As a regular feature on this blog I plan to collect and review particularly interesting current event happenings and news articles relating to the Chinese martial arts. Here is the first installment for your enjoyment. If you are aware of other articles feel free to link to them in the comments section, or just drop me a line and I will add them to the next regular update.
By Isaac Stone Fish
July 30th, 2012
Hot off the press this article details the conflicting accounts and scandals of the growth of the Shaolin Temple in Henan province under the leadership of Shi Yongxin. While reporting on the abbot, and the Shaolin Temple, in the US is almost universally positive (Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine is a good source for periodic, if hardly hard hitting, interviews), Fish gleefully reports that public opinion is much more mixed in the Chinese popular press.
“Shi straddles many of China’s dichotomies: the sacred and the profane, the modern and the ancient, the party and the people. He is a portrait of success in modern China, standing at the intersection of the Communist Party’s control of both business and religion. Some see him as a brilliant visionary keeping the martial-arts tradition alive; others claim he’s a party huckster who has accepted millions in “gifts” and makes money by charging up to $14,000 for the right to burn incense in the sacred grounds of the temple. Shi has denied these allegations, but he continues to inspire both vitriol and adulation. In 2009 Shaolin’s website was hacked to display the message “Shaolin evildoer Shi Yongxin, go to hell.” Last March, as a delegate to China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, Shi made news by showing up in yellow robes, holding an iPad.”
While an interesting read the article in many ways is a missed opportunity. Very little investigation of the Shaolin “brand” was presented, and while it is interesting that the abbot has become a target of populist resentment (and there is a lot of that to go around in China today) Fish never stops to ask to what degree this personal controversy has diminished Shaolin’s domestic credibility.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this article is that it was published at all. It is hard to imagine that ten years ago a major American publication would have bothered to publish a fluff piece on the abbot of a Chinese temple. I think the fact that a broad American readership finds this piece interesting indicates the degree to which the traditional Chinese martial arts have acted as a cultural bridge. The negative view of this is that the association is nothing more than a lingering orientalism. Still, the Chinese have made conscious efforts to employ Kung Fu as part of their public diplomacy for decades. Of course there was always a certain gap between how these activities and individuals were viewed between east and west. Often statements or teachers were accepted somewhat uncritically by American martial artists simply because they did not know any better or had no other options. These critical reports on Shi Yongxi would seem to indicate that the gap is narrowing.
Updated: 2012-07-25 20:39
This week the China Daily ran a photo essay on their webpage profiling a martial arts school in Fujian province run by Scott Bird.
“Scott, from Birmingham in the UK, came to China at 20 to learn martial arts, which has fascinated him since he was young. He has been to different places in China including Shandong, Jilin and Shaolin Temple in Henan to study. In 2005, he founded a martial art training school in the deep mountain areas of Taining county, Fujian province. Now the school has more than 50 students from different countries including Britain, the US, Canada and Russia. He has helped train more than 1,000 foreigners. “Chinese martial arts are extensive and broad. I founded the school for the purpose of letting more people get fond of it and spread it across the world.”
Unfortunately the article doesn’t give much information about Bird or his school. The webpage for the Rising Dragon Martial Arts school is much more interesting in this regard. (http://www.risingdragonschool.com/). A quick read through the bios on the webpage reveal a lot of interesting insights into what sort of individuals are willing to travel to China to study the traditional martial arts, and what their expectations are.
Sifu Bird sounds like a very interesting individual and I look forward to hearing more about his martial journey in the future.