes the following questions: Can the new Wu/Li textual materials solve the mystery of the identity of the figure holding a sword and standing behind the portrait of Chen Wangting discovered by Tang Hao on the Chen ancestral alter in Chan Village? Can we interpret that the absence of Zhang Sanfeng and Jiang Fa from Wu/Li’s narratives indicates a stand for historical accuracy?

This painting was discovered by Tang Hao on the Chen ancestral alter in his field studies in Chan Village in 1930s. The Chen Family identified the front figure as Chen Wangting, the figure holding a saber behind Chen Wangting as Jiang Fa. This painting fits in the Chen narratives that Jiang Fa was Chen Wangting's friend/servant

Conclusions/Questions Regarding Zhang Sanfeng Camp

The incontrovertible fact was that the intellectual historian Huang Zongxi was a major figure in the anti-Manchu resistance during the seventeenth century. We thus may interpret that Huang’s “Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan” in such a way: Zhang Sanfeng (a indigenous Chinese Taoist) represents the spirit of Chinese people: nei 內 or the “internal,” jing 靜 or the “stillness,” while Shaolin 少林 (martial arts was transmitted by foreigner Buddhist monk Bodhidharma according to the legends) represents the foreign influence of Manchu: wei 外 or the “external” and dong 動 or the “movement.” The designations imply the “internal” and the “stillness” overcome the “external” and the “movement,” Chinese overcome Manchu, as Wile remarks, “it is difficult to read this as anything but political allegory.” (Wile, 26)

Wu Yuxiang (1812-1880) lived at a time when China once again was under the threat of foreign presence that reflected Huang Zongxi’s time: the Chinese was caught between a (declined foreign) dynasty unworthy of support and the occurrence of new foreign occupation. Wu Yuxiang’s resurrecting of the spirit of Zhang Sanfeng may or may not resonate Huang Zongxi’s patriotism, but his assertion of Zhang Sanfeng’s association with taiji quan may reveal the clear idea, “as parochial as aggrandizing one’s own lineage or as patriotic as exalting the whole of Chinese culture.”

The conclusion or question may be: Did Yang, Wu (Hao), Wu, Sun, and Zhaobao avow the Zhang Sanfeng—Wang Zongyue—Jiang Fa non-interrupted lineage as a mask for their own identities, or to disguise teachings received from Chan Changxin and Chan Qingping in order to gain the public acceptance and create respectable lineages of their own?


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