So, you might ask, how did a group of Shaolin monks wind up policing the coastline? It's a fascinating tale. The Shaolin Temple had been in existence for nearly 1000 years. The monks of this temple were widely known throughout Ming China for their highly specialized and very effective form of Kung Fu, known as Gong Fu. When the Chinese Imperial Army and navy troops proved ineffective against these marauding pirates, Nanjing's Vice-Commissioner-In-Chief, Wan Biao, decided to employ the monastic fighters from three temples; Wutaishan in Shanxi Province, Funiu in Henan Province, and Shaolin. The leader of Shaolin contingent sought to head up the entire monastic force, but some of the other monks challenged his leadership. And just like a scene right out of a Hong Kong film, the eighteen challengers chose eight of their men to take on the Shaolin leader. At first, these eight mean came after Tianyuan, the Shaolin leader, with bare hands but he managed to fend them all off. Then the warriors resorted to using swords against Tianyuan. He responded by seizing the long iron bar that was used to lock the gate. Using the bar like a staff, the story goes that Tianyuan defeated all eight men with a single blow. After that, they could do little else but bow to him as the leader of the monastic forces.
The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were tumultuous times in Japan. As such, it made it difficult for the "ordinary working guy" to make an honest living. But it was quite easy to turn to piracy, which many of them did. The so-called Japanese pirates, "waku or woku," were actually made up of Japanese, Chinese, and even some Portuguese citizens who had banded together. The name "wako" is a pejorative term meaning "dwarf pirates." The pirates raided for silk and metal goods which could be sold for up to ten times their original value in China. It was a lucrative "business." Scholars debate the ethnic makeup of these pirates, but many believe that as little as ten percent were actually Japanese. "In any case, these motley international crews of seagoing peasants, fishermen, and adventurers wreaked havoc up and down the Chinese coast for more than 100 years."
The monks were called in and fought the pirates in at least 4 battles. The first battle took place in the spring of 1553 on Mount Zhe. The second battle, and the monks' greatest victory was the Battle of Wengjiagang. This battle was fought in the Huangpu River Delta in July of 1553. One hundred twenty monks met an equal number of pirates. The monks were victorious and changed the remaining pirates southward for ten days, eventually killing every pirate. And as unbelievable as it might seem, the monastic fighting force suffered only four casualties. During the battle and "mop up" operation, the monks were known for their ruthlessness. "One monk used an iron staff to kill the wife of one of the pirates as she tried to escape the slaughter."
Several dozen monks took part in two more battles that year in the Huangpu River Delta region. The final battle was a "grievous defeat," due to the incompetence of the army general in charge who did (or didn't do) the planning. After suffering this loss, the Shaolin Monks, along with all the others, lost their interest in serving as a paramilitary force for the Emperor.
It can seem like Warrior Monks might be an oxymoron. We don't think of these holy men as being trained in martial arts, let alone acting as warriors and killers. But Shaolin was a very wealthy place in a lawless Ming China. It could have proved helpful for the monks to be trained in martial arts. And then, perhaps they just felt the need to maintain their fierce reputation. Whatever the reason these monks took on a band of pirates, this is one of the more interesting stories I've stumbled on recently. I hope you enjoyed it, as well.
Whatever your weekend plans include, please enjoy yourself and stay safe. I invite you all back here on Monday. Until then, I wish you