Jump to content

Zhang Sanfeng

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Zhang Sanfeng
Statue of Zhang Sanfeng at the Wudang Mountains
Born12th century
San city in China
Notable students13 students
Zhang Sanfeng
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Zhang Sanfeng (also spelled Zhang San Feng, Chang San-Feng) refers to a legendary Chinese Taoist who many believe invented tai chi.[1] However, other sources point to early versions of tai chi predating Sanfeng.[2] He was purported to have achieved immortality.[3]


There are conflicting accounts of where Zhang Sanfeng was born. According to the History of Ming, he was born in Liaoning in late Song and lived up to 212 years.[3] In 2014, the local government of Shaowu, Fujian province, claimed that he was born in their city. His given name was Tong (通) and his courtesy name was Junbao (君寶,君宝).[4] He specialised in Confucian and Taoist studies, scholarly and literary arts[citation needed]. During the reign of Emperor Shizu in the Yuan dynasty, he was nominated as a candidate to join the civil service and held office as the Magistrate of Boling County (博陵縣; around present-day Dingzhou, Baoding, Hebei). While touring around the mountainous regions near present-day Baoji, Shaanxi, he saw the summits of three mountains and decided to give himself the Taoist name "Sanfengzi" (三丰子), hence he also became known as "Zhang Sanfeng".

Zhang Sanfeng's life was one of indifference to fame and wealth. After declining to serve the government and giving away his property to his clan, he travelled around China and lived as an ascetic. He spent several years on Mount Hua before settling in the Wudang Mountains.[5]


Zhang Sanfeng is purported as having created the concept of neijia (內家) in Chinese martial arts, specifically tai chi, a Neo-Confucian syncretism of Shaolin martial arts with his mastery of daoyin (or neigong) principles.[6] On one occasion, he observed a bird attacking a snake and was greatly inspired by the snake's defensive tactics. It remained still and alert in the face of the bird's onslaught until it made a lunge and fatally bit its attacker. This incident inspired him to create a set of 72 tai chi movements.[7] He is also associated with the Taoist monasteries in the Wudang Mountains.

Huang Zongxi's Epitaph for Wang Zhengnan (1669) gave Zhang Sanfeng credit for the development of a Taoist "internal martial arts" style, as opposed to the "external" style of the Shaolin martial arts tradition. Stanley Henning's article, Ignorance, Legend and Taijiquan, criticised the myth that Zhang Sanfeng created tai chi and cast doubt on whether Zhang really existed.[8]

Zhang Sanfeng was also an expert in the White Crane and Snake styles of Chinese martial arts[citation needed], and in the use of the jian (double-edged Chinese sword).[citation needed] According to 19th century documents preserved in the archives of the Yang and Wu-styles tai chi families,[citation needed] Zhang Sanfeng's master was Xu Xuanping, a Tang dynasty Taoist poet and daoyin expert.


Writings attributed to Zhang Sanfeng include the Da Dao Lun (大道論),[9] Xuanji Zhi Jiang (玄機直講), Xuan Tan Quanji (玄譚全集), Xuan Yao Pian (玄要篇), Wu Gen Shu Ci (無根樹詞) and others[citation needed]. These were compiled into a collection known as The Complete Collection of Mr Zhang Sanfeng (張三丰先生全集), which is found in Dao Zang Ji Yao (道藏輯要), a series of Taoist texts compiled by Peng Dingqiu (彭定求) in the early Qing dynasty. It also contained introductory notes on Taoist martial arts and music.

In folktales, fiction and media[edit]


Owing to his legendary status, Zhang Sanfeng's name appears in Chinese wuxia novels, films and television series as a spiritual teacher and martial arts master and Taoist practitioner. Zhang Sanfeng's popularity among the Chinese is also attributed to his personality and association with Confucianism and Taoism.[10]

The best known depiction of Zhang Sanfeng in fiction is probably in Jin Yong's wuxia novel The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber, which is primarily set in the final years of the Yuan dynasty. In the novel, Zhang Sanfeng is a former Shaolin monk who founded the Wudang School based in the Wudang Mountains. He has seven apprentices, the "Seven Heroes of Wudang", one of whom is the father of the novel's protagonist, Zhang Wuji.

According to The Complete Collection of Mr Zhang Sanfeng, he might have been still alive in the reign of the Tianshun Emperor (r. 1457–1464) of the Ming dynasty. The emperor, who was unable to find Zhang Sanfeng, gave him the title of zhenren (Taoist immortal).[11]

Film and television[edit]


  1. ^ "THE FATHER OF TAI CHI AND A MYSTERIOUS IMMORTAL ZHANG SANFENG". Internal Wudang Martial Arts. Retrieved 12 July 2019.
  2. ^ Kiew-Kit, Wong (1996-11-01). The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan: A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Practice. Element Books Ltd. pp. 16–19. ISBN 9781852307929.
  3. ^ a b "明史/卷299 - 维基文库,自由的图书馆". zh.wikisource.org (in Chinese). Retrieved 2023-02-24.
  4. ^ "Saints & Sages Part VII [part 2]: Zhang Sanfeng (1247——)". Purple Cloud. 2021-03-16. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  5. ^ Liu, Albert (2004). Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts. North Atlantic Books.
  6. ^ Henning, Stanley E. (1981). "The Chinese Martial Arts in Historical Perspective". Military Affairs. 45 (4): 173–179. doi:10.2307/1987462. JSTOR 1987462 – via JSTOR.
  7. ^ [dead link] Mount Wudang -- Abode of Immortals and a Martial Monk Archived 2009-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, by staff reporter Huo Jianying (front page)
  8. ^ Henning, Stanley (1994). "Ignorance, Legend and Taijiquan" (PDF). Journal of the Chen Style Taijiquan Research Association of Hawaii. 2 (3): 1–7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-02-23. Retrieved 2010-10-23.
  9. ^ "Saints & Sages Part VII: 張三丰 Zhang San Feng (1247——) – Purple Cloud". Retrieved 2020-08-01.
  10. ^ "Zhang Sanfeng". U China Visa. Retrieved 16 November 2014.
  11. ^ 李西月. "张三丰先生全集". Chinese Text Project.


  • Wile, Douglas Lost T'ai-chi Classics from the late Ch'ing Dynasty (1996) State University of New York Press, Albany. ISBN 0-7914-2653-X
  • Albert Liu, Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts, North Atlantic Books, 2004
  • Journal of Asian Martial Arts Volume 16, No. 4, 2007. Via Media Publishing, Santa Fe, New Mexico USA. ISSN 1057-8358

External links[edit]