History of Chinese Kung Fu

Tai Chi Chuan
Chinese Tai Chi Chuan
Kung Fu, an ancient sport popular in China, has a very long history, during which a variety of skills were created and massively improved. Originated from the hunting and defense needs in the primitive society (over 1.7 million years ago – 21st century BC), it at first only included some basic skills like cleaving, chopping, and stabbing. Later the system of Kung Fu formed and developed mainly as the fighting skills from the Xia Dynasty (21st - 17th century BC) to the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), and reached its peak during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911). In modern times, it develops well and becomes not just martial skills or physical movement. It is also a way for keeping fit, entertainment, and performance.


Chinese Kung Fu started to form during the slavery society (around 11th century BC – 403 BC). Upon the foundation of the Xia Dynasty, it well developed to be more practical and standard to better serve battles. During the Shang and  Zhou Dynasties (17th century BC – 256 BC), martial dance was used to train soldiers and enhance the morale of the army. The theory of Tai Chi was put forward then to lay a foundation for the early system of Chinese martial arts. Later, the vassal states in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC) paid much attention to the fighting skills used in the battles. Qi Huangong (716 – 643 BC), one of the state kings at that time, even held martial arts contests twice a year to select heroes.


The development of Kung Fu started during the feudal society (221 BC - 1911). After the Emperor Qin Shihuang (259 - 210 BC) unified the central plain of China, the fighting skills among the soldiers gradually developed into Guanzhong Boxing which was called Hong Fist later. Wrestling, fencing, sword dance and sword fighting were popular during the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC – 220 AD). For example, Xiang Zhuang, a famous general at that time, played sword at Hongmen Banquet with the intention to kill Liu Bang, who later became the Emperor Gaozu of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD).

In the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), at the request of Yue Fei and other patriotic generals, a large number of soldiers and common people tended to practice Kung Fu. It was at that time that Southern Fist (Nanquan) became a popular style taking Hangzhou as the practice center. The Southern Fist mainly emphasized the motions of upper limbs. The movement of elbows and knees was the assistant skills. Later, many similar groups were established to promote the integration of northern and southern martial arts.

Shaolin Kungfu
Shaolin Kungfu
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In the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), since Han nationality was thought of as the ragtag, Han people were forbidden to practice Kung Fu in groups, but they secretly gathered to play. It’s said that Jueyuan, the abbot of Shaolin Temple at that time, succeeded the Eighteen Arhats Fist to create the Seventy-two Fists (Huaquan). Later, he learned Li Family Fist, Baimo Fist and Choy Li Fut to further improve all the skills into One-hundred and Seventy-two Fists, including Five-Element Boxing and Eight-Diagram Boxing.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), Long Fist (Changquan), Hong Fist and Kicking Legs appeared with the single and pair practice. The combination of the northern and southern styles composed the Shaolin School Boxing. Qi Jiguang, a famous patriotic general in the Ming Dynasty, compiled all the skills throughout China at that time, including Long Fist, Short Hands, Hong Fist, Bazi Fist and other skills and people called them Southern Shaolin Boxing. Later, Long Fist, Short Hands, Five Fist and Hua Fist of Shandong Province, Five Shapes Boxing and Crane Boxing of Fujian Province as well as the Hung Kuen, Wing Chun and Choy Li Fut of Guangxi and Guangdong provinces became the mainstream during that time.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), Han people were still forbidden to practice Kung Fu in groups and Southern Shaolin Temple gradually declined. The Shaolin Temple at Mt. Songshan in Henan was under strict supervision. Even the monks were not given the right to practice. However, some works on martial arts were widespread in folk circles. During the middle and end of the dynasty, the basic classification of Internal Boxing and external Boxing was formed, whilst the Northern Legs and Southern Fists became well known. After the first Sino-British Opium War in 1840, many folk martial arts groups sprung up to prevent the British army entering Guangdong. Many specific genres including the Form/Intention Boxing (Xingyiquan), Hung Kuen, Southern Shaolin Boxing, Wing Chun and Tai Chi started to be well improved. After 1864, Hung Kuen, including Hua Fist and Eight-Diagram Boxing was introduced to Jiangsu and Zhejiang areas.

During the Republic of China (1912 - 1949), Jingwu Gymnastics Club, the first non-government Kung Fu organization, was established by Huo Yuanjia and Nong Jinsun. Later it developed many branches in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries.

Nowadays, China government tends to attach more importance to traditional Chinese Kung Fu which has been compiled as content of courses. Every year many performances and contests are held to encourage civilians to learn and inherit the skills. Various groups or organizations have been founded for better advertising and developing, such as International Martial Arts Federation and Chinese Martial Arts Association. Many schools are correspondingly established to teach all kinds of skills, such as Wudang Sanfeng Martial Arts School and Songshan Shaolin Martial Arts School. Moreover, Chinese Kung Fu has come to the world stage to attract more and more foreign people to enjoy and learn.
- Last updated on Jun. 08, 2023 -
Questions & Answers on History of Chinese Kung Fu
Asked by Betty from AUSTRALIA | Jun. 08, 2023 18:59Reply
Is Kung Fu here today?
Answers (1)
Answered by Gina | Jun. 08, 2023 20:50

Yes, a lot of people are still practicing this ancient art today.
Asked by fedsa | May. 16, 2022 19:52Reply
How did kung fu develop over time?
Answers (5)
Answered by Hank | May. 29, 2022 20:02

It has more and more moves and branches over the time.
Answered by Kevin Wert | Dec. 19, 2022 08:54

Martial arts started as a practice routine for armies then evolved into a fighting technique
Answered by Zafra | Dec. 19, 2022 12:00

It developed over time by people practicing it and refining their abilities each time.
Answered by Amelia | Feb. 17, 2023 09:06

Sounds about right considering it is still developing it may completely change by the 3000s
Answered by Urbina | Feb. 17, 2023 09:58

Kung Fu is a mystery with invisible power to finish the sport channeling school. The Confused has met a happy life and lives there ever since then. So no longer confused, just aware! I know kung fu helps life, helps mystery , and is happy. I am getting to see that excersizing every day helps kung fu. Then continues to progress the kung fu moves!
Asked by Moses king from NIGERIA | Jul. 20, 2021 08:55Reply
What is the first desire of Kung Fu to human
It is used in self defense
Answers (1)
Answered by Marshall | Jul. 21, 2021 12:11

The style of hands making
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