The precise background of Wing Chun Kung Fu's origins is difficult to pin down. This is due in large part to the lack of any real written historical records that could tell us exactly who first developed the style and who they passed it on to. Therefore the history of Wing Chun is a very clouded one, full of historical figures who may or may not have really existed. It is unlikely that just one person would have developed such a scientifically sound martial art as it is told in the story of Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun. However the idea that the style was developed by a woman does indicate some of the systems traits in that it uses skill over brawn, and redirection to overcome strength.
Recent research by noted martial arts historian Stanley Henning into an historical document called the "Yong Chun County Gazetteer" points to the style being originated in Fujian province, when a woman called Ding Number Seven moved to Yong Chun County. It is possible that the pulp story by Pu Songling (1640-1715) called "Strange Tales From the Studio of Small Talk" was the inspiration for the legend of Ng Mui (Wu Mei) that is commonly heard when talking about the origins of Wing Chun.
It is also probable that the style itself originated from "Short Hitting" fighting techiques, which was used as a core of General Qi Jiguang's 32 forms, also seen as a blueprint for what was to become Taiji Quan.
How exactly Wing Chun was developed will probably never be known for sure. However below we have provided the story of Ng Mui as written by Yip Man:
“The founder of the Wing Chun style, Yim Wing-Chun was a native of Guangdong in China. She was an intelligent and athletic young girl, upstanding and forthright. Her mother died soon after her betrothal to Leung Bok-Cho, a salt merchant of Fujian. Her father, Yim Yee, was wrongfully accused of a crime and, rather than risk jail, they slipped away and finally settled down at the foot of Daliang Mountain near the border between Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. There they earned a living by running a shop that sold bean curd.
During the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1662-1722) fighting skills became very strong in the Shaolin Monastary of Songshan, in Henan Province. This aroused the fear of the Manchurian government, which sent troops to attack the Monastery. Although they were unsuccessful, a man named Chan Man-Wai, a recently appointed civil servant seeking favor with the government, suggested a plan. He plotted with Shaolin monk named Ma Ning-Yee and others who were persuaded to betray their companions by setting fire to the monastery while soldiers attacked it from the outside. Shaolin was burned down, and the monks and disciples scattered. Ng Mui, Jee Shim, Bak Mei, Fung Do-Dak and Miu Hin escaped and went their separate ways.
Ng Mui took refuge in the White Crane Temple on Daliangshan. It was there she met Yim Yee and his daughter Wing-Chun from whom she often bought bean curd on her way home from the market. At fifteen, with her hair bound up in the custom of those days to show she was of an age to marry, Wing-Chun's beauty attracted the attention of a local bully. He tried to force Wing-Chun to marry him, and his continuous threats became a source of worry to her and her father. Ng Mui learned of this and took pity on Wing-Chun. She agreed to teach Wing-Chun fighting techniques so she could protect herself. Wing Chun followed Ng Mui into the mountains, and began to learn fighting skills. She trained night and day, until she mastered the techniques. Then she challenged the bully to a fight and beat him.”
There are many different variations on the Wing Chun style. Most of them detail their origin with the same base story of Ng Mui. Only minor differences between them confuse matters, although all versions of Wing Chun came from the same source.