One of the Five Greats. As the head of the Beggars' Sect, he traveled the land, righting wrongs and sometimes causing mischief on the way. Hong Qigong is known to be irascible--he will act to save people from wrongdoing, but he doesn't often stay to give them guidance or help once he's pulled them out of an immediate crisis. He was famous for never taking disciples because he found no one who reflected well on his reputation. Even the ranking elders of the Beggars' clan, his trusted subordinates, had only been taught a move or stance or two.
He was also a gourmand who deeply enjoyed travelling and trying exotic and exquisite dishes. There was a superstition that one's right index finger would throb when one was going to eat exquisite food, and he fully believed in it. He once had a great failure, where he was so wrapped up in a feast that he lost track of time to tragic consequences to someone else. As penance and a self-reminder, he cut off his right index finger.
Early life and training
Not much is known of Hong Qigong's early life and training, apart that he was the seventh of his parents' children, and his family was once enslaved by the Jin. At a relatively young age he rose to rule the Beggars' Sect, an organization of beggars and martial artists, and was taught the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms and the Dog-Beating Staff, which are the trademarks of the leader of the Beggars' Sect and passed down from chief to successor.
Hong was noted as being a specialist and master of "hard" martial arts--ones focusing on straightforward and direct attacks to crush defenses and inflict decisive strikes with a single blow. His rendition of the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms was counted as being the pinnacle of the form.
First Huashen Tournament
The Nine Yin Manual, a profound compilation and unification of martial arts wisdom, was rediscovered after decades of being lost. It was the center of bitter contention, and in a few short years roughly a hundred martial arts masters had been killed over ownership of the manual. It came into possession of Wang Chongyang, founder of the Taoist Quanzhen Sect, and the wise Taoist proposed a means to settle ownership: A tournament at which martial arts masters who desired it could compete for it, with the winner publicly known as the greatest martial arts master and the keeper of the manual. Ouyang Feng, eager to claim the manual, entered the tournament.
The contest consisted of discussions of theory, and the practical: sparring and combat. After seven days, the contenders were clear. There were five masters above the rest, and they were titled after the regions of China where they made their homes: Western Venom Ouyang Feng, Northern Beggar Hong Qigong, Eastern Heretic Huang Yaoshi, and Southern Emperor Duan Zhixing. Wang Chongyang edged out the other four through his superior neigong cultivation, and became known as the Central Divinity and the greatest martial artist alive. The Five Greats agreed to hold another Huashen Tournament in twenty years, to settle who would keep the manual and see how their skills stacked up.
Chief of the Beggars
Hong spent most of the next twenty years living life as he saw fit. He wandered China constantly, doing good deeds and trying new meals. At one point he secretly lived in the rafters of the Imperial Palace for three months, stealing and trying dishes intended for the Emperor himself. He sometimes gave worthy people some training--underlings who had distinguished themselves, or people he met on the way. He never trained anyone for longer than three days--and that only once, to a twelve-year-old girl on a whim. At one point, he found Liang Ziweng--a greedy man who cultivated martial arts only as part of his overall pursuit of longevity--had gathered up about two dozen maidens as part of an immortality experiment, and gave the lecherous man a punitive beating (despite the normal wulin codes which generally forbade much more skilled wulin from seriously harming lesser-skilled people) and then pulled the hair from Liang's scalp until the man was left bald. One day on his travels, he overheard a young couple talking about a beggars' chicken they were cooking, and decided to see if he could beg for a little food.
Disciples at last
The young woman cooking the beggar's chicken--a dish where a gutted but unplucked chicken has mud caked onto it into a shell before it's roasted on a fire--was Huang Rong, runaway only daughter of Eastern Heretic Huang Yaoshi. The young man with her was Guo Jing. The young woman had a considerable talent in the culinary arts, and served the best Beggar's Chicken the Chief of the Beggars had ever had. When he found out they were also martial artists, Hong gave them a bit of training by way of thanks; he taught Rong the Careless Fist, a fun and showy style that was useful but ultimately lacking in real power and potential, and he taught the denser Guo Jing a single strike: Haughty Dragon Repents, the first move and foundation of the 18 Dragon-Subduing Palms.
Huang wanted to marry Guo Jing, but accurately suspected her father (who valued cleverness) would not approve of the slow-minded (but great-hearted) Guo Jing, saw the power and potential of the Palms and tried to weedle the Northern Beggar into teaching her beloved more of the set so Guo would at least have impressive kung fu skills to show. Hong resisted: He didn't want a disciple that would reflect badly on him and, with exquisite propriety, he didn't want to presume to really teach Huang Yaoshi's daughter, as that could have been perceived as an insult to Yaoshi's own skills. To Rong's surprise, he'd deduced her as Huang Yaoshi's daughter based on family resemblance and some of her own moves.
Huang's cleverness won out, though, and she tempted the Beggar Chief into a deal: She would serve him a different top-rate dish at every meal, with no repeated dishes, and every day he got this he'd spend it training Guo Jing in the 18 Dragon-Subduing Palms, and give Rong some pointers or techniques here and there, too. Guo Jing's slow progress was a frustration to Hong, which was made up for by Rong serving him meals that surpassed those he'd stolen in the Imperial Palace. He invented a technique based on throwing needles after the trio had a run-in with a herd of poisonous snakes, and taught it to Rong. After a month, Guo Jing had learned 15 of the 18 stances and strikes--which was still a formidable repertoire which increased Guo Jing's depth and ability as a martial artist immensely--and Hong finally called it quits. He was fond of the pair, but he was still unwilling to formally claim Guo Jing as his apprentice. To Rong's protests, they parted ways.
They ran into each other again some time later, when Hong's beggars were nobly trying to foil a kidnapping. The kidnapper was the lecherous Ouyang Ke, nephew and disciple of the Western Venom Ouyang Feng, and the young man had been trained extensively by his uncle. He proved too much for the beggars, and then too much for Guo Jing when Guo and Huang Rong intervened. Hong had, unbeknownst to everyone else involved, been in the area and aware of what was happening; he'd followed along to watch and see how events played out. When Ouyang Ke had a clear upper hand, Hong decided to announce himself.
Fueled by his dislike of the lecherous young man, Hong agreed to teach Guo the last three Palms in front of everyone, a dumbfounded Ouyang Ke included. The last three Palms tie into the fifteen before and unify it all as a whole style, and with these last pieces of the puzzle Guo Jing was on par with Ouyang Ke. The younger Ouyang was forced to use his own desperation moves to break the tie and get away. Hong acknowledged Guo Jing as his disciple and, at Rong's urging, agreed to speak to Huang Yaoshi on their behalf and attempt to secure Yaoshi's permission for a marriage.
Peach Blossom Island and the Ouyangs
True to his word, Hong eventually traveled to Peach Blossom Island to advocate for his apprentice. He found Guo Jing and Huang Rong already there--and he found the Ouyangs Feng and Ke already there. Ouyang Ke had taken a passion for Huang Rong, and persuaded his uncle to help press his suit to Huang Yaoshi. Huang disliked Guo Jing for his slow mind and he was much more inclined towards the educated and elegant Ouyang Ke (not knowing the young man's villainous habits of kidnapping women) but with two of his peers there, Huang wished to be fair and impartial. He set a series of tests (which were slanted in the cultured Ouyang's favor), but Guo Jing surprised everyone by surpassing Ouyang in all three tests, and winning Huang Yaoshi's permission to marry Huang Rong.
During these tests, Hong and Ouyang Feng had a bout, and proved to still be absolutely equal. The fight exhausted all the moves and techniques they were willing to show before an onlooking Huang Yaoshi, and soon turned into the two of them sitting on the ground, thinking of moves. They'd get up and try an attack when they thought they had invented something worthwhile, and they grudgingly declared a draw.
Hong left the island in the company of Guo Jing and Zhou Botong, and unbeknownst to the three of them, the ship Zhou had childishly insisted on taking had been built to fall apart in deep water, as a means of Huang Yaoshi planning for his death. The ship sank, and they were 'rescued' by the Ouyangs who had sailed away at the same time.
Martial Arts and Skills
- 'Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms' (降龍十八掌) is the most powerful of all external martial arts mentioned in the novels. The skill is created based on the principles in the Yi Jing.
- 'Dog Beating Staff Technique' (打狗棒法) is a set of 36 styles of staff techniques. The skill is only known to the Beggars' Sect's chief and passed down from each chief to his/her successor.
- 'Carefree Fist' (逍遙遊) is a set of fist techniques created by Hong Qigong in his youth. The skill is smooth and visually appealing but lacks real power.
- 'Rain of Petals' (滿天花雨) is created by Hong Qigong to counter Ouyang Ke's snake formation after he sees Huang Rong's sewing kit. It involves using common sewing needles as dart-like throwing weapons to pin down the snakes.
- Guo Jing and Huang Rong pass their knowledge of the Nine Yin Manual (九陰真經) to Hong Qigong to help him recover from his battle with Ouyang Feng. Hong Qigong practises the skills in the book and regains his powers in the sequel novel.