According the tradition of the Yang-family, Tai Chi Chuan (taijiquan) was created by the former Shaolin-Master Chang San Feng after having been instructed in taoist meditation and having witnessed the fight between a snake and a crane.
The tradition was kept secret for some centuries, until a traveller named Chiang Fa appeared in Chen Chia Gou (chenjiagou) and taught his mysterious style to a small number of villagers, one of which was Chen Chang Hsing.
Yang Lu Ch'an (1799-1872) heard about the famous Tai Chi Master Chen Chang Hsing in Chen Chia Kou (chenjiagou). In those times, Tai Chi Chuan was taught only to family-members. Being a stranger, Yang had no chance to become student, so he acted as deaf and mute and managed to become a servant in the house of the master.
He secretly spied on evening teaching lessons and during the night he practised what he had seen. After many months he was exposed but showed himself to be so talented that after several examinations the Master formally accepted him as student.
Later he travelled through China and faught 18 famous Kung Fu Masters never using more than two movements to win. Therefore he was given the name "Yang the invicible" and "Yang who does not fight". He then made a career in Peking, where he first started to teach publicly but soon was appointed as instructor of the imperial bodyguards and personal trainer of important princes of the imperial family, the top job in the city for a martial artist.
His sons Yang Chien Hou (1839-1917) and Yang Pan Hou (1837-1892) continued the style in the way of their father.
Yang Cheng Fu (1883-1936), a son of Yang Chien-Hou, was the most famous Master of the last century. He travelled a lot and spread the Yang style all over China.
From his many students only very few had been initiated in the tradition and the secrets of the Family style. Nonetheless, many of them started to teach what they had leaned. That's the reason why so many variations of the Yang Family style can be found today. In 1956 the people's Republic of China's government published a short form which was called "Peking Form" or "Government Form". Tai Chi was promoted to bring better health to the masses, but obviously the Peking form completely lacks the inner principles of the Yang-style.
Cheng Man Ching (Zheng Manqing), a student of Yang Cheng Fu, was the first to teach Tai Chi in the West. He was a talented Master of poetry, painting and calligraphy, and he was also skilled in chinese medicine. He was a student (but not a disciple) of Yang Cheng Fu, his Yang style differs a lot from the family-style.
Today, in the West, in the USA, Canada and Europe, the Yang style in its many variations is the most widely practiced style.
Yang Shou-chung (1910-1985) started learning the family-style from his father Yang Ch'eng Fu when he was eight and also learned from his famous uncle Yang Shao Hou (1862-1929). After the death of his father he became the successor in the Yang Family lineage.
While three younger sons of Yang Cheng Fu stayed in the People's Republic, Yang Shou Chung fled to Hongkong in 1949. He had only three disciples, the last of them is Master Chu King Hung, who lives and teaches in Europe since 1970.