Dong Haichuan (1797 – 1882) was born in Zhu village, Ju Jia Wu Township in Wen An County, Hebei Province. Dong Haichuan’s reputation would go from a criminal and freeloader to the creator of China’s last internal martial art. Like his predecessors, he would try to tie his art to an old master hiding in the mountains. But, today, everyone agrees that Dong Haichuan was the creator of Eight Diagrams Turning Palm.
The widely accepted historical account says that Dong was a member of the Quanzhen, Complete Truth sect of Daoism. The Complete Truth Daoist walked in a circle while chanting as a method of meditation.
Dong Haichuan loved to practice martial arts, and he was skilled in Bafanquan (Eight Rotating Boxing). He synthesized Bafanquan’s straight line techniques with circle walking to form his own art that he called Turning Palm.
Around 1864, Dong arrived in Beijing and gained employment at the Su Wang Palace. After an impressive demonstration of his agility the noble asked him to train household servants in his martial art. Later, Prince Su sent him and his disciple–Yin Fu–to collect taxes in Mongolia. When he returned, he left the Prince’s household, and began to teach publicly. During this later period Dong Haichuan renamed his art to Baguazhang, and the legend of Dong and his creation begins.
In the legendary story, Dong Haichuan was either a criminal or rejected by his father because of a misunderstanding. Forced out of his hometown because of this disgrace, he was wandering the mountains of Hebei province when he came across a Daoist and Buddhist monk practicing circle walking. In some versions, the monks are so skilled in their practice that they can walk on water.
Because of his love of martial arts Dong Haichuan wishes to learn the skill of these monks. He manages to gain discipleship with them and trains with them for many years. He leaves the mountains and arrives in Beijing where he gains employment at the Su Wang Palace. One night, Dong Haichuan was serving drinks at a palace party. The palace was crowded with people, and he couldn’t get through the throng to get more drinks. Dong used the lightness skill he had learned from the old monks and walked along the walls to get around the crowd. Impressed with Dong Haichuan’s skill the noble asked what martial art he practiced. Dong did not have a name for his art so he said that it was Eight Trigram Turning Palm (Baguazhang).
In either case, tales of Dong Haichuan’s skill quickly spread and, because of his position at the Su Wang Palace, many experienced martial artists sought him out for instruction. Famous disciples of Dong included Yin Fu–a master of Luohanquan– and Cheng Tinghua–a master of Shuaijiao. Instead of asking these masters to forget their earlier arts, Dong encouraged them to integrate their previous practice with the circle walking skill.