Not the “eight trigrams” you were expecting

26 Jul

The Eight Trigrams rebellion (八卦教起義) (1813)


Another White Lotus related rebellion we will discuss is the Eight Trigrams rebellion (八卦教起義). Once again, we see the intersection of class issues, religious sectarianism and independent martial arts groups. Perhaps here we also so clearly see the questions of origin and the divisions within such rebellions.


The rebellion was under the leadership of a triumvirate; the kings of Heaven, Man and Earth. The first of these men, Lin Qing (林清), soon to be named the “King of Heaven”, was yet another character strongly fitting a JiangHu profile. Lin had been a drifter, a con artist, a gambler and had worked as a (probably fake) healer. Despite a background that hardly seem suited to religious leadership, he managed to take over a small sect known as the Tianli Sect (天理教). How exactly the Tianli Sect (天理教) was related to the White Lotus sect appears uncertain, with the previous caveat that Qing officials perhaps used it as a blanket term for all heterodox movements.


Still appearing more hustler than religious leader, Lin Qing made contact with Li Wen-Cheng (李文成) in 1811. Li Wen-Cheng, soon to be named the “King of Men”, was already the leader of several small religious sects in Hua county Henan, and surrounding areas of Shandong and Zhili. Together, Lin and Li consolidated their followers under the banner of the Eight Trigram Sect (八卦教), also called the Nine Palaces Sect (九宮教). Practitioners of the Bagua Zhang (八卦掌) martial arts school would naturally find these details interesting. Among the smaller sects absorbed into this larger new sect were the Ronghua Society (榮華會), the Baiyang Sect (白陽教), the Hongyang Sect (紅陽教), and the Qingyang Sect (青陽教).

The White Lotus Rebellion had begun as a tax protest and in response to local government corruption. Wang Lun had announced himself the reincarnation of Maitreya and that he was destined to become Emperor of China. In a similar vein, the Eight Trigrams Rebellion most proximate cause also seems rather political. In 1812, the leaders of the sect announced that Li Wencheng, “King of Men”, was “Tue lord of the Ming”. A rebellion was going to usher in a new “kalpa” in which Li was going to be the next emperor of a restored Ming Dynasty.(Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989 by Bruce A. Elleman)


It is within this context we can best understand the arrival of the third leader of this new sect, Feng Ke-Shan (馮克善), named “King of Earth”. By most accounts, Feng was a man with little interest in religion (Esherick 44). He was a gambler who frequently got into drunken brawls.
Lin Qing, “King of Heaven” also initially had little respect for martial artists, upon meeting a renowned fighter scornfully stating “Ours is the way of immortals, we do not use swords.” (Esherick 50). But rebellions, especially ones intent upon overthrowing a dynasty, required men skilled in violence. Feng had his own personal martial arts group and was also from the Mei Hua Quan (梅花拳) school. Mei Hua Quan was (and remains) a large, well established and respected tradition in northern China. This probably accounts for the general feeling he was a man with extensive connections with other regional martial arts groups he could recruit for the sect.


The Mei Hua Quan martial arts school presents us with an excellent example of how a single individual, in this case Feng Ke-Shan, is hardly indicative of a larger movement. Mei Hua Quan can be traced back at least as far as 1742 to a teacher named Yang Bing (楊炳). Yang was a graduate of the highest military examination with third place honors and had served in the metropolitan garrison. (Esherck 149 and Yang). Subsequent generations of Mei Hua Quan martial artists appear to have maintained good relations with local militia leaders, the retired military degree holders and the local gentry. It appears to have been a martial arts school that could be counted on to provide men in defense of the region and had tolerated precisely because it served a useful social function.

In 1813, several natural disasters and a poor harvest resulted in famine provided the ideological pretext to begin the rebellion. Eight Trigrams rebels spread through the provinces of Henan, Shandong and Zhili. Some rebels even invaded the Imperial City. In response, Feng Ke-Shan’s Mei Hua Quan teacher, an elderly medicine seller named Tang Heng-Le (唐恒乐) renounced him as a student. Tang then led his students in joining the local militia in suppressing the sectarians. (esherick 52) According to official documents, Feng Ke-Shan was caputed and put to death by dismemberment.


One Response to “Not the “eight trigrams” you were expecting”

  1. docnamedtroy August 12, 2017 at 6:57 pm #

    Reblogged this on Ground Dragon Martial Arts.

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