Wang Zi Ping

Wang Zi Ping (1880-1973)
Hero and Master

Wang was born in Cang Xian (Cang County) in Hebei, one of the prime martial arts areas in the world and a core location for the Hui (Chinese Muslim) population since the Song dynasty. The Hui were particularly drawn to martial practice not only as an extension of their holy disciplines but because they had a tentative status in Chinese culture. Wang’s father and his grandfather were both famous martial practitioners. Both of them had enough skill to earn their livings as martial professionals- a difficult life in any time. Wang’s father did not want his son to have to suffer the same difficulties which were being exacerbated by the inroduction of the gun and general social conditions under the Dowager Emperessbut Wang felt the call.

When he was just seven he started to learn on his own. Some of his exercises included digging a ditch for practicing the long jump and a hole for working his somersaults. He also sank five posts in the ground to practice the famous Mei Hua Zhuang or Plum Blossom Piles. At 14 he was supposed to be able to jump forward ten feet and back eight feet. His studies and his early loyalty to China eventually brought him into the sphere of the Yi He Quan (The Fists of Harmony and Justice) one of the leading organizations known as “Boxers”.

Traveling to Jinan Wang visited the Willow Garden Teahouse. There was a water mill there and Wang announced his intention to stop it. This was regarded with skepticism to say the least. Rolling up his sleeves and seizing the millstone and forcing it to a complete halt was his answer. A man walked out of the crowd and took Wang to the roadside. “I accept you as a pupil,” he said. Wang bowed with respect still unaware that he had been selected by the WuShu trainer Yang Hong Xiu.

Wang trained hard under Hong. In the morning he performed the “Morning Dew Exercises”, in the evening he practiced the “Big Dipper” regimen. In addition Wang took inspiration from his beloved rural areas watching the play of animals and nature for ideas. These trips also reinforced his recognition of the bullying and imperialism all around him, of the plight of his Chinese countrymen, of the inherent dignity of his fellow Chinese. This partly determined him to make stands, to show that the Chinese were to be respected by members of other nations. Some of his well known feats include:

A challenge by German workers on the JiaoHou-Jinan Railroad. A huge millstone was placed in front of the JiaoHou station. Wang was challenged to lift it. The wager was that if he did not he would have to buy it. If he succeeded the Germans would purchase it. Wang was so strong it lifted it, hefted it over his head and carted it away. The Germans were astonished.

An American P.E. teacher at a missionary school located in QingTao, another foreign controlled town, challenged Wang for a fight. On the initial handshake the American tried to throw Wang who leg swept him onto the ground. The next day the American turned up at Wang’s house accompanied by a German fighter. Wang accepted the challenged, knocked the German down repeatedly and with such skill that the German asked Wang to teach him.

In 1919 Wang met a group of Japanese Judo players who watched Wang perform then criticized Chinese WuShu. Wang challenged any of them who wanted some action. He picked up a staff and allowed them to use a spear. One charged only to find his every attack neutralized. A moment after Wang said, “Now i’t’s my turn to attack,” the Judoka was knocked down. Wang challenged any others who wanted to test him but no one moved an inch.

1921 an American named Sullivan announced to the Shanghai press that if anyone could land a blow on his body he would pay that person five hundred dollars. A knockdown would garner twice that. It was agreed among the WuShu clan that Wang was to represent them. Wang showed up and, when talking to someone on his fighting platform, he suddenly jumped back having felt a sense of danger. Sullivan’s first blow missed and he launched another. An enraged Wang knocked Sullivan down. That evening he received a note that the bout was canceled. Wang refused to believe this, showed up anyway the next day and found himself alone.

After the 1949 revolution Wang found himself respected as a hero. Among his other honors he was appointed Deputy to ShangHai’s Municipal People’s Congress, Vice-President of the National WuShu Association and a committee member of the All-China Sports Federation.

Wang left two books of valuable information: “Twenty WuShu postures” and “Twenty Barehanded Exercises”. There is also extensive footage of his fine WuShu performances.


Empress Ci’xi hated the European presence as much as any member of the secret society did, and plotted to remove them as quickly as possible. She became aware of the “The Righteous and Harmonious Fists”, a group that the Europeans casually dismissed as “Boxers” because most of them were Wushu fighters. In a fit of inspiration, she devised a way to use them for her own ends. Through her ministers, she began to woo and finance the Boxers. It wasn’t long before a new slogan appeared on the Boxers’ banners: “Support the Ch’ing. Destroy the foreigner!”

The Boxers roamed across China, attacking lone European settlements and emptying churches of their congregations and priests. When they closed in on the Forbidden City, where many of the European embassies were located, Empress Ci’xi made a great show of deploying troops, but secretly allowed the Boxers to enter. The Europeans were ready with far more advanced weapons than just ‘fists and legs’, though. Rifles quickly decimated the invaders. The rebellion collapsed. Empress Ci’xi was forced to outlaw the secret society and imprison all surviving Boxers.

Wang Ziping thus became a fugitive. He fled to South Jinan, where he took refuge in the Large Mosque. As soldiers hunted the remnants of the secret society, Ziping prayed for succor. Events passed him by. In the relative quiet of the mosque’s prayer hall, Ziping met a man who was like him, a Boxer on the run. This was Yang Hongxiu, a Grandmaster of Wushu. At last! The one thing his father had refused him was within reach. Excited, Ziping discarded his loyalty to the fallen Boxers and swore allegiance to Yang instead.

A Grandmaster is able to use any implement or tool as a weapon. Improvising is as much an art as it is a necessity in Wushu. Ziping came to be extremely well-versed in all the major weapons. He was particularly adept at qinna, which could lock the joints and muscles of opponents in preparation for a devastating attack; shuaijiao, a bare-handed fighting style incorporating principles of Tai Chi; hard qigong and light body technique.

He was acclaimed as a well-rounded martial artist. At the same time, he was also a specialist in bone trauma. He combined his adept knowledge of qinna with his bone setting skills and invented a system of treatment for sports and Wushu-related injuries in Northern China.

During his medical tenure in Jiaozhou, the Germans were commissioned to build a railroad from there to Jinan. Such expensive projects- to extend and solidify European contol over Chinese land- were the price extracted from Empress Ci’xi after the failed Boxer rebellion.

Ziping’s reputation was not unknown to the Germans. Being shrewder than most of their colleagues, they were anxious to put him out of favor. A German military officer arranged for a great mill stone to be placed in front of the railroad station and challenged anyone to raise it. Ziping, who tolerated no humiliation to the Chinese people, was naturally furious. As the Germans expected, Ziping walked right into their trap.

“What happens if I lift it?” he asked.

“Then the stone is yours,” the Germans replied in glee.

“What happens if it falls?”

“Then you will pay for it.”

Ziping lifted the stone, leaving the Germans aghast.

I suppose this story appealed to me because of its underdog-triumphs-over-white master theme.

Later in his life, Ziping was appointed the head of the Shaolin Division at the Central Martial Arts Institute. He was also the vice chairman of the Chinese Wushu Association, the highest Wushu organization in China. He held many other titles and responsibilities, including being an advisor to major hospitals across China. His career is also distinguished by the many duels he fought with foreigners, including Japanese experts in Akido.

Ziping as an old man doing a bent press with a lock weight.
Even in his old age, Ziping never lost his great strength and agility. In 1960, when Ziping was the trainer and director of the group of Wushu students that accompanied Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in a visit to Burma, he was told to give a demonstration of his skills. This he did with the heavy Sword of the Black Dragon, with such skill and youthful vigor that nobody thought that he was already 80 years old.

Throughout his life, Ziping exhibited great patriotism and an enthusiasm for martial arts that never waned. His spirit and stamina were indefatigable, and remains a source of inspiration for many Chinese, Muslim and non-Muslim. He died in 1973, after failing, in the end, to defeat a long bout of illness.

(this last section is written by Amir Hamid, who generously allows Plum to reprint it here.)

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