Welcome to “Chinese Martial Arts in the News.” This is a semi-regular feature here at Kung Fu Tea in which we review media stories that mention or impact the the traditional fighting arts. In addition to discussing important events, this column also considers how the Asian hand combat systems are portrayed in the mainstream media.
While we try to summarize the major stories over the last three weeks, there is always a chance that we have missed something. If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA feel free to drop a link in the comments section below. If you know of a developing story or event that should be covered in the future feel free to send me an email.
Its been a while since our last update so there is a lot to be covered in today’s post. Lets get to the news!
Kung Fu Diplomacy
“Kung Fu diplomacy,” meaning the ways in which the traditional martial arts are used as tool of public diplomacy by China or other states, is a subject that I try to cover with some regularity here at Kung Fu Tea. These stories often highlight the intersection of political and economic trends with the TCMA, as well as demonstrating the changing nature of this aspect of physical culture for “Chinese identity.” It is a subject that is of central interest to students of Chinese martial studies.
Recent weeks have seen a number of developments on the Kung Fu Diplomacy front, all of which provide fascinating glimpses into China’s larger foreign policy stance for those who are interested in reading the tea leaves. To begin with, the governments of Tanzania and China have agreed to dramatically increase the number of local African students who will be sent to China to study language, culture and the martial arts. Under the new agreement 100 students a year will be sent to China in a bid to increase the number of individuals in that state who are fluent in both Chinese language and culture. Obviously this story plays into the larger narrative of China’s economic expansion in the area. Its pretty clear that the actual goals of both states go well beyond cultural exchange and martial arts education. Still, its fascinating that the Kung Fu instruction that is one part of this program is what receives the most press.
Nor are these efforts restricted to the African continent. The China Daily ran a story which focused on the role of native Chinese instructors in staffing cultural day camps in the United States. Once again martial arts instruction was discussed as a leading element of the overall program of cultural exchange. Most of these camps seem to be aimed at Chinese-American children which the PRC claims it has a responsibility to educate. Obviously there is a robust historical literature on efforts to strengthen Chinese nationalism among diaspora communities in the 1920s-1930s. Andrew Morris has previously discussed the role of Jingwu and later Guoshu classes in these efforts. It might be interesting to look at a comparison between those efforts and current programs. While the martial arts seem to be central to the physical performance of Chinese identity in both periods, I suspect that researchers might discover some very interesting differences as well.
Lastly the US and China have signed a far reaching document designed to promote and regulate many aspects of cultural exchange between the two states. The range of activities that fall under the authority of this agreement appear to be very broad. Yet once again a special place has been set aside for the formal promotion of the TCMA and Qigong in the United States. Given the number of Chinese martial arts teachers with really solid lineages that already live in the US, and the trouble that their schools are facing in recruiting students, this plan raise some interesting questions. Still, its clear that the Chinese government considers this to be a winning issue.
MMA and Modern Combat Sports in China
The place of MMA and other more modern combat sports in China is a story that seems to be gaining ever more traction in the main stream media. Every few days a news item is released that touches on this developing trend. In the last week we have seen a couple of new stories that I thought captured distinctly different aspects of what is going on in the world of Chinese combat sports.
First is a story by Sascha Matuszak at his blog “The Last Masters” profiling two very different Mongolian fighters (one male, the other female) making their way through the current Sanda circuit. While short I think that this piece really captures a lot of the flavor of being a professional fighter in China today. Check it out.
The other item that caught my attention was a report on Paul “Typhoon” Cheng, a One FC heavyweight fighter. Cheng was born in Taiwan but was raised in Canada, holds a Canadian passport, and came to the martial arts through his work as a Hollywood stuntman. His personal story has a lot of elements that are interesting to those who think about the cultural translation and migration of the martial arts. Also interesting is how Cheng fits into the current trend of western fighters heading to China in an attempt to jump-start their market both through raising the profile of the art in the ring and providing coaching to up and coming fighters. Cheng’s dual Chinese and western identity puts him in an ideal position to be just such a figure.
Pop Culture Kung Fu
Things have been quiet on the entertainment and film front over the last few weeks. AMC (the American Movie Channel) made headlines with their recent announcement of a direct to series martial arts based program tentatively titled “Badlands.” Based loosely on the classic story “Journey to the West,” the action will be guided by two figures from the HK film industry, Stephen Fung and Daniel Wu. The story itself will be in the hands of the creative team behind Smallville, Al Gough and Miles Millar. Also see the Variety report on this series here.
The Shaolin Temple in Henan province has also been back in the news. Sources are reporting that the Temple is about to launch its own tutorial phone app which will guide users through the study of multiple “traditional” forms. Such apps have been around for a while, but its interesting to see Shaolin jump on this bandwagon. The reports that I have seen have been pretty vague on the content of this app, so my guess is that it will walk users through some of the more popular modern wushu forms. It would be fantastic if it were to actually record some of the older or more traditional material from the Shaolin tradition, but I am not holding my breath.
Nor is this the only Shaolin related story to make the headlines this week. It appears that the Temple’s plans to build a massive “religious complex” (which will also include a conference center, luxury hotel, 27 Hole Golf Course, Country Club and now apparently condos) in New South Wales (Australia) is still moving forward. Actual building and development plans have now been lodged and the scope of the project is truly impressive. I guess my only question now is how much one of those luxury condos is going to cost?
Bruce Lee made a recent appearance on the Huffington Post. This particular blog post featured a number of decontextualized quotes from his various notebooks which are promoted as bits of “daily wisdom.” Lee seems to fill a number of roles in modern western popular culture, but I have to admit that “life coach” is probably my least favorite. Still, the frequency with which features like this still appear attests to his continuing cultural significance.
Martial Arts Studies
There have been a couple of interesting developments in the area of Martial Arts Studies in the last few weeks. To begin with Prof. Jocelyn Hollander (University of Oregon) has a paper coming out in the journal Violence Against Women that looks at the question of whether self-defense training deters different levels of aggression directed against female victims. The initial reports on her research would seem to indicate that those women who had received some level of self-defense training were less likely to be subjected to wide range of assaults, and that those that did occur were less likely to escalate. I am looking forward to reading her entire paper when it comes out.
The conversations started by the JOMEC Journal special edition on martial arts studies are continuing to move forward. This week Kyle Barrowman posted an extensive engagement with and response to Paul Bowman‘s own article in that same issue. Barrowman’s essay speaks to a number of issues including the thorny question of how we should think about “reality” in both cultural and martial arts studies (particularly in relationship to media discourses). Look for a response from Bowman in the coming weeks.
Also, remember to be thinking about the possible papers for the June 2015 conference on Martial Arts Studies to be held at Cardiff University. You can see the complete call for paper here.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook and Around the Web
In the last few weeks a number of other venues have begun to republish some of my older blog posts. Two of these that my regular readers might find most interesting are “moosin.net” (which picked up my discussion of the role of universities in the preservation of the traditional martial arts) and “China in WWII,” which is currently running my article on the social history of the dadao as a multi-part series. Both blogs have a number of articles that readers might find interesting. Moosin covers a wide variety of topics in the modern practice of the martial arts, where as the second blog gives a more historically focused discussion of China’s forces in WWII.
In addition to these blog be sure and head on over to the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group. In the last month we have introduced some important historical sources, looked at a number of video clips, and considered a variety of pieces relating to the topic of women in the martial arts. Of course liking the Facebook page is also a great way to stay up to date on all of the new developments here at the WordPress blog!