Chang San-Feng, Taoist Grand Master: Bibliography, Quotes, Writings, Lore, Encounters
Research by Mike Garofalo
"Zhang Sanfeng ("Zhang Triple
Abundance" or "Zhang Three Peaks") is a famous Taoist said to have live
between the end of the Yuan and beginning of the Ming periods. His
historical existence, however, is unproved. In early
biographies―including the one in the Mingshi (History of Ming)―he is usually
said to be a native of Yizhou (Liaoning), but other sources give different
birthplaces. According to these works he was seven feet tall and had
enormously big ears and eyes, his appearance suggested the longevity of a
turtle and the immortality of a crane, and his beard and whiskers bristled
like the blades of a halberd. He tied his hair in a knot and,
regardless of the season, wore only a garment made of leaves. In his
youth, Zhang is supposed to have studied Buddhism under the Chan master
Haiyun (1021-56), but then mastered neidan and reached immortality.
He was known for his extraordinary magical powers as well as his ability to
In the first years of the Ming period, Zhang reportedly
established himself on Mount Wudang (Wudang Shan, Hubei), where he lived in
a thatched hut. With his pupils he rebuilt the mountain monasteries
destroyed during the wars at the end of the Mongol dynasty. From Mount
Wudang, Zhang went to the Jintai guan (Abbey of the Golden Terrace)
in Baoji (Shananxi), where he announced his departure, composed a hymn, and
passed away. Later he came back to life, travelled to Sichuan, and
visited Mount Wudang.
The belief in the real existence of Zhang Sanfeng during the
Ming Dynasty is reflected in the emperor's continued efforts to locate him.
The search for Zhang started in 1391 by order of the Hongwu Emperor
(1368-1398) and was extended from 1407 to 1419 by the Yongle Emperor
(1403-1424). Both sent out delegates several times, but they all
returned without success. Promoted by the Ming emperor's interest, a
cult developed around Zhang that spread widely and lasted until the later
years of the Qing dynasty.
As time went on, the legends about Zhang Sanfeng multiplied
and became increasingly exaggerated. Zhang is known as the founder of
taiji quan (a claim without historical evidence) and the patron saint
of practitioners of this technique. During the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, a connection to the sexual techniques (fangzhong
shu) was also established and texts dealing with these practices were
ascribed to him. The belief that Zhang was the master of Shen Wansan,
a popular deity of wealth, led to his own identity as a god of wealth in the
seventeenth century. The Western Branch (Xipai) of neidan and
various Qing sects also regarded Zhang Sanfeng as their first patriarch."
- Martina Darga. The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism (EoT), 2008, 2011, Volume II, p. 1233-35, article about Zhang Sanfeng in the EoT by Martina Darga.