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Master Dong Xiusheng

A History of Dong Xiusheng

Translated by Huang Guoqi 


Introduction of Personage (Dong Xiusheng’s lost stories)

Dong Jun, also literally named Xiu Sheng, born in 1882, was a native of Dong village of Taigu county, Shanxi province. His forefathers used to be the assistant minister. The medicine was instructed in his family. His father, Dong Fanglun (?-1926), practiced medicine as his job, traded the antiques concurrently, and also preferred training the martial arts, and used to travel to Beijing, Tianjin and Liaoning, etc. for practicing medicine and engaged in trade, and later settled down in Beijing, was then nicknamed “Shanxi Dong” and widely distributed of his lots of anecdotes. Master Dong Xiusheng was especially clever and smart and learnt poetry and literature from the childhood. In his childhood, he, together with his brother, Dong Jie (literally named Zi Ying), studied the martial arts from his father. His father silently adored him, because of his nimble, vigorous and stable skill.

At the age of twenty, he made progress both in the martial arts and literal ability and started to travel with his father. After his father died, he traveled among Beijing, Tianjin and Liaoning with his school brother, Shi Ruiting, to visit friends and learn from the masters and to practice medicine and train the martial arts. Up to 1918, he returned to his hometown and was invited to be a Chinese medical doctor in Shanxi hospital (director of Chinese medicine later), so he settled down in the province (first in Hong Shi Street, and then moved to live in No 14.Chun Yang Palace till his death). Later, he was invited by Shanxi Mass Education School and Shanxi Martial Arts Promotion Association to work as a teacher of the martial arts.

After Japan invaded China, because of unstable political situation and no means for livelihood, and also addiction in opium, he died from poverty in 1939. His brother, Dong Ziying (1893-1974), first went to Mt. Wutai to strive for virtue and then came all the way to live in Beijing, making living in “Shi Tai Shan” hotel, owned by previous landlord, Shi family, in Hua Shi Street of Chong Wen Men and also working as a teacher in Hua Shi Martial Art School (inside the temple of fire god in Hua Shi Street) to study and train the martial arts and to teach the disciples, together with Tang Fengting and Tang Fengtai, brothers, from Daxing county of Hebei province, and Mr. Wu Peiqin from Shanxi.


Master Dong studied various styles of the martial arts and was thoroughly acquainted with the theories and skillful in the techniques. In his childhood, he studied with his father and many other martial artists in his hometown, Taigu, and trained the local traditional boxing skills and weapons and Xing Yi Quan, just elementarily. After he grew up, he went out to learn with the masters in many places, having his skills delicate and beautiful increasingly and having his name well-known inside and outside the province.


In summer of 1925, Mr. Dong compiled a book, <Shaolin Five-Element Gentle Arts Manuscript>, saying in his foreword: “In 1901, in travelling to Yanjin (old name for Beijing), he met with Mr. Li Zhiying and started to know five-element gentle arts and then learnt it. In investigation of its origin, it was obtained by the ancestor of the master from Shaolin Buddhist Master Miao Dan. And the master kept it secret for three years and never taught to anybody. So, not many people know it. In the study of its original meaning, it is as same as those explanations on yin and yang and five elements. Although it is termed gentle arts, it starts and ends with qigong as its fundamental principle.”

Mr. Chang Zanchun, native of Yuci county and famous calligrapher of our province, and Mr. Li Jinwen (literally named Lixun, 1891-1959), disciple of Mr. Dong, also wrote forewords for this book. It is said in Li’s foreword: “in the regime of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, when Shaolin temple in Fujian was robbed, Buddhist Master Miao Dan collected alms everywhere in a hope to restore its original status. When he travelled into Tongzhou, a county of directly-governed region, where there are many martial artists, Mr. Li Enyuan was especially fond of the attacking and defending techniques, and figured out the master had magic art and invited him to stay at home to learn the art. After learning for several years, he got all the marvelous skills. The master knew he got and went away. But, the temple was not restored afterward and he was not known where he was. The master passed down the art to his third generation, his grandson, Mr. Li Zhiying, literally named Li Jiechen (passed away in the tenth year of Kuomingtang period), who was constitutional short and emaciated, nicknamed Jia Jia Li, and opened an escorts workshop and was well-known inside and outside Sanhaiguan region.

Mr. Li Jiechen passed down this art to Monk Li Yuan, Liu Songqiao and Wang San from Tong county, and Mr. Dong Jun from Taigu county, etc. Mr. Dong, literally named Xiusheng, studied Xing Yi Quan with Mr. Geng Jishan for over twenty years and profoundly understood the mysteries of the boxing art. The master was also skillful in the medical subject and used to work in Shanxi hospital.”

By the introduction of Mr. Li Guichang, disciple of Master Dong, (deputy president of Shanxi Provincial Xing Yi Quan Association, deputy president of the municipal martial art association), Shaolin five-element gentle art is as same as Xing Yi Quan in the theory and techniques, mutually supplemented. In the basic skills of Shaolin five-element gentle art, there are five palms (Uphold (Tuo), Push (Tui), Cloud (Yun), Drive out (Nian), Rub (Mo)), five fists (Dragon, Tiger, Leopard, Snake, Crane), five skills (lying bull skill, linen whip skill, wood ball skill, wood block skill, hanging bag skill), forty two basic movements (bull-lifting posture, bull-seizing posture, moon-watching posture, etc), and also five lines of hand-attaching techniques, hidden with thirty six point-pressing Qin Na techniques, seventy two blocking legs with sideway hanging, seventy two techniques for separating the tendons and dislocating bones. In training, Buddhism and boxing skill merged into one entity and the interior and exterior are cultivated concurrently in specific style.

 一九二五年夏,董先生撰写成《少林五行柔术谱》一书,书中自序云: “清光绪辛丑(1901年),游艺燕京,获见李志英先生,始知有五行柔术,遂从而受业焉。考其术之源,系先生之祖,得自少林妙丹禅师者。而先生三世秘密,无传他人,故今世少人知耳。究其术之原义,可与阴阳五行之造化同体。虽云柔术,而其要以气功为始终之则,神功为造诣之精,乃上乘之技击也。”我省著名书法家榆次常赞春先生和董先生门人李锦文(字立训,1891-1959)等均曾为该书作序。李序云:“清乾隆间,福建少林寺被劫,妙丹禅师出走四外募化,欲复其原状。行至直隶通州境,彼地故多拳术家,有李恩元先生者嗜技击,察知师有奇术,因而留家受业焉。学之数易寒暑,尽得其妙。师知伊功成即辞去,后寺院并未修复,亦不知其所终。先生家传三世至其孙李志英先生,字杰臣(民国十年谢世),天生体质矮瘦,京人皆称戛戛李,在天津开设镖局,山海关外颇负盛名。杰臣先生又传通县黎元和尚,刘松桥,王三,太谷董俊先生等四人。董先生字秀升,后师事耿继善先生练习形意拳,迄今已二十余年矣,深得拳中奥妙,先生兼擅医道,供职并门山西医院。”又据董先师门人李桂昌(山西省形意拳研究会副会长,市武协副主席)先生介绍,少林五行柔术与形意拳理通法同,互为参贯,相得益彰。少林五行柔术底功有五掌(托、推、云、撵、摩),五拳(龙、虎、豹、蛇、鹤),五功(卧牛功,麻辫功,木球功,木板功,吊袋功),四十二种基本动作(提牛势、捉牛势、望月势等),还有五趟相手法对击套路,暗含三十六点按擒拿,七十二截腿别挂,七十二分筋错骨,练时禅拳一体,内外兼修,别具风格。

In learning and studying Xing Yi Quan, Mr. Dong established his own style by researching the boxing theory and methods and absorbing the advantages of various schools. After leaving Shanxi, first he studied with Geng Jishang (literally named Chengxin), disciple of Liu Qilan, and then went to “China Martial Artists Association” of Tianjin in 1914 and studied with Senior Li Cunyi, dean of the association. In that period of time, he went back and forth among Beijing, Tianjin and Cangzhou of Shen county and of course learnt from seniors, Mr. Liu Qilan, Mr. Zhang Zhankui, and Mr. Qian yantang, etc. In discussion with Mr. Jiang Rongjiao, he was appreciated particularly by Mr. Jiang Rongjiao.

In 1918, he returned to his hometown, and studied with Mr. Song Huchen, son of Mr. Song Shirong (1849-1927), and was also instructed by senior Song Shirong and achieved great benefits in the internal energy (Nei Jing). In June of 1924, Mr. Sun Lutang (literally named Fuquan, 1861-1932) of over sixty came to Shanxi and visited senor Song Shirong (then Song worked as a teacher of Chinese martial arts in Infantry Regiment Two in Jiexiu), and when he passed through the provincial capital, he often stayed in Mr. Dong’s house, for several months. Also, Mr. Dong learnt the arts and techniques from Mr. Sun, in addition to Xing Yi Quan, such as Ba Gua Zhang, and Sun style Tai Ji Quan. Gradually, they became good friends. Before his departure, Mr. Sun Lutang gladly set the writing brush to inscribe “Temperament Cultivation Pavilion” for Mr. Dong’s house. In Chapter Nine of <Shaolin Five-Element Gentle Art Manual> on eight extraordinary meridians and internal-energy qigong, it is said: “recently those who really got Taoism were my school grandmaster, Mr. Song Yuezai, my master, Mr. Song Huchen, and my friend, Mr. Sun Lutnang.”

It is clear that Master Dong is respectful and familiar to Mr. Sun’s art. Mr. Li Guichang and Mr. Wang Fu-ren have many group photos that Mr. Dong welcomed Mr. Sun Lutang visiting Shanxi province and saw off Mr. Song Huchen back to Taigu town via Datong town. Afterward, Mr. Liu Wenhua (literally named Dianchen), the second son of Mr. Liu Qilan, was invited by Taiyuan National Normal School to teach, after Mr. Li Bintang (son of Li Chunyi) and Mr. Wang Junchen (used to defeat Russian boxer in Beijing).

Profound and skillful in the art by family instruction, Liu used to serve as instructor of Chinese martial arts for Tsinghua University, and head coach for “China Martial Artists Association” of Tianjin and “Martial Arts Association” of Beijing, and in their meetings, Mr. Dong numbly, in a manner of disciple, asked him for advice and got his arts increasingly skillful. It is clear that Mr. Dong was especially fond of the arts, modestly learnt from various schools and strictly avoided acting with one-tract mind and compiled two volumes of <Detained Explanation of Five Elements and Twelve Forms of Yue Style Xing Yi Quan> in 1934, printed by Fanhua Printing Factory and distributed by Jinxin Bookstore, only book on Xing Yi Quan ever published in our province.


Late Master Dong was capable in both the literal and military affairs, which could be seen from his manuscript, in graceful calligraphy, meaningful article and extensive knowledge. In reviewing <Shanxi Martial Arts and Sports Triple Weekly> then edited and printed by Shanxi Martial Arts Promotion Association from 1933 to 1936, Mr. Dong’s article could be seen in every volume.

In addition to the boxing theory and boxing methods of Xing Yi Quan and Shao Lin Quan, he also introduced the movements and techniques of Gong Li Quan (Public Boxing, 公立拳),  Luo Han Quan (Arhat Boxing, 罗汉拳), Shi Jue Jian (Ten-Formula Sword, 十诀剑), Ba Fang Dao (Eight-Direction Knife, 八方刀), Duan Wen Dao (Door-Broken Knife, 断门刀), Wu Tang Bai Yuan Gun (Five-Line White Ape Stick, 五趟白猿棍), Liu He Qiang (Six-Harmony Spear, 六合枪), and Hu Tou Gou (Tiger-Head Hook, 虎头钩), etc.


Mr. Jiang Rong Jiao, disciple of Zhang Zhan Kui, established Martial Arts and Morality Promotion Association in Shanghai in 1927 as its president and used to compile several serial books on Chinese martial arts and a book of <Biographies of Contemporary Martial Art Specialists> (published in 1930), to which Yu Youren and Zhang Zhijiang (former president of Central Fine Arts Museum) used to write forewords. The notes of “Anecdotes Stories of Martial Arts in the Recent Fifty Years” in small characters were written above the name of the book. Mr. Jiang claimed it a realistic book on the personnel stories and historical evolution of the martial arts, in which every person and every facts could be verified by the detailed informative evidences.

This book was distributed by Shanghai Martial Arts Publisher and World Press. There are six volumes totally 44 in this book, with the six volume of <Textual Research of Masters>. In the forewords of the book, it is said that only the real people and real stories are recorded, such as the detailed historical facts that Han Muxi (originally named Jin Yong) defeated Russian Hercules Cantel and won eleven gold medals in 1918, and Wang Junchen (Qingfeng) at Beijing and Sun Fuquan (Lutang) at Tianjin defeated Russian Hercules. At the beginning part of the book, photos of gold medals obtained by Han Muxia were printed.

Dong Xiusheng was mentioned from the second volume of this book, with lots of chapters listing Dong’s anecdotes in the martial arts. The title of the fourteenth chapter is “All was shocked by Dong Xiusheng’s words”. It is written in the book: “Dong Xiusheng, a native of Taigu county, Shanxi, was outstanding in appearance, and his father, nicknamed Shanxi Dong, was master of Wang Zibing. He trained the martial arts with his father at home, and later studied with Song Shiyong. Mr. Song taught the mysterious theories of Xing Yi Quan completely to Dong Xiusheng. Therefore, Dong Xiusheng was the first major disciple of Song Shiyong and also the sixth generation of Xing Yi Quan and was very outstanding among the same generation in Shanxi.” It was mentioned in <Textual Research of Masters>: “In meeting with Jia Muqian in Shanghai in this spring (1928, noted by author), Mr. Jia showed Song Shiyong’s mortal portrait at the age of 79 (Song died in September of 1927, noted by author), looking in white beard and marvelous spirit. Jia was a senior disciple of the master and was highly adored by the master.

Mr. Song had two sons, the first son named Huchen, the second son named Tielin. The alive disciples of the master are Dong Xiusheng and Lu Jue (a native of Qingyuan county of Shanxi, noted by the author), all famous in the field of the martial arts.” Jiang Rongjiao might think Master Dong was older in the age and more knowledgeable, listing him as “the first senior disciple of Song Shiyong”. Although the correction was made in the textual research of the masters, Master Dong was in fact the formally-invited disciple of Mr. Song Huchen, the first son of Master Song. As it was mentioned in the book by mistake that Jiao Jintang was a disciple of Che Yizhai, but in fact Jiao was a disciple of Li Fuzhen (Master Changyou), disciple of Master Che. Wang Zibing, nicknamed Small Wang in the book, studied with the masters of Li Fenggang and “Shanxi Dong” successively and was addressed “Big Saber Wang”.

张占魁门人姜容樵先生,于民国十六年在上海创办尚武进德会并任会长,曾编著国术丛书多种和《当代武侠奇人传》(民国十九年出版)一部,于右任、张之江(原中央国术馆馆长)等人曾为该书题词作序。奇人传书名之上写有“最近五十年来国术掌故小说”的小字批文,姜自称属于武林人物事迹及历史沿革的写实之作,其人其事,率皆斑斑可考,翔实有据。该书由上海武学书局、世界书局发行。全书六册,前五册共四十四,第六册为《人物考证》。该书自序中说仅记真人实事。譬如韩慕侠(原名金镛)于民国七年击败俄国大力士康泰尔夺得十一杖金牌,以及王俊臣(庆丰)于民国八年在北京和孙福全(禄堂)在奉天皆击败过俄国大力士等史实均有详载,书首还刊有韩慕侠所得金牌之照片。该书从第二册开始写到董秀升,有不少篇章专写董的武林掌故,第十四回的标题就是“董秀升放言惊四座”,书中写道: “山西太谷董秀升,生得一表非凡,他父亲人称山西董,是小王五王子斌的师傅,他在家跟其父山西董练功夫,后来又拜在宋世荣门下,宋先生把形意拳的奥理一古脑儿和盘托出,全教给秀升,故董又是宋世荣第一个大弟子,也是形意拳第六代穆字辈人,在山西同辈中算得是铁中铮铮,庸中佼佼。”该书《人物考证》一册中写道:“今春(1928年?笔者注)遇同门贾慕骞于海上(即上海),出示宋世荣七十九岁遗容(宋卒于1927年9月?笔者注),白须飘胸,精神奕然,贾君为先生之高足,深得先生之三昧。宋先生有二子,长虎臣,次铁麟。先生之门人尚有董秀升,吕珏(山西清源县人一笔者注),皆有声于国术界者。”姜容樵可能觉得董先师年长,又博学多才,便写成是“宋世荣的第一个大弟子”,虽然在人物考证中作了补正,但实际董先师是宋的长子虎臣先生的执帖弟子。正如书中误写乔锦堂为车毅斋之徒一样,实际乔系车师之徒李复祯(常有师傅)之弟子。书中所说的小王五王子斌先后师事于李凤岗、“山西董”等先生,后来人称“大刀王老五”。

Master Dong’s skill was formal in the postures, complete in the techniques, strict in the energy and strength, efficient in body experience and application and especially proficient in attacking techniques. Master Li Guichang often said that “five kinds of skills” of Mr. Dong were trained without interruption daily, in marvelous care, incomparable with the ordinary people. His technique in testing the hand and attacking the opponent was extraordinarily mysterious, done by the method instead of the strength.

His most handy techniques are snake entangling the hand, iron broom, pasting the latch, blocking upward and hanging downward, by moving the two hands in chains, and by intending the sticking and wrapping techniques with the elbow and knee, and by looking for the energy marvelously upward, downward, leftward and rightward.

The master was over sixty, and while testing with hands with young and strong adults, he was like playing a tumbler, so amazingly that shocking the others. His disciple, Li Lixun (Jinwen), originally a formally-accepted disciple of Master Qi Zixian (literally named Zhenlin, studied with Master Wang Fuyuan), studied Xing Yi Quan for years and especially skillful in giant pole, nicknamed “Giant Pole Li”. In 1923, when he met with Master Dong for the first time, he remained unconvinced by his skills. Then, Master Dong was almost fifty and in seeing him smart in mind and solid in the foundation, he tried to take him as a disciple and tested with him. His wife was sitting at the edge of brick bed, wadding cotton and sewing the quilt, and Dong uplifted him with a “soft Pi Quan” over his wife’s head, falling down to the brick bed. He was not convinced, and again for two times, the basin and tea things were all smashed. Afterwards, Li was completely convinced and was accepted to study the skill, making himself in great progress in the techniques.


Master Dong was engaged in medical services as his public affairs and also engaged in the martial arts and writing. He had lots of the students when he used to work as a teacher of the martial arts, but he had only a few formally-accepted disciples. After Mr. Li Jinwen was accepted as a disciple by formal ceremony in 1924, Mr. Zhang Antai (disciple of Mr. Mu Xiuyi, knitting mat as his business, also ranked in third place, nicknamed “Mat Three”, used to go to Nanjin to join the martial arts test on behalf of Shanxi in 1932 and won a “He Yingqin Pennants”.) introduced Li Guichang, Liu Yi, Shen Binglian, Miao Yulin and Wang Naiyi (originally named Jiayi) to be formally accepted as disciples by ceremony. Afterward, Li Guichang introduced Shang Zhi (Changsuo) and Shi Ruiting introduced Qi Ai to study with Master Dong.



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