Chinese Red Boat Opera Companies... And Assassins?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Discussion' started by Obake, Nov 20, 2015.

  1. Obake

    Obake Valued Member

    Does anyone have any knowledge regarding the "Painted Faces" and martial actors involved in the Red Boat opera troupe during the Qing dynasty?
  2. Mushroom

    Mushroom De-powered to come back better than before.

    Apart from a few stories with very little (if not completely fictional) evidence of who was involved etc....depends on what you want out of the info.

    Chinese Opera Performers where all male (no females allowed...Jackie Chan was known to play the Princess' and Fairies during his time).

    They were considered to be very low class in the societal hierarchy, which helped them with their travels.

    Painted Faces would refer to...well....painted faces. Traditional Chinese Opera, requiries that all performers do their own elaborate facial make up. And under superstition, they would "invoke the spirit" of the character they are playing and would famously not speak at all until after the curtains are drawn and the prayers of thanks were completed.

    Once again, if you're looking to write a just make one up.
  3. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned


    [ame=""]Donnie Yen Pop-Lock Breakin' 1984 - YouTube[/ame]
  4. butcher wing

    butcher wing Oi, Fatso!

    Yu Jim Yuen ran the opera school JC attended (as did Sammo and Yuen Baio and loads of other famous HK action actors).
    Madam Fan Fok Fa ran another opera school IIRC that's Lam Ching Ying attended (plus US actor John Lone and loads of other HK action actors) where he played female roles also. See Prodigal Son.
    Both YJM and FFF are portrayed in the movie Painted Faces.
  5. Obake

    Obake Valued Member

    Thank you, Mushroom, for providing that link. The information on that page has been very helpful. I like the paintings too, that helps put visual images to the imagination. Is there any record of Ming loyalists fleeing to Japan during the Mid-1800's? I know this is long after the time of the ninja, but I am just curious. There is some interesting stuff in that webpage article.

    There goes that name Gee Sim/Jee Shin again, as mentioned before in another thread. I think we had established that Jee Shin is a semi-fictional character, with not much to support his existence. But I also stumbled upon a reference to another Red Boat Opera performer in the Wing Chun folklore. Painted Face Kam was a Wing Chun master and Red Boat Opera actor. Wong Wah Bo was mentioned before. Cheung Ng (or Tan Sau Ng) is a semi-historical figure who seems to have actually existed. Beggar So also seems to have been a real historical figure. Beggar So was referred to as one of the Ten Tigers of Canton and also as a Red Boat Opera performer. So there is a lot of history and mystery blended together during this time period. I noticed the lack of written material about the Qing dynasty prior to the 19th century, yet we have Sima Qian and Sun Tzu's writings from hundreds of years before the Qing dynasty. I was wondering why that is. I also noticed a reference to the Red Turban Rebellion, which I don't know much about but it just sounds vaguely reminiscent of the Red Amulet Sect, like they go together. Red turbans and red amulets? Probably just a coincidence, but you get the irony of it.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2015
  6. El Medico

    El Medico Valued Member

    "Late 19th and early 20th century martial arts folklore claimed that remnants of the Southern Shaolin Temple (including the Abbot Jee Shin) found refuge among these wandering performers following the destruction of their sanctuary by the hated Qing government. "

    The existence of a southern "Shaolin" temple is unproven and to date seems to exist only in the folk histories of some CMAs. Doesn't seem to have ever even been mentioned in China been until it appears in the sword novel fictions of the later 1800s-which seems to have given rise to many southern systems claiming descent from Shaolin.

    Obake,if you're really interested in history about these things (aside from trying to find a ninja connection to everybody including the Pinkerton Detective Agency) you're going to have to read a lot,and forget movies,video games,and other such dreck as any source of material/theories/whatever.

    With familiarity you'll soon discover the how and why of discounting much that is written as junk. This also means you can find good writings,but even those may have a bit o' the ol' fantasy history in some places-one reason being that even very honest and sincere people for whatever reasons will believe some of the fictions that have been handed down over the years.

    And if you REALLY want to know about revolts,opera,espionage,etc., in "the old days" you're going to have to venture outside the MA realm-there are many good books written on such subjects (not in the realm of MA writings,however).Of course things like"Origins of the Boxer Rebellion" will give you a good socio-economic-anthropologic background as well as the facts- but there won't be a great deal of space given to training methods,and there aren't any truly "secret" MA systems to speak about.

    P.S. One can spend a great deal of time looking for things that just ain't there just because one wishes they were.

    So,as some guy named Lee said- "Don't waste yourself."
  7. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member


    Interesting to note (although with scrutiny and lack of some accuracy as in most MA history), that the boxers on the "Red Boats", were the ones to actually create Vsing Tsun, as opposed to the Shaolin Nun. It will be logical to think that a close range fighting system would be developed on a boat than by a nun.

    Again, I have to reiterate; "Ninja were assassins with a job to do. There were assassins in every organized culture. Assassination is not limited to martial art skill "
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2015
  8. Obake

    Obake Valued Member

    Thank you again, MartialMan, for your input on this. I like the links you provided. I found this quite interesting:

    I know that assassination is not limited to martial art skill, but I am particularly interested in the Chinese connection, if any, to Japanese ninjutsu (which is the main topic in another thread) and also to Chinese organized espionage and covert operations in the specific sense of using Chinese assassins. After much research, I have since ventured away from Japan and my journey has led me to the Red Boat Opera in China.

    If the above stated claim is true, that Yim Wing Chun is a code for the secret rebirth of the Ming dynasty, there very well could have been assassins involved (not like the ancient unorganized mercenaries who worked alone during the time of Sun Tzu, but more similar in nature to the ninja in that they have specialized training in the art of assassination).

    It is possible that there were assassins aboard the Red Boats who had gained special training to deal with Qing bodyguards and spies inside the Qing army. They would have had very little in common with Sengoku Jidai ninja, but they would have been more similar to the ninja than either were to Arabian assassins or European mercenaries, hence the comparison.

    It may be that Wing Chun Kung Fu was taught to one or more assassins aboard the Red Boats, but it probably wasn't the only style that Red Boat assassins practiced. It makes sense that they would have learned many ways of dealing with the Qing, however, it doesn't seem to matter because apparently the Ming loyalists were unsuccessful in re-establishing their rule. In any case, Wing Chun appears to have been one of the more "secretive" styles culminated around that time period to be used specifically by Chinese assassins against the Qing government. That's interesting.

    Thank you again for sharing. :)

  9. Pretty In Pink

    Pretty In Pink Moved on MAP 2017 Gold Award

    I dunno about you, but if I were am assassin I'd spend A LOT more time learning to use weapons tHan using my fists. Killing people is bloody difficult with your bare hands, and even harder when you can't grapple. It's true that WC has a few weapons, but I don't think many assassins would spend an incredible amount of time learning empty hand.

    Again: ability to fight =/= ability to warfare.

    And again, it would be incredibly unlikely ninjutsu would have any connection to a) the Chinese and b) river people who are half pure fiction anyway.

    Like others have said, make up your own story about them.

    And like I have said, please put all of this in one or two threads, rather than creating so many others :p
  10. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Here's what I know as in what I've found evidence for:

    Jee Sin Sim See is a legendary figure, like Hercules or Santa Clause. There may be some figments of truth in that character but nobody alive knows for sure and there is no evidence for his existence, no official records, no writings, and no recorded sayings etc. The absence of this evidence is typically indicative of absence. For such an important figure to have existed and not been more extensively recorded by independent parties (such as contemporaries) is suspect.

    But there were many "Southern" Shaolin temples just not like the famous one in Henan, and to understand that you have to explore the spread of Chan Buddhism. Many Buddhist temples became "Shaolin-like". A portion of those especially in the southern pronvinces likely became havens for anti-Ching revolutionaries. The literature you speak of refers to a southern flavor of Shaolin Zen Buddhism carrying the northern martial traditions and that traveled south (to places like Quanzhou etc but also Southeast Asia, Japan and so forth). The 'Southern Shaolin Temple' that most of martial arts related literature describes is a deux ex machina, or literary plot object, on which to ascribe the Shaolin Chan traditions (martial and non) of the south.

    So while there are many legendary figures and pieces, there is certainly archaeological evidence of Shaolin iconography, relics, and so forth across the south of China and beyond. There were most likely many 'temples' at one time, but they would have looked like any other southern Chan Buddhist temple..quite modest. It's important not to think of the Shaolin Temple as a unique, special place at all by the mid Ching Dynasty. You can trace its influence across the globe, but especially to many Buddhist temples in China, a vast majority of which were never recorded in Imperial histories :)
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2015
  11. The Iron Fist

    The Iron Fist Banned Banned

    Here's a good text to get you started Obake, it's important to use works written by people who cite their sources, avoid absolutism without strong evidence, and theorize. Websites are terrible sources of information on this subject, I'm afraid. You have an active imagination which is great, but if you're trying to get to the bottom of things, you should try to empty your cup.

    Ritual and Mythology of the Chinese Triads: Creating an Identity (Sinica Leidensia, V. 43)
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2015
  12. Ben Gash CLF

    Ben Gash CLF Valued Member

    You want to use a trope in your writing, and are looking for historical detail for the trope. The problem is that what you're looking for may well only exist as a trope, or in the case of the red boats the truth is so far removed from the trope as to be useless.
    However from a writing perspective even if you find some good historical detail you're still using a trope. Exposition rarely makes a trope more interesting. If you're going to use a trope you want to do something new and interesting with it. You can subvert the trope, you can add a new angle to the trope or you can set your character development in conflict with the trope.
  13. 47MartialMan

    47MartialMan Valued Member

    I understand the "need to" find information about a subject. Be it a need from curiosity or a obsession. With the internet and informative sites with grand members, such as MAP, your search need not be in loss. That all said, the members here are trying to help you.

    I always maintain, that any organized culture had assassins, the first key to assassination is maintaining a low profile. Therefore, specific records, data, history, will be vague

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