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Fuqing Southern Shaolin Temple Entry Gate

Fuqing Southern Shaolin Temple Entry Gate

Foundation of the Southern Shaolin Temples

Excavations in Southern China during the late 20th century uncovered three possible Southern Shaolin temples (Traditional Chinese: 少林寺; pinyin: Shàolín Sì; Wade–Giles: Shao-lin Szu; Cantonese Yale: Siulàhm Jí): one on Jiulianshan (九蓮山; Jiulian Mountain) near Putian village (莆田) in Fujian (or Fukien) Province (福建省); the second near Fuqing (芙卿), a county-level city of Fuzhou Prefecture (福州地區) in Fujian Province; and the third called Zhenguo Dong Chan Shaolin Temple or Zhenguo Eastern Dhyāna Shaolin Monastery (鎮國東禪少林寺) at the foot of the Qingyuan Shan (清源山; Mount Qingyuan) near Quanzhou (泉州 ), formerly known as Chinchew, a prefecture-level city located by the Taiwan Strait in Fujian Province. The third temple is now commonly called Dongchan Shaolin.

Fuqing Shaolin Temple

Fuqing Shaolin Temple 福清少林寺

The first Southern Shaolin Temple was founded following a campaign by Northern Shaolin Temple Songshan (嵩山; Mount Song) monk warriors against Muslim pirates in aid of a young Tang Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 唐朝; pinyin: Tángcháo; 618–690 AD, 705–907 AD). Tang rule had been founded by Li Yuan (李元; 566–635 AD; Imperial title: Emperor Gaozu of Tang 唐高祖; r. 618–626 AD) with the aid of his daughter Princess Pingyang (平阳公主; c. 598–623 AD; t. 618–623 AD) and his son Li Shimin (李世民; 598–649 AD).

Putian Shaolin Temple

Putian Shaolin Temple 莆田少林寺

Within a few decades of the beginning of the Muslim Era in 622 AD, Muslim diplomats and traders journeyed to China in a steady stream and formed foreign settlements. Arab and Persian pirates established themselves on Hainan Island (海南省), the smallest and southernmost province of China in the South China Sea. The island was settled by non-Han Chinese natives called the Hlai people. Lady Xian (516–602 AD), a warrioress who had previously established peace and harmony between natives and Han Chinese settlers in Southern China, was a queen of the Hlai people.

The pirates' incursions into Fujian Province so menaced the stability and prosperity of Southern China that then Tang Emperor Li Shimin called upon the Northern Shaolin Temple and the the legendary 13 Shaolin Cudgel fighting monks, the Chuánshuō zhōng de shàolín shísān zhàng wǔ sēng (傳說中的少林十三杖武僧; lit. "Legendary Thirteen Shaolin stick fighting monks") or the Shísān gùn sēng jiù táng wáng (十三棍僧救唐王; lit. "Thirteen stick monks rescued the king of Tang"). He requested that the cudgel monks aid him as they did several years earlier during the establishment of the Tang dynasty.

Chinese staffs

Illustration of three primary Chinese martial arts gùn. Public Domain, Link

* Cudgel is a reference to a Chinese staff weapon called a gùn (approximate English pronunciation: /ɡuən/ gwən, Traditional Chinese: 棍; lit. "rod, stick"). The gùn was one of the four major weapons of Ancient and Imperial China along with the qiāng (槍 spear), dāo (刀 single-edged saber), and the jiàn (劍 double-edged straight sword). It is called "The Grandfather of all Weapons" (Suǒyǒu wǔqì de zǔfù 所有武器的祖父). The typical gùn is crafted with a thick end as the base and a thinner end at the tip, and is cut to be about the same height as the average person (1.8 meters; 6 feet).

As part of their mind/body training, the cudgel monks practiced Shaolin martial arts or Shaolin Quan (少林拳; Shàolín Quán); more precisely, Shaolin Chuan Fa, or Quan Fa (Traditional Chinese: 少林穿法; pinyin: Shàolín Chuān Fǎ; Wade–Giles: Shao Lin Ch'üan Fa; literal: "Shaolin fist technique"). The term chuan is the Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term mukti (मुक्ति; "clasped hand"). The suffix fa is the Chinese transcription of the Sanskrit word dharma (धर्मा; "teachings of the Buddha"). When reverse translated back into Sanskrit, Chuan Fa means Dharmamukti (धर्मामुक्ति; "closed hand of the Dharma"). Shaolin Chuan Fa is part of Ch'an martial arts (Traditional Chinese: 禪宗武術; pinyin: Chánzōng wǔshù) which combines Ch'an philosophy with the martial arts of the Shaolin Temple.

Three of the Shaolin cudgel monks (Shàolín gùn sēng 少林棍僧), Dao Guang (道廣), Seng Man (僧蠻), and Seng Feng (僧鳳), answered the emperor's call. They led about 500 warrior monks or wǔsēng (武僧) to South China in the early 7th Century AD to campaign against pirates. The warrior monks valiantly helped the Tang military to defeat the pirates, but most of them perished in battle doing so.

Fuqing Southern Shaolin Temple

Fuqing Southern Shaolin Temple at Fujian, China

Some of the surviving Shaolin monks stayed behind at local unaffiliated Buddhist temples in the Southern provinces, to commemorate their fallen comrades. They were welcomed and followed by local monks, who sought to join the Shaolin order.

Quanzhou Shaolin Temple

Quanzhou Shaolin Temple 泉州少林寺

Dao Guang initially returned to Songshan Shaolin Temple where the aged High Monk Tan Zong (Tán Zōng Héshàng 昙宗和尚 or 譚宗和尚), the onetime leader of the cudgel monks, wrote a poem for him: "Days and months fighting roving bandits, wishing a temple to stay at the foot of Jiulian Mountain; Southern and Northern Shaolin originates from the same temple with Ch'an Buddhism engraved in the heart forever."

Quanzhou Monks

Quanzhou Temple Shaolin Monks

Tan Zong asked Dao Guang to build a Southern Shaolin Temple in honor of their fallen brothers and to spread the Ch'an Buddhism of the Northern Songshan Temple. Dao Guang returned to Fujian Province and selected Putian Linshan Mountain (臨山) as the location of the first Southern Shaolin Temple for its resemblance to the topography of Jiulian Mountain.

Lohan Statues

Lohan Statues at Fuqing Southern Shaolin Temple

Emperor Li Shimin approved the site and the temple’s construction. Li Shimin (Imperial title: Emperor Taizong of Tang 唐太宗) ruled from 626–649 AD. He brought Buddhism and Taoism together with Confucian policy as part of the Three Teachings (Sān jiào 三教) to rule China. Southern Shaolin martial arts and the Ch'an tradition of the Southern Shaolin Temple were founded during this period. The principles of Shaolin culture and practical fighting techniques are taught in martial arts classes held by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.


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