The teachings and vicissitudes of legendary master of martial arts Wong Fei-Hung offer significant parallels with the life of Dr. Hong and his wife.

by Rosita Šorytė*

*A paper presented at the seminar “Remembering Shimu’s Fight: Conscience and the Tai Ji Men Case,” Pasadena, California, April 5, 2024.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on April 11th, 2024.

Madam Yu with Tai Ji Men dizi.
Madam Yu with Tai Ji Men dizi.

Madam Yu Mei-Jung, Dr. Hong’s wife, had a rich and fruitful life. Among her many positions and activities, I was intrigued to learn that she served as the Vice Chair of the Chinese Wushu Federation and was directly involved in the preparation of the martial arts exhibitions and competitive achievements that made Tai Ji Men famous throughout the world. They included the participation in the 8th World Cup International Martial Arts Wushu Championships in 2001, where Tai Ji Men athletes won several gold medals.

While I do not practice martial arts, I am a practitioner of Reiki, a technique based  on the traditional Eastern Asian teaching that a universal energy, “Ki,” flows through the universe. With the help of a practitioner trained by an experienced master, this energy can be mobilized to restore imbalances and achieve physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.

The Japanese word “Ki” is the equivalent of the Chinese “Qi,” now more often transliterated as “Ch’i.” The concept of “Ch’i” is also central to Chinese martial arts. In fact, just as it flows through the universe, Ch’i is believed to be a vital force that flows through the human body and is responsible for maintaining health and vitality. In martial arts, the cultivation of Ch’i is considered essential for developing strength, speed, and agility, as well as for enhancing mental focus and concentration.

The legendary Chinese monk Bodhidharma is credited with introducing martial arts to the Shaolin Temple in the 6th century, where he taught the monks how to cultivate their Ch’i through meditation and physical exercises. This eventually evolved into Shaolin Kung Fu. While today China has made the Shaolin Temple into a tourist attraction, its school of martial arts still maintains something of the old excellence and philosophy based on the mobilization of Ch’i.

Bodhidharma, woodblock print by Japanese artist Yoshitoshi  (1839–1892). Credits.
Bodhidharma, woodblock print by Japanese artist Yoshitoshi  (1839–1892). Credits.

Those who have seen movies about the monks of Shaolin defeating their enemies in past centuries through the use of martial arts know that they were credited with extraordinary feats, such as flying in the air and running faster than any present-day Olympic champion. These are, of course, legends. However, there are sufficient testimonies of the astonishing prowess of ancient martial arts practitioners and theoretically a perfect mobilization of Ch’i may allow for impressive performances.

One name I would like to mention, which also allows for parallels with the Tai Ji Men case, is Wong Fei-Hung, who was born in 1847 and died in 1925. Wong has now become famous for having been featured in more than one hundred films and television series. These films are not all historically accurate, and Mainland China is trying to exploit his fame both for political and tourist reasons, by attracting visitors to his birthplace in Foshan City, Guangdong province, where a museum has been built.

Wong Fei-Hung (1847–1925) did not want to be photographed, but this alleged photograph of him was discovered in 2005. Credits.
Wong Fei-Hung (1847–1925) did not want to be photographed, but this alleged photograph of him was discovered in 2005. Credits.

The real story of Wong is more interesting than the legends. He was trained in martial arts by his father, himself a well-known practitioner, and by masters who passed to him ancient Chinese traditions. He opened a martial arts school in Guangzhou in 1863, which quickly become successful. Historians debate where the tradition reported in his school, that he went to Taiwan in 1895 to help with his skills the Taiwanese who tried to resist the Japanese takeover, is true or is part of the legends.

Like his father before him, Wong was also a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. He believed that the same teachings on how to mobilize the Ch’i energy were at the core of both Chinese medicine and martial arts. Together with the school of martial arts, he operated in Guangzhou a medical clinic, Po Chi Lam, which achieved national fame. In 1923, in a chaotic time of the history of China, the Kuomintang nationalist army occupied Guangzhou. The Kuomintang government started imposing heavy taxes. This led to an uprising of the local merchants in 1924, which was bloodily repressed. Although Wong had not taken sides, he was accused of not having supported the Kuomintang, His clinic was raided, looted, and destroyed. He was so sad for the destruction that he fell into a depression and died in 1925.

I am sure the story would sound familiar to Tai Ji Men dizi, and the parallels with what happened to Dr. Hong and his wife in 1996 are indeed remarkable. Not only were they also accused of not supporting the Kuomintang, in their case in the 1996 presidential election, and were persecuted for this. It was also their unique teaching of Qigong, martial arts, and self-cultivation that taught their disciples to think independently and disturbed authoritarian politicians and rogue bureaucrats.

Madam Yu delivers a speech at the Elite Cup Martial Arts Championships.
Madam Yu delivers a speech at the Elite Cup Martial Arts Championships.

Ultimately, however, history has its own fairness. Wong is hailed as a hero today and nobody remembers those who destroyed his work. The name of Shimu, Madam Yu Mei-Jung, will be remembered and honored for long years while those of his persecutors will be forgotten.