In previous posts, including those on The legend and reality behind the Southern Shaolin Monastery, A Brief History of the secret society Tiandihui and The 5 Elders of Shaolin : The mythology of Hung Mun styles, I have developed some aspects of the origins Wing Chun written by Ip Man. I consider this whole part corresponds to the legendary origins of the system, but cannot be established as historical truth. We have seen this part on the origins of Wing Chun exposed by Ip Man, borrows from many other already existing legendary stories. In his manuscript, Ip Man goes on to say that Wing Chun was transmitted within the Red Boat Opera, a very famous traveling opera in Guangdong in the 19th century.
“Once married, Yim Wing Chun passed on her knowledge to her husband Leung Bok Chau 梁博儔. Leung Bok Chau passed it on to Leung Lan Kwai 梁蘭桂. Leung Lan Kwai passed it on to Wong Wah Bo 黃華寶. Wong Wah Bo was a member of the Red Boat Opera 紅 船, as was Leung Yee Tai 梁二娣”
Ip Man, 1965/66
The period of the Red Boat Opera represents the transition point between the Legend and the History of Wing Chun. All lineages admit that at some point in the History of the system, Wing Chun was transmitted within this opera, somewhere between the beginning of the 19th century and 1854, when the opera was destroyed and banned for 15 years, a direct result of the Red Turban Rebellion .
Historical background of Guangdong, early 19th century
Some chronological landmarks in Guangdong, in the 19th and early 20th century :
- 1644-1912 – Reign of Manchu dynasty, Qing
- 1839-1842 – 1st Opium War
- 1850-1864 – Taiping rebellion
- 1854-1856 – Red Turban Rebellion
- 1856-1860 – 2nd Opium War
- 1899-1901 – Révolte des boxeurs
- 1912 – Fall of the Qing dynasty and establishment of the Republic of China
Guangdong is a province in its own right in the Chinese Empire. This locality is very rich, very fertile, open to the world and has a strong economic activity under the Qing. It also resulted in a very large population, which continued to increase during the 19th century with the influx of Chinese people from other provinces. In the eyes of the rest of China, Guangdong is often singled out, the belligerent and rude character of the Cantonese is emphasized and prejudices about food are mentioned. Faced with this form of anti-Cantonese racism, the people of Guangdong give the response that they are the most Chinese of all the provinces. The Mongols then the Manchus having invaded the northern provinces, the Southern Chinese would have remained “pure”. Cantonese, the language of Guangdong, is also said to be the closest dialect to archaic Chinese. 
Under the Qing, Guangdong was certainly the richest province in China. Since the 16th century, the empire has gradually opened up to trade with the Westerners. However, the Manchurian government was reluctant to open up trade, because the Chinese lived in self-sufficiency withdrawn into themselves. However, trading with the results allowed them to obtain silver, the precious metal used for the country’s currency.
From the 19th century, Guangdong saw a period of strong expansion of population and commercial markets. These factors that enriched the Qing are now detrimental to the empire and causing internal political turmoil . After 1820, the opium trade grew and a parallel economy developed for the benefit of illegal organizations, often run by secret societies. The English spend all their money buying tea from the Chinese. The opium trade allows them to recover this precious metal . This greatly displeases the Chinese who decide to put an end to the opium trade. The first Opium War broke out in 1839. It ended in 1842 with the victory of the English and their European allies. The Manchurians therefore bowed to the Westerners during the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) which ceded Hong Kong to England and forced China to open 5 ports to Westerners : Guangzhou, Amoy, Fuzhou, Ningbo and Shanghai. The secret societies intensify in the 5 ports whose activity is stimulated by international trade and the thrust of capitalism. They enlist many people and exert constant pressure on the Manchurian government, which turns a blind eye for fear of reprisals. 
Faced with these permanent tensions, local power relies on the help of local elite to ensure the proper functioning of the administration, the collection of taxes, etc. This gentry therefore play a very important role in the social relations of the province but also in the economy by financing social assistance, public work and education . It is a symbol of order and stability. It also intervenes to protect property and people, sometimes with the help of personal private militias who play the role of police.
Administratively, the provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi are united under the greater province of Lianggong, headed by a governor general, sometimes called a viceroy. This is appointed directly by the emperor. The Governor General also leads the province’s two major military forces : the Green Standard Army and the Eight Banners.
The Luying 綠營, the Green Standard Army, is made up solely of so-called Han Chinese and also commanded by Han. On the contrary, the Baqi 八旗, the Eight Banners (or Banner troop), is constituted and led only by Manchus. The Eight Banners is better trained and more reliable than the Green Standard Army in the eyes of the Manchurian authorities.
The Red Boat Opera
Fatshan, (Foshan, in Mandarin) is certainly the cradle of Cantonese opera, also known as Guangdong opera.
In the 16th century, during the reign of Emperor Jiajing (1522-1566), the King Fa Wui Goon 瓊花會舘 (or 琼花会馆) was created in Dajiwei District, Fatshan . It is the headquarters of the Fatshan Opera Guild.
The style of Cantonese opera is characterized by its dynamics and vitality. It is inspired by epic tales with actors practicing martial arts and acrobatics, in elaborate costumes. They also play folk songs with local musical instruments such as gongs and drums. The various opera groups circulate on the canals of the Pearl River, aboard boats (junks) painted red, hence the nickname Hung Suen 紅船 (Hongchuan, in Mandarin), the Opera of the Red Boat . The circulation of boats seems to have been initiated from the 1730s. The red color of boats would have several possible origins. For one thing, red is the designated color for Guangdong Province, which would have helped differentiate red boats from boats from other provinces. On the other hand, the boats could have been painted red to attract the attention of local residents . From the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century, red boats are the most important means of transport for Cantonese opera .
Opera troupes are organized as a traveling society. Each troupe has around 130 people with different trades and roles : actors, musicians, managers, stagehands, technicians, administrators, laundresses, hairdressers, cooks, sailors. Two boats are needed to transport all the crew members, they are called Tianting 天艇, Heaven Boat, and Diting 地艇, Earth Boat. For the largest troupes, a third ship, named Huating 畫艇, Picture Boat, can be used to transport all the sets, costumes and instruments used in the performances.
The ships are approximately 28m long and 3.5m wide. They are all identical, built to specific and regular standards and can therefore be easily interchanged.
The operas used to buy young boys from poor peasant families so they could teach them the basics of opera playing : playing, singing and practicing martial arts. Traditionally, all roles, even female ones, are played by men. The most experienced actors are identified as Sifu and transmit their knowledge, their techniques to the younger actors for their acting, their singing performances or their acrobatics and martial art techniques . The operas performed on the Red boats depict popular myths and legends such as that of the famous novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the 4 great classics of the Ming dynasty .
What about Wing Chun in the Red Boat Opera?
In the 19th century, the proliferation of piracy throughout the Pearl River area made the itinerant travels of opera companies increasingly dangerous. Faced with the weapons used by the pirates (muskets, cannons, long bamboo pikes and sabers), the members of the boats certainly sought to develop a close-combat system to fight in the confined spaces of the ships . If we add to this, the strong competition between the different troops, leading the companies to constantly renew themselves, and sometimes recourse to illegal activities, such as gambling, the members of the Red Boat therefore had many reasons to develop and improve their martial art techniques .
On the other hand, according to the Wing Chun tradition of Ku Lo 古勞 town (or Gu Lao), the Red Boat Opera would have housed the second generation of Wing Chun practitioners trained directly by Yim Wing Chun and Leung Bok Chau. We find among these practitioners, Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai mentioned in the manuscript of Ip Man, but also Dai Fa Min Kam, Gao Lo Chung, Hung Gun Biu and Leung Lan Kwai . It is difficult to verify the existence of these characters because they are part of a tradition transmitted orally in the circle of Wing Chun practitioners for several generations. However, two members of the Red Boat Opera are well known and eventually played a role in the transmission of martial arts within the opera : Tan Sau Ng and Li Wen Mao.
Tan Sau Ng 攤手五 / 瘫手五
In 1723, an actor from the Xiang Kun 湘昆 opera in Beijing, Cheung Ng 漲五 (Zhang Wu in Mandarin) took refuge in King Fa Wui Goon in Fatshan to escape the Qing authorities who were persecuting him for his anti-Manchurian activities. During his journey south, he lost the use of one of his arms following a risk with thieves, hence his nickname Tan Sau Ng 瘫手五, Handicapped hand Ng . Tan Sau Ng is also written and translated by 攤手五, Spread out arm Ng, because according to some sources, this nickname was given to Cheung Ng for his dexterity in the use of this technique, taan sau 攤手 . Finally, other sources indicate that Cheung Ng got this nickname because he was a beggar in Fatshan before joining the Red Boat and always had his palm open to collect some coins .
Later, in Fatshan, he became a teacher and taught his acting skills to Dajiwei’s King Fa Wui Goon. Tan Sau Ng is reputed to have greatly contributed to the fame of the Red Boat Opera . According to the tradition of Pan Nam 彭南 of Fatshan and Ban Chung Wing Chun 班中詠春 in Malaysia, he would be at the initiative of the Red Boat Opera and founder of King Fa Wui Goon of Fatshan and would have taught the Wing Chun within the Red Boat Opera in particular at Wong Wah Bo . About this, tradition says that Tan Sau Ng would have been a disciple of a Shaolin monk from Henan named Yat Chum, Speck of Dust, and would have learned Taijiquan 太极拳, Tanglang 螳螂 Praying Mantis, Yingzhao 鷹爪 Eagle claw and Jingangzhang 金剛掌 the diamond palm . However Leung Ting refutes this idea, he indicates that it is probable that Tan Sau Ng had taught acting to people like Wong Wa Boh 黃華寶, Da Fa Min Kam 大花面錦 and Leung Yee Tai 梁二娣 but no martial art techniques .
The Taiping Rebellion
Concerning Li Wen Mao, his story is part of the Red Turban Rebellion, itself considered as a sub-conflict of the Taiping Rebellion which took place from 1850 to 1864. The Taiping Rebellion was born in Southern China where the disturbances social welfare was important in the aftermath of the Opium War of 1839-42. In the 1840s, there was a sharp increase in rural poverty, added to this, the pressure of overpopulation, the considerable collapse of the tea market, the opening of new commercial ports and the presence of Christian missionary, the Southern China was disturbed by strong social tensions at the end of the 1840s.
Hong Xiguan 洪秀全 (1814-64) managed to mobilize 20,000 men in 1851. Coming from the Hakka community, he became a charismatic leader, inspired by Christian precepts . On March 19, 1853, Hong Xiquan seized Nanjing, despite being defended by 5,000 soldiers of the Eight Banners troop, and executed the 35,000 citizens, mainly of Manchu origin. Nanjing is renamed Tianjing 天京, becomes the Heaven Capital of Taiping, 太平天國, the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace .
Guangdong province is impacted by the Taiping revolt. Taxes are levied more by the Qing authorities to carry out the war against the Taiping, which increases the precariousness already very present in the province since the closing of many silver mines of many people are without direct consequence of the opium war (1839-42). The severe droughts of the years 1848, 1849 and 1850 added tension and further contributed to the proliferation of piracy and banditry. The disorder becomes so serious that militias are created in 1850 and 1851 .
Significant troubles appeared in Guangdong from April 1853. The secret societies of Guangzhou acted in broad daylight by kidnapping merchants, extorting wealthy families, imposing their own taxes on the townspeople and putting up posters with anti-Manchu slogans. The Guangzhou authorities failed to resolve the crisis and militias organized themselves with the help of barricades and fortifications to fight against the attackers.
Tensions escalate further when authorities demand a bigger payout from the gambling guild. In retaliation, the guild allies itself with the secret society *Siu Dao Hui 小刀會, the Small Knife Society, composed of many craftsmen and boatmen . This new group undertakes fights with the authorities, in particular in Dongguan and Huizhou, two large cities east of Guangzhou . For the first time, the slogan Fan Qing Fu Ming 反清復明 is publicly claimed .
The special situation of Guangdong Province provided the ideal conditions for widespread disturbances known as the Red Turban Rebellion beginning in 1854.
* The Siu Dao Hui was driven out of Guangdong in 1853. The secret society then turned to Shanghai and seized the city. Shanghai was under the control of the secret society until 1855, when Shanghai Westerners, allied with Qing forces, retook the city. 
The Red Turban Rebellion 广东洪兵起义
In the 19th century, the Tiandihui 天地會 split into several autonomous groups in Guangdong, however, in the early 1850s, a certain Chen Song 陳松 emerged as the unifier of the Tiandihui and became the general leader of the different groups . The San He Hui 三合會 , a subsidiary of the Tiandihui, widespread in Guangdong, took advantage of the strong social tensions and provoked a great insurrection in 1854, which was to be called the Red Turban Rebellion . The insurgents named themselves Hongjinze 紅巾賊 , the Red Turbans, because they all wear a red turban around their head, supposed to bring them a higher power . They are also called the Hong Bing 洪兵, Triad Soldiers .
In 1854, Chen Song gathered several leaders of men like Chenkai 陳開, Li Wen Mao 李文茂, He Liu 何六, Yuan Yushan 袁玉山 to organize insurrections all around Guangzhou and bring about a general uprising . However, it seems that it was Hong Xiuquan himself, the leader of the Taiping Rebellion, who initiated the Guangdong Red Turban Uprising by contacting Chen Kai and Li Wen Mao directly .
The rebellion started in June 1854, when He Liu and his men attacked Dongguan. The following month, Chen Kai and 7,000 San He Hui members attacked Fatshan to seize the smelters and arsenals that supplied the entire province  . Several insurrections follow during the summer around Guangzhou. The Manchurian authorities are quickly overwhelmed by an army of Red Turbans estimated at more than 200,000 men . Faced with the enemy, the Manchurian forces were insufficient : 5,000 Eight Banners soldiers, 4,000 Green Standard soldiers and 6,000 militia men gathered in Guangzhou .
However, in October 1854, Chen Song was arrested by the Manchurian authorities. Then, an alliance is formed between Li Wen Mao and Chen Kai, the most important leaders of the Red Turbans. A great rebellion is organized to take Guangzhou . At the beginning of November 1854, the Eight Banners army succeeded in repelling the Red Turbans North of Guangzhou. Then the imperial forces turn towards Fatshan, with the help of warships, but the assault is a failure, 15,000 Manchurian soldiers are killed . Finally, on November 12, 1854, the governor of Liangguang, Ye Mingshen 葉名琛 entered Fatshan and burned down several streets and buildings, landmarks of the Red Turbans, including that of King Fa Wui Goon, the Red Boat Opera Guild . Little by little, rural militias organize themselves to regain control, in a few weeks the Red Turbans are pushed back . However, at the beginning of 1855, the Red Turbans were still numerous and threatening enough to besiege Guangzhou. The British did not want to take part in the fight but still provided material aid by supplying the Manchurian armies with food and ammunition. To strengthen the armies, mercenaries, yong 勇, are more enlisted to form militias. In March 1855, Guangzhou was saved and Fatshan was liberated, it was a heavy defeat for the Red Turbans .
The insurgents disperse in the neighboring provinces, Li Wen Mao and Chen Kai take refuge in Guangxi and other leaders leave for Hunan. Some allied with the Taiping to continue the fight against the Qing government.
Finally the rebellion came to a definitive end at the beginning of 1856, when the various groups were arrested. A “White Terror” follows where 100,000 people directly involved or simply suspected of being linked to the Red Turbans are executed en masse . In total, an estimated 1 million people lost their lives in the Red Turban Rebellion. .
Li Wen Mao 李文茂
Li Wen Mao (Lei Man Mau, in Cantonese) is from Heshan, Guangdong. He is known for the role of Zhang Fei, hero of the novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in the Fenghuangyi troupe, of the Red Boat Opera, towards the end of the 1840s. Known for a strong presence and a powerful voice, he also excels in martial art roles . It is also often stated that Li Wen Mao was an expert in Bak Hok Wing Chun, the White Crane style of Wing Chun village.
In 1854, Li Wen Mao established himself as one of the main leaders of the Red Turban rebellion and enlisted several members of the Red Boat Opera. He then organized his troops into three armies according to the roles held by the actors in the opera companies : Civil Tigers, Brave Tigers and Flying Tigers . Li’s men fight with opera costumes symbolizing the heroes of the novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. When the Qing recaptured Fatshan in 1854, in retaliation against Li Wen Mao and the Red Boat Opera troupes, the King Fa Wui Goon, the headquarter of the Fatshan Opera Guild was burned down. Traveling operas were then banned until 1865 . Finally, in 1871, a new opera guild was built in Guangzhou.
The History of Wing Chun is linked to the History of the Red Boat Opera, which represents the transition point between Wing Chun legend and historical reality. Unfortunately, many of the opera archives were lost during the Red Turban Rebellion and the destruction of King Fa Wui Goon in 1854.
In his manuscript, Ip Man specified that Wong Wah Bo 黃華寶 and Leung Yee Tai 梁二娣 worked together on the Red Boat Opera. They compared, improved and exchanged their techniques, and thus, the Luk Dim Boon Kwan 六點半棍, 6 and a half point pole, was incorporated into Wing Chun. In this regard, it is known that the Luk Dim Boon Kwan form, like other forms with weapons, was performed by the members of the opera in front of the public . However, this form is not specific to Wing Chun, it spread to many martial arts in Southern China in the Guangzhou area from this time, mid-19th century. .
“It has been sait to be the long oar used to push the boats alongside the small canals and rivers in the Pearls River Delta during the Red Boat era.”
Kleber Battaglia 
The beginning of Wing Chun teaching in Fatshan seems closely linked to this period. It was at this time that Leung Jan 梁贊, Fung Siu Ching 馮少青 and Kok Bo Chuen 郝寶全 learned Wing Chun in Fatshan with members of the Red Boat Opera. These opera members such as Wong Wah Bo 黃華寶, Leung Yee Tai 梁二娣, Dai Fa Min Kam 大花面錦 and Yik Kam 奕金 may have taken part in the Red Turban Rebellion of 1854 and were potentially members of the Tiandihui. 
Following the destruction of King Fa Wui Goon and the banning of traveling operas, members of the Red Boat Opera who survived the Red Turban Rebellion had to go into hiding for several years to escape the “White Terror” that followed the rebellion. A good time to teach Kung Fu in exchange for protection against the Manchurian authorities.
Regarding Wong Wah Bo, Sergio Iadarola argues that he was at the origin of the 3 hand forms in the system. He would have cut an original form named Siu Lin Tau 小練頭 into 3 forms that we have today, Siu Nim Tau 小念頭, Chum Kiu 尋橋 and Biu Tze 標指 so that the system is learned faster and the practitioners can fight the Qing . However, I have a lot of reservations about this hypothesis because battlefield conditions changed rapidly in China in the 19th century. The practice of martial arts in the context of major conflicts, whether for the official armed troops of the Qing, private militias or insurgents, all these armies used “traditional weapons” (sword, sabre, spear, etc.), but also firearms (musket, cannons…). Unarmed combat is therefore secondary, if not almost absent, on the battlefield.
The Red Turban Rebellion is often seen as one of the many conflicts of the Taiping Rebellion which spanned from 1850 to 1864. However, it appears that the Red Turban Rebellion was primarily born out of a growing tax revolt scale and which does not claim any real political will. The link with the Taiping is not proven, contrary to what the local authorities at the time claimed . Anyway, during this period, several conflicts and uprisings took place in almost all the provinces of the empire. So that in the end, it is considered that the Taiping revolt caused 20 million deaths and therefore represents to this day the deadliest civil war in all of human history .
 www.foshanmuseum.com et The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts, p66, JUDKINS Benjamin, NIELSON Jon, ed. State University of New York Press, 2015
 www.foshanmuseum.com and The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts, p61, JUDKINS Benjamin, NIELSON Jon, ed. State University of New York Press, 2015
 The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts, p58-60, JUDKINS Benjamin, NIELSON Jon, ed. State University of New York Press, 2015 and https://chinesemartialstudies.com/2013/09/23/cantonese-popular-culture-and-the-creation-of-the-wing-chuns-opera-rebels/
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 Complete Wing Chun : The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun’s History and Traditions, p69-70, CHU Robert, RITCHIE Rene, ed. Tuttle Publishing, 1998 and Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, p43, LEUNG Ting, ed. Leung Ting Co, 2000
 Strangers at the Gate, p127, WAKEMAN Frederic, ed. University of California press, 1966 and Origin of Wing Chun an Alternative Perspective, p24, BUCKLER Scott, Journal of Chinese Martial Studies, Issue 6, winter 2012
 The Heaven and Earth Society and the Red Turban Rebellion in Late Qing China, p7, KIM Jaeyoon, Journal of Humanities & social Sciences, volume3, Issue 1, 2009 and Strangers at the Gate, p137, WAKEMAN Frederic, ed. University of California press, 1966
 The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire, p3, REILLY Thomas H. , ed. University of Washington Press, 2004 and The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts, p37, JUDKINS Benjamin, NIELSON Jon, ed. State University of New York Press, 2015