The Life of Dong Hai Chuan and the History of his Tomb

Written by Dan Miller, Translations by Dr. Ken Fish D.C. D.O., Pa Kua Chang Journal Volume 3, Number 1, November – December 1992, Edited by Dr. Troy Schott D.C.

The following blog posts will be selected articles from the illustrious Pa Kua Chang Journal. The Journal ran for about seven years, initially as the Pa Kua Chang Newsletter, it was a refreshing look into the actual current and historical state of baguazhang. I will do my best to give credit where credit is due, however, in some cases, the translator of material is not immediately known unless stated in the article. Also, I have edited the article in many places for relevance and have left notes here and there. If I make any grevious mistake in the rewriting of this material, please let me know. – Troy Schott, D.C. grounddragonma.com

The legends, stories, tall tales, and fables that surround the life of Dong Hai Chuan are more numerous than the number of times he walked around a circle during the course of his sixty-nine years. Since Dong has been glorified in pulp hero novels and martial arts fairy tales, separating the fact and fiction of his life story is not an easy task. If you are well read on the subject of Chinese martial arts, and you believe everything that you read, then you know that Dong Hai Chuan could fly like a bird, walk on water, vanish into thin air, had arms that stretched several inches below his knees, had demons enter his body to fight for him, and invented the art of Ba Gua Zhang in a dream. All in a day’s work for a Chinese folk hero.

Since Dong seldom spoke of his own affairs, his successors spread stories about his history which were a combination of truth and fantasy. When the pulp novelists got a hold of the stories, and embellished heavily on the fantasy side, a supernatural hero was born. In this article, I have done my best to trim the fiction from the fact. However, because the fiction is many times based in fact and because some readers might enjoy having a little fat to chew on, I have provided both sides of the story in many cases. The question of where Dong learned his Ba Gua is not particularized here. This topic is covered in detail in the serial article to come later.

Dong’s Early Martial Arts Training

Dong Hai Chuan was a native of Hebei Province, Wen An County, Zhu Jia Wu Township. The Dong family moved to Zhu Jia Wu from Ba County, Kai Gou Township (also in Hebei). They were originally known as the Dong’s of Kai Gou. The exact date Dong Hai Chuan was born varies depending on the source. Some articles say that he was born as early as 1796 while others say that he was born as late as 1816. While working on his Master’s degree thesis on the origins of Ba Gua Zhang, Professor Kang Ge Wu of Beijing conducted an investigation into the most probable date of Dong’s birth. Kang interviewed a number of Dong’s family relations in his home town of Zhu Jia Wu. While Dong’s birth date was not recorded, his family member did have knowledge of Dong’s age in relation to other family members whose birth dates were recorded. Through his research, Kang determined that Dong was born in 1813.

The date Dong died is well documented on the stone monument placed at Dong’s tomb in 1883. The year of Dong’s death was 1882. A simple calculation would tell us that if Dong was born in 1813 and died in 1882, he was 69 years old when he died. According to an article printed in Beijing Sports Monthly in 1932, Dong was approximately 66 years old when he died. In his book, Deep Insights in Ba Gua Zhang, Li Zi Ming states that Dong started teaching Ba Gua publicly in 1870 and, at the time, he was in his 50’s. A recording of Yin Fu’s anecdotes also confirms that Dong was in his 50’s when Yin was learning from him. These dates agree with Kang’s information which states that Dong was in his 60’s when he died.

In the middle of the Qing Dynasty, martial arts were popular in Xiong County (the region south of the capitol). The Local History, Xiong County Chronicles (1929) indicate that the martial arts ability of a man named Dong Xuan Zhou of Kai Gou village, stood out from the crowd. Thus, Dong Hai Chuan was born in a region where martial arts were very popular and it is said that as a youth he made his name locally through his martial bravery. The Wen An County stele at Dong’s tomb site (1905) states that when he was in his early twenties, Dong’s martial arts became quite refined.

The exact martial arts methods which Dong studied as a youth are not clear. Some sources say that he studied the Er Lang system of Northern Shaolin (a sister art of Luohan Shaolin). Arts that were indigenous to the Wen An area at the time of Dong’s youth were: Ba Fan Quan, Hong Quan, Xing Men, and Jin Gang Quan (Kang Ge Wu, “Studying the Origins of Ba Gua Zhang,” 1984). It is likely that Dong practiced, or was exposed to, a number of these arts or derivatives thereof.

What exactly happened to Dong after he left his home village is unclear. Where he might have gone and what he might have done will be addressed in the “Origins of Ba Gua Zhang” serial article. Biographies of Dong typically state something vague that resembles the following:

“To deepen his knowledge of martial arts, Dong traveled to the ‘four corners of China.’ He went to the areas of Zhu Jiang, An Hui, Jiang Su, Si Quan and he visited the famous mountains and great rivers. There was nowhere that he didn’t strive to seek out unusual skills. Where ever he went, he visited famous teachers, absorbing everything that he could.”

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A group of Ba Gua Zhang practitioners at Dong’s original tomb site.

Studying Ba Gua Zhang

Concerning the matter of how Dong actually learned, or developed, his Ba Gua Zhang, there are many versions. This topic is discussed in detail in the article which starts in an upcoming post and will be covered over several posts as it was originally covered over several issues of the journal. As a brief recap, we can say that there are two versions: one says Dong invented it, the other says he didn’t – seems logical. What boggles the mind is all of the numerous variations on those two themes. The versions that said he was taught Ba Gua Zhang say he learned it “from an unusual person in the mountain vastness.” The location of the mountain and identity of the “unusual person” are the topics of debate among this school of thought. On the other hand, those who say he invented it quarrel over what arts influenced him and from whom and in what location of China he learned these arts.

Dong the Eunuch?

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A young eunuch in Beijing, 1901, reveals the site of his castration.

The one thing concerning Dong’s life which no one can really comprehend is the story of him being a eunuch. The sources which state that Dong was a eunuch all say that he did not become a eunuch until he was of middle age. With such extremely high martial arts skills, why would he have entered the palace as a eunuch in his middle age? It was obviously not because of hardships in his daily life. As he didn’t tell anyone, others were left to guess and many versions abound. Some even romanticized them, turning these stories into novelettes. Most are not worth discussing, however, the question, “Was Dong really a eunuch?” should probably be examined.

Before discussing whether or not Dong was a eunuch, it is probably best to discuss what a eunuch is and why anyone in their right mind would want to become one.

A eunuch was a menial servant, working for the emperor or one of the eight hereditary princes, who had been castrated in order to insure authenticity of the succession and to guarantee the chastity of the concubines. Traditionally, the emperor had three thousand eunuchs and the princes had thirty each. The emperor’s children and nephews were given twenty each and his cousins and the descendants of the Tartar princes who helped Nurchaci found the dynasty were also given ten each (Marina Warner, The Dragon Empress, 1972, p.31). There was a special establishment outside one of the palace gates in Beijing which would perform the castration. The technique was as follows:

“When about to be operated on, the patient is placed in a semi-supine position on a broad bench. One man squatting behind him grasps his waist, and another is told to look after each leg. Bandages are fastened tightly around the hypogastric and inguinal regions, the penis and the scrotum are three times bathed in a hot decoction of pepper pods, and the patient, if an adult, is solemnly asked, whether he repents or will ever repent his decision. If he appears doubtful, he is unbound and dismissed, but if his courage has held out, as it usually does, all the parts swiftly swept away by one stroke of a sickle-shaped knife, a pewter-plug is inserted into the urethra, and the wound is covered with paper soaked in cold water and is firmly bandaged. The patient, supported by two men, is then walked about the room for two or three hours, after which he is permitted to lay down. For three days, he gets nothing to drink nor is the plug removed from the urethra. At the end of this period, the dressings are changed, and the accumulated urine is allowed to escape. The parts generally heal in about one hundred days. About two percent of all cases prove fatal (K. Chihmin Wong, History of Chinese Medicine, 1936, p.234).

Why would someone want to go endure this kind of operation? Reverence for the emperor was one reason, but the primary purpose was to escape a life of poverty. A eunuch could do quite well for himself financially. Although their salaries were not high, the eunuchs were entitled to a portion of all money and gifts that passed through their hands on its way to the emperor (Marina Warner, The Dragon Empress, 1972, p.32). In the case of Dong Hai Chuan, it would not seem that he entered the palace as a eunuch in his middle age to escape a life of poverty. Some say that he was a bandit and was running from the authorities, however, this does not make much sense. I’d assume that there were easier ways of hiding from one’s pursuers.

In an article entitled “Regarding the Mystery of Dong Hai Chuan’s History,” written for China Wushu Magazine in December of 1986 (Li Zi Ming, “Regarding the Mystery of Dong Hai Chuan’s History,” China Wu Shu Magazine, December, 1986, p.21), Li Zi Ming states, “As a youth, I was interested in Dong Hai Chuan’s history. I asked second generation instructors and third generation senior classmates about Dong’s entering the palace as a eunuch. One explanation which I felt worth considering, I am presenting it here as a reference for research.”

Li’s explanation of why Dong became a eunuch is as follows:

“Dong’s skills were advanced, his lightness art (qing gong) was quite good and he could leap quite high. When he was in the south, he had taken part in the Tai Ping Rebellion and had received an audience with Hong Xiou Quan (Emperor of the Tai Ping). Hong sent him north to work covertly and murder the Xian Feng Emperor (1850-1861) (Editor’s notes: In the original article it states the Wei Feng Emperor but there was no such emperor in the Qing Dynasty, Wei Feng was the name of a government official during the late Eastern Han dynasty. Xian Feng would have been the Emperor at this time.). After Dong got to Beijing, he saw that the Emperor lived deep within the Forbidden City and the palace was a maze of alleys and doors heavily fortified. It is said that he attempted to enter on three occasions, yet was not able to achieve his objective. For the grand goal of the Tai Ping, he sacrificed his ability to have posterity, entering the palace as a eunuch so he could get close to the Emperor and murder him.

“Most regrettably, when he became a eunuch he was sent to the residence of the Prince of Su and worked as a menial. Since he was sent to this residence, he was not able to get close to the Xian Feng Emperor and thus could not carry out the orders of the Tai Ping Emperor. After the fall of the Tai Ping, Dong lived in hiding.”

Although this explanation lacks concrete evidence, it may sound reasonable if Dong, in fact, was a eunuch. One must admit, unless there was an extremely compelling reason for a person of such high skills to allow himself to be castrated and become a eunuch, he probably would not do it. However, the question remains, “Was Dong really a eunuch?”

Consideration must be given to the physical changes one goes through when an operation of this sort is performed. In her book, The Dragon Empress, Marina Warner states (Marina Warner, The Dragon Empress, 1972, p.32):

“…a eunuch often suffered from evil-smelling discharges all his life. If castrated young they never became hirsute, and their voices never broke but developed into a rasping falsetto; if castrated after the age of puberty they lost all their facial and body hair and their voices were high, but less of a screech. They became slack-bellied and flaccid, their faces shrunken and wizened, and they suffered from premature aging. At forty, a eunuch looked like a man of sixty.”

“…eunuchs were whole-heartedly despised. A common saying was ‘he stinks like a eunuch, you get wind of him at five hundred yards.’ They were nicknamed ‘crows’ because of their harsh, high-pitched voices; and they were so sensitive to their mutilation that the mention of a teapot without a spout or a dog without a tail offended them deeply, while, unlike most Chinamen, they showed exceptional modesty when urinating in the street.”

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Ba Gua Zhang practitioners gather in 1930 to add two new memorial stones to Dong’s Tomb.

Modern medicine validates these symptoms of eunuchoidism. The average male will produce approximately seven milligrams of testosterone a day (Ed. Note: this can vary depending both on the man, and the age of the man but typically it should be about 6-7 mg per day, with normal levels of total testosterone being around 500-600 ng/dl). In order to produce normal levels of testosterone, the hypothalamus and pituitary [gland] in the brain, and Leydig [cells] in the testes must be intact and functioning. Without testes, the body does not produce testosterone. Without testosterone production the muscles will atrophy, the individual will have girlish features, loss of hair will be experienced, the skin will have a waxy appearance, and the voice will become high pitched (Cicil, Essentials of Medicine, 1990). Does this sound like the characteristic physical profile of a martial arts master? The writing on Dong’s tombstone (1930) describes Dong as an unusually strong man with a back like a horse. Something is wrong with this picture.

Another theory regarding this matter states that Dong did work in Prince of Su’s Palace, but he was not a menial, he was a martial arts instructor and bodyguard. This theory would make more sense. Soldiers and bodyguards who worked in the palace were not eunuchs.

So what’s the true story? In my mind, I would say that the original stele placed at Dong’s tomb in 1883 reveals what really happened. This stele (which is translated in its entirety later in this article) states that Dong, seeking to avoid unscrupulous people that were trying to defame him, entered the residence of the Prince of Su pretending to be a eunuch. This story makes the most sense to me and would explain where some of the other theories and stories originated. It seems that Dong entered the palace masquerading as a eunuch and eventually the Prince discovered that Dong had martial arts skill and assigned him to be a martial arts instructor. If Li Zi Ming’s theory about Dong traveling to Beijing as a covert operator for the Tai Ping is true, it would make sense that Dong would pretend to be a eunuch in order to get close to the Emperor rather than to actually go through with the operation.

What is still puzzling is the fact that authors who had access to the tombstone and were writing serious articles concerning Dong, such as Li Zi Ming, still portrayed Dong as a eunuch.

Dong Reveals His Ba Gua Zhang

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Ba Gua Zhang enthusiasts raise Dong Hai Quan’s casket from its original resting place to relocate it at the new tomb site in 1981.

As to how Dong’s martial skill was discovered, this story has been written in English by many before. A popular version states (Lee Ying-Arng, Pa Kua Chang for Self-Defense, 1972, p.22):

“On one occasion, the Emperor entertained his guests to a great feast. The palatial grounds were crowded with people at that time and entrance and exit was a Herculean task. Dong Hai Chuan, however, could maneuver himself in and out of the palace grounds with comparative ease. The Emperor was much surprised by Dong’s agility and questioned him. It was then that Dong first revealed himself to be a Master of Ba Gua Zhang. He was then obliged to give a display of his skill. His performance was so unique and so impressed the Emperor that he was at once made the pugilistic teacher of the palace guards. After this, Dong’s fame spread far and wide.”

Another version states that Dong was already teaching martial arts in the palace, but had yet to reveal his Ba Gua Zhang to any of his students, when another martial artist came and gave a dazzling sword demonstration. Dong’s students were visibly impressed by this teacher’s display of martial skill. Dong then got up and demonstrated a bare hand form that contained movements that were much different than what Dong had been teaching. Dong moved with lightning speed: spinning, dropping, rising, twisting and turning, he moved like a tornado. After he completed his demonstration his students ran up to him and asked him what art he had demonstrated. Dong revealed that this art was called Ba Gua Zhang.

In his article in China Wu Shu Magazine (Li Zi Ming, “Regarding the Mystery of Dong Hai Chuan’s History,” China Wu Shu Magazine, December, 1986), Li Zi Ming states that most of these versions are simply derived from romance novels. The true story, according to Li, is that the Prince’s household had a servant named Zhuan Kai Ting and it was he who discovered that Dong had martial skill. After numerous incidents, Dong took him as a student. In the beginning, Dong called his art Zhuan Zhang (rotating or turning palm) and it was later renamed Ba Gua Supple Body Continuous Palm (Ba Gua You Shen Lian Huan Zhang). More and more people came to study, and so when he was in his 50’s he left the Prince’s household and taught among the public. When he left, he lived mostly in the homes of his students.

Like so many other things concerning Dong Hai Chuan, how, when, why, and where he first revealed his Ba Gua Zhang will probably always be a mystery.

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When the four steles located at the original tomb site were unearthed in 1980, they were placed in front of the Beijing Physical Education College’s Wu Shu Arena.

Dong and his Students

No one knows for sure how many students Dong Hai Chuan actually taught. Some sources claim that he had 39 students, some say 56 students, others say 72 students, and still others (including the stele erected at his gravesite in 1930) say that he had hundreds of students. What is one to believe? On the back of his original tombstone (1883) there is a list of 66 individual names. However, the writing on the stone itself indicates that Dong had over 100 students. Many names of individuals who are commonly recognized as being students of Dong are missing from this stone. This list may simply be a list of people who helped erect the stone or those that were in attendance at the time of Dong’s funeral. Validation of Dong’s lineage should not rest on the list of names etched into this stone as being all inclusive.

It is said that there were eight of Dong’s students who were the best known. These students are commonly referred to as the “eight great students” in China (Han You Shen, “Anecdotes of Dong Hai Chuan and his Students,” Wu Lin Magazine, August, 1982, p.20). These students are as follows:

Yǐn Fú 尹 福

Chéng Tíng Huá 程 廷 華

Song Chang Rong 宋 長 榮

Má Guì 馬貴

Ma Wei Qi 馬 維 棋

Zhang Zhao Dong 張 兆 東

Liu De Kuan 劉 德 寛

Liu Feng Chun 劉 風 春

Other well-known practitioners who are said to have studied with Dong are:

Liu Bao Zhen 劉 寶 真

Liang Zhen Pu 梁 振 蒲

Shi Ji Dong 使計棟

Jia Feng Ming  賈鳳鳴

Li Cun Yi 李 存 义

Among Ba Gua Zhang scholars, there is constant debate as to whether or not certain students actually studied with Dong himself or with one of Dong’s senior students (Cheng Ting Hua and Yin Fu being recognized as Dong’s most senior students). When Dong was in his later years, students most likely received the majority of their instruction from Yin or Cheng and only spent a short amount of time with Dong himself. Whether or not these students could be considered students of Dong is debatable.

Most references to Dong’s teaching method state that Dong required a prospective student to have a background in another martial arts style before he would teach them Ba Gua Zhang. Dong would then teach them Ba Gua based on the foundation they already had and thus each student received unique instruction. This is one reason why there are so many styles of Ba Gua Zhang which trace their roots back to Dong in existence today. The biographies of Dong’s students and the characteristics of their different styles will be presented in future posts.

Although there are numerous other fables and fairy tales about Dong’s remarkable martial arts skill, they will not be presented here. Readers interested in reading about the legend of Dong Hai Chuan can turn to any of the books in English that have been written about Ba Gua Zhang and find these stories printed for your reading pleasure.

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Li Zi Ming delivering a speech at the opening ceremonies of the new tomb location. Over two hundred Ba Gua Zhang enthusiasts attended the event.

The Passing of a Legend

As with his life, there are many colorful stories told about Dong Hai Chuan’s death. One of the versions found in a number of books and articles printed in English states that when Dong’s body was laying in its casket, a number of his students tried to lift it, but it would not budge. They tried to lift it numerous times, but had no luck. Suddenly, they heard a voice from within the casket say, “None of you has come close to matching my skill.” Dong then passed away and the casket was easily lifted.

Li Zi Ming offers another story (Li Zi Ming, “Regarding the Mystery of Dong Hai Quan’s History,” China Wu Shu Magazine, December, 1986):

“One of Dong’s students, Shi Ji Dong (also known as Shi Liu) had a lumber yard inside the Zhao Yang gate. Shi’s wife was Dong’s adopted daughter. In his later years, Dong frequently took up residence at the Shi family home. His passing had to do with his adopted daughter. On one occasion, Shi’s wife was ill and Dong was concerned. He sent for a doctor who wrote a prescription. Dong personally went to a medicine shop to the western part of the Ti An gate road. Dong gave the prescription to the clerk and then sat by the counter while the prescription was filled. A pregnant woman came by later to buy herbs and sat near him. When she sat down, she unintentionally sat on Dong’s Que. When Dong discovered this, he became quite upset. The taboos of the eunuchs were numerous and this was considered to be an ill-omen. When he returned to the Shi residence, Dong began to sigh incessantly. Despite the efforts of Shi Ji Dong and his wife to bring him out of it, Dong was inconsolable. Not long after this incident, Dong fell ill. The master of a generation, Dong passed away in the 12th month, 15th day of the Guang Xu (1882).”

Although these are interesting stories, Dong’s original tombstone simply states that Dong died of a serious disease. The last few days of his life, his followers had to support him when he left his bed. Those that supported his arms and legs commented that “it was as if he was built of iron.” This comment on the stone probably led to the story about his students not being able to lift his casket.

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Dong Hai Quan’s Tomb

Dong Hai Quan’s tomb site as it looks today (photos taken in October 1991). The front wall and center structure were added in 1981. The back wall was built to contain the four stones that were located at the original tomb site. The stone on the left hand side of the back wall details the Ba Gua Zhang lineage of Dong Hai Quan in Korea.

Over four hundred Ba Gua Zhang practitioners from all over China donated money to restore Dong’s tomb. However, the last decade (1981-1991) has proved to be harsh on the monument and it is currently in need of further restoration and maintenance.

The Tomb of Dong Hai Quan

If one were to say that there are almost as many different Ba Gua Zhang “styles” being practiced today as there are Ba Gua teachers teaching, the statement would not be too far from the truth. Although almost every Ba Gua instructor seems to teach a different variation of the art, tracing back to the origin of the majority of styles practiced today will lead to one name, Dong Hai Chuan. Whether or not Dong actually “originated” the art is a popular topic of debate among Ba Gua practitioners; regardless of where the style actually originated, Dong was definitely the first instructor to propagate the art widely and the person who brought the art into the public eye.

Dong’s gravesite, and the stone monuments which mark it, have had a colorful history. Dong’s original burial site, near the Red Bridge just outside of Beijing’s East Gate, was initially marked with one stone monument. Over the years a number of other stone markers were added by Ba Gua practitioners wanting to show their respect. Dong’s tomb was a great attraction and was visited by many martial artists and martial arts enthusiasts. However, this original burial site was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and the stone markers were buried underground. In 1980-81, the stone monuments and Dong’s body were unearthed and moved to a new location. Ba Gua practitioners from all over the world donated money for the restoration of Dong’s tomb and new monuments were added.

The Original Burial Site

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Each of the Eight Sides of Dong Hai Quan’s tomb is represented by one of the Eight Trigrams. The Gen Gua is shown here. The first name (top right) is Wang Wen Kui, a student of Liu Bin (Ed. Note: Liu Bin was a student of Cheng Ting Hua). Under his name is the name of Liu Xing Han, who was also a student of Liu Bin.

In the ninth year, second month of the Qing Emperor Guang Xu (1883– the year after Dong died), Dong’s students erected a single stele (stone tablet) at his gravesite to ensure that their teacher would not be forgotten. The original gravesite was located near the Red Bridge just outside of Beijing’s East Gate to the side of Ti Yang Gong common and to the south of Shiao Niu Fang Village.

The original stele erected at Dong Hai Chuan’s tomb reads as follows:

“The deceased was surnamed Dong. His personal name was Hai Chuanand he lived in Zhu Jia Wu township, which is south of Wen An city. As a youth he was fond of playing the hero and paid no attention to farm production. He took to living like a frontiersman, aiding those in distress and peril to the utmost of his ability. By nature he was fond of hunting and he galloped about the forest – the beast of the forest all avoided him. As he came of age, he traveled about China passing through the mid and western areas of the country. There was no famous mountain or great river which he did not exert himself to the point of peril to see their wonders unfold in order to broaden his horizons. Later he encountered a Daoist priest who taught him martial arts. Dong reached a high level of skill. Unexpectedly, in his middle years, some unscrupulous people tried to defame him. At the end of his rope, Dong dealt with them cunningly and changed his residence to that of the Prince of Su by pretending to be a eunuch. In his refusal to cooperate with these foul people, he showed his heroic nature.

“When he became old he began to live outside the palace and those who approached him to study martial arts ranged from officials to merchants and numbered in the thousands. Each student learned a unique art. On one occasion, he went traveling beyond the city to the frontier and was approached by a number of men who attacked him from all sides with weapons. Dong Hai Chuan intercepted them, moving like a hurricane. All observers marveled at his excellence and were awed by his bearing.

“Even when he was near death from serious disease, his followers, who supported his arms and legs said it was as if he was built from iron. Three days later he died sitting cross-legged and his expression was transcendent. His students in Beijing, who were dressed as mourners, numbered more than one hundred. Since he was buried outside of the east meridian gate, about one mile from the city, grief was not easily forgotten and it was proposed to erect a monument in order to express our feelings towards him.”

As mentioned earlier in this article, there is also a list of 66 names on this stele. Although many of the names are recognizable as Dong’s students, it is certainly not a complete list.

Although other steles were added later which give accounts of Dong’s life and accomplishments, the majority of martial arts scholars agree that all of the steles added after the first provided exaggerated accounts of Dong’s life and his practice.

Additional Monuments Added in 1930 CE

On the 21st day of March, 1930, two additional steles were placed at Dong’s burial site. These monuments were erected by a group of Ba Gua Zhang practitioners led by Ma Gui. Ma studied the art with both Dong Hai Chuan and his student, Yin Fu. Ma Gui’s name appears on the original stele. These two stones contained accounts of Dong’s life and listed the names of many Ba Gua Zhang practitioners of the day. What is more important, one of these steles recorded the Ba Gua Zhang generation names which were assigned by Dong to indicate disciples of future generations.

The Cultural Revolution in China

During the 1960’s, China found itself in the midst of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” a contorted political movement which brought to China a reign of terror and chaos. The revolution, which was a result of great conflict within the Chinese Communist Party, was led by Leftist children and students recruited into an organization (the “Red Guard”) built up by Mao Ze Dong.

The mission of the Red Guard was to rid the country of the “Four Olds” (old culture, old customs, old habits, and old ways of thinking) and establish the “Four News” (new ideas, new culture, new customs, and new habits). The definition of and “old” and “new” were left up to the Red Guards to decide. Some of the Red Guard activities included: changing all names of streets, schools, stores, and persons which were connected with the ideas of feudalism, capitalism, or revisionism; forcing people to change their styles of clothing and hair; destroying anything antique; closing all Catholic schools, destroying temples and places of worship; destroying all Buddhist figures and ancestral altars; hanging Mao Ze Dong’s portraits everywhere, reading Mao’s quotations; hanging up “big character” propaganda posters, and making general propaganda on the “Decision” of the “Proletarian Cultural Revolution.”

During the Cultural Revolution, Dong Hai Chuan’s tomb, part of the “old culture,” suffered the fate of many other cultural relics, it was destroyed – its stones being knocked down and buried. Dong’s tomb lay underground for 17 years. The gravesite was turned into a farmer’s field.

Restoration and Relocation of Dong’s Tomb

In the late 1970’s, the Chinese National Sports Committee put out a directive encouraging martial arts enthusiasts to conduct research and put in order a wu shu legacy. In 1980, a group of Ba Gua practitioners and martial arts researchers in Beijing heard that plans were being made to build a housing project on the land where Dong was buried. The group, led by Li Zi Ming and Kang Ge Wu, unearthed the stone steles and erected them in front of the Beijing Physical Education College’s Wu Shu arena.

Since many of the students at the physical education college thought it would bring bad luck to have tomb stones sitting in front of the wu shu arena, the stones, along with Dong’s body, were moved to Wan An public cemetery opposite the Reclining Buddha Temple in the western outskirts of Beijing.

The monument built at Dong’s new resting place consisted of three structures (pictured above). The center structure, which contains Dong’s remains, is an eight-sided enclosure. On each of the eight sides, a plaque is inset into the brick structure which contains the character for one of the eight trigrams. Under each trigram plaque is another plaque which lists current day Ba Gua Zhang practitioners who were involved with the reconstruction effort. I do not know if there is any significance to which names appear under which trigram. Nor do I know if the list on each of the eight different name plaques are grouped together for a particular reason. It may be that the names which appear on the same plaque are from the same lineage.

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Ba Gua Zhang practitioners Sha Guo Zheng (left) of Hunan and Li Zi Ming (right) of Beijing visit the new tomb site together. Li is now 92 (Ed. Note: Li Zi Ming passed away not long after this was originally published.) and Sha passed away on August 7, 1992.

In front of Dong’s eight-sided tomb there is a wall which contains three inlaid stones on its front and three on its back. The stones on the front of this wall simply introduce the reader to the monument by stating who is buried there and list names of some people who were involved in restoration of the tomb. On the back of the front wall, the center stone gives a short account of Dong’s life and states that 442 individuals were involved in moving the tomb to its new location. The stone on the right lists the practitioners of Ba Gua Zhang in China who live outside of Beijing and are spreading the art. This list includes Pei Xi Rong of Shanghai and Sha Gua Zheng of Yunnan, among others. The stone on the left of the center stone lists the overseas Chinese who are spreading the art. There are names of Chinese Ba Gua Zhang practitioners from Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Central America.

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The first four stone steles which were erected at the original tomb site. The first, second from left, was placed at the tomb in 1883. The second, second from the right, in 1905, and the other two in 1930.

All four of the original stones were set into a single wall which is in back of Dong’s tomb. These stones are arranged as depicted above. All four of these stones have inscriptions on the front and back and thus they are set into this wall so that both sides are exposed.

The Tomb’s Future

The monument erected to Dong Hai Chuan is a source of pride for most Ba Gua Zhang practitioners. Those who have had the opportunity to visit this site hold it as a highlight in their martial arts career. Unfortunately, if a strong effort is not made to help preserve this landmark, it will not be available for future generations of practitioners. Ever since the tomb was unearthed, the Ba Gua Zhang community in China has been asking for financial assistance from practitioners in other countries so that they can further preserve and maintain the monument. In China, the money they can raise does not go very far.

When I visited Dong’s tomb in 1991, it was evident that time is taking its toll. The dust and grit which blows in from the Gobi desert each spring is eating away at the old stones and the bricks laid during the 1981 restoration are starting to loosen and fall out.

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