Creation stories of White Crane and Wing Chun are probably the best known in kung fu world and probably the most romantic ones . There are several versions of each story but in essence story goes like this , a beautiful girl with no martial skills finds herself in trouble which cannot be resolved by any other means but fighting . By the act faith , girl crossed her path with a Buddhist nun who passes her a superior fighting system and the girl finally can win over her enemies . Later girl finds happiness and refine the art further , teaching her husband and other students . Both stories put girl’s life in an early Ching dynasty period , soon after they took over Chine from the Ming dynasty , somewhere in the middle of the 17th century .
While stores are quite interesting and beautiful they can hardly be seen as a historical facts. Not only that existence of Fang Qi Niang and later Yim Wing Chun as well as the existence of the nun , Ng Muy was proven false , there is the fact that woman in traditional Chinese society , especially in the period before the very end of the Ching dynasty could not practice martial arts . There are several reasons for this .
China is, and always has been, a patrilineal and patriarchal society. It is well known that Chinese society emphasis the importance of the family and the hierarchy within the family. Men's superiority and women's inferiority are deeply rooted in the 2,000-year-old Chinese culture and are reflected in many aspects of social life.Throughout the imperial period and into the beginning of the twentieth century, the relationship among family members was prescribed by Confucian teachings. The revered philosopher sought order in the ancient ties within a family and codified the position of the male patriarch as the sole arbiter for the family unit. All family members were subordinate to the eldest male,just as all loyal subjects were subservient to the Celestial Emperor. This hierarchy also dictated relationships between a husband and his wife and concubines, a father and his children, and an elder and younger sibling. Marriages, births, and deaths were all accompanied by rituals designed to reinforce these unequal roles.
Fang Qi Niang funder of White Crane
Fang Qi Niang funder of White Crane
Prejudice against woman had existed in China long before Confucianism , in China from very early times, men have been seen as the core of the family. The ancestors to whom a Shang or Zhou dynasty king made sacrifices were his patrilineal ancestors, that is, his ancestors linked exclusively through men (his father’s father, his father’s father’s father, and so on, but it was Confucianism that cemented role of a woman in traditional society .It was during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. - 220 C.E.) that Confucianism was adopted as the government's state doctrine, with his thoughts becoming part of official education. In later dynasties, Neoconfucian interpretations further reinforced male authority and patrilineal customs. Women were at the bottom of the Confucian hierarchy. Exemplary behavior and uncomplaining obedience was expected of them. By custom, aristocratic men and women lived separately. Men had multiple wives and concubines, but women were not allowed to see men other than their close relatives, husbands, or masters, or the palace eunuchs. For Confucians, spiritual development begins at , and the home traditionally has been seen by Confucians as the paradigmatic arena of social relations. Social relations, of course, are rarely exchanges between equals, in the Confucian view, but instead tend to be interactions between superiors and inferiors. The so-called "Five Relationships" described by Confucians as the complete range of human interaction include four that entail hierarchy (ruler/subject, parent/child, husband/wife, elder sibling/younger sibling) and only one that need not entail hierarchy (friend/friend). The ideal Confucian state, with its "natural" hierarchy of ruler and subject, mirrored the home, with its "natural" hierarchy of husband and wife, and older and younger children.
As children, girls were required to obey their fathers; as wives, women were required to obey their husbands; and as widows, women were required to obey their grown-up sons. At no point in her life was a woman, according to the traditional Confucian view, expected to function as an autonomous being free of male control.
In the centuries after Confucius, it became common for writers to discuss gender in terms of yin and yang. Women were yin, men were yang. Yin was soft, yielding, receptive, passive, reflective, and tranquil, whereas yang was hard, active, assertive, and dominating. Day and night, winter and summer, birth and death, indeed all natural processes occur though processes of interaction of yin and yang. Conceptualizing the differences between men and women in terms of yin and yang stresses that these differences are part of the natural order of the universe, not part of the social institutions artificially created by human beings. In yin yang theory the two forces complement each other but not in strictly equal ways. The natural relationship between yin and yang is the reason that men lead and women follow. If yin unnaturally gains the upper hand, order at both the cosmic and social level are endangered.
Maintaining a physical separation between the worlds of men and the worlds of women was viewed as an important first step toward assuring that yin would not dominate yang. The Confucian classic the Book of Rites stressed the value of segregation even within the home; houses should be divided into an inner and an outer section, with the women staying in the inner part. One poem in the Book of Poetry concluded: “Women should not take part in public affairs; they should devote themselves to tending silkworms and weaving.” A similar sentiment was expressed in the Book of Documents in proverbial form: “When the hen announces the dawn, it signals the demise of the family.”
Further decline of women began in the Song period, just when Neo-Confucianism was gaining sway. The two signs of this decline most frequently mentioned are the pressure on widows not to remarry and the practice of binding young girls’ feet to prevent them from growing more than a few inches long.
1. The Mother of Mencius in Liu Hsiang, "Biographies of Admirable Women." (ca. 33 B.C.E.): "A woman's duties are to cook the five grains, heat the wine, look after her parents-in-law, make clothes, and that is all!." "It will be theirs neither to do wrong nor to do good. Only about the spirits and the food will they have to think." " A woman's duty is not to control or take charge."
2. The Book of Odes, no. 264. (ca. 781-771 B.C.E.): "Disorder is not sent down by Heaven, It is produced by women." "Those who cannot be taught, cannot be instructed. These are women and eunuchs."
3. Admonitions for Women, Madam Ban Zhao, Female Confucian philosopher and historian, (ca. 45-116 CE): "Let a woman modestly yield to others; let her respect others; let her put others first, herself. last." "Lay the (girl) baby (at birth) below the bed to plainly indicate that she is lowly and weak, and should regard it as her primary duty to humble herself before others." "A husband can marry twice, but his wife must never remarry. Just as Heaven cannot be disobeyed, so the wife cannot keep away from her husband." "As Yin and Yang are not the same nature, so man and woman have different characteristics....Man is honored for strength; a woman is beautiful on account of her gentleness."
4. Record of Ritual and Book of Rites (Han dynasty): "No daughter-in-law, without being told to go to her own apartment, should venture to withdraw from that of her parent-in-law. What ever she is about to do, she should first ask leave from them." "Women are to be led and to follow others."
5. Ban Gu, Han dynasty Philosopher: "Why is it that according to the rites the man take his wife, whereas the woman leaves her house? It is because the yin is lowly, and should not have the initiative; it proceeds to the yang in order to be completed."
6. Nu Lun U - Analects for Women (Tang dynasty): "Conjugality is made of husband's strength and wife's frailty...Accepting the blame and keeping quiet while he is in anger...Serving the husband around the clock when he is ill."
7. The Admonitions of the Instructions to the Court Ladies, quoted in Edward Schafer, "Ancient China," Great Ages of Man series, Time-Life Books, 1967. "A husband is Heaven, and Heaven cannot be shirked."
8. Confucian marriage manual, quoted in Nah Trang, "Traditional Roles of Women as Reflected in Oral and Written Vietnamese Literature," Berkeley: Asian Studies Ph.D. thesis, 1973: "Even though you sleep intimately on the same bed and use the same cover with him, you must treat your husband as if he were your king or your father."
9. Menciuss, a disciple of Confucianism, "There are three unfilial acts: the greatest of these is the failure to produce sons."
10. Greater Learning for Women, Neo-Confucian writer Kaibara Ekken (Togukawa period): "Women's nature is passive." "The foolishness of woman fails to understand the duties that lie before her very eyes."
11. Quotation attributed to Confucius, quoted in Denis Bloodworth, "The Chinese Looking Glass,, Farrar, Straus & C., ©1967: "The woman with no talent is the one who has merit."
12. Quotation attributed to Confucius, quoted in Alasdair Clayre, "The Heart of the Dragon," Houghton Mifflin, 1985:"We should not be too familiar with the lower orders or with women,"
13. Sayings based on Confucian ideals quoted in William Forbis, Japan Today:A People, Places, Powers, Harper & Row, 1975: "If you love your wife, you spoil your mother's servant." "Woman has no particular lord. She must look to her husband as her lord, and must serve him with all worship and reverence." "A woman should look on her husband as if her were Heaven itself, and never weary of thinking how she may yield to him."
14. Popular Saying quoted in, among others, Sharon Sievers, "Women in China, Japan, and Korea," Restoring to Women to History, OAH, 1988; Keith Taylor, "The Birth of Vietnam," University of California Press, 1983: "A woman ruler is like a hen crowing."
15. Xiao Ma, Asian Women's Studies Program, CUNY-Buffalo: "One of Women's Virtues lies in her ignorance." "Woman are as different from men as earth from heaven." "Women are a lower state from men."
As we can see , position of woman in traditional society prevented them from kung fu practice of any kind . Before late Ching dynasty period , martial arts were practiced exclusively by military and there was no place for a woman in the army .There was no way woman would be taught any kind of martial arts , her position was strictly regulated by traditional and state laws . By the end of 19th century situation started change a little under the influence of the western religion ,philosophy and values that came with technological modernization . Of course , situation started to change only in the upper social classes , who had enough money , education and were in position to experience and stay in contact with the western influences , rural China is pretty much the same today as it was millennia ago . By the end of the 19th century we have sporadic cases of woman practicing kung fu ,mostly daughters who were taught by their fathers . Still we have no record from that time that any woman was an official student in any martial school.
Republican period brought little changes to woman position in the society , woman were taught kung fu sporadically , only by their fathers or relatives and only in the upper social levels of society . Truth is , lower social casts never practiced martial arts in history of China . Number of woman taught kung fu before Second World War is extremely low . On the other hand , with this first appearance of woman in kung fu world we have first stories about woman ancestors and heroes of the past . Characters from the beginning of the article emerged for the first time in this period . Ng Mui was at beginning a negative character , a traitor who is responsible for the fall of the “Southern Shaolin”, later her role changed into a founder of white crane and wing chun. There are other characters , woman warriors that emerged in this period, their existence were put in a different periods of Chinese history , from Han dynasty to Ching dynasty period .
Real change for a role of a woman in Chinese society came after cultural revolution in China and strong western influence on Taiwan and Hong Kong in the same period. Although , situation was far from western standards of woman’s rights , today number of woman in kung fu is significantly higher than before .
We can clearly see that creation stories of Wing Chun and its pre successor White Crane are just that, stories . Real creators of these arts stay hidden on some other place and time .