Connections and Particularities of Yihequan, Liguajiao, Hongquan and Meihuaquan

By Storti Enrico , original text in Italian 23/04/10 (translation 2022)

This is an image of the Unborn Old Mother
, a deity that appears as a common trait of the heterodox sects of the Qing era. It is also mentioned in the Baojuan (Precious Scrolls) of the Meihuaquan.


A technique of Dahongquan in Fengxian

This work of mine aims to bring back into the field the historical notions already widely documented and subjected to critical analysis especially by Chinese and American scholars. In Italian I found, at the height of these, only the Thesis of Dr. Smolari Fabio, but surely there will be other writings not to my knowledge. My work is much more modest and wants to be an incentive to others, more titled than me, to deepen, but above all to spread knowledge to all. In particular, I wanted to systematize the historical accounts of the links between Yihequan, Liguajiao, Hongquan and Meihuaquan that sometimes seem more than a simple case, but leaving the possibility open to the contradictory. In doing this I start from my belonging to the Meihuaquan School and from the research carried out on the spot on this style. The Meihuaquan is presented with remarkable variants both technical and cultural, indicating the influence of external experiences be they Doctrinal or Martial. It becomes therefore difficult to make a univocal speech and finally totally clarifying. In the same way the historical sources are unclear about the martial technique, so a comparison with the styles of Wushu is difficult, while the sources of the Boxing Schools are often self-referential. Of course, in the course of studying these issues for my part I have developed some beliefs, which may not even have a historical foundation, or rather are of a circumstantial nature. Far from proving it, reading the various historical texts I had the feeling that the the Meihuaquan is an emanation of Hongquan or vice versa, and that over the past three hundred years these two styles have strongly influenced each other. Liguajiao and Hongquan are probably related and Hongquan is the “military” branch of this sect. The Hongquan often concealed its name by using alternative names, such as Baguaquan, Liutangquan, Yihequan, etc. or changing the ideogram that was going to represent the sound Hong. Baguaquan is the name of various styles widespread in the area between Hebei, Henan and Shandong, but for example it is also the name of a Meihuaquan’s exercise. As we will see sometimes the styles was also hidden under the name of one of his exercises. The Wenshengquan is the result of the union between the Meihuaquan and the Hongquan. These themes will only be mentioned in the text that I organized in a particular way taking as inspiration the Schools of Boxing and the Doctrines and the names of some characters, trying to create a path that reconstructs some significant relationships between them. Of course, the Meihuaquan is the common thread and almost always appears, without having a dedicated section. I omitted to describe the story of Zhao Sanduo and to speak in a homogeneous way about Tianlijiao, because I found arguments marginal compared to those identified, although connected.

Shandong Map. The Shandong is one of the provinces where the events we are dealing with take place.

Yihequan (义和拳)

From a nominal point of view with the Yihequan there is a very common phenomenon: those, that, in western sources, in relation to the famous popular uprising against foreigners in China, have become famous as Boxer, actually they answered to the name of Boxers United in Justice, the Yihequan. This name first appears in official documents of the Qing Dynasty in investigations following the Wang Lun Uprising in 1774. In fact, the authorities began to investigate the environment of the Boxing Schools, which had greatly influenced and characterized the sectarian experience of Wang Lun.

Sato Kimihiko (1982):

…the I-ho-chuan was the same as the White Lotus religion or more precisely as the boxing which had combined with the military sect of Eight trigrams sect, Ching-Shui-chiao.

Despite this, there is not much information about the Boxing Schools of the time and it is difficult in some cases to trace them back to existing schools today.

The I-he-chuan (義合拳, Righteous Harmony Boxing) is one of the schools cited by Sato Kimihiko (1982) in relation to the Pure Water Sect, along with the Pa-kua-chuan (八卦拳, Eight Trigrams Boxing) and the Chi-Hhung-sin-chuan (七星紅拳 Seven Star Red Boxing).1

Esherick Joseph (1988, p.334) explain that:

Since the Qing code included no explicit prohibition of boxing (despite a Yong-zheng edict against it), the Yi-he Boxers (like all other mid-Qing martial artists) tend to appear in surviving documents only when some connection to prohibited sects can be claimed.

In particular, the Boxing School of the Uniteds in Justice appears from the documents as the military branch of a more complex structure, used by different groups with different purposes and intentions.

Always Esherick Joseph (1988, p.339-340) :

“Yi-he” was in fact quite a common name. We have already noted a pacific meditation sect, unconnected to the boxers, which had the same name. And a glance at any detailed map of northwest Shandong will reveal villages called Yi-he scattered across the plains. It is thus possible that two completely different groups of boxers came up with the same name—those in southwest Shandong more active among gamblers and yamen runners, those in the northwest entering into closer relationships with the White Lotus sects.

Zhang Rumei (张汝梅), the governor of Shandong at the time of the Boxers’ Revolt, was convinced that Yihequan (义和拳) was the same as Ba Hongquan (把红拳) and Meihuaquan (梅花拳). According to the Annals of Chiping County (茌平县志), the Yihequans began as Jinzhongzhao (金钟罩2). According to the Pingyuan County Outlaw Boxer Chronicle (平原拳匪纪事), the county magistrate stated that the Yihequans were said to be the Red Boxing

1As you can see, Sato uses the Wade-Gilles transliteration. This is the Pinyin: Yihequan, Baguaquan, Qixing Hongquan.

2The Jinzhongzhao is a type of “hard” Qigong (硬气功) that allowed to resist the blows of the stick and the cuts of saber, to resist the cannons of Westerners (不畏棒击刀砍,不畏火枪洋炮). The types of “hard” Qigong is still visible today within the Boxing Schools, especially in the countryside and within the Plum Flower School.

Association (红拳会)1. All these testimonies lead to think that the term Yihequan was a fairly common name used for various purposes and on particular occasions.

1Esherick uses wrongly “Red Brick Society (Hong-zhuan hui)”.

Flag with the words “groups united in justice”

Liguajiao and Wenshengquan

Training of a figure of Wenshengquan in Juncheng. In it you can see the incredible similarity with Xiaoshi of Meihuaquan.

The name Yihequan (义和拳) often crosses the history of an important sect, the Liguajiao sect (离卦教)1 and the Liguajiao had contact with the Meihuaquan. The Liguajiao also had an organization divided into Military Area and Civil Area (Wuchang and Wenchang).

Sato Kimihiko (1982) tells:

From the incident of the I-ho-chuan in 1778, 1783 and 1786, we can guess that the I-ho-chuan had close relationship with the Li () trigram, a branch of the Eight trigrams sect.

And again:

A careful examination of the materials on the boxing in this uprising such sources as those on general leader of the military sect, Feng Ke-shan (馮克善), the group members led by Sung Yueh-lung (宋躍龍) and the case of Ke Li-yeh (葛立業) who learned and practiced I-ho school boxing (義和門拳棒), show that I-ho school boxing had been practiced inside Sung Yueh-lung’s group in the Chili-Shantung boundary area, and that this group belonged to the chain of Li trigram. Hence we can easily identify the I-ho school as one of small regional group in the Li trigram in Eight trigrams sect. It becomes clear that the reason why boxing was combined with the Li trigram, representative of Wu trigrams, depends on the principle of organization. The boxing practiced in the Eight trigrams sect had been influenced by its religious thought, and came to have incantationary-religious characteristics, The I-ho-chuan and Eight trigrams sect in Chin-hsiang (金郷) county seem as though they were in conflict, but this example proves that there was a close relationship between the two.

Esherick (1988) thinks different. For him the meeting between the name Yihequan and the trigram Li was fortuitous, as we will see later.

The Liguajiao sect was founded by Gao Yunlong (郜云龙) who also played an important role in the establishment of the Wenshengquan (文圣拳). Liu Fengtian (刘奉天, 1617-1689), is considered the founder of this school along with Gao, who was his disciple, and the students of this school believes this two persons to have shaped the Wenshengquan, a method of boxing and internal work that contained the Yin Yang, Wuxing and Bagua theories (内含阴阳五行八卦的内功拳法).

Liu Fengtian, besides being considered the founder of the Baguajiao, was expert in the 108 lu chuifa (108 路捶法, method of striking in 108 streets) of military training (Wugong) and in cultural work (Wengong) in which he had the main role. He wrote the Bagua Ba Shu Ge (八卦八书歌 eight books songs of the Bagua). Gao Yunlong was very well versed in Sanshier shi Changquan (三十二式长拳, Long Boxing in 32 figures) and in Liuhe Daqiang (六合大枪, Spear of the Six Combinations).2

A greater confirmation of a connection between this style and the Liguajiao, one of the many names with which the Wenshengquan is known is Liguaquan (离卦拳). The most important, historically documented contact between Meihuaquan and Liguajiao concerns Feng Keshan, a member of the Huaxian Plum Flower School in Henan. Feng Keshan joined the Liguajiao in 1797 following the teachings of Wang Xiang and only in 1800 would he become a pupil of Tang Hengle in Meihuaquan.

1Esherick Joseph (1988, pages 333-334): The second document cited by Lao Nai-xuan is the more critical one, for it is a long memorial by Na-yan-cheng, who had directed the suppression of the 1813 Eight Trigrams rebellion. The memorial, from late in 1815, was on the occasion of the discovery of the Clear Tea sect (Qing-cha men) of the Wang family of Stone Buddha Village (Shifokou)—a family with a sectarian history dating back to the Ming dynasty.1 The memorial summarized Na-yancheng’s findings on all sects uncovered in connection with the 1813 rebellion, mentioning among them the Yi-he-men quan-bang (United in Righteousness School of Boxing and Cudgels), which was identified as one of many schools descended from the Li Trigram sect.

2From the official website of the Wenshengquan in Jining:

This is the lineage of Feng Keshan in the Liguajiao as it was rebuilt by Lu Yao (2000, p.170)

Wang Xiang belongs to the lineage of Gao Er. Gao Er in the Liguajiao is a fourth generation compared to Gao Yunlong. Interestingly, Wang Xiang is from the same city (Jining) where today the Wenshengquan continues to be passed down. According to some historians such as Esherick there was no real correspondence between the Schools of Boxing and Heterodox Religious Doctrines, but coincidentally there were contacts between these two realities, in an area where both were widely spread. Particularly in the Baguajiao organization and its Liguajiao branch, the military side (Wuchang) would gather techniques from different styles, or the style that was practiced on this side could be changeable. This would explain the association of some names of Pugilistic Schools in documents relating to the sectarian revolts in Shandong and its surroundings between 1700 and 1900.

Esherick (1988, pages 338-339) stresses even that boxing practitioners used to have more than one teacher with the aim of adding new knowledge to their technical knowledge:

The looseness of martial arts organizations generally, with boxers often switching teachers and adding new techniques, makes it quite possible that boxers in different areas could go quite different ways.

This is the story of the Wenshengquan, which brings other interesting information (Li Ruoxian):

[The Wenshengquan] according to oral accounts originated between the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty by Liu Zuochen (刘佐臣), the founder of Baguajiao(八卦教), and the union of United Civil and Military Working Methods (Wen Wu Gongfa Heyi, 文武功法合一) by his pupil Gao Yunlong (郜云龙). Gao Yunlong, as founder of Liguajiao, taught to Yang Sihai (杨四海). Yang Sihai during the period of Qianlong’s reign (1736-1796) successfully applied for the Imperial Civil and Military Examinations. He passed on his knowledge to Du Hengxin (杜恒信) of Jining (济宁) in Shandong, therefore [the Wenshengquan] was called Dujiaquan (杜家拳).

Following Esherick’s idea, Wenshengquan was probably the result of a synthesis of different systems, in particular of Dahongquan and Meihuaquan, in fact the presence in the transmission of this boxing of Yang Sihai, who is a master of Hongquan, but also practitioner of Meihuaquan1. Another indication of this mixture is the fact that the Liubujia, the basic structure of Dahongquan, in this school becomes Wubujia (五步架, structure of the five steps), exercise so called because it consists of five Figures in which you perform a particular twist work. This is very reminiscent of the Five Figures (Wushi) of Meihuaquan and could be the signal of a synthesis and a derivation also from this school.

1There is a lineage of Yang Bing that we will see later in which we find Yang Sihai.

Yang Sihai

A possible lineage of Wenshengquan

The lineage described by the Wengsheng Boxing School roughly follows that of the Liguajiao sect, which is well noted in the interrogations following some famous rioting, such as that of 1813, which also saw an attack on the Forbidden City by the insurgents. This is the reconstruction by Hubert Michael Seiwert (2003, P. 420):

a member of the Gao family in Henan was captured. In the confessions of Gao Tianyou the history of his sect is traced back to his ancestor Gao Yunlong. He had established the Ligua jiao as a disciple of Sir Liu from Shan county in Shandong who was an incarnation of Maitreya. After Gao Yunlong’s death the leadership of the sect was inherited by his descendants. “Sir Liu” here certainly refers to Liu Zuochen, the founder of the Shouyuan jiao, which later became known as Bagua jiao. Thus, from its very beginning the Ligua jiao was connected to the Liu family, and these connections are well documented in the eighteenth century. Gao Yunlong’s grandson still considered Liu Ke, who was Liu Zuochen’s grandson, as sect leader and regularly sent money to him. Three of his sons were arrested and executed in 1772 when Liu Shengguo was detected as leader of the Bagua jiao. Gao Tianyou, who was captured in 1813, was the son of one of their brothers who had escaped the persecution. The Gao family thus had transmitted leadership of the Ligua jiao for more than a century, and at least until 1772 maintained close relationship with the sect head of the Liu family. Like many members of the latter, Gao Tianyou held an official rank by purchase, which shows that the leaders of the Ligua jiao had become wealthy and well established. It does not seem that Gao Tianyou was actively involved in the rebellion of 1813, and in any case most of the sects that had branched off from the Ligua jiao acted independently and were not subordinated to the Gao family in any political sense.

continue…. the complete essay


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