The Beggars' Sect is a fictional martial arts sect featured prominently in works of wuxia fiction by writers such as Jin Yong, Gu Long and Wolong Sheng. The sect has also found its way into martial arts films such as King of Beggars. The sect's members are mostly beggars as its name suggests, but some of them are from other walks of life. They are noticeable in public for their dress code and behaviour. The members adhere to a strict code of conduct and maintain the utmost respect for ranks and hierarchy. They uphold justice and help those in need through acts of chivalry. The Beggars' Sect is also one of the supporting pillars in the defence of ancient Han Chinese society from foreign invaders. The sect has a wide network of communications and the members are reputed for their excellent information-gathering skills. This is due to the sect's large size and the nature of its members, which allows them to blend into different parts of society easily.
The sect was founded in the Han dynasty and lasted for centuries. It is mentioned in wuxia novels such as Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (Northern Song dynasty) and the Condor Trilogy (Southern Song dynasty to Yuan dynasty).
The Beggars' Sect was one of the largest and most highly recognised martial arts sects in the wulin (martial artists' community) until the Yuan dynasty. Its fame and popularity began to decline in the Yuan dynasty due to ill discipline among its members and incompetent leadership.
The sect is divided into various sections, including the "dirty clothing" section (污衣派) and the "clean clothing" section (淨衣派). The former is dominated by beggars while the latter is made up of non-beggars. It has many fenduo (分舵; branches) spread throughout the land and each of them is headed by a duozhu (舵主; branch master).
Each member carries at least one pouch-like "bag" (袋子) and the number of bags he/she carries indicates his/her rank in the sect. The highest rank a member can attain is that of an elder (長老), which is second only to the chief. Elders carry nine "bags" each.
The sect is headed by the chief (幫主), who represents the highest authority in the sect. Each chief is selected from a pool of nominees based on his/her prowess in martial arts, contributions to the sect, personal conduct, and popularity. The chief carries the revered Dog Beating Staff (打狗棒) as a symbol of leadership. The sect has some weird practices and customs, such as the one which allows all members to spit once on a newly elected chief as a form of salute.
The Four Great Elders serve as the chief's deputies and reserve the right to strip the chief off his post if he/she fails in his/her duties. Besides, there are also elders with designated duties, such as the Elder of Discipline (執法長老), who enforces law and order in the sect. The Elder of Training (傳功長老) oversees the martial arts training of members.
Skills and martial arts
The most notable martial arts of the Beggars' Sect are the 'Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms' (traditional Chinese: 降龍十八掌; simplified Chinese: 降龙十八掌; pinyin: Xiáng Lóng Shí Bā Zhǎng) and the 'Dog Beating Staff Technique' (Chinese: 打狗棒法; pinyin: Dă Gǒu Bàng Fǎ). The chief is expected to have a profound mastery of both, especially the latter, which is only passed on from a chief to his/her successor. No other members, not including the elders, know the 'Dog Beating Staff Technique'. The sect has a battle formation known as the Dog Beating Formation (打狗陣). A typical member is usually armed with at least a wooden staff.
Since members are not limited to only beggars, people from all walks of life, including scholars and soldiers, join the sect. As such, the sect's martial arts are rather diverse, since some members have learnt other forms of martial arts prior to joining the sect. For example, Wu Changfeng in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils uses a customised saber movement while Chen Guyan carries a sack filled with poisonous creatures for use against enemies.
Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms (降龍十八掌)
Dog Beating Staff Technique (打狗棒法)
- Cha, Louis. The Return of the Condor Heroes (神雕俠侶). Ming Pao, 1959.
- Cha, Louis. The Legend of the Condor Heroes (神雕俠侶). Hong Kong Commercial Daily, 1957.
- Cha, Louis. Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (天龍八部). Ming Pao, 1963.