The Riddle of Southern Shaolin

I translated “The Riddle of Southern Shaolin,” by Wen Yu Chen, many years ago. Recently the subject came up again, as it inevitably does. Since the article seems to have been taken down elsewhere, I thought it would be good to host it here on my own site.

“The Riddle Of Southern Shaolin”
(Translated from Shaolin Fang Gu, by Wen Yu Chen ISBN:7-5306-2830-5 by Chris Toepker)

Shaolin Temple Gates, Chris Toepker (early 2000s)



Section I
On April 4, 1992 the Putian city government held a press conference to announce that in a township therein the remnants of the Southern Shaolin Temple had been found. Xin Hua and 19 other Chinese and international news agencies showed up for the conference. Soon after, the news was published in Xin Hua and Zhong Xin outlets. The stories said that the work on the theory that Southern Shaolin was located within the LinQuan Yuan in Putian’s Lin Shan neighborhood began with the “Southern Shaolin Temple Remnants Meeting? on Sept 14, 1991. Attending this meeting were more than 30 scholars and experts from seven provinces and was led by the head of the Chengdu Sports Administration, Prof. Yu Yun Tai, Chinese People’s University (Renmin Daxue) professor Tai Bao Qi, and professor Luo Zhao of the Chinese Social Science World Religion Research Center. The meeting’s main presentation of evidence was a piece of research by the Fujian Cultural Center, Archeological Team member Lin Gong Yu, entitled “Putian Lin Quan Yuan ruins discovery and early analysis.?

According to this report, from Dec. 1990 to May 1991 a 1,325 square meter ruin was found with strata beneath that included Song, Yuan, Ming and late Qing dynasty periods. The remnants accord with building techniques of Ming through Song times. At the same time, Song dynasty era carvings were found that have clear writing: “Lin Quan Yuan, Enlightened Teacher Nan Ti’s tower, Tian You,? thus proving it is indeed Lin Quan Yuan. However, Song era writers record in the “San Shan Zhi? (records of San Shan) report that Lin Quan Yuan construction was begun in 557, which is a long way from the Song era (1100’s).

The archeologist proposes the following theory in the section “Concerning the problem of the Southern Shaolin Temple? “This find has not found any direct evidence of the Southern Shaolin Temple, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence which points to this Lin Quan Yuan as being the Southern Shaolin mentioned by so many modern scholars,legends,novels, and stories among the people? 5 points support this conclusion.

First, “correct place.? Many scholarly reports are that the southern temple was somewhere in Fujian’s Putian “jiu lian? mountains. Moreover, the Lin Quan Yuan is found in the Lin Shan neighborhood, which was called Quan Shan in Song times. “Jiu Lian? mountain came along much later as a result of secret society activity. Second, the Lin Quan Yuan had martial monks. Within the ruins a large stele was on which was carved “This temple’s martial monks Yong Qi and Jin Qi built a trough in Sept. 1063, placed by Ti Rong.? The archeologist concludes, “martial monks are naturally associated with Shaolin.? Third, Lin Quan Yuan’s location “created the right conditions for Northern Shaolin disciples to visit.? Fourth, Lin Quan Yuan is surrounded by several other temples, “and these temples’ records and steles have many references to Shaolin disciples. For example, Ku Zhu Temple, Jiu Lian Yan Temple and others record that Shaolin monks built them. The nearby temple’s relationship with Lin Quan Yuan was very close, and some even counted themselves as sub-temples. This seems to show that Lin Quan Yuan could be the Southern Shaolin. Fifth, the Southern Shaolin “has always and forever been related to Hong Men (early triad) legends.? Lin Quan Yuan’s own destruction seems to coincide with the legends of early Qing demolition of the Southern Shaolin temple. The temple’s northern building “Red Flower Pavilion? (built in 1646) has written over the door “All things return to the 3-foot sword, in the time of the 5 clouds, the 7-star flag will appear,? which seem to relate to the Hong Men’s leader, Wan Yun Long. Not coincidentally, many of the late Ming loyalists “left home?(become monks) and entered the Putian, Fujian Jiulian Southern Shaolin temple.

Overall, much of the scholarship in the report is trustworthy. However, the theories in the “Concerning the Southern Shaolin problem are not.? For example, Hua Qiao University’s Lin Yi Zhou’s work “New Study of the Southern Shaolin Temple? presents several doubts:
Fan Wen Lian’s 1941 revision of the “Complete History of China? (school text book), struck out the line “Kang Xi’s 13th year, the triads were formed?they were begun by the Putian, Fujian Jiu Lian Mountain Shaolin Temple monks,? because it was seen as incorrect and nothing but legend because Putian does not have a Jiu Lian Mountain. Also, “martial monks? are not solely from Shaolin. In the Yuan Dynasty, the Quan Zhou Kai Yuan monastery also had fighting monks. Therefore, the words “martial monks? carved on the stele cannot be definitively related to Shaolin, northern or southern.

In November 1992 I asked about the problem of Lin Quan Yuan and Southern Shaolin, and after much debate, my opinion was asked for. I replied “there is nothing in the Songshan (northern) Shaolin Temple’s writings, or other materials we have currently, to indicate a Southern Shaolin Temple. Whether or not Lin Quan Yuan is or isn’t, much remains to be seen and only hard research will reveal the truth.?

Section II

On July 9, 1992 the “Fujian Daily? ran a Zhong Xin wire story entitled “Important discovery about Southern Shaolin Temple found in Fujian’s Quan Zhou.? The article said, “Quan Zhou historical scholars had recently discovered a Qing dynasty record book entitled ¯Records of the Western Mountain.’ Within this record the location of the Southern Shaolin Temple was revealed as being just north of Quan Zhou in the Qing Yuan mountains.? The story also reported, “Well-known Quan Zhou historian Chen Si Dong introduced the find to this reporter saying that the recently reopened “Eastern Zen Shaolin Temple is built on the remains of the Southern Shaolin Temple mentioned in the ¯Records.’ The ¯Records’ were written during the Qing dynasty’s Jia He and Dao Guang emperor’s reigns. Furthermore, the book shows that during the Tang Dynasty’s Zhen Yuan emperor’s reign, Quan Zhou’s scholar Xu Ji’s “Records of Central Min? (Min = present day Fujian, Taiwan and northern Guangdong) have references to ¯Qing Yuan Shaolin Temple.’?

shaolin pagoda forest Chris Toepker

Shaolin Pagoda Forest (early 2000s)

Mr. Chen Si Dong later had 13 articles in the Quan Zhou Evening News covering “Southern Shaolin Temple at Quan Zhou.? His resources included the Song Dynasty work “Jiading WenLing Records? edited by Minister Cheng Zhuo, a Ming Dynasty copy of the “History of the Qing Yuan area?, an 1810 copy of the Records of the Western Mountain, the 1927 “Martial Lineage of the Fu,? and the 1941 “Shaolin Martial Arts Reference? by Tang Hao.
Here are the main points Mr. Chen covers. First, all the materials, old to new, record the location of the Southern Shaolin Temple as Quan Zhou’s eastern area, in the Qing Yuan mountain’s eastern peak. The Records of the Western Mountain, say “The wisdom of the ¯13 Empties’ entered Min, built the Shaolin Temple on Qing Yuan Mountain, and settled there. Min’s martial monks all begin from this place.? “The Shaolin Temple began with 13, and a high wall. The temple’s monks number in the thousands, with hundreds of acres and fragrant forests.? Because Quanzhou Shaolin opposed the Min ruler, Wang Shen Zhi, the temple was razed for the first time. In the Song dynasty because “thousands of monks opposed the Mongols,? the temple was razed for a second time. Then in 1763, the Qing emperor issued orders to raze it again, and it wasn’t rebuilt. Nevertheless, from Mr. Chen’s articles, it is clear that his most relied upon resource is the Record of the Western Mountain.

Current understanding is that the ‘Record’ was originally 12 volumes, but more than half were lost in times of war. Still, descendants of Cai Chun Cao saved six volumes. Then, during the cultural revolution, two more volumes were lost. In 1990, Hua Qiao University’s Lin Shao Zhou, while doing research in Jinjiang made several important discoveries, but which are currently unpublished. The Record that Mr. Chen relies on is an essay of about 1800 characters and has been found to be full of mistakes. Therefore, it can only be taken as fictional.

For example, the ‘Record’ reports that the abbot of Shaolin during the end of the Sui dynasty was “Qi Xuan.? However, Shaolin’s records report no such person. The ¯Record’ also reports that the “13 Staff Monks? were named “First Empty, Half Empty, Non Empty, Emptiness of Color, Zen Empty, Understanding Empty, Enlightened Empty, Empty Wisdom, Quiet Empty, Really Empty, Truly Empty, Empty Law and Empty Rule. However, this is impossible. In the Sui and Tang times, there are no examples of this sort of naming convention for groups of monks. The Record also says that of the thirteen monks, seven died among the soldiers of king Zheng. However, there is no record of this elsewhere. There is neither supporting evidence for the statement that “The wisdom of the thirteen empties entered Min? from here (i.e. Chan evangelism in the region started here.) In any case, the articles in the ¯Record’ concerning Shaolin in the Ming and Qing dynasties are more numerous. Perhaps they are records of local stories, but it is difficult to call it history (given their content). In conclusion, the ¯Records of the Western Mountain’ is simply full of error. It cannot be trusted to as evidence of Quanzhou being the location of the Southern Shaolin temple.

Section III

Fujian Province’s Fuqing County has had a Shaolin Yuan ever since Song times. After the Southern Song capitulated to the Yuan, a Quanzhou native Liang Ke Jia revised the “Three Mountain Record? in 1182. Volume 36 is called “Fuqing County Temples.? Within this volume is a small section, ” The Dong Lin Temple in Xin Ning area?the same area as the Shao Lin Yuan.? The Ming dynasty scholar, Putian native Huang Zhong Zhao edited the “Records of the Min Area? in around 1499, and this also records that there are eight temples in the Xin Ning area of Fuqing County: Fang Dong, Dong Lin, Hou Tang, Long Xi, Zhao Fu, Long Ju, Shaolin and Da Xu. Among these temples, the first to be built was the Fang Dong with construction beginning in 569. The Dong Lin temple was built sometime between 1086 and 1094. Hou Tang was built in 1117. However the other five temple’s construction dates weren’t recorded.

On June 4, 1993 the Fuqing government’s Chen Hua Guang, Xu Chang Tong, and Yu Da Zhu found the remains of this aforementioned Shaolin in the Shaolin district of Dong Zhang township. The proof comes in two forms. First, the southern face of the Xia Yang bridge is inscribed “Shaolin Yuan’s Sha Men encouraged everyone to contribute merit and himself donated a bridge. Ju Fang De donated money because of Sha Men’s encouragement. The monks Xian Xi and Xian Gan each donated 400?.? On the north face is inscribed the time of construction, and a commemoration of Sha Men’s speech. The bridge is about 300 meters from Shaolin Yuan. Another piece of evidence is a large stone stele on which is inscribed “Yue Xiu, a monk on this mountain set this stone in the twelfth month of the fourth year of Da Guan’s reign.? “Monk on this mountain? (dang shan seng) is most often preceded by “Shaolin.?

Fujian Provincial government and Fuzhou City archeological teams excavated the site in July and August of 1995 and March through October of 1996. The excavations uncovered a site of over 5000 square meters, currently the largest temple found within China. The archeologists’ report found four strata: Northern Song, Southern Song, Ming/Qing and nearly modern. There seem to be strata below the Northern Song level, however it has yet to excavated. All the levels excavated have temple remnants in them. On more than 20 pottery shards that came from the site, writing was found on the bottom. The writings say “(for) Shaolin Yuan Use? (1 piece), “Shaolin? (7 pieces), “Shaolin ¯gong si’? (2 pieces, probably a contraction of Shaolin Yuan Monk ¯gong si.’ The importance being that a county’s head monk was titled “gong si,? a practice that began in the Northern Song), “Shaolin residence? (1 piece) and several having ¯rice,’ ¯king,’ ¯dragon builder,’ an other characters. These shards found over several strata prove that it is the site of the Shaolin Yuan. The archeologists also point out that the location on the mountain, the size and orientation of the complex are all very similar to the Deng Feng (Northern) Shaolin temple.

The Shaolin Yuan is in the northeastern corner of Fuqing county, at the intersection of three counties: Fuqing, Putian, and Yong Tai. The area is especially beautiful with warm breezes and rich vegetation, a perfect place for Chan (Zen) reflection. From the site, directly east is Fuqing bay, and to the south is Xing Hua bay, which makes going to sea very convenient too. Indeed, one can easily say that it is the reflection of “Outside of Zen, soldierly things are discussed.? (A saying of the Northern Shaolin.) On Nov. 21, 1997 I visited the site with Fuzhou City’s Cultural Bureau Chief Zeng Yi Dan and archeological team lead Lin Guo, who carefully explained the findings and gave me a copy of the newly published “Fuqing Shaolin Temple.? Still, it isn’t clear when the temple was built, or what its connection to the Deng Feng (Northern) Shaolin Temple might be.

According to what is known at this point, during the Southern Song to the Yuan Dynasties, the Shaolin Yuan taught “Yang Qi? Chan (Zen). A chart by Qing Zhe Ji shows that Yuan Wu Ke Qing (1063?1135) taught both Ta Hui Zhong XX (1089?1163) and Hu Qiu Shao Long (1078?1136). Ta Hui’s lineage includes on the one hand a series of unknown pupils leading to Ji Zhao and Wo An Ben Wu (1286-1343) and on the other Zhuo An De Guang (1121-1203), and Shaolin Miao Song, who later taught Yu Gu Yuan Zhi (1196?1266). As for Hui Qiu’s lineage, he taught Ying An Xian Hua (1103- 1163) who transmitted the Law to Mi An Xian Jie (1118?1186) who, in turn had two pupils, Gu Chan Zi Jing and Tie Bian Yun Shao. Zi Jing was also involved in transmitting Zen to Yu Rong Yuan Zhi. Chong Zhao taught Shaolin De Cheng (1203-1254).

The importance of this is that in both the lineage of Da Hui (a.k.a. Miao Xi), as well as Hu Qiu’s later generation Shaolin Yuan disciples are to be found: Shaolin De Cheng and Shaolin Miao Song. Miao Song (a.k.a. Fo Xing) was known as Shaolin Miao Song because he resided in Shaolin Yuan. He was the 29th abbot of Hangzhou northern mountains Miao Ji Temple and also the 29th abbot of Hangzhou southern mountains Jing Xuan Temple. He wrote a ten volume “Transmissions of Shaolin Master Miao Song,? but it has been lost. Records of Master Ji Zhao can be found in the “Ben Wu? volume of “History of Ming dynasty Advanced Monks.? From this work, we learn that Ji Zhao is Da Hui’s fifth generation disciple and that he is a monk of the Shaolin and Da Ban order.

Gu Chan Zi Jing, Tie Bian Yun Shao, and Shaolin De Cheng are all Fuqing natives. De Cheng was a Shaolin Yuan monk and this is confirmed by a well-known Southern Song writer Liu Ke Zhuang (1187?1296). In volume 159 of his notes “Complete Collection of a backwater man,? there is an essay that introduces two of his “outside friends? — Masters Shaolin De Cheng and Jiu Zuo Zu Ri. From Liu’s works, De Cheng’s life can be roughly worked out as follows: 1203, born into the Zheng family of Fuqing County. In 1217, became a monk at 15 and was given the Buddhist name of De Qing. His teacher was Tie Bian Yun Shao. He probably ¯left home’ (became a monk) at Shaolin Yuan. In any case, he studied Chan (Zen) in Shaolin Yuan and Ding Zhou for about 22 years. 1242-1244 Lived in Cao An. 1245?1247, Lived in Weng Chi An. 1248?1254 lived in Hangzhou’s Jing Xuan temple. These Shaolin Yuan monks all lived around the end of the twelfth century and into the end of the thirteenth, which is to say from the Southern Song dynasty Guang Chong years to the end of the Southern Song. In the North, this equates to the Jin dynasty Zhang Chong years to the beginning of the Yuan dynasty. At the same time in the Deng Feng (Northern) Shaolin Temple, the monks were members of the “Lan Qi? sect and didn’t change to the “Cao Dong? sect until after 1220.

The gate mentioned earlier with its “monk on this mountain? was built in 1110 and the fact that the words “Shaolin Yuan? weren’t inscribed is a hint that it wasn’t called that during those Northern Song times. If the Lan Qi sect followers of Deng Feng Shaolin had come south, it would have had to between 1161 and 1220. Perhaps the Yang Qi style (of Zen) is of the Lan Qi sect.

shaolin fast food, Chris Toepker for web

The fast food of Shaolin, for the true kung fu hero who has no time!

Abbot Fu Rong built the Deng Feng Shaolin’s Zi Xue Pavilion between 1248 and 1254 and within it is the “70 word naming chart.? Moreover, the De Cheng of the Fuqing Shaolin, disciple of Ji Zhao ‘s “De? is the 21st generation, while “Xu? is the 26th. It is impossible for the teacher to be after the student. Also, the words “Xian, “Ying,? Yuan,? etc of other Shaolin Yuan monks they don’t show up on the Deng Feng naming list. This goes further to show that even after the Yuan dynasty the Northern and Southern Shaolin temples developed alone. Some other reasons include that the Deng Feng temple had already changed to the Cao Dong sect and the southern-Song Fuqing temple’s inhabitants did not accept Mongolian Yuan dynasty rule, and didn’t recognize the abbot of Deng Feng Shaolin.The Deng Feng temple has a large iron bell that was cast on October 25, 1336. The bell’s inscription includes those temples that were under Shaolin’s administration, a total of 23 temples. All of them are in the Henan area. Another Shaolin temple, near Beijing at Panshan, is also not on the list. Of course, individual monks may have made visits, but there are no examples recorded in the evidence.
In the Ming dynasty’s Jia Jing years, the Shaolin “martial monks? were called out to fight coastal pirates. Their example of chivalry and bravery must have had a large impact on the coastal people. With the renown of the pirates being fought in the region for over 10 years, the Fujian people must have been especially impressed. Fuqing’s Shaolin Temple monks must have gotten a lot of encouragement. Then, during the early Qing dynasty when the triads were organized the call to “overthrow the Qing and return the Ming? was heard. The Shaolin martial monk’s earlier loyalty to the Ming was deliberately used as an example to rally involvement in a strategic war and encourage boldness. Moreover, there’s a rich tradition that Fuqing Shaolin monks joined the triads. It is clear that the discovery of the Fuqing temple has given this theory new evidence and advanced it toward verity.

Translated from Shaolin Fang Gu, by Wen Yu Chen ISBN:7-5306-2830-5 by Chris Toepker

  1. Chris Strelau

    Hey Chris, This is a great article. I read it some time ago but didn’t have a way to contact you. I hope you are doing good. I just wanted to say hello and wish you well. It has been a long long time. Thanks for the great research you put into this. Totally fascinating article. It’s interesting what we are taught and what reality really is. Thanks again, hope to hear from you.
    Dr.Chris Strelau, Sifu – Chinese Martial Arts Academy


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