These students of Northern 'internal' arts did not pursue their own heritage, but followed the Jet Li Tai Chi Master trend of valuing Northern arts. Many claim that Southern arts are 'external', crude and less refined that Northern ones. Some Northern Chinese even told me that Southern martial arts are used by disorganized regional hooligans unlike Northern martial arts which are authentic and used by the Imperial Guard and Aristocratic noblemen of the Royal family, because they are closer to Beijing. The claim that internal martial arts is more advanced and higher level than the rest is absolutely BS. Internal martial arts could not and did not protect the middle kingdom from foreign invasions, not even in any civil war. It was a recent hipster art movement that sprung up in the corrupt Qing Dynasty, twilight of Chinese civilization.
If anyone insists on categorizing Kung Fu styles into 'internal' and 'external', you can cut them out; absolutely nonsensical. It is however indeed correct that Kung Fu styles are categorized according to their geographical location. The birthplace or province where the style was active, will tell a lot about the nature and the culture of the style.
Chinese people often perceive themselves this way: Southern Chinese are merchants and scholars, Northerners are warriors and emperors. Or this way: Southerners are smaller and more petite, Northerners are taller and warlike. One who have studied history, can tell you that this is totally untrue; including the claim that Northern styles are more authentic as they are closer to the Yellow River and the capitals.
The legendary Xiang Yu is a Southerner. A formidable general, his elite cavalry unit, who hail from his homeland in Jiangnan, spilled the blood of Northern warriors from literally the entire Northern China above of the Yangtze River. During the war of the Chu Han, Xiang Yu's troops tore through the ranks of their Northern and Western enemies. With lightning strikes, they defeated enemies who outnumber them several times. At the Chu Han stalemate, they killed hundreds of thousands of Liu Bang's supporters with their veteran warriors before the Han forces manage to overwhelm Xiang Yu.
An expert in fencing and commanding troops in war, Xiang Yu's courage and fighting ability is undisputed. Xiang Yu was known for combining conventional forces with unconventional forces, and elite troops with regular troops, hence the concept of 奇正 . The flanking attacks by his elite vanguard often catch his foes by surprise, vanquishing them.
He was well known for singlehandedly lifting a heavy bronze tripod, believed to be of a weight between 40kg - 60kg by modern measurements. His kind eventually settled in the Southern provinces, and many form the diaspora overseas. You see fit and buff Chinese guys in American or Australian gyms? Yes, their ancestors came from Guangdong/Fujian area, Xiang Yu's kind. Even though it was Liu Bang who became the emperor, it was Xiang Yu's legacy that people respect.
Number 2: The State of Chu
During most of the Warring States, the State of Chu was the largest in terms of territory and population. Having vast resources of the fertile South, its expeditions extended as far North as the Sishui region in the yellow river basin. These military excusions caused much trouble to the small states in the center of the central plains, and many other states seek the alliance of Chu before engaging in war with their rivals.
The people of Chu originated from the yellow emperor's clan's descendants, and over a thousand years they settled in areas far South, to regions as far as Guangdong province today. It produced Xiang Yu and his valiant warriors who ravaged across the middle kingdom in the Qin Dynasty. The state of Chu was the state of Qin's largest rival, and the last of the six states to fall.
This famous battle was thought to be won by both Zhuge Liang and Zhou Yu in the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but in actual history it was won by the Southern Kingdom of Wu, ruled by Sun Quan, its navy led by Zhou Yu. The brave and ferocious fighters of Jiangnan sent hundreds of thousands of Northerners plunging into the Yangtze River and drowning. It was an epic battle where 30 thousand men defeated a million strong Cao Cao army.
The Northern warriors were feared throughout the land for their cavalry. Their effectiveness disappeared when they became sea sick on board the ships to reach the Southern side of the Han empire. It wasn't even the sea yet, just the Yangtze River. To cope with this, the Cao army had no choice but to connect every ship with chains and planks, making the entire fleet stable. Without that, there will be no way to cross to the other side.
A stretched out campaign will not do, as the Northerners are not used to the climate at the South and a plague spread throughout the ranks. A larger army also uses up supplies faster, and it is not helped by the guerilla raids from the Southerners, led by the river bandit, Gan Ning. The large army of Cao Cao was destroyed when the fire attack by a few dozen of Huang Gai's fiery ram boats smashed into Cao Cao's chain linked fleet.
With sharp wits and blazing courage, the Southerners dismantled the Northern army and sent them packing back to the North. The Kingdom of Wu was a relatively peaceful and comfortable place to be in the Three Kingdoms period as they were constantly ruled by the Sun family for the cemtury of war, and ceding of power to the Jin was not as violent as the earlier conflicts in the saga. The Kingdom of Wu lasted the longest of all the 3 Kingdoms, the Kingdom of Wei was ended when the Sima family usurped the Kingdom from the Cao family.
Number 4: Zheng Chenggong defeated the Dutch
Zheng Chenggong is a folk hero of the late Ming and Early Qing. He serves the same cause as our Hung Gar Kung Fu's Hong Hei Gun and Fong Sai Yuk, which is to overthrow the Qing Dynasty and re-establish the Han Chinese people's Ming Dynasty. He is the pride of the Min Nan people, with a remarkable career of many battles against the Manchus. I will also like to give a worthy note that his army made up of Southerners has also defeated hundreds of thousands of Northern Chinese who defected to the Manchus to help the Manchus conquer Southern China. His honor was so great he was given the honorific name of 'Koxinga', meaning Lord Country Name.
This is due to his unchangeable loyalty to the Ming Dynasty. His father defected to the Qing, his brothers surrendered to the Qing and coaxed him to surrender, his son surrendered after his lifetime of fighting, everyone surrenders but he will not. His mother, a Japanese woman, was captured but refused to surrender and was killed by the Manchus. Much in contrast to the betrayal of the Northern Chinese to join the Green Army Eight Banners fighting for the Manchus, his legacy is one of loyalty and courage, and hundreds of thousands of Southern Chinese joined his ranks to fight the Qing, so much that the limited amount of land he occupied was not enough to home these warriors.
Zheng Chenggong was most famous for his naval tactics, launching numerous D-day style amphibious strikes on the coastline of Southeastern China from Guangdong to Shanghai. Based on the islands off the mainland of Fujian province, the Qing could not reach his bases. The Qing, and the Northerners who defected to the Qing, was not as skilled in naval warfare as Zheng Chenggong's forces are.
To secure more land and resources for his army, he led an expedition to take Taiwan from the Dutch, which was called Formosa at that time. And he succeeded. His opponents are Caucasian people, whom many modern Asians fear to be stronger harder and unwise to take on in close combat. They also had cannons and muskets. With swords, spears and shields, Zheng Chenggong's forces encircled the Dutch's fortification and made them cede Taiwan to Chinese control.
It didn't just stop there, his army even launched a campaign to take Philippines, winning several battles where he had the upper hand against the Spanish, until he died at the age of 37. The Spanish even accounted that he might've succeeded in conquering Philippines if he didn't die.
Zheng Chenggong was a Southern Chinese Warrior who went against all odds in dire straits to fight for the cause he is loyal to. He lost the territory on mainland China to the Manchus, while stuck between the European colonies of Taiwan and Philippines, he successfully carved out a maritime empire of his own with the ambition to restore the Ming Dynasty.
The Taiping Rebellion took place in the second half of the Qing Dynasty. Unlike their predecessors who do Hung Gar and believe in Chinese folk religion and Taoism, they were assembled by a man called Hong Xiu Quan, who claimed to be God's second son, after Jesus. It was an uprising by Chinese Christians from the South, and a very successful one at that. The main style used by the Taiping Rebellion was not Hung Gar, not Wing Chun, but Choy Lee Fut. It was made up of Southern Chinese from Guangxi, Guangdong, Fujian and more.
The Taiping Rebellion was strong and resilient at that time, it lasted 20 years and weakened the Qing Dynasty by a large margin. It occupied several provinces of the South, from Hunan to Anhui to Jiangxi and more. It could not be stopped by the Manchurians and Northern Chinese because the Yangtze River served as a natural obstacle for logistics and manpower. Northerners who were used to fighting on level ground and on horseback were of little use in the hilly, forested South. Also, they were uncomfortable in the humid climate of the South.
The Qing Dynasty had to spend an entire generation to train up local soldiers from Hunan and surrounding provinces to fight the Taiping Rebellion. These anti resistance soldiers use Chinese Kung Fu with Chinese weapons such as swords, spears, Dadao saber, longswords and shields. You need infantry army take on another infantry army. If anything, the Qing has shown us that the horse riding Northern barbarians could not touch the South if they do not have Han Chinese soldiers making up their manpower and fighting for them. Of course, both sides suffered dozens of millions of casualties in this civil war.
The Taiping Rebellion could not reach further than the Huai River, as the Guangxi and Fujian soldiers could not stand the cold weather of the North, they had to retreat when snow started to fall. China had been a primarily Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist country and the Qing left it that way. Most of the population could not let China turn into a Christian country.
These five examples show that the South did not have lesser martial and military might than the North. In fact, the Ming and Qing Dynasties could've made use of the Southerners' strength in naval and jungle warfare to ensure their military security.
Today's Southern Chinese are comfortable in their first world cities, highly educated and well to do, but they should remember the military achievements of these mighty Southern Chinese warriors and look at their Southern Kung Fu styles in a favorable light in comparison to the Northern ones. Over several dynasties, the original Han Chinese Kung Fu was lost in the North when the Mongols and Manchus occupied the North, but the art was preserved in the South.
Whatever happened in history, it is up to us to learn from the mistakes of the past. I am glad that today's Chinese Navy has made good use of talent from the South, including Hainan island. I hope that our Southern Chinese youth can see themselves as true warriors, when duty calls.
Article By Leroy Kwok