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Chen (Cheng Jia Gou/Chen Family) Village Entrance Gate Past and Present

Chen Bu – Founder of the Chen Village

As the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 元朝; pinyin: Yuán Cháo; 1271–1368) came to an end, China was beset by poverty, famine, lawlessness, political unrest, and nationalist uprisings by Han Chinese nationalists. The warrior Zhu Yuanzhang (Traditional Chinese: 朱元璋; Wade–Giles: Chu Yuan-chang) eventually put down the uprisings and united China and became Emperor Taizu, also the Hongwu Emperor, (r. 1368–1398) founder of the Ming Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 明朝; pinyin: Míng Cháo; 1368–1644). Against this backdrop, Chen Bu (陳仆; 陈卜) brought the Chen Family from Shanxi Province in North China to Wen County (溫縣) in the neighboring province of Henan, which lay southward. There Chen Bu and his clan founded Chen Village, birthplace of T'ai chi ch'üan or Tàijí quán (太極拳).

When Zhu Yuanzhang's vast army attacked northern Huaiqing Prefecture (modern-day Qinyang city (沁陽市), which then governed eight counties, including Wen County) in Henan province, they faced fierce resistance by the Yuan general Tien Moer and suffered heavy casualties. Eventually, Tien Moer's garrison, lacking supplies and reinforcements, was defeated and dispersed.

After Zhu Yuanzhang ascended the throne, he vented his anger on the common people of Huaiqing Prefecture (懷慶縣), saying they aided the tyrannical Mongols against the heaven-sent Ming troops. He sent soldiers to "clean" Huaiqing three times and massacre the people. After killing people of a village and burning their homes, the Ming soldiers were said to intentionally leave money, food, clothes, etc. at the crossroad in the center of a village. If the supplies were taken, new troops were sent to find the scavengers. Though the people were in hiding, eight to nine of ten did not escape detection and slaughter. In the wake of these three "cleanings" the entirety of the prefecture and its eight counties, an area of several thousand square kilometers, was covered by blood and bodies. Virtually no crops were seen. A lone rooster was hardly heard within thousands of villages. Weeds grew knee-deep on the road. Fine mansions were overgrown with them. Though the prefecture had been reduced to a land of ghosts, Zhu Yuanzhang remained unsatisfied and "imposed tax equal to original one's triple value" on Huaiqing Prefecture.

In the first years of his reign, Zhu Yuanzhang implemented a mass migration and wasteland reclamation policy to restore Huaiqing Prefecture. He established a migration office near Guangji Temple (Guǎng Jì Sì 广济寺) in Hongdong County of Shanxi Province (Shanxi Province was then one of China's most populous provinces). Three large-scale migrations were organized across fifty years from 1368, forcing its inhabitants to relocate in desolate Huaiqing Prefecture. Although some of the immigrants came from beyond Hongdong County, the starting point for the migrations was beneath an ancient Great Scholar Tree (Dà huái shù 大槐树). For hundreds of years, the great scholar trees near the Guangji Temple became the root, origin, and home for governors seeking relief from homesickness. Huangdong County gradually became a sacred land for ancestor worshipping and root seeking. The saying about one's ancestors coming from "Big Scholar Tree" was given birth to during this time.

"When you ask me from where I came, the answer is Shanxi Hongdong Big Scholar Tree."


Shanxi Hongdong Big Scholar Tree

In the fifth year of Emperor Hongwu (seventh year in some sources), Chen Bu moved his family from Dongtuhe Village (東土河) in Jincheng County of Hezhou Prefecture in Shanxi Province to escape famine. He led his family to Shanxi, Hongdong (山西洪洞), where they were forced by Ming officials to move to Huaiqing in Wen County, Henan Province (河南溫县).

Chen Bu, his family, and many other immigrants lamented the leaving of their ancestral homes forever as they "ate in the wind and slept in the dew" "under canopy of snow and frost." They underwent many hardships while escorted by officials "like wolves and tigers" as they passed through many places on their way to Huaiqing Prefecture. Chen Bu was a sincere and honest man, skilled in empty handed and weapon fighting. As he and his family moved, he helped other immigrants in need and danger, gaining the respect of other immigrants.

Upon arriving at a wide fertile flood plain in southeastern Huaiqing Prefecture, Chen Bu considered the location with the Yellow River to the south and the Taihang Mountains (太行山) to the north as a good site for settling down and continuing his family. With other immigrants, Chen Bu and his family cleared the area of rotten bodies, cut down "thistles and thorns," built dirt houses and covered them with grass roofs to erect a new village. The immigrants who arrived with Chen Bu named the village after him – Chen Bu Zhang (陳步莊 Chen Bu's village). The village bears his name though it is now part of Wen County rather than Qinyang city under which it was originally administered. Though Chen Bu later moved away, the village kept its original name through the centuries. Local people say that the stone cover for the well located in the northeastern part of the village was "a stone roller used by Chen Bu." Locals also tell stories about how Chen Bu and his wife found pleasure in helping others.

Two years after arriving, Chen Bu Zhang proved to be unsuitable as it was sited on low lying ground prone to flooding and the soil was too saline and alkaline to yield the best harvests. Chen Bu moved his family ten li (three miles, five kilometers) eastward of Chen Bu Zhuang at Qing Feng Ling (青風鈴 Green Wind Ridge). Though not very high, the ridge acted like a natural screen, keeping away the torrential yellow muddy waters of the nearby Yellow River. The site was named Chang Yang Cun (常陽村) or Sunshine Village after the old Chang Yang Temple (Zhǎngyáng Sì 長陽寺) thereabouts. Upon arriving at the village, Chen Bu saw boundless sandy banks to the south with a murmuring snake-like Yellow River twisting to the east. Northward of the village lay a high mound shaped like a tiger's head, called Tiger Head Mound (胡圖幹 Hu Tou Gan) that was used as farmland. Low lying in the south and high in the north, sunny and out of the wind, crops were guaranteed in the village even during droughts or excessive rains.

Chen Bu was satisfied with the location, but he soon learned that numerous bandits, who hid in the nearby hills, would often rob and disturb the villagers. The local government did not send troops to dispatch the bandits. Chen Bu made his presence famous, leading an attack by over one hundred of his disciples and young, strong men from the village to destroy a nearby bandit stronghold that had been terrorizing the area. Chen Bu's party slipped into Qing Feng Ling, and relying on superb Chen family ancestral chuan fa (拳法; literally: fist technique) taught them by Chen Bu, they attacked the bandits' lair and wiped them out in one fell swoop. Chen Bu's fame soon grew. More and more people from beyond the village arrived, asking for his teaching. Chen Bu created a martial arts school to train his students and pass on his knowledge. The martial arts inherited from his ancestors and other styles that Chen Bu brought with him from Shanxi spread far and wide through Henan province and established the martial tradition of the Chen clan. The village came to exchange ideas with the nearby Shaolin Temple (Shàolín Sì 少林寺), which lay 1352 li (420 miles, 676 kilometers) to the southwest.

Despite Chen Bu's heroic adventures, the eventual way the village gained its name was somewhat humdrum. Areas on both sides of the Yellow River were frequently flooded. Many failed attempts were made to deepen the river. Parallel drainage ditches were therefore dug to help divert the floodwaters. These ditches came to be linked with area families. Chen Bu's family name gave Chang Yang Village its modern-day name of Chenjiagou, meaning "Chen Family Ditch" (陳家溝). The word gou, which means drainage ditch, was attached to "Chen family" (Chen Jia).


Rural Chen Village

Even today, modernity has not completed its work. Though mythical in the martial arts world, parts of Chen Village remain much as they did in Chen Bu's time, a small farming hamlet of winding streets and ocher clay houses built of red brick and brown adobe. A sign placed at the village entrance reads: "Chenjiagou, the first link in the transmission of t'ai chi chuan" (陳家溝,太極拳傳播的第一環節.).

Men and women students can learn the martial applications as well as enjoy the health benefits of Yang t'ai chi chuan in martial arts classes held by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.


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