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Zhang Sanfeng

This is a Chinese name; the family name is Zhang.
Zhang Sanfeng
Statue of Zhang Sanfeng at the Wudang Mountains
Born 12th century
Style Neijia
Zhang Sanfeng
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese

Zhang Sanfeng was a legendary Chinese Taoist who is believed to have achieved immortality. According to various accounts, he was born in Shaowu, Nanping, Fujian during the Southern Song dynasty and lived for over 200 years until the mid-Ming dynasty. His given name was Tong (通) and his courtesy name was Junbao (君寶). He specialised in Confucian and Taoist studies, scholarly and literary arts. 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 is that 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.[1]


Zhang Sanfeng is credited for creating the concept of neijia (內家) in Chinese martial arts, specifically taijiquan, a Neo-Confucian syncretism of Shaolin martial arts with his mastery of daoyin (or neigong) principles. 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 taijiquan movements.[2] 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 taijiquan and cast doubt on whether Zhang really existed.[3]

Zhang Sanfeng was also an expert in the White Crane and Snake styles of Chinese martial arts, 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 taijiquan families,[citation needed] Zhang Sanfeng's master was Xu Xuanping, a Tang dynasty Taoist poet and daoyin expert. The taijiquan families who honour Zhang Sanfeng as the creator of taijiquan traditionally celebrate his birthday on the ninth day of the third month in the Chinese calendar.[citation needed]


Writings attributed to Zhang Sanfeng include the Da Dao Lun (大道論), 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. 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

Much of the written material about Zhang Sanfeng is mythical, contradictory, or otherwise suspect. For instance, he is reported in various accounts[which?] to have been born in either 960, 1247 or 1279. He was described to be seven feet tall, with bones like a crane's, a posture like a pine tree, whiskers shaped like spear blades, and capable of travelling a thousand li (roughly 580 km or 350 miles) in a day. He was also depicted with a straw hat slung on his back. The 19th-century text Wu-yang County Gazetteer mentioned that his hat was actually a cymbal, which only residents in two villages famous for manufacturing cymbals had permission to sound upon meeting him. Some sources[which?] recorded two Chinese emperors sending emissaries to search for Zhang Sanfeng and consult him on governance, but they never found him.

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. Zhang Sanfeng's popularity among the Chinese is also attributed to his personality and association with Confucianism and Taoism.[4] 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 Sect 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 many regional gazettes, Zhang Sanfeng was still alive in the reign of the Tianshun Emperor (r. 1457–1464) in the Ming dynasty, having lived for more than 200 years.

Notable actors have portrayed Zhang Sanfeng in film and television. Jet Li starred as a young Zhang Sanfeng in the 1993 film Tai Chi Master (1993). Sammo Hung appeared as Zhang Sanfeng in Kung Fu Cult Master, a 1993 film loosely adapted from The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber and which starred Jet Li as Zhang Wuji. Yu Chenghui also portrayed Zhang Sanfeng in the 2009 television series adaptation of The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber.

T'ai chi ch'uan lineage tree


  • This lineage tree is not comprehensive, but depicts those considered the "gate-keepers" and most recognised individuals in each generation of the respective styles.
  • Although many styles were passed down to respective descendants of the same family, the lineage focused on is that of the martial art and its main styles, not necessarily that of the families.
  • Each (coloured) style depicted below has a lineage tree on its respective article page that is focused on that specific style, showing a greater insight into the highly significant individuals in its lineage.
  • Names denoted by an asterisk are legendary or semi-legendary figures in the lineage; while their involvement in the lineage is accepted by most of the major schools, it is not independently verifiable from known historical records.
Solid linesDirect teacher-student.(张三丰)
Zhang Sanfeng*
c. 12th century
Dashed linesIndividual(s) omitted.Various DaoistsLegendary figures
Dotted linesPartial influence
/taught informally
/limited time.
Wang Zongyue*
Dashed crossBranch continues.
Chen Wangting
Jiang Fa
Chen Ruxin
2nd gen. Chen
Chen Suole
2nd gen. Chen
Xing Xihuai
2nd gen. Zhaobao
Chen Dakun
3rd gen. Chen
Chen Dapeng
3rd gen. Chen
Chen Guangyin
3rd gen. Chen
Chen Shenru
3rd gen. Chen
Chen Xunru
3rd gen. Chen
Chen Zhengru
3rd gen. Chen
Zhang Chuchen
3rd gen. Zhaobao
Chen Shantong
4th gen. Chen
Chen Shanzhi
4th gen. Chen
Chen Jixia
4th gen. Chen
Chen Jie
4th gen. Chen
Chen Jingbo
4th gen. Chen
4th gen. Zhaobao
Chen Bingqi
5th gen. Chen
Chen Bingren
5th gen. Chen
Chen Bingwang
5th gen. Chen
Chen Gongzhao
1715– after1795
5th gen. Chen
Zhang Zongyu
5th gen. Zhaobao
Chen Changxing
6th gen. Chen
Chen Old Frame
Chen Youben
c. 19th century
6th gen. Chen
Chen Small Frame
Zhang Yan
6th gen. Zhaobao
Chen Gengyun
7th gen. Chen
Yang Luchan
Guang Ping Yang
Yangjia Michuan
Chen Qingping
7th gen. Chen
7th gen. Zhaobao
Chen Yanxi
8th gen. Chen
Wang Lanting
2nd gen. Yang
Yang Jianhou
2nd gen. Yang
2nd gen. Yangjia Michuan
Yang Banhou
2nd gen. Yang
2nd gen.
Guang Ping Yang
Yang Small Frame
Wu Yuxiang
He Zhaoyuan
8th gen. Zhaobao
Zhaobao He-style
Chen Fake
9th gen. Chen
Chen New Frame
Li Ruidong
Yang Chengfu
3rd gen. Yang
Yang Big Frame
Yang Shaohou
3rd gen. Yang
Yang Small Frame
Wu Quanyou
1st gen. Wu
Wang Jiaoyu
3rd gen.
Guang Ping Yang
Li Yiyu
2nd gen. Wu (Hao)
He Qingxi
9th gen. Zhaobao
Chen Zhaopi
10th gen. Chen
focused on
Chen Old Frame
Chen Zhaokui
10th gen. Chen
focused on
Chen New Frame
Zhang Qinlin
3rd gen. Yangjia Michuan
Yang Zhenduo
b. 1926
4th gen. Yang
Fu Zhongwen
4th gen. Yang
Beijing (24) form
Zheng Manqing
4th gen. Yang
Short (37) Form
Wu Jianquan
2nd gen. Wu
108 Form
Kuo Lien Ying
4th gen.
Guang Ping Yang
Hao Weizhen
3rd gen. Wu (Hao)
Zheng Wuqing
10th gen. Zhaobao
Wu Gongyi
3rd gen. Wu
Sun Lutang
Hao Yueru
4th gen. Wu (Hao)
Wang Yannian
5th gen. Yang
4th gen. Yangjia Michuan
Zheng Tianxiong
Wu Yanxia
4th gen. Wu
Sun Jianyun
2nd gen. Sun
Hao Shaoru
5th gen. Wu (Hao)
Chen Xiaowang
b. 1945
11th gen. Chen
Chen Xiaoxing
b. 1952
11th gen. Chen
Yang Jun
b. 1968
5th gen. Yang
Wu Guangyu
b. 1946
5th gen. Wu
Sun Yongtian
b. ?
3rd gen. Sun
Liu Jishun
b. 1930
6th gen. Wu (Hao)


  1. ^ Liu, Albert (2004). Nei Jia Quan: Internal Martial Arts. North Atlantic Books. 
  2. ^ [dead link] Mount Wudang -- Abode of Immortals and a Martial Monk, by staff reporter Huo Jianying (front page)
  3. ^ Henning, Stanley (1994). "Ignorance, Legend and Taijiquan" (PDF). Journal of the Chen style Taijiquan Research Association of Hawaii 2 (3): 1–7. 
  4. ^ "Zhang Sanfeng". U China Visa. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 


  • 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