Hong Quan is one of the oldest and most popular styles taught at the Shaolin Temple, and is named in honour of Ming Taizu, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty who’s name was Hong Wu (洪武). Hong Wu began life as a peasant, and led a rebellion to overthrow the Mongol rulers, the Yuan Dynasty. His armies fought a decisive battle in the Song mountain range, where Shaolin Temple is located, and turned Mount Shaoshi into a fortress named Yuzhai.
The techniques of Hong Quan are descended from the techniques practiced by the army during this time (mid 14th century). It’s believed that many of the soldiers stayed in the area afterwards and settled in various villages, hence Hong Quan is incredibly widespread in the area, as well as other parts of northern China. Due to it being so old and widespread, there are many variations of the Chinese character used for Hong. At Shaolin they use 洪, directly taken from the Emperor’s name. Other regions of China use 鸿 or 宏, both meaning great or grand, and some even use 红 meaning the colour red (red represents fortune and blessing in Chinese culture, and is something like a national colour).
There is both Da (large) and Xiao (small) Hong Quan forms practiced, which both have their own characteristics and differences in use. Generally speaking, Hong Quan is a classical Long Fist style designed for being able to fight while wearing armour.