Who taught Leung Jan?

guy b.

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The standard version is that it was Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai. These names are usually associated with Red Boats, Opera performance, and of course anti Qing rebellion.

But how likely is this?

What was going on in Foshan at the time that Leung Jan was supposedly learning from these two?

Here is an interesting comment by Ben Judkins' on the subject:

Lets say that the Opera singers in the various creations myths were real, and that their teaching was an important part of what would become Wing Chun. All of this teaching is supposed to be starting (or still happening) in the 1850s. What was going on at that point in time?

To begin with the government was rounding and butchering anyone associated with the revolt. How many people did they kill? Hundreds of thousands, by some estimates up to 1 million people in the Pearl River Delta alone. And at this point almost all of the surviving opera rebels had left Guangdong to form their own Taiping Kingdom a little to the north-west which would survive for years. We know where most of those guys were, and it wasnt in Foshan (which would have been suicidal).

So what do we know (circumstantially) about figures like Wong Wah Bo or Leung Yi Tai? To begin with, they were not dead (which is sort of surprising, I have a theory about that but its so speculative I will keep it to myself). And secondly, they were not fighting to support the new kingdom with the rest of the actual rebels. Instead they were sitting in still smoking ruins of Foshan, looking for someone to support them.
What does all of this mean? Its almost impossible to say, which is why I like to stick to real history. But if I were to push it, I would probably conclude that there are two possibilities. Either they were super secret rebel agents who were refusing to leave, or they had nothing to do with the uprising (which was at heart a tax revolt) and everyone around them knew it. For a variety of reasons the second possibility seems vastly more plausible.

Remember, the governor had given the local gentry of Foshan and other areas large quotas of rebels and other undesirables that they had to turn over for execution or face punishment themselves. That is why there were all of those 100,000s of executions. If there had been even a shred of evidence connecting the Opera stars to the rebellion it seems unlikely they would have survived the purge. Even if they had any important enemies they probably would have ended up in a mass gave in Guangzhou. Remember, many, probably most, of the people who were being executed by the end of this period were simply local undesirables. The actual rebels had died, fled or melted back into the mountains at the end of the uprising.

During the late 19th century rebel figures tended not to be as popular as they later became, and people avoided associating themselves with these causes. Too many individuals remembered what had happened and they blamed the rebels for nearly destroying the country. Martial artists have a hard time accepting this fact, but the government was actually fairly popular in the late 19th century, especially when it was seen as standing up to (or being victimized by) foreigners. The Boxer Uprising, for instance, was an uprising in support of Beijing, not opposing it. Actually that is a good example of what I am talking about. In the immediate aftermath of that disaster people tended to blame the Boxers (and even martial artists in general) for what had happened, not the government.

There have always been stories about righteous rebels in Chinese literature (see Water Margin) but this stuff really came to the fore in the wake of the 1911 revolution, and then again in the 1920s-1930s. This is when there were powerful social and political forces promoting the idea of revolution, romanticizing it, and filling popular culture with it. This is when people started to get all misty-eyed when discussing the opera rebels (as opposed to those dirty thugs).

So yeah, when I hear these stories about Opera Rebels and the origins of Wing Chun, they sound pretty anachronistic. They reek of the 1930s (and the 1950s). Most of the very small number of people who were actually doing Wing Chun in the 19th century (Leung Jan, Fung Sun Ching, Chan Wah Shun ect) were pretty much establishment types, and not the sort you would expect to go in for treason or assassination. While I am certainly aware of Li Wenmao I dont associate him all that closely with the creation of Wing Chun.

As a matter of fact, for as far back as we have solid data, Wing Chun is a martial art that has been associated with the wealthy and powerful. Its the kind of thing that was studied by the sons of business owners and landlord. If you looking for something with a little more possibility for rebellion and class conflict I would go with Choy Li Fut. The Shaolin inspired stories of righteous rebellion are a constant across the martial arts of Guangdong. Each and everyone of the Hung Mun stories simply has a slightly different varient of the same basic narrative. What is interesting about Wing Chun is the degree to which it breaks out of this mold. In an era when most martial arts were associated with poverty and working class individuals, Wing Chun was an establishment art. I think that this is the much more interesting mystery to solve.
 

wckf92

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The standard version is that it was Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai. These names are usually associated with Red Boats, Opera performance, and of course anti Qing rebellion.

But how likely is this?

What was going on in Foshan at the time that Leung Jan was supposedly learning from these two?

Here is an interesting comment by Ben Judkins' on the subject:

Well, interesting thread topic. I've no idea who may have trained LJ beyond what the "norm" is...but I found this to be quite interesting!

"As a matter of fact, for as far back as we have solid data, Wing Chun is a martial art that has been associated with the wealthy and powerful."

Hmmmmm...... :D Especially when I've read that YM supposedly had one or two private disciples that were / are wealthy businessmen. Lots of money meant more opium for Yip(?)... as well as his undivided attention(?)
 

dudewingchun

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I remember reading there was a guy who studied Lo Kwai lineage which was supposed to be from a student from Leung Jan who had some written records. Maybe they could give some info if they still around.
 
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guy b.

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I remember reading there was a guy who studied Lo Kwai lineage which was supposed to be from a student from Leung Jan who had some written records. Maybe they could give some info if they still around.

I'm guessing that they haven't released these written records?
 
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guy b.

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Well, interesting thread topic. I've no idea who may have trained LJ beyond what the "norm" is...but I found this to be quite interesting!

"As a matter of fact, for as far back as we have solid data, Wing Chun is a martial art that has been associated with the wealthy and powerful."

Hmmmmm...... :D Especially when I've read that YM supposedly had one or two private disciples that were / are wealthy businessmen. Lots of money meant more opium for Yip(?)... as well as his undivided attention(?)

I think the above calls into huge question the whole idea of an anti Qing red-boat rebel connection. Judkins neatly demonstrates how critical thinking can be used to slice though historical window dressing of this sort. Anti government rebels still living in Foshan in 1850s? Highly unlikely. As he says it is the kind of story that smells like a 20th C addition
 
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