Zhang Sanfeng

From Academic Kids

Zhang Sanfeng was a semi-mythical Chinese Taoist priest who is believed by some to have achieved immortality, said variously to date from either the late Song dynasty, Yuan dynasty or Ming dynasty. His name was allegedly 張君寶 before he became a Taoist.

His Taoist name in Traditional Chinese characters is 張三丰, or 張三豐. Both are Zhāng Sānfēng in pinyin and Chang San-feng in Wade-Giles.

Much of the written material about him is mythical, contradictory, or otherwise suspect. For instance, he is reported by different people to have been born either in 960, 1247, or in 1279. He is described as being seven-feet tall, with the bones of a crane and the posture of a pine tree, having whiskers shaped like a spear, and being able to cover 1000 li in a day (roughly 580 km or 350 miles). He is reputed to have worn a straw hat, but one village reports that the hat was actually a cymbal, which only residents of the village (famous for manufacturing cymbals) had permission to sound upon meeting him.

Another tradition associated with the name has him an expert in the White Crane and Snake styles of Chinese martial arts as well as in the use of the Chinese straight sword or jian. According to relatively recent (19th century) documents preserved in the Yang and Wu families, the name of his Taoist teacher was Hs Hsan-p'ing, said to be a Tang dynasty poet.

Many today consider Zhang Sanfeng, if not to have been a verifiable historical figure, to be a legendary culture hero of sorts, credited as having originated the concepts of nei chia; soft, internal martial arts, specifically T'ai Chi Ch'uan, as a result of a Neo-Confucian syncretism of Chan Buddhist Shaolin Ch'uan with his mastery of Taoist Tao Yin (qigong) principles. He is also associated in legend with the Taoist monasteries at Wudangshan in Hubei province.

Some sources record two Chinese emperors sending missions to Zhang Sanfeng to ask for his advice, although neither mission is reported to have found him.

Owing to his mythical appearance, his name frequently appeared in Chinese novels and wuxia films of swordsmen as a spiritual teacher and master of martial arts.

Today, Chinese readers are most acquainted with Jin Yong's version of Zhang Sanfeng, thanks to the popularity of his wuxia novels. In his book The Heavenly Sword and the Dragon Saber, Zhang Sanfeng was a former Shaolin disciple in the late Song Dynasty, and born on May 15, 1247 (Day 9 of month 4 in Chinese calendar). He left Shaolin Temple to establish the Taoist monasteries in Wudangshan. In the book he had seven disciples, and was alive until the late Yuan Dynasty.

The T'ai Chi Ch'uan families who ascribe the foundation of their art to Zhang traditionally celebrate his birthdate as the 9th day of the 3rd Chinese lunar month.

External links

zh:張三丰

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