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WONG FE HUNG: The Making of Chinese Folklore

Portrait of Wong Fe Hung: from the Wong Fe Hung museum

by Associated Reporters

Legend has it that Wong Fei Hung (1847-1924) was born in Foshan, China on the ninth day of the seventh month of the twenty-seventh year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang. When Wong was five, he began his study of martial arts under his father Wong Kei Ying, one of the Ten Tigers of Canton. To supplement his poor family's income, as a child Wong followed his father to Guangzhou and throughout the rest of Guangdong Province to do martial arts performances and to sell medicines.

Well within his youth, Wong began showing great potential as a martial artist. At the age of thirteen, while giving a martial arts demonstration at Douzhixiang, Foshan, Wong Fei Hung met Lam Fuk Sing, the first apprentice of Tit Kiu Saam, who taught him the "tour de force" of Iron Wire Fist and Sling, which helped him become a master of Hung Gar. When he was sixteen, Wong set up martial arts schools at Shuijiao, Diqipu, Xiguan, Guangdong Province, and then opened his clinic Po Chi Lam on Renan Street in Foshan. By his early 20s, he was fast making his mark as a highly-respected physician and martial artist.

As a healer and medical doctor, Wong practiced and taught acupuncture and other forms of traditional Chinese medicine at Po Chi Lam, his clinic in Foshan, Guangdong Province, China, where he was known for his compassion and policy of treating any patient. A museum dedicated to him has been built in Foshan.

As a martial artist Wong was a master of the Chinese martial art Hung Gar. He systematized the predominant style of Hung Gar and choreographed its version of the famous Tiger Crane Paired Form Fist, which incorporates his "Ten Special Fist" techniques. Wong was famous for his skill with the technique known as the "Shadowless Kick". He was known to state the names of the techniques he used while fighting.

Later years, as a famous martial arts master, he had many apprentices. He was successfully engaged by Jiming Provincial Commander-in-Chief Wu Quanmei and Liu Yongfu as the military medical officer, martial arts general drillmaster, and Guangdong local military general drillmaster. He later followed Liu Youngfu to fight against the Japanese army in Taiwan.

Due to his heroic efforts in defending China's pride during a period when Chinese morale was at an all time low, Wong Fei-Hung is sometimes known as the "Tiger after the Ten Tigers."

Wong became a legendary hero whose real-life story was mixed freely with fictional exploits on the printed page and onscreen. Stories of his exploits began to spread throughout the regions to eventually become a part of Chinese folklore.

Wong Fei Hung became adept at using weapons such as the wooden long staff and the southern tiger fork. Stories began circulating about his mastery of these weapons. One story recounts how he defeated a 30-man gang on the docks of Canton using the staff.

Wong is sometimes incorrectly identified as one of the Ten Tigers of Canton (a group of ten of the top martial arts masters in Guangdong near the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912). His father Wong Kei Ying was one of the Ten Tigers, but Wong Fei-Hung was not.

His life was full of frustration, and in his later years he experienced the loss of his son and the burning of Po Chi Lam, his academy that went unsurpassed in martial arts competitions.

On lunar year, the twenty-fifth day of the third month in 1924, Wong Fei Hung died of illness in Guangdong Chengxi Fangbian Hospital. His wife and two of his prominent students, Lam Sai-Wing and Tang Sai-King, moved to Hong Kong, where they continued teaching Wong's martial art.

Wong Fe Hung was a celebrated martial artist, a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, and revolutionary who became a Chinese folk hero and the subject of numerous television series and films. Wong has been portrayed by several famous Chinese actors, such as, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Gordon Liu and Kwak Tak Hing.

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