Benny Meng and Richard Loewenhagen
Wing Chun, Bak Mei, Hung Gar, and other Kung Fu systems all refer to the burning of the Shaolin Temple in their lore. Most of these legends do not make a distinction between a Southern Shaolin Temple and a Northern Shaolin Temple. Consequently, some experts of today suggest that there was no Southern Shaolin Temple, leaving practitioners in a state of confusion between the legends and current historical findings. This article highlights the evidence of the Southern Temple's existence, destruction, and present day reconstruction in the southern Province of Fujian, China.
The Southern Shaolin Temple was ultimately the result of Northern Temple monk warriors responding to a request for martial assistance from a young Tang Dynasty. Pirate incursions in Fujian Province threatened stability and prosperity in Southern China and the new dynasty needed help. At the Emperor's request, three of the legendary Shaolin Thirteen Cudgel fighting monks, Dao Guang, Seng Man and Seng Feng, led approximately 500 warrior monks south in the early 7th Century A.D. to engage in battle against the pirates. They helped the Tang soldiers turn back the tide, so to speak, and the coastal war was won. According to research performed over the last decade by three independent Chinese Government historical organizations (the Fujian Province Archeologist's Association, the Fujian Museum, and the Putian Southern Shaolin Temple Investigatory Association) many warrior monks fell in the ensuing battles. To commemorate their fallen comrades, some of the Shaolin monks stayed behind in the Southern provinces. They were welcomed and followed by local monks seeking to become Shaolin disciples. Dao Guang initially returned to Song San Shaolin Temple and visited Tan Zong, the grandmaster. Tan Zong wrote a poem for him and asked him to select a site resembling the Song San "Jiu Lian" Mountain and then build a Southern Shaolin Temple to commemorate their fallen brothers. The grandmaster asked him to remember their ancestors and to spread the Chan Buddhist philosophy native to the Song San Temple (also called "Zen" in today's Japanese culture). The literal meaning of the poem is: "Days and months fighting roving bandits, wishing a temple to stay at the foot of Jiu Lian Mountain; Southern and Northern Shaolin originates from the same temple with Chan Buddhism engraved in the heart forever".
Dao Guang returned to Fujian and selected Putian Linshan Mountain (which resembled "Jiu Lian" mountain in topography) as the site of the Southern Shaolin Temple. Evidence amassed by the three above referenced historical and archeological organizations establishes that the Tang Emperor, Lee Shimin (600-649 AD), approved the proposed site and the construction of a Southern Shaolin Temple. He was particularly appreciative, as the warrior monks had earlier saved his life in a conflict with a rogue General who challenged his ascendancy to the throne. Lee Shimin (Imperial title - Tai-Tsung) reigned from 626-649 AD. He brought Taoism and Buddhism together with Confucian policy to rule the country. The Chan tradition of the Southern Shaolin was also created at this time, together with that temple's practice of martial arts.
Centuries later, events during the Ming / Qing transition produced a political climate that precipitated an increased need for martial arts development in the south. During that time, Ming supporters and Southern Shaolin warriors formed a secret society called the Hung Fa Wui. Additional society members included high-level ex-Ming military officers and members of the Ming royal family. The actual meeting hall of the Hung Fa Wui, called the Hung Fa Ting, was the only original building left standing when the temple was excavated. The Government of China dates the creation of the Hung Fa Ting and the Hung Fa Wui to 1646 A.D. - two years following the collapse of the Ming Dynasty in Northern China. The martial experts of the Hung Fa Wui pooled their knowledge to create a combat system that would be quick to learn and effective against all styles via the mapping of spatial, temporal, and energetics characteristics of the battlefield to human physiological structure. The highly scientific paradigm shift of this fighting system occurred in the Southern Shaolin Temple through the combined efforts of Shaolin monks and the Hung Fa Wui secret society - specifically in a place called the "Weng Chun Tong".
The fighting effectiveness and revolutionary activities of the Southern Shaolin systems astounded the Qing Emperor at that time. In response, the Qing ordered the destruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple through the use of overwhelming odds. Surviving members scattered throughout the Southern Provinces. Supported by other secret societies, these revolutionaries continued to spread their activities and fighting style. Many of today's Southern kung fu systems trace their roots to the Weng Chun Tong, such as Chi Sim Weng Chun and Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun.
The National Culture Bureau discovered the ruins of the center temple, "Lin Quan Yuan," in 1986 - more than 300 years after its destruction. The ruins are located at Jiu Lian Mountain (above sea level 500 meters) and are surrounded by mountains North, South, and East. The Temple's western side was opposite the Supine Buddha Mountain (above sea level 570 meters) with a river in between. The ruins are 200 meters long from west to east with a total area of about 30,000 square meters. The terrain and its features bear a strong resemblance to Song San Shaolin Temple. The topography of the Southern Shaolin Temple is strategically located and quite difficult to access. From a military perspective, it was easy to defend and difficult to challenge. In essence, it was an ideal place for executing revolutionary command and control of military strategy and tactics. There are more than 10 fortified mountain villages around it. Today the ruins of these villages still exist. The four stone inscriptions of Zhang Jiang Village confirm that it was built at the end of Ming Dynasty (1645 A.D) when Cibo Huang fought against Qing soldiers. There are also place names related to the Shaolin Temple at Lin Shan Village, such as Yuan Qian, Yuan Hou, Yuan Ke, Ta Li, Ta Xi, Fangseng Chi, Liangong Tan, etc. Likewise, there are some camp names related to martial arts practice as well, and a stone trough for the monk soldiers to treat wounded and ill casualties. The stone trough is 226 cm long and 100 cm wide with the inscription "Bathing and boiling herb medicine for monks." Overall, these ruins suggest a significant level of prosperity for the participants in warfare during the Ming/Qing struggle.
Due to existing material objects, folk legend and historical literature all pointing to the existence of a Southern Shaolin Temple, the Putian Southern Shaolin Research Association was the first to apply for Government permission to engage in formal archaeological studies for the Southern Shaolin Temple. From Dec. 1, 1990 to May 25, 1991, approved by National Cultural Affairs Bureau, the Fujian Provincial Archeology Team also set out to do the same by excavating 1325 square meters of a total 30,000 square meters of Lin Quan Yuan. This represented the first phase of the recovery of the Southern Shaolin Temple.
The initial dig unearthed many precious historical relics of dynasties ranging from the Tang to the Qing.
In June, 1991, the Northern Shaolin Temple sent their Martial Monks to teach martial arts at Putian. Hand in hand with the Putian Southern Shaolin Research Association, they started to rebuild the "Southern Boxing and Northern Kicking" magnificent martial arts era. The Putian Southern Shaolin Research Institute was further invited to make a horizontal inscribed board with the words on it saying "World's No. 1 Temple" on August 21st, 1991. The board has been hung at the top of the gate of Tian Wang Dian of Song San Shaolin Temple signifying the unity of the two temples as one Shaolin identity. The reconstructed Southern Shaolin Temple has been a very effective driving force for propagating and developing Chinese traditional martial arts, while simultaneously strengthening relations with the Chan Grandmaster of the Northern Shaolin Temple.
On Sept. 14, 1991, the Chinese Martial Arts Association, the Fujian Sport Committee, and the Fujian Martial Arts Association co-organized a conference to expound and prove the existence of the Southern Shaolin Temple. More than 30 experts in martial arts, history, religion and archeology firmly asserted that the central temple Lin Quan Yuan of Southern Shaolin Temple was built around 557 A.D during the Nan (South) Dynasty. This is only 61 years later than the Song San Shaolin Temple and even one year earlier than the most famous Guan Hua Temple at Putian. Therefore it is the earliest temple built in Fujian. According to the above referenced research teams, it was ultimately ordered burned by Kang Xi of the Qing Dynasty because of its participation and leadership in revolutionary activities. The Chinese Buddhism Association council member, De Chan, who is also the 29th grandmaster of Song San Shaolin Temple, confirmed these facts via historical literature maintained in the Northern Temple. In recognition, he granted an inscription for the reconstructed Southern Shaolin Temple. The meaning of the inscription is, "At the foot of "Jiu Lian Mountain", there exists a Southern Shaolin Temple".
On April 25th, 1992, the Southern Shaolin Temple confirmation conference was held in the Beijing People's Conference Hall. The conference officially approved the reconstruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple. After the press conference, the Xin Hua News Agency distributed press releases to the world announcing that the Southern Shaolin Temple was to be rebuilt at Fujian Putian. The Central News Agency also carried an article on April 26th stating, "Experts revealed the historically secret Southern Shaolin Temple to be rebuilt at Fujian". The article asserted that the controversy over the location of the ruins of the Southern Shaolin Temple had been resolved.
The discovery of the Southern Shaolin Temple caused a great response both at home and overseas. Putian city has held five Shaolin Boxing Competitions since then. People from all over the world have been attracted to Putian to visit the temple for respect and Martial Arts practice in an endless stream. On August 8, 1992, the provincial government officially approved the request to start the reconstruction. On Dec. 24th, 1994, actual construction began. The city and county government and many compatriots from Hong Kong and Macao participated in the opening ceremony. The first phase of the project was completely designed by the Provincial Classical Architecture Institute. With an investment of over 80 million yuan, they completed the construction of the mountain highway, the large and small Pailou (Decorated archways), the Daxiong Treasure Hall, the Long Corridor, the monks' dormitory, Fangseng Chi, the Temple moat, the Temple bridge, and mountain gate. By Dec. 8, 1998, these opened to the public.
The second phase of the project was designed by the National Architecture Department. The design called for the construction of 13 attraction areas, including a martial arts training hall, encompassing 25 viewing spots of the temple grounds. The total investment called for 36 million yuan. Up to now, the parking lots, administration offices and communication equipment have been finished. The Fine Arts Institute of the Southern Shaolin Temple was also constructed to enhance Chinese Martial Art culture and promote the exchange and creation of Chinese traditional paintings and calligraphy. By October 2000, 130 masterpieces from famous artists had been collected and are now open to public view.
In 2001, the opening ceremonies of the Fujian Sports Festival and the Fujian International Southern Shaolin Martial Arts Festival were held at Xi Tian Wei Township. During these festivals, Song San Shaolin and Southern Shaolin performed together. Their production, entitled "Great Shaolin Martial Arts", promoted the exchange of martial arts between the two temples. Many martial arts professionals and practitioners participated in these activities as well. Today, the Southern Shaolin Temple is becoming well known in the Asian world. The people from the hometown of the Southern Shaolin Temple sincerely welcome other peoples the world over. We in the martial arts community look forward to a new future for Southern Shaolin Kung Fu development.
The information in this article presents strong evidence and validity as to the origins and existence of the Southern Shaolin Temple, in concurrence with current VTM research. The information is supported by rigorous historical and archeological research and is openly acknowledged as correct by the Northern Shaolin Temple at Song San. It also establishes the path taken in the spread of Chan (Zen) philosophy and Shaolin Kung Fu to the southern provinces of China. The Government of China considers the discovery of the Southern Shaolin Temple and the Hung Fa Ting one of, if not the most, significant archeological finds in the history of martial arts. The lore of ancient Southern Shaolin systems such as Chi Sim Weng Chun and Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun take on greater significance with their consistent references to Southern Shaolin philosophies and training methodologies. Likewise, Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun's lore has always contained references to its roots in the Hung Fa Wui and Hung Fa Ting. These recent archeological discoveries simply validate further the accuracy of Chi Sim and Hung Fa Yi lore. The Ving Tsun Museum will continue to pursue evidence of the origins of these Shaolin versions of Wing Chun. Future articles will examine more closely the relationships between the Southern Shaolin Temple and the secret societies engaged in revolution against the Qing Dynasty.
A Note About the Authors: Sifu Benny Meng is the principle founder and Curator of the Ving Tsun Museum. He has traveled extensively throughout the world researching the roots of the art, and studying the training methods and applications employed in virtually every lineage of Wing Chun Kung Fu. He was one of the first disciples in the 9th generation of Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun. Sifu Richard Loewenhagen is one of the founding committee members of the Ving Tsun Museum and currently serves as its Director of West Coast Affairs. He is in the first group of disciples of the Ving Tsun Museum to complete discipleship training in the Yip Man system of Wing Chun. He is also the first of the 10th generation disciples of Hung Fa Yi Wing Chun. Both authors are full time teachers of Wing Chun Kung Fu and are available for professional seminars on historical, as well as technical, aspects of the art and its training methods. Benny Meng can be reached at the Ving Tsun Museum, 5715 Brandt Pike, Dayton, Oh, 45424, phone (937) 236-6485 and emailed at email@example.com. Richard Loewenhagen can be reached at Meng's Martial Arts of Arizona, 3029 N. Alma School Rd, Suite 218, Chandler, AZ, 85224, phone (480) 820-2428) and emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .