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Zhang Sanfeng

Zhang Sanfeng was a semi-mythical Chinese Taoist "immortal" said variously to date from either the late Song dynasty, Yuan dynasty or Ming dynasty. His name was allegedly 張君寶 before he became a Taoist.

His Taoist name in Traditional Chinese characters is 張三丰, but is usually written as 張三豐. Both are Zhāng sānfēng in pinyin and Chang San-feng in Wade-Giles.

Much of the written material about him is mythical, contradictory, or otherwise suspect. For instance, he is reported to have been born in 960, 1247, and again in 1279. He is described as being seven-feet tall, with the bones of a crane and the posture of a pine tree, having whiskers shaped like a spear, and being able to cover 1000 li in a day (roughly 580 km or 350 miles). He is reputed to have worn a straw hat, but one village reports that the hat was actually a cymbal, which only residents of the village (famous for manufacturing cymbals) had permission to sound upon meeting him. Another tradition associated with the name has him an expert in the White Crane and Snake styles of Chinese martial arts as well as in the use of the Chinese straight sword or jian.

Many today consider Zhang Sanfeng, if not to have been a verifiable historical figure, to be a legendary culture hero of sorts, credited as having originated the concepts of nei chia; soft, internal martial arts, specifically T'ai Chi Ch'uan as a result of a Neo-Confucian syncretism of Chan Buddhist Shaolin Ch'uan with his mastery of Taoist Tao Yin (ch'i kung) principles. He is also associated in legend with the Taoist monasteries at Wudangshan in Hubei province.

More reputable sources record two Chinese emperors sending missions to Zhang Sanfeng to ask for his advice, although neither mission is reported to have found him.

Owing to his mythical appearance, his name frequently appeared in Chinese novels and wuxia films of swordsmen as a master of martial arts.

Last updated: 11-04-2004 12:34:43