The REAL Big Boss REAVELEDMay 7 2016 at 10:45 AM
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For many years, some fans based on the limited information given by GH, tried to locate the statue of “The Big Boss” in Bangkok and also attempted to find out his real identity but all to no avail. No magazines, books or other media so far, have ever covered on this topic. After years of my personal research, this valuable information regarding the identity of the real big boss is going to reveal in “Bruce Lee Lives Forum” here for those fans who are interested to know more about this mystery.
The Big Boss’s real identity
The character Cheng Chiu-On was actually based on a real legend named Cheng Chi-Yong (1851-1937) who was a prominent and influential Thai Chinese figure, residing in Thailand between the mid 19th century and early 20th century. To many overseas Chinese and local Siamese living in that era, Cheng Chi-Yong was a hero who had helped many poor and the needy selflessly. His charitable deeds and enormous contributions to the welfare and interests of the Thai society had led to his conferment of the title - Phraya (Earl) from the Thai King Chulalongkorn V (Rama 5). In addition, he had helped to bring development and prosperity to his hometown in Chiu Chow, Canton and assisted the great Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in overturning the Ching dynasty successfully during the notable Chinese revolution. Till his death in 1937, he was well-respected by the overseas Chinese and Thai people. They regarded him not only as a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist but a national hero and some people even regarded him as a GOD due to the mysterious myth surrounding him over the years.
The character’s name & its sources
Although Cheng Chi-Yong was born in Siam or Thailand; his original ancestry or lineage was from China Canton (province), Chiu On (county). Thus, he was the descendent of the Cheng’s family of ‘Chiu On’. Since his surname was ‘Cheng’ and his county was ‘Chiu On,’ the Big Boss’ scriptwriter, Ni Kuang (note: He was the ghostwriter for TBB and FOF but the film credits Lo Wei as the scriptwriter) tactfully adapted ‘Cheng Chiu On’ from these two sources and combined the two together. Ni Kuang admitted he gathered some information regarding the Thai Chinese legend who was from Chiu On, and then completed the script within a week (same as Fist of Fury’s script). However, besides the similarity in names and places, most parts of the story in The Big Boss, in fact, was fictional. Director Lo Wei and Bruce later made many changes to the script as they went along shooting the film in order to make the story more credible.
The 2 Chengs’ backgrounds
In the movie – The Big Boss, Cheng Chiu-On was a poor kid from Tang Shan (China mainland) who went to Pak Chong (northern part of Thailand, around 180km away from Thai’s capital, Bangkok) to stay with his distant cousins and make a living there. He then accidentally uncovered the drug smuggling in the ice factory and revenged his cousins’ deaths by killing the triad boss and his men with his fists of fury.
On the other hand, as mentioned above, the real person - Cheng Chi-Yong was a wealthy man before his death. But he too, was born into a poor family in the northern part of Thailand, who returned to his China’s ancestral hometown in Chiu On at a young age of 14. Two years later, he went back to his birthplace in Thailand and worked his way up before becoming a millionaire. By chance, he joined the famous Chinese Hung Mun Association (aka Heaven & Earth Society), a secret society active in revolutionary activities against the Ching Dynasty. To the authority and government, they were evil rebels but to the common people, they stand for justice and were like ‘Robin Hood’ who helped them in times of need. Cheng’s charismatic leadership soon helped him to become the No. 2 man in the association. People called him “Yee Gor Fung (aka Er Gor Fong),” meaning second elderly brother. 8 years later, he took over Hung Mun when the No. 1 man, Da Gor Mang died. So, naturally, he became the real Big Boss. Even though, he operated a lot of businesses, in which most of them are legal yet some were not, like casinos, gambling dens, and “taxes” collection.
From here, it is apparent that scriptwriter, Ni Kuang adapted the good side of Cheng Chi-Yong’s as the poor yet righteous Cheng Chiu-On’s character and the other bad side of him as Hsiao Mi, the wealthy drug trafficking boss. By the way, the English title: “The Big Boss,” to be precise, should be referring to Hsiao Mi where’as the Chinese title: “The Big Brother From Tang Shan” is referring to Cheng Chiu-On. Two different language titles generate two different meanings interestingly.
Martial arts of the 2 Chengs and Hsiao Mi
The character of Cheng Chiu-On was a good martial artist from Tang Shan. Although there was no mentioning of his Kung Fu’s background (Bruce used JKD of course) but on screen, Cheng should be someone skilled in Shaolin Kung Fu from the Southern part of China, probably from Canton’s Chiu Chow. In fact, evidence shows that at that time, many Chinese from this county immigrated to Thailand to look for a better living. Some of the immigrants were trained and skilled in martial arts.
Furthermore, the Hung Mun was claimed to be founded by survivors of the destruction of the Southern Shaolin Temple (in Fujian Anxi or Putian), and the martial arts that its members practiced came to be called "Hung Ga" and "Hung Kuen" – a Southern Chinese martial art, which belongs to the Southern Shaolin styles and is associated with the Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung, who was a master of Hung Ga. In this respect, the real person – Cheng Chi-Yong ought to be smart and well-versed in fighting in order to become the No.2 man of Hung Mun. Especially in the olden days, the leader was required to display and prove both his skills and wisdom in order to earn the respect of his followers. Though not much had been said about Cheng Chi-Yong’s Kung Fu but he was a Kung Fu practitioner for sure, yet how good was he, nobody knew as little information had been revealed. Moreover, Cheng Chiu-Yong was more known to the locals by his quick-wittedness, boldness, eloquence and righteousness.
In the movie, the characters of Cheng Chiu-On and Hsiao Mi demonstrated not merely punches and kicks, but with careful observation, Hsiao Mi seemed to exhibit familiar techniques of Chin na, Sao Tang Tui (sweeping legs), Ying Jow (Eagle Claws), Tung Lung (Praying Mantis), Hung Ga’s Horse stances etc. Ni Kuang, the scriptwriter had written these 2 roles to be highly skilled martial artists by adapting some parts of the Hung Mun martial arts. Then, it was up to Han Ying-Chieh and Bruce Lee to choreograph the fighting scenes and made them looked as realistic as possible.
Location of The Big Boss’s Statue
Many tourists and fans were curious about the whereabouts of this Big Boss’s statue. Many might be disappointed to find the actual figure not located in a garden but in a temple instead. Furthermore, it did not resemble the young, handsome, heroic image as portrayed by Bruce on the silver screen instead it was a figure of an old man sitting in a chair with his Tang Shan garment. Of course, this statue is no Bruce Lee’s Cheng Chiu-On, it is the real Cheng Chi-Yong’s figure or so called “Yee Gor Fung’s (aka Er Gor Fong) figure.”
The shrine which laid this statue was called “Yee Gor Fung’s (aka Er Gor Fong’s) Temple,” situated opposite the eminent “Tai Hong Kong temple,” along Chao Kam Rop Road, Bangkok. The interesting thing was the temple was located on the 4th floor of the Prapacha Police Station building (refer to the photo link below).
After 80 years of his passing, the real Cheng’s story had almost turned into a myth in Thailand. Not only the Thai police regard Cheng to be their idol (blessed them in criminal investigations) but the Thai triad society members also treated him like a GOD (blessed them in sideline illegal business). In addition, many common people even treated him like a “God of Gambling” too as they said he blessed them in winning gambling and lotteries etc. So, he was well-respected by both the police and the triads, just like the Chinese who respect and pray the legendary Kwan Gong (aka Kwan Yu).
Photos of Cheng Chi-Yong (aka Yee Gor Fung) and The Big Boss:
For those who wanted to read more, a comprehensive coverage on the real Cheng Chi-Yong is duly presented below.
Legend of The Big Boss: Cheng Chi-Yong
The Origins of Cheng
Cheng Chi-Yong (1851-1937), was born in Siam (former name of Thailand). His father was Cheng Si-Sang. Both his parents escaped the Opium war that broke off in China in 1840 and went abroad to Siam. Though Cheng and his elder brother were born in Siam but his original ancestry or lineage was from Canton (province), Chiu Chow (City), Chiu On (county), Fung Tung (town), Chi Yuen (village).
Cheng’s birth name was Yee Fung, family name, Lai Yuk. Chi-Yong was the name given to him by the Great Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (in 1908), a Chinese revolutionary as well as the first president and founding father of the Republic of China (ROC). Chi-Yong means Wisdom and Courage. However, his well-known nickname was Yee Gor Fung (means Second Elder Brother Fung) due to the fact that he was the no.2 man of the famous Chinese Hung Mun Association (aka Heaven & Earth Society), a secret society active in revolutionary activities against the Ching Dynasty.
There was also a popular Chiu Chow saying, “Taken care by Yee Gor Fung while alive and Dai Fung Gung while dead,” meaning to say there is dependence and help from both Cheng Chi-Yong and Reverend Monk Dai Fung no matter alive or death.
Prominent & Wealthy Community Leader
Cheng returned to his hometown in Chiu On at the age of 14 but life was hard, so, he went back to Siam 2 years later. Initially he worked as a coolie (odd job laborer) in Bangkok and later, he joined the Thai’s Chinese Hung Mun Association led by Dai Gor Mang (aka Big Brother Mang; No.1 man). Cheng was a charismatic leader and he was promoted to Yee Gor (aka Second Brother; No. 2 man) at the age of 35. Hence, people called him Yee Gor Fung.
In that same era, King Chulalongkorn’s (Rama 5) administration was facing economic instability and needed help. Having seen Cheng’s great ability in running several businesses, he approached him for assistance. Cheng advocated for some casinos and gambling dens to be opened and invited his wide network of business associates both locally and around the region. This generated the much needed revenue for the ruling dynasty and allowed the legacy to grow.
As the dynasty grew, Cheng’s reputation and businesses flourished alongside and spanned many trades including transport, newspaper, printing, rice milling, import/ export, trading and most importantly gambling houses. He became a wealthy and powerful Thai Overseas Chinese leader. As he got wealthier, he also did a lot of charities and community works. In recognition of his great contribution to the Thai economy, King Chulalongkorn (Rama 5) conferred him the title of Phraya (Earl), full title being “Rong Hua Muen Phra Ahnuwat Raja Mi Yom,” which literally means the deputy 10,000 years old grandfather Earl. His family was also conferred the Thai surname of Chawanit, so Cheng’s surname became Cheng Chawanit. In addition, Rama 5 also ordered the first road in Chinatown to be called Thunon Thaychawanit. It was named after Cheng. Subsequently, Cheng became a multi-millionaire.
Financial Assistance to Chinese Revolution
In 1903, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen arrived at Bangkok to seek aids for his revolution against the Ching dynasty. Cheng showed his full support by rendering enormous financial assistance to Dr. Sun and then joined Tung Meng Hui (aka Chinese Revolutionary Alliance), a secret society and underground resistance movement founded by Dr. Sun. After the success of the Chinese revolution in 1911, Dr. Sun became the first president of ROC and Cheng sent his fifth son to congratulate Dr. Sun. His son presented 50,000 pieces of ivory carvings on his behalf as gifts to Dr. Sun. Later, Cheng contributed 1 million Thai Bahts to the Canton’s Governor.
Setting Up of Shipping Company
In 1905, to avoid Swatow’s marine transportations being controlled by the foreign Western companies such as Germany, U.S.A., France and Russia etc., Cheng founded the Chinese-Siamese Shipping Company. He raised about 3 million Thai Bhats and bought 8 ships which sailed from Bangkok to Swaytow, HK, Tsingtao, Xiamen, Shanghai, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia etc. Out of the 8 ships, 4 of them sailed mainly to Swaytow. According to Cheng’s instructions: Anyone who spoke Chiu Chow (his mother’s tongue dialect) would be entitled to half price ticket. If there were elderly, sick, handicapped people who wished to get discounts, all would be granted and taken care of, they would even get their tour expenses sponsored. Due to his emphasis and contributions on Swaytow’s shipping and trading business, the export businessmen who dealt with Swaytow-Thai route all wanted to cooperate with him and in 1909, the Siamese Business Public Association was established to aid the cooperation further.
Development of His Ancestral Hometown
In 1911, Cheng built a village near his hometown - Chi Yuen Village and he named it “New Chi Yuen Village.” In this 140 hectares new village, there were ancestry hall, western style houses, time tower, fences etc. Cheng distributed all the houses to his entire Cheng’s family members and closed relatives. He allowed the exchange of houses and lands for those non-locals who were willing to change their surname to Cheng. Later, Cheng constructed several new villages such as “Chung Mei,” “Shun Mei,” “Cheng Tau,” “Tung Law” and “Cheung Wai” which were around Chi Yuen village and offered the same conditions to the poor people so as to attract them to emigrate into these villages.
Furthermore, Cheng built Chi-Yong School (Now Fung Tung Middle School’s address). The first badge of students that consisted of 3 classes with a total of 180 students, were entitled to free study, free school uniforms and free accommodations.
Cheng also constructed 2 concrete roads totaled about 50 kilometers, between Chiu Chow City and Fok Yong Chiu Shan railway station. This made the transport more accessible and convenient for the people living there.
In 1916, Cheng and other Thai Chinese millionaires donated a total of 300,000 Thai Bhats to build Pui Ying School and it took 4 years to complete. His good deeds had won the admiration of the overseas Chinese in Thailand.
Great Assistance In Earthquake
In 1918, big earthquake suddenly occurred in Chiu Chow in the beginning of the year and it threatened the Han Kong dam. It concerned about many lives of the counties, thus, Cheng forked out 380 thousand tons of gold from his own pocket and used it to reconstruct the south, north and east dams with the help of his own ships to help delivered the required construction’s materials. The reconstruction project was completed in August the following year. The Chiu Chow folks were appreciative of Cheng’s contribution and kind assistance, and they later, built a “Master Cheng Chi-Yong Commemorative Pavilion” besides the north dam and a “Master Cheng Chi-Yong Monument” besides the south dam. Until today, Chiu Shan people still remembered him and talked enthusiastically about his good deeds over and over again.
In his later years Cheng had a dream of “Tai Hong Gong” (a Chinese deity) who told him to continue carried out philanthropic (charitable) duties. He built several homes and orphanages for the aged, sick, poor and homeless during his lifetime. His philanthropic acts are not only limited to Thailand but in the region as well.
On 5th March 1937, Cheng passed away at a ripe old age of 86 in Bangkok. His body was sent back and buried in his ancestral home town in Chiu On, China. Chinese KMT government sent representatives – Cheng Kai and Hu Han-Ming etc. to offer condolences and pay last respect to him. Before his passing, Cheng had made in his will to return Tai Fu Tai Mansion and huge hectares of lands back to the Siamese government. His selfless acts and contributions would always be remembered by the Thais, overseas Chinese and his ancestral town folks forever.
1. 1937 March Bangkok “Siamese City Chung Hwa People Paper”, “Overseas Chinese Daily” and “ROC Daily”
2. “Overseas Chinese Po Tak Sin Tung 40th Anniversary Commemorative Magazine” – “The biography of our foundation’s founder”
3. Noble Warrior (Cheng Chi-Yong), refer to “Overseas comrades,” Nanyang old cultural publications, 1955
4. Wong Min Cheung (Sun Yat-Sen and Yee Gor Fung), (Late Mr. Cheng Chi-Yong)
5. Kwok Ma Fung (Yee Gor Fung – A legend of the Siamese Chinese Society), “Swaytow history,” 2nd issue of 1985
6. Lam Fung (Ancestry father, Cheng Chi-Yong and his era), “Swaytow history and forum,” 1st part, 1986
7. Pui Ying School’s 70th Anniversary Commemorative Magazine (1920-1990)
8. Lam Woo Shu “Yee Gor Fung – Cheng Chi-Yong corrective facts in history,” Bangkok Tai Middle School Society Published, “Tai Middle School Magazine,” 1996
9. Panibula “1914-1939 Thailand’s Capitalists’ Features,” Panthakit Publishing, Jan 2002 publication (Thai)
Excellent info, thanks! NT - Billy on May 7, 2016, 2:14 PM
Re: The REAL Big Boss REAVELED - Samson on May 7, 2016, 4:11 PM
Cheng Chiu On - Matt on May 8, 2016, 2:09 AM
Big reveal, another great find on TBB! - Suraj on May 8, 2016, 4:13 AM
Another great post, thanks LIF - NT - JKD54 on May 8, 2016, 5:35 AM
Re: The REAL Big Boss REAVELED - HB on May 8, 2016, 7:37 AM
Very interesting! Thanks for posting- NT - - Fred on May 8, 2016, 11:29 AM
Re: The REAL Big Boss REAVELED - Nick Clarke on May 8, 2016, 12:04 PM