Remains of the San Qing Temple in Shanxi, China

Discovery of San Qing Guan

Origin of Zuo Style Tai Chi

Much mystery has surrounded the origin of the Zuo style of Tai Chi that was treasured by Professor Cheng Man Ching but little shared with his disciples. Master Wu Kuo Chung was passed down some of the secrets of this art by Professor Cheng in the final months of his life. His premature death, totally unexpected at the time, meant that he was probably unable to impart all his knowledge of the Zuo style. This meant that the existence of Zuo Tai Chi was emphatically denied by Professor Cheng’s other students. However, Master Wu continued to affirm that it did exist and in his early writings mentioned its place of origin in China as recounted to him by Professor Cheng. The story goes that a famous martial artist called Zuo Lai Peng learnt the art from an unknown Taoist priest in Shanxi Province, China. It was here that the root of the Zuo style of Tai Chi was founded, in a place called San Qing Guan (三清觀) beyond the East Gate near the township of Taiyuan. It was here that Professor Cheng’s teacher, Zhang Qin Lin, studied with Zuo Lai Peng after returning from Beijing. Surely then the discovery of San Qing Guan could prove the existence of Zuo Tai Chi.

Which San Qing Guan?

In Taiyuan there is another more well-known San Qing Guan (or San Qing Temple) that is a favourite for tourists. It is an embellished Taoist temple built some time in the Ming or Qing dynasties. However, it does not seem to be the sort of place for people to learn any ‘secret arts’ such as that practiced by Zuo and Zhang.  Secondly, its location is on the south-west side and quite some distance from Taiyuan which contradicts the description of it being nearer the East Gate. In earlier times, Taiyuan was also known Yangqu County.  Records from 1843 show that there were twelve villages in the area one of which was called Shen Qing Guan (神清觀) and that it was built around 1314 and later rebuilt in the Qing dynasty.  There also existed a story about a Taoist priest called Zhang Yan Bao who lived there.

In May 2008, the local authorities held a cultural conservation event which came to the attention of our Shen Long school. It mentioned a place called San Qing Guan in Mazhuang Town. It was located in the East of Taiyuan and just slightly south. Further investigation led to the belief that this was the same Mazhuang Town that existed in the Ming and Qing dynasties, and also that the town had a San Qing Guan that had not been destroyed during the war of liberation.  When the location of the original town of Taiyuan was studied, it was evident that this San Qing Guan was indeed beyond the East Gate. Already it was becoming clear that this was the San Qing Guan of Zuo and Zhang.

San Qing Guan and Tai Chi

Following the event in 2008, in June of the same year, a report detailed the condition of San Qing Guan. According to the report, San Qing Guan was built in the Qing dynasty and it was a state of disrepair. The main entrance was damaged, the paintwork was coming away and the wooden structures were rotting. However, a sign on the entrance could clearly be read with the words “San Qing Guan “ (in Chinese). Photos in the report showed how the place had been abandoned for some time with overgrown grass. But was there anything to suggest this was anything to do with Taoism or Tai Chi. To everyone’s astonishment, carved on the back of one of the walls above a circular doorway were the characters 太極門 literally Tai Chi Gate, but meaning Tai Chi School!

This was enough to convince Master Wu and some students to visit Taiyuan in 2014. Although much of the buildings were in poor condition, there were some amazing murals and texts carved on the walls. A second trip followed to make measurements and drawings of the buildings as well as to record all the texts discovered.  Unfortunately, the local authorities were reluctant to ensure the buildings would not be demolished (unless sufficient funding was forthcoming!), but Master Wu realised a dream by building a small replica of Taiyuan’s San Qing Guan at our training centre in Taiwan.