With the publishing of Yue Fei's fictional 17th-18th century biography, '''', a new distinct fictional Zhou Tong emerged, which differed greatly from his historical persona. Not only was he now from Shaanxi; but he was Yue's adopted father, a learned scholar with knowledge of the , and his personal name was spelled with a different, yet related, Chinese character. The novel's author portrayed him as an elderly widower and military arts tutor who counted Lin Chong and Lu Junyi, two of the on which the ''Water Margin'' is based, among his former pupils. A later by noted Yangzhou storyteller not only adds Wu Song to this list, but represents Zhou as with supreme swordsmanship. The tale also gives him the nickname "Iron Arm", which he shares with the executioner-turned-bandit Cai Fu, and makes the bandit Lu Zhishen his sworn brother.
Various wuxia novels and folk legends have endowed Zhou with different kinds of martial and supernatural skills. These range from mastery of the bow, double broadswords, and to that of Wudang hard qigong and even x-ray vision. Practitioners of Eagle Claw, Chuojiao and Xingyi commonly include him within their lineage history because of his association with Yue Fei, the supposed progenitor of these styles. He is also linked to Northern Praying Mantis boxing via Lin Chong and Yan Qing, the adopted son of Lu Junyi. Wang Shaotang's folktale even represents him as a master of boxing. However, the oldest historical record that mentions his name only says he taught archery to Yue Fei. Nothing is ever said about him knowing or teaching a specific style of Chinese martial arts.
Zhou has appeared in various forms of media such as novels, comic books, and movies. His rare 20th century biography, '','' serves as a sequel to ''The Story of Yue Fei'' because it details his adventures decades prior to taking Yue as his pupil. He also appears in a novel concerning one of his fictional . He was portrayed by three different actors in a string of black and white Yue Fei films produced in the 1940s and 1960's, one of which featured a ten year old Sammo Hung as the . Veteran martial arts actor Yu Cheng Hui, who played the sword-wielding antagonist in Jet Li's '''', stated in a 2005 interview that he has always wanted to portray Zhou in a film.
Mention in Yue family memoirs
On his deathbed, Yue Fei's third son Yue Lin asked his own son, the poet and historian Yue Ke , to complete Yue Fei's memoirs. This two-part memoir was completed in 1203, some sixty years after the general's political execution, but was not published until 1234. It was later rewritten in 1345 and published in the Yuan Dynasty's dynastic chronology '''' under the title '''' . Zhou’s mention in Yue Ke’s memoir was only briefly summarized in the Yuan rewrite. It reads, "He learned archery from Zhou Tong. He learned everything and could fire with his left and right hands. After Tong's death, he would offer sacrifices at his tomb."
Western Washington University history professor Edward Kaplan explains Zhou was a "local hao" .
Historical and scholarly sources spell his personal name as , meaning "same or similar". However, the Yue family was much too poor to afford military lessons for their son, so, Yao Dewang, the boy's maternal grandfather, hired Chen Guang to teach the eleven year old how to wield the . Yao was very surprised when his grandson quickly mastered the spear by the age of thirteen. Zhou was then brought in to continue Yue's military training in archery. Dr. Kaplan describes Zhou as the "most important" of the two teachers.
A section of the ''Jin Tuo Xu Pian'', the second part of Yue Ke's original published memoir, describes one of Zhou's archery lessons and reveals that he took other children as his pupils:
"One day, T'ung gathered his pupils for an archery session and to display his ability put three arrows in succession into the center of the target. Pointing to the target to show grandfather , he said: 'After you can perform like this, you can say you are an archer.' Grandfather, thanked him and asked to be allowed to try. He drew his bow, let fly his arrow and struck the end of T'ung's arrow. He shot again and again hit the mark. T'ung was greatly amazed and subsequently presented to grandfather his two favorite bows. Thereafter grandfather practiced still more he was able to shoot to the left and right, accurately letting fly the arrow as he moved. When he became a general he taught this to his officers and men so that his whole army became skilled at shooting to the left and right and frequently used this technique to crush the enemy's spirit."
The last sentence of the passage is similar to one from the ''Biography of Song Yue, Prince of E''. It mentions how after the tutor's death, Yue taught what he had learned from Zhou to his soldiers who were victorious in battle. Dr. Kaplan's states this happened just prior to Yue's entrance into the army and that the entire event served as a symbol for Yue's "entrance into responsible manhood." but Yue would have been eighteen in that year since he was born on "the fifteenth day of the second month of 1103." The author of the original source material was using age calculation, in which a child is already considered one year old at birth. Since Yue joined the military shortly after Zhou's death, a relative time frame can be given for when he passed away. During the early months of 1122, the Song empire mobilized its armed forces to assist the Jurchen in confronting their common enemy, the Liao Dynasty. Therefore, it appears that Zhou died in late 1121, before the call to arms was issued.
Zhou Tong's fictional life story can be pieced together from two sources: '''' and ''''. ''The Story of Yue Fei'' is a fictionalized retelling of Yue Fei's young life, military exploits, and execution. It was written by a native of named Qian Cai , who lived sometime during the reigns of Qing Dynasty and Emperor Qianlong. A dating symbol in its preface points either to the year 1684 or to 1744. It was deemed a threat by the Qing emperors and banned during the Qianlong era. In the novel, Zhou is portrayed as an elderly widower and Yue's only military arts tutor. The General's historical spear master Chen Guang is never mentioned. Zhou teaches Yue Fei and his sworn brothers military and literary arts from chapters two through five, before his death.
In the writing of his novel, Qian Cai used a different character when spelling Zhou's given name.
''Iron Arm, Golden Sabre'' was written by Wang Yun Heng and Xiao Yun Long and published in 1986. During their journey, Zhou recommends that Yue run the horse to test its speed. Yue spurs the horse on leaving Zhou in pursuit. When they reach the village gate, the two dismount and Zhou returns to his study where he feels hot from the race and removes his outer garments to fan himself. But he soon falls ill and stays bedridden for seven days. Then the book describes his death and burial:
"...his phlegm bubbled up and he died. This was on the fourteenth day of the ninth month in the seventeenth year of the Reign of Xuan He, and his age was seventy-nine ... Buddhist and Taoist Priests were asked to come and chant prayers, for seven times seven, namely forty-nine days. Then the body was taken up to be buried beside the Hill of Dripping Water."
Yue lives in a shed by his grave through the winter and in the second lunar month of the following year, his martial brothers come and pull the building down, forcing him to return home and take care of his mother.
The quoted death date is not only unreliable because the book is fiction, but also because the '''' of lasted only seven years and not seventeen. Although ''The Story of Yue Fei'' states Zhou died shortly before Yue took a wife, he historically died ''after'' Yue married. But Zhou comments that his "old wife" died and his "small son" was killed in battle against the after leaving with the bandit Lu Junyi to fight in the war. In '''', his wife is named Meng Cuiying and his son is named Zhou Yunqing . He defeats Meng in a lei tai martial arts contest and wins her as his wife. But she is shortly thereafter kidnapped by the wicked monks of the Stone Buddha temple. Both Zhou and Meng eventually defeat the monks with their combined martial skills and later marry at the in Hubei province.
Zhou Yunqing first appears as a fierce, impulsive young man who rides his horse into the thick of enemy encampments wielding a long spear. He later dies in battle against the Liao Dynasty. After his son's death, Zhou retreats to the for a long morning period. He later takes seven year old Yue Fei as his adopted son and sole heir years after the boy's father drowns in a great flood:
"I see that he is clever and handsome and I, an old man, wish to have him as my adopted son ... He need change neither his name nor his surname. I only want him to call me father temporarily so that I can faithfully transmit all the skills I have learned in my life to a single person. Later, when I die, all he has to do is to bury my old bones in the earth and not allow them to be exposed, and that is all."
However, after comparing events from ''The Story of Yue Fei'' and a account of Yue's life from the sixteenth century ''Popular Elucidation of the Restoration of the Song Dynasty'', literary critic C.T. Hsia concluded "that his father did not die in the flood and that, although Yueh Fei showed almost filial regard for the memory of his teacher Chou T’ung 同 , the latter had not been his adopted father." Despite the addition of popular legends, Xiong Damu , the author of this work, relied heavily on historical chronologies including Zhu Xi’s ''Outlines and Details Based on the T'ung-chien'', Yue Ke’s family memoir, and the Yuan Dynasty’s official '''' to write his story. describes Zhou thusly,
"He was beyond the age of fifty, he was more than fifty, and standing upright he measured about eight feet. His face had a golden tan, arched brows, a pair of bright eyes, a regular head form, a square mouth, a pair of protruding ears, and under his chin there were three locks of beard, a grizzled beard. On his head he wore a sky-blue satin scarf, and he was dressed in a stately sky-blue satin coat with a silken girdle, a pair of wide black trousers without crotch and satin boots with thin soles."
Heroes and religious masters with above normal height are a reoccurring theme in Chinese folklore. For instance, his student Wu Song is said to be over nine feet tall in the same folktale. In '''', the General simultaneously duels with two other warriors vying for first place in a military exam; one is nine feet tall and the other is eight feet tall. A Hagiography of the Taoist saint Zhang Daoling states he was over seven feet tall.
When Zhou is vocalized in "," he speaks in "Square mouth public talk," which is a manner of speaking reserved for martial heroes, highly respected characters, or, sometimes, lesser characters that pretend to be an important hero. Square mouth public talk is actually a mixture of two forms of dialogue: ''Fangkou'' and ''Guanbai''. ''Fangkou'' is a manner of steady, yet forceful over pronunciation of dialogue that was possibly influenced by . ''Guanbai'' is monologue and dialogue that is sometimes used for "imposing heroes." This mixture of styles means Zhou Tong is treated as a highly regarded hero.
In her analysis of Yangzhou storytelling, B?rdahl noted that the aforementioned tale about Zhou and Wu Song uses different forms of dialogue for both characters. Wu speaks square mouth utilizing standard mandarin without rusheng . On the contrary, Zhou speaks squaremouth using the , which ''does'' utilize rusheng syllables. Therefore, she believes “square mouth dialogue should at least be divided into two subcategories, namely the Wu Song variant—without rusheng, and the Zhou Tong variant—with rusheng."
Water Margin bandits
:''See also: ''
The ''Water Margin'' is a Ming Dynasty about one hundred and eight demons-born-men and woman who band together to rebel against the lavish Song Dynasty government. Lin Chong and Lu Junyi, two of these bandits, are briefly mentioned as being Zhou's previous students in ''The Story of Yue Fei''. They are not characters within the main plot, though, as both are killed by "villainous officials" prior to Zhou becoming precept of the Wang household.
Zhou's portrayal as their teacher is connected to a reoccurring element in Chinese fiction where and Song Dynasty heroes train under a "celestial master," usually a Taoist immortal, prior to their military exploits. C.T. Hsia suggests the mold from which all other similar teachers are cast is Gui Guzi , master of the feuding strategists Sun Bin and Pang Juan, from the tale ''Latter Volume of the Spring and Autumn Annals of the Seven Kingdoms''. But in adopting this format, Qian reversed the traditional pattern of "celestial tutelage" since Zhou is written as a human, while his students are reincarnations of demons and the celestial bird Garuda .
Although Lin and Lu have been connected to Zhou since the Qing Dynasty, Wu Song did not become associated with him until Wang Shaotang created a 20th century folktale in which the . Zhou teaches Wu the "Rolling Dragon" style of swordplay during the constable's one month stay in the capital city. This tale was chapter two of Wang's "Ten chapters on Wu Song" storytelling repertoire, which was transcribed and published in the book ''Wu Sung'' in 1959.
Wang’s tale portrays Zhou as an aging with "a fame reverberating like thunder" throughout the underworld society of Jianghu. He is also given the nickname "Iron Arm" , which carried over into the title of his fictional biography ''Iron Arm, Golden Sabre''. Furthermore, Zhou shares the same nickname with Cai Fu, an executioner-turned-bandit known for his ease in wielding a heavy sword.
Because of his association with these bandits, Zhou is often confused with the similarly named bandit "Little King" . He later dies under the sword of Li Tianrun, an officer in the rebel army of Fang La. So, the connection between both Zhou's is by the English of their name only.
'''' comments Lu Junyi is Zhou's last student prior to taking on seven year old Yue Fei and his three sworn-brothers Wang Gui, Tang Huai and Zhang Xian . He teaches them literary and military lessons on even and odd days. The novel says Yue is talented in all manners of "literary and military matters" and even surpasses the skill of Lin and Lu. After Yue acquires his "Supernatural Spear of Dripping Water", Zhou tutors all of his students in the , but each excels with one in particular; Yue Fei and Tang Huai, the ; Zhang Xian, the Hook-Sickle spear and Wang Gui, the . All of them learn the skill of archery in addition.
Books written by modern-day martial artists make many claims that are not congruent with historical documents or current scholarly thought. For instance, Yang Jwing-Ming says Zhou was a scholar who studied martial arts in the Shaolin Monastery and later took Yue as his student after the young man worked as a tenant farmer for the official-general Han Qi . However, history Prof. Meir Shahar notes that unarmed boxing styles did not develop at Shaolin until the late Ming Dynasty. He also states that Ji family memoirs and Qing Dynasty records suggest Xingyi was created hundreds of years after the death of Yue by a spearplayer named Ji Jike . In addition, the appearance of Han Qi in the story is a chronological anachronism since he died nearly 30 years before Yue's birth. Yue historically worked as a tenant farmer and bodyguard for descendants of Han Qi in 1124 after leaving the military upon the death of his father in late 1122, but he learned from Zhou well before this time.
Eagle Claw Grandmasters Leung Shum and Lily Lau believe "Jow Tong" was a monk who brought young Yue to the Shaolin Monastery and taught him a set of hand techniques, which Yue later adapted to create his ''Ying Kuen'' . Liang Shouyu states practitioners of Emei Qigong believe Yue trained under Zhou as a child and competed to become China’s top fighter at an early age. Their lineage story dictates Zhou also took Yue to a "Buddhist hermit" who taught him said qigong style. Northern Praying Mantis Master Yuen Mankai says Zhou taught Yue the "same school" of martial arts as he did his ''Water Margin'' students and that the General was the originator of the praying mantis technique "Black Tiger Steeling Heart."
There is insufficient historical evidence to support the claim he knew any skills beyond archery. Contemporary records never once mention Zhou teaching Yue boxing. Wang Shaotang's folktale even represents him as a master of boxing. This combination of various schools refers to an eighteenth century martial arts manual that describes the gathering of at the Shaolin Monastery that supposedly took place during the early years of the Song Dynasty. Lin Chong and Yan Qing are listed as two of the eighteen masters invited, which means their skills of and are treated as two separate schools, instead of one. But he believes Mantis fist was created during the Ming Dynasty, and was therefore influenced by these eighteen schools from the Song. He also says Lu Junyi taught Yan Qing the same martial arts as he learned from Zhou.
Very few references are made to the people who supposedly taught martial arts to Zhou. In '''', he learns as a child from a Shaolin master named Tan Zhengfang. Practitioners of Chuojiao claim he learned the style from its creator, a wandering Taoist named Deng Liang.
In popular culture
Zhou has appeared in various kinds of media including Novels, comic books, and movies. Apart from ''The Story of Yue Fei'' and ''Iron Arm, Golden Sabre'', he appears in a novel based around his , Jin Tai. Li Ming, and Jing Ci Bo. Jing starred alongside a ten year old Sammo Hung, who played young Yue Fei. Veteran martial arts actor Yu Cheng Hui, who played the sword-wielding antagonist in Jet Li's '''', stated in a 2005 newspaper interview that he never shaved his trademark beard, even at the request of movie producers, because he wanted to portray Zhou in a future film. He went on to say "He is an outstandingly able person from the northern and southern Song Dynasties and many ''Water Margin'' heroes are his disciples. This person is very important in the martial arts and many people want to portray him in films."