• Liu Yongfu: The Tiger of Qinzhou

    An old photograph of Liu Yongfu

    An old photograph of Liu Yongfu

    Through the invitation of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the People’s Government of Qinzhou, and the Guangxi Branch of China News Service, I attended the 2015 Overseas Media Focus on Guangxi’s Construction of the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) recently.

    The aim of OBOR is to build a conduit between the landlocked western provinces of China and the markets of Southeast Asia, the Middle East as well as European and African continents.

    The exemplary thing I have observed about China is that it never forgets that culture and heritage are crucial components of progress. This is what many third world countries including the Philippines are missing – that investing on the preservation and promotion of culture and heritage is not a luxury but a necessity for a nation to develop a sense of pride and identity. A country with a deep sense of cultural appreciation has high aspirations and knows that there is more to life than eating three square meals a day.

    The statue of General Liu Yongfu outside his former residence in Qinzhou.

    The statue of General Liu Yongfu outside his former residence in Qinzhou.

    Ubiquitous wushu
    True to my expectations of China, wushu or martial arts is indeed integral to the lives of the Chinese people. Visiting a martial arts school was not in the program’s itinerary but one morning, at the parking lot of my hotel, I chanced upon one male staff practicing taijiquan before going to work. And at night, at the nearby park, I saw a man under a tree practicing what looks like a ba duan jin set. Ba duan jin or Eight Pieces of Brocade is perhaps the most popular form of qi gong that came out of China. Its name implies that it is like an expensive piece of brocade because of its value in improving health. Qi gong is the Chinese art of cultivating universal life force energy or qi. One may cultivate qi to improve health, to gain martial power or to attain new heights of spirituality.

    In China, one can practice martial arts undisturbed in a public place. The dance-like routines of wushu may look exotic to foreigners but to the locals they are a common sight.

    General Liu Yongfu a.k.a. ‘The Tiger’
    As a martial arts practitioner, the visit to the former residence of General Liu Yongfu (1837–1917) on old Bangui Street in Qinzhou is the most interesting part of my China trip.

    The main gate of Liu’s residence.

    The main gate of Liu’s residence.

    The huge property with spacious courtyard looks like a set of a kung fu movie. Among the relics there are photographs, journals, furniture and even fighting dummies and archery targets used by Liu’s Black Flag Army.

    The general was said to have been as gallant as a “tiger” in battle that is why the main hall of his abode is adorned with calligraphic work featuring the Chinese character for tiger. Executed in running hand and pictographic style, it was said that Liu himself did the calligraphy.

    With Qinzhou’s proximity to Vietnam, Liu responded to the Vietnamese King’s plea for help when the French attacked the Vietnamese city of Hanoi in 1873 and 1883. Liu and his Black Flag Army defeated the mighty French army in battle.

    Though it enjoyed the sanction of Chinese and Vietnamese authorities, the Black Flag army was always an independent force. The Black Flag Army got its name because of Liu’s preference of black command flags.

    Traditional altar with incense.

    Traditional altar with incense.

    Our interpreter said that the people of Qinzhou loved Liu not only because of his courage but also because of his benevolence. She explained that the general’s residence has a huge storage area with enough food to feed a thousand men for over a year. She said that Liu made a promise to his soldiers that he would support their families if they died in battle.

    Liu’s fighting art
    Liu was described in some Chinese literature as a martial arts specialist but I want to postulate that he practiced hung ga because it was said that he recruited Wong Fei-hung as head medical officer and drill master of his Black Flag army.

    Wong, a doctor, a revolutionary and a folk hero in China was a renowned master of hung ga.

    Hung ga is a southern style of kung fu believed to have been founded by those who survived the destruction of the Shoulin Temple.

    The Wong Fei-hung lineage of hung ga gives paramount importance to stance training particularly the low horse stance. Traditional hung ga training requires students to remain in a horse stance for hours each session for several years before they are taught any forms. After learning the forms, the students learn the use of weapons.

    Moon gates in the garden

    Moon gates in the garden

    As a fighting art, hung ga is famous for its hand techniques. Four empty hand routines compose the core of Wong’s hung ga namely Taming the Tiger Fist, Tiger Crane Paired Form Fist, Five Animal Fist, and Iron Wire Fist. Because of its hard practice, hung ga is often considered a hard or external style but the truth is it has its system of qi or internal power development.

    Because of its nature as an army of brigands and soldiers of fortune, it is easy to surmise that Liu and his Black Flag Army employed other military technologies besides Chinese martial arts. By the 1870s, Liu’s force has attracted American and European mercenaries who contributed their combat expertise to beef up the Black Flag Army’s fighting capabilities.

    Liu continued fighting bandits and pacifying clan wars until he retired after the birth of the Chinese Republic in 1912. He died in January 1917.


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