Brief history of Baji Quan
Who, when and where ...
The remote origins of Bajiquan
The origins of BajiQuan are obscure and cannot be traced back exactly. The main problem is that most of the information concerning BajiQuan that has been transmitted so far relies greatly on oral transmission. Reliable written documents pre-dating the Cultural Revolution are very scarce, because many documents got lost or destroyed during the civil war or during the periods when the practice or martial arts was forbidden. However, some of the documents that have survived so far are presented in the “Historical documents” section of this website.
Some writers see the first written reference to BajiQuan in a military treaty called "Jixiao Xin Shu" (纪效新书, New practical treaty on military discipline) written during the Ming dynasty by the famous general Qi JiGuang (戚继光, 1528 - 1588). In this treaty, Qi JiGuang gives a list of the martial styles of his time and writes the following sentence: "The spear method of the Yang family and the staff of PaziQuan are both famous now". It is reported by some authors that in the CangZhou region, BajiQuan was also known under the name of PaziQuan （耙子拳） or BaziQuan （扒子拳）. The term PaziQuan could be a deformation in the local dialect of the word BajiQuan or the word "Pazi" (meaning "rake") could be referring to the typical shape of the fist used in the style, held loosely open when not striking. As a consequence, some people consider the reference made by Qi JiGuang as an indication that BajiQuan already existed during the 16th century. However, except from the similarity in the pronunciation, there are no elements that connect the PaziQuan cited by Qi JiGuang to BajiQuan, and one should note that :
- there is no indication given by Qi JiGuang about the content and specificities of PaziQuan that could justify that BajiQuan and PaziQuan are identical styles, and nowadays nobody knows what PaziQuan staff could look like,
- according to the Wu family records, the name BajiQuan has been given to the style by Wu Ying in 1790 (see the section about “Wu Ying” for more details), before this date, the style was called YiShu (异术，unusual style) or Wu Jia Quan (吴家拳， Wu family style),
- the early records about BajiQuan mention the spear as a reference weapon of the style, rather than staff
The first generation(s) : Wu Zhong, Lai, Pi, and others ...
There is presently no record allowing to trace any transmission of BajiQuan from Qi JiGuang's era through the next two centuries. The oldest documents giving some historical information about BajiQuan date back to around 1930. The most ancient BajiQuan practitioner recorded in these written documents is Wu Zhong (1712 - 1802), a Hui minority member of the Wu family (see articles about the "Origins of the Wu family" and about "WuZhong" for more details). According to the majority of these documents, Wu Zhong would have been taught BajiQuan by two wandering monks called Lai (癞) and Pi (癖), the second being a disciple of the first. No specific information is given about Lai and Pi in the records, and it is very likely that both these names are nicknames (Lai means “leprosy” and Pi means “craving”). After the end of the cultural revolution, the practice of martial arts has been gradually encouraged again by the Chinese authorities, and BajiQuan raised back from oblivion at the beginning of the 80s, especially due to the interest of some Japanese martial artists who started to visit mainland China at this period. Hence, starting from the mid eighties, there was a bloom of publications about BajiQuan. Many of these publications have tried to address the question of the origins of BajiQuan and of the real identity of Lai and Pi. As a consequence, some authors have tried to relate the origin of BajiQuan either to the famous Song mountain Shaolin temple, or to the YueShan temple of BoHai county in Henan province, or to the daoist temples of WuDang mountains of HuBei province, or even to Ding FaXiang (丁发祥, 1615 – 1694), a famous martial artist from the 17th century originating from MengCun village. Even if all this suppositions represent some interesting hypotheses, they however rely only on oral information, and none of them is supported by any written document pre-dating the 50s. Moreover, it is hard to omit the fact that the development of BajiQuan represents an economical potential which greatly influenced some historical claims about the origin of this style.
Based on these considerations, the most reasonable option is to acknowledge that if Wu Zhong had ever wanted to unveil the identity of Lai and Pi and the origins of his skills, he would have done so. So far, only Wu Zhong knows who Lai and Pi really are, and maybe these to names simply symbolize the knowledge that Wu Zhong had acquired during all his life …
The birthplace and spreading of BajiQuan
Recently, some debates have also emerged concerning which place should be considered as “the birthplace of BajiQuan”. Here again, the main problem is that the details concerning the life of Wu Zhong and his teaching also greatly depend on oral transmission or on a few martial manuals that were written around 1930. For instance, the family manual of Hou ZhuangKe village only records the name of Wu Zhong, without the slightest indication about his life. Based on the oldest martial manuals, Wu Zhong only had three recorded disciples representing the third generation of BajiQuan : his daughter and only child WuRong (吴荣), Wu ZhongYu (吴钟毓) and WuYing (吴溁) two members of the MengCun Wu family, and all these 3 persons are recorded as living in MengCun. Those 3 persons were the initiators of the spreading of Baji Quan for the next generations and to the nearby villages and cities. It should be noted that up to now, there is no record of any baji practitioner who does not relate to one of these three disciples
One important factor is that it can be noticed that, excepting big cities like TianJin and CangZhou, all the villages where BajiQuan has developed significantly after the 3rd generation are all located inside a 15 km circle around MengCun (see "Map of MengCun area" page for more details). Concerning Hou ZhuangKe, the birthplace of Wu Zhong, there is no record of any BajiQuan development in this place, and more strikingly, there has never been any BajiQuan activity in the places located in a 15 km circle around Hou ZhuangKe. Moreover, Hou ZhuangKe is an isolated hamlet of about 1 000 inhabitants, located about 45 km south east of MengCun, which at the time of Wu Zhong represented at least a half day of travelling distance from MengCun. Hence, this implies that Wu Zhong had to reside in MengCun permanently during the time when he was teaching there. Moreover, the isolated nature of Hou ZhuangKe makes it difficult to understand how Wu Zhong could have gained some literary and martial culture without leaving his birthplace, whereas the region of CangZhou, MengCun and YanShan has always been a place of intense cultural and martial activity since the 12th century. As a consequence, it should be acknowledged that if Hou ZhuangKe can be considered as the birthplace of Wu Zhong, MengCun is definitely the birthplace of BajiQuan.
It is impossible to describe here in details the subsequent development of BajiQuan after the 3rd generation, the names of places and famous practitioners would be enough to fill 200 pages. It can however be mentioned that, starting from MengCun, BajiQuan has been gradually transmitted to the nearby villages and cities. Among these places, one can however give the following non exhaustive list of places and families that have played a significant role in the development of BajiQuan :
- the Wu, Ding, Wang & Yang families of MengCun village,
- the Li, Zhang & Han families of LuoTuan (罗疃) village of XinXian county,
- the Huo family of JiBeiTou (集北头) village, who also introduced BajiQuan in ChangChun city, Jilin province,
- the Gao family of YanShan city, who introduced BajiQuan in TangGu (塘沽), the harbour city of TianJin,
- the Zhang family of PoBei (泊北) village, located 15 km north east of MengCun,
- the Ji family of LangErKou (狼儿口) village, located 10 km south of cangZhou city,
- the Ma family of YangShiQiao (杨石乔) village, who introduced BajiQuan in the Gansu province,
- the Qiang family of ZiLaiTun (自来屯) village,
- the Li family of NanLiang (南良),
- the Yin family of YinJiaZhuang (尹家庄) village of YanShan city,
- the Sun family of WangGuan Tun (王官屯),