Lee Man Mao of the Red Boat Opera


Excerpt from the Government of Foshan, China, which sheds light on the history and circumstances of the Wing Chun Kuen ancestors aboard the Red Junk Opera


Li Wenmao was an actor of Guangdong opera at the end of Daoguan and beginning of Xianfeng of Qing Dyansty, who was physically robust, with voice like large bell, skilled at sword etc. He regarded low the fortune and high the personal loyalty, full of knightly spirit and anti-oppression thoughts.

In 1853, after Taiping Army captured Nanjing, Hong Qiuquan accepted the recommendation of the inferior officer Luo Dagang and sent emissary to Guangdong for looking for the leaders of anti-Qing organizations so as to plot armed force for south-north cooperation to overthrow Qing Dynasty. The emissary first found Li Wenmao in the Qionghuaguan at Dajiwe, Foshan, and then contacted the leaders of Guangdong Tiandi Association Chen Kai and Chen Jingang before plotting uprise. In July 1854, they started to upsrise at Damaogang, Foshan, with Chen Kai as the Generalissimo, Li Wenmao as the Vice Generalissimo, Kuang Neng (Monk Neng) as the Military Counsellor, Feng Gun and Feng Man etc as the generals. They soon captured Foshan Town. Chen Kai called himself “Daning”. At that time, the operas were resisting opera taxes and beat the tax officers, so the Red Boat disciples and the city poor people ran after them. So Li Wenmao organized three Troops with the valiant opera disciples, respectively “Wehu Army”, “Menghu Army” and “Feihu Army”. He himself and the other general officers wore the opera clothes. Later as the insurrectionists increased radically, the opea clothes fell short. So they used the red kerchief instead of the helmets, hence they were called Red Kerchief Army. They used their opera Kung Fu of vaults and jumps in attacking the enemy cities. The Qing soldiers were frustrated and escaped. At the beginning of Wemei Uprise, they had only several thousand of soldiers, and soon they grew to tens of thousand soldiers. After several weeks, they had conquered tens of prefectures and couties. Even the Qing Dynasty ruling class had to admit gthey were remarkable in fightingh.

From summer of 1854 to spring of 1855, the Uprise Army occupied Foshan for half year. About one million peasants responded to the insurrection and occupied fourteen prefectures and counties around Guangzhou. Li Wenmao and Chen Kai besieged Guangzhou City. They advanced the slogans of “capture dragon”(Shilong), “catch tiger”(Humen), “kill goat”(Guangzhou was also called Five-Goat City), “visit Buddist”(Foshan), “go to west” (to establish base area in Guangxi Province). However, as the British imperisalists helped a tyrant to do evil, shipping foodstuff, munition and troops to Liangguang Viceroy Ye Mingchen, the Uprise Army failed to capture Foshan after fighting for half year. So they gave up Foshan, and turned to attack Guangxi from Zaoqing. Under the help of the uprise army of the minorities in Guangxi, they captured Xuzhou Prefecture (now Guiping County), and established Dacheng State, where the Xunzhou was renamed Xiujing, and Chen Kai was called Pingxun King.


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