Many traditional Chinese Martial Arts have traced their origin to the Nan (Southern) Shaolin Temple. In the last couple of decades excavations have revealed three possible southern Shaolin temples in Fujian (福建) Province. There is one at Jiulianshan (九蓮山) near Putian (莆田) village, the second called Zhenguo Dong Chan Shaolin Temple (鎮國東禪少林寺) at the foot of the Qingyuan Shan (清源山) in Quanzhou (泉州 ) and the third in Fuqing (福清) county.
Putian(莆田) Shaolin Temple
This reconstructed temple (lies at the foot of the Nine Lotus Mountain of town Xitian Wei of Putian. It was rediscovered after nearly 300 years in the general survey of the national historical relics (1986-1988). The ruins were located in the hills and mountains region in the north of Putian and belonged to the Linshan village of Xi Tian town of Putian county, with about 12 kilometers of urban straight line south to Putian. The ruins were located in nine lotus mountains (its elevation is nearly 500 meters above sea level), with three sides such as east, north and southeast, surrounded by mountains.
The Google Earth coordinates are 25 deg 32' 33.34" N and 119 deg 02' 08.80" E.
The ruins are about 200 meters long from east to west, about 150 meters wide from north to south, and the whole area are nearly 30,000 square meters.
Quanzhou(泉州) Shaolin Temple
Quanzhou Shaolin Temple was built in the period of Qian Fuzhong of Tang Dynasty (A.D.874-879 ), for the first time. It was originally known as "Zhen Guo East Zen Shaolin Temple" in Song and Yuan Dynasties. The monastery was burnt twice and rebuilt in the year of the 10th year of Xuan De of Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1435 ). Evantually it became a large Buddhist temple.
The Google Earth coordinates are 24 deg 55' 19.16" N and 118 deg 36' 34.95" E.
This temple just on the outskirt of Quanzhou has adopted Wuzuquan (五祖拳 Ngo Cho/Gor Chor Kun) as the foundation martial art. Wuzuquan was brought back to this temple from the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore.
(Note: Wuzuquan is the ancestor art of Okinawa Karate.)
Fuqing(福清) Shaolin Temple
Since 1995, archaeological experts have found Fuqing Shaolin Temple ruins in Fuqing. Through excavation and textual research, the area of ruins is up to 5000 square meters. The monastery was built in Tang and Song Dynasties. The temple was designed along traditional chinese temple architecture and built on terraced hill slopes. Excavation has revealed a large amount of pottery, porcelain, coins of Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, as well as the everyday appliances such as stone mortar, stone mill etc. These artefacts were carved with the word "少林" (Shaolin).
Four ancient traffic roads to foreign countries and more than ten ancient bridges around monastery in those years were found.
The Google Earth coordinates are 25 deg 43' 58.42" N and 119 deg 09' 06.84" E.
In 1994, with the approval of Bureau of Religious Affairs of People's Government of Fujian Province, Fuqing city rebuilt Shaolin Temple near the original ruins of Shaolin Temple. The whole area of the Monastery is 66,900 square meters. Monastery building and its attached construction area is 16,300 square meters.
So far, the main buildings have been completed. This temple is now a tourist attraction to showcase the long history of this temple.
So which one is the real Nan Shaolin Temple? Historical documents and the archaeological diggings supports the Fuqing temple as the location of Nan Shaolin.
When was Nan Shaolin Temple burnt?
The year when the Southern Shaolin Temple was burnt is unknown but we do have a reference point. In the Wing Chun lineages that traced its origin to Foshan (佛山), there is a reference to one of the early master of Wing Chun named Cheung Ng. Cheung Ng has been traced to exist in historical record. Ip Ching, one of the two sons of Ip Man noted in his research below.
There was a book by one Mak Siu Har -“A Study on the History of Cantonese Opera” (now kept in the Hong Kong City Hall library)
In it there was a paragraph, roughly as follows: before the reign of Yung Cheng (Yongzheng Emperor 雍正帝 1723-1735), the development of Cantonese opera was very limited. This was due to defective organization and unclear division of labor. In the years of Yung Cheng, Cheung Ng of Wu Pak, also known as Tan-Sau Ng, brought his skills to Fat Shan (佛山 Foshan) and organized the Hung Fa Wui Koon. The book also records: Besides being very accomplished in Chinese opera, Cheung Ng was especially proficient in martial arts. His one Tan-Sau was peerless throughout the martial arts world.
Another piece of information appears on page 631, Volume III of the book “A History of Chinese Opera” by Mang Yiu, published by Chuen Kay Literature Publishers, first printed in 1968. “For some reasons, Cheung Ng could not stay on in the capital, so he fled and took refuge in Fat Shan. This was during the reign of Yung Cheng. This man, nicknamed Tan-Sau Ng was a character "unsurpassed in literary and military skills, and excellent in music and drama". He was especially proficient in the techniques of Siu Lam.
After settling down in Fat Shan, he passed on his knowledge in traditional opera and martial arts to the Hung Suyen (Red Boat) followers, and established the Hung Fa Wui Koon in Fat Shan. Today, Cantonese opera groups revere him as Jo-si (Founding Master), and refer to him as Master Cheung”.
This is the only written reference to a master of Wing Chun and assuming that we accept the written account, then the Southern Shaolin Temple must have been burnt between 1644 and 1723.
From the burning of the Southern Shaolin Temple and its rebuilding, the circle is now completed. Perhaps the Southern Shaolin Temple will one day be populated with monks and nuns as a religious order and Southern Shaolin martial arts will experience a renewal.
1. Wing Chun (詠春), Southern Praying Mantis or Nan Tang Lang (南派螳螂) or Nam Tong Long, Hong Quan(Hung Kien), Gor Chor (Wuzu) or Five Ancestors, Choy Li Fut, Pak Mei and White Tiger System have their origin in Southern China. Were they all influenced by Nan Shaolin Temple?
2. If you doubt the existence of the Nan Shaolin Temple , here is a good article written by eric88ling who has been chronicling Traditional Chinese Martial Arts.
The Fukien White Crane does not claimed to be from the Shaolin Temple but it is from Fukien province and hence a southern style martial art.