Central Guoshu Institute

Ever since translating an article on the ‘1929 Hangzhou Leitai Tournament’, I have been interested in the role of the Central Guoshu Institute (‘CGI’) in the spread of traditional Chinese martial arts in the first half of the twentieth century. I have put together the article below from various sources, which I hope will be of interest.


The Central Guoshu Institute was originally called the “Guoshu Research Institute”. The founding mission of the CGI, apart from adminstrative management of martial arts and the production of teaching materials, was to train up wushu [1] teachers, in order to spread the practice of wushu and to overcome the mutual antagonism and secrecy between the different styles. As such, it was classified as an educational facility, and so General Zhang Zhijiang [2] applied to the Education Ministry for accreditation. However, the Education Ministry refused to grant approval, as it considered that wushu was something that had already been rendered pointless. Their position was that if wushu were to be promulgated, then it should be through grassroots clubs rather than as part of the education system. They invented one reason after another to justify rejecting Zhang Zhijiang’s application.

At his wit’s end, Zhang turned to the standing commissioner of the Republican government, Li Liejun. Li and Zhang were old war buddies who had fought together in the Yunnan revolt as part of the Xinhai revolution. At that time, the Republican government was led by Li Sen, with Li Liejun as his second-in-command. Li took the decision there and then: since the Education Ministry wouldn’t approve it, then the CGI would report directly to the government, with funds coming from the national coffers. On the 15th March 1927, the republican government issued its approval for the founding of the CGI.

The CGI opened its doors in March 1928 as the Central Guoshu Research Institute [zhongyang guoshu yanjiu hui], with the name officially changing to the Central Guoshu Institute [zhongyang guoshu guan] in June of that year. It was initially situated in Han Jia Xiang [Han family lane] in Nanjing, and had to ‘borrow’ some rooms from the Chinese Christian Association. Li Jinglin [3], the vice-dean of the institute, as well as Ma Yingtu, Liu Yinhu and others, moved over to Han Jia Xiang as well. Amongst the ‘founding fathers’ of the CGI were the famous educator Cai Yuanpei, Kong Xiangxi [4], Yu Youren [5], Niu Yongjian, Zhang Zhijiang and Zhang Shusheng. The CGI was administered by a board of governors, with warlord Feng Yuxiang as head governor. An advisory committee was also set up, composed of famous people of the time. Every semester, these famous names would hold advisory meetings and make recommendations to the board.

The CGI was divided into 3 faculties: the Teaching faculty, Materials faculty, and the General Affairs faculty. The teaching department was responsible for teacher training, and was led by a Head Instructor. The first Head Instructor was Wang Ziping (master of Chinese Muslim martial arts like Zha Quan and Hua Quan), later followed by Zhu Guofu (xingyiquan), Wu Junshan (baguazhang, student of Han Fushun and Cheng Haiting), Wu Yihui  (liu he ba fa) and Yang Songshan.

The Materials faculty was responsible for putting together instructional materials, as well as collating and organising traditional wushu practices, and was led initially by the famous bagua master Jiang Rongqiao, and later by Huang Bonian and Jin Yiming, among others. All of these people were well-educated as well as being skilled martial artists, and published numerous books and articles on the theory and practice of martial arts. They played an extremely important role in both developing the theory behind wushu and spreading martial arts in China. The general affairs faculty was responsible for logistics, admin and finance, and was headed first by Li Zimao, and later by Zhu Yonghua and Pang Yusen.

Apart from the faculty heads, Zhang Ruitang was head of the training department, Zhu Guozhen was team captain and taught sparring, vice-captain Zhu Guolu taught Chang Quan, Yang Fawu taught shuai jiao, Liu Hongqing taught weapons, He Fusheng taught the children’s classes, with Ma Zhengwu as an assistant  coach. Others famous masters who taught at the CGI were: Sun Lutang (xingyiquan); Yang Chengfu (Yang style taijiquan), Gong Runtian (Wu [Jianquan] style taijiquan), Chen Zirong (Chen style taijiquan), Wu Junshan & Sun Yukun (baguazhang & qin na), Ma Yingtu (piguaquan & bajiquan), Li Yushan (yanqingquan, aka mizong, or lost track boxing, as well as taiji whip), Sun Yuming (staff fighting), Chang Dongsheng (shuai jiao), and Guo Changsheng(tongbei, pigua and miao dao).


In its original incarnation, the faculty at CGI was divided into two schools, the Shaolin School headed by Wang Ziping and the Wudang school headed by Gao Zhendong. [6] Whilst the Wudang School taught the familiar neijia arts of xingyi, bagua and taiji, the Shaolin School actually included many arts not directly related to Shaolin gongfu, such as bajiquan, piguazhang, zha quan, etc. Soon after the CGI was founded, this structure led to challenges between the two factions, eventually resulting in clashes between the subject heads of the respective schools, which led to both the vice-dean Li Jinglin and Wang Ziping resigning from their posts in late 1928 and the restructuring of the CGI. Post-restructuring, all individual subject heads reported to the vice-dean, a role first occupied by Zhang Xiangwu [7] and then after 1939, Chen Panling [8].

Chen Panling
Chen Panling (photo reproduced from http://taichicertifcation.org)


The national Guoshu ‘exams’ were the only official wushu exams ever organised by the Republican government, and were only held twice, the first in October 1928, and the second in October 1933. The venue was Nanjing Public Sports Stadium.

Subjects to be examined were split into 3 parts:

1) Routines (taolu)

2) Combat, which was further subdivided into: (a) kickboxing (quanjiao), (b)wrestling (shuaijiao), (c) swordfighting (dao jian), (d) staff and spear (gun qiang), and (e) free fighting (bo ji)

Picture of a bout from the swordfighting portion of the 1928 'Guo Kao'. Note the Kendo-like protective wear.

3) Oral test (on Sun Yat-sen’s ‘Three Principles of the People’)


The Lugouqiao incident in July 1937 marked the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Soon after, the CGI was forced to leave Nanjing before it fell to the Japanese, and followed the retreating Republican government from Nanjing to Changsha, then Guilin, then Kunming and finally reaching Chongqing in 1940. By this point, the CGI’s source of funds was exhausted and most of the students had left. The CGI limped on for a further 8 years until 1948, when it was officially disbanded due to a lack of funds. In total, from beginning to end, there were 6 ‘cohorts’ (qi) of students. From beginning to end, the CGI probably taught no more than 500 students in total.


The motto of the CGI was “morality and martial arts are equally important, one must train both martial and academic endeavours’ [shu de bing zhong, wen wu jian xiu], according to which the purpose of wushu was to defend oneself and strengthen the nation. A martial artist should not use his skills to show off, nor should he bully others. If one is forced to defend oneself, one’s response should be measured, you should not try and kill your oppponent. At the same time as learning wushu, a student had to learn the health side of the arts, investigate academic knowledge and science, and ‘digest’ martial art theories and materials. This ‘CGI spirit’ meant that the majority of its graduates were both skilled martial artists and men of letters. On the mainland, there was: Wu Jiangping, Zhang Wenguang, He Fusheng (Chairman of Yunnan province wushu association), Li Xisi (of Fudan university), Kang Shaoyuan (Northeastern Normal University), and Wen Jingming (Wuhan Sports Insitute). Abroad, there were: Fu Shuyun (Taiwan), Han Qingtang (Taiwan), Zhang Zhenhai (USA), Huang Jifu (UK), Chen Yuhe (Singapore), Gong Bangjie (Malaysia), Liu Jingxing (Thailand), Liu Zhenyuan (Brasil), Lin Ruixing (Indonesia), Kuang Rongtao (Burma), Zhang Jun (Vietnam), Yan Tanghua (HK), who all made positive contributions to the promulgation of wushu.


1. In English, ‘wushu’ has come to mean the flashy contemporary routines promoted by the Chinese government. However, in Chinese, wushu simply refers to (Chinese) martial arts, and it is in this sense I use it in this article.

2.Zhang Zhijiang – Chinese general from Yanshan in Cangzhou, traditional home of bajiquan and piguazhang. Part of the Zhili clique.

3. Li Jinglin – Chinese general and master of Wudang sword. As part of the Fengtian clique, on the opposite side to Zhang Zhijiang in the Second Zhili-Fengtian War.

4. Kong Xiangxi – wealthy Chinese banker and politician of the early 20th century, from Taigu in Shanxi, the home of xingyiquan. At one time the richest man in China.

5. Yu Youren – founding member of the Kuomintang (KMT) and president of the Control Yuan 1930 – 1964.

6. Gao Zhendong – master of xingyiquan, which he learnt from Li Cunyi’s disciple Ma Yutang. At one point was the wushu instructor to the army of Wu Peifu (Commander-in-Chief of the Zhili clique mentioned above).

7. Zhang Xiangwu – master of bajiquan (learnt from Li Shuwen), also studied Wudang sword under Song Weiyi together with his shixiong Li Jinglin.

8. Chen Panling – master of shaolin, taiji, bagua and xingyi who learnt from some of the greatest names of the time: taiji from Yang Shaohou and Xu Yusheng, bagua from Cheng Haiting, xingyi from Liu Caichen and Li Cunyi, etc. Ably profiled by Robert Smith in his book ‘Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods’.

About yosaku

Xingyiquan enthusiast
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11 Responses to Central Guoshu Institute

  1. Walt Conklin says:

    Excellent article.Thanks for this.

  2. Ian says:

    Great to have you back, thanks for the very informative article!

  3. Bai Yiming says:

    Nice read as always.
    Do you know the book 中央國術館史 or where else did you get all these infos?
    Grets from Taiwan

  4. Craig Boden says:

    How does one go about joining The Central Guoshu Institute.

  5. dr.k.conor says:

    The subject matter and its’ content is impressive; I truely understand this information needs recording.
    The existence and the teachers at CGI would seem enough,
    yet there were also cross-linked relations: Wu Yi-hui
    did bring to the public an obscure form began earlier in Shanghai. There were also personal relations: Wu was a daily tea friend of Sun Lutang whom permitted Wu to teach the Shanghai form to a student. Wu was also friends with Yiquan founder Wang Xiangzhai who sent his top YQ students to train in the LHBF. A complete history is never a simple listing.

  6. tom says:

    Jon, a popular Yiquan account says that Zhao Daoxin won the “Third All China” leitai, but the only records I can find of Zhao’s participation are for the 1929 tournament (the account you translated)–which indicates that Zhao placed 13th. Is there perhaps some confusion (on my part) about the national guoshu “examinations” and other tournaments associated with the CGI? For example, there is an account elsewhere of an April 1928 tournament, as well as a 1930 tournament which Zhao Daoxin is said to have won.

    • yosaku says:

      Tom, same here – the only references I can find are to Zhao taking part in the 1929 tournament in Hangzhou. By the ‘Third All China’ leitai, I’m guessing they mean the one held in 1930 in Shanghai. However, Zhao did not win this – as far as I know the first 3 were Cao Yanhai, Ma Chengzhi and Zhang Xitang. Without knowing the source, difficult to get a definitive answer on this one.

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