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 affect 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 month, there is always a chance that we have missed something. If you are aware of an important news event relating to the TCMA, drop a link in the comments section below. If you know of a developing story 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!
News from All Over
Our first story this week is a sad one. The recent passing of the martial artists and noted film star Yu Chenghui has been widely reported and discussed in the last week, both in Chinese and English language outlets. The Yahoo entertainment news ran a short piece on his life and career. Chinatopix went with a different sort of article that focused on his early training in the martial arts and introduction to film. As always, those sorts of biographical accounts are fascinating. Gene Ching, the editor of Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine offered the most detailed and heartfelt discussion of Yu which I saw. His story included personal reminisces and some of his Yu Chenghui’s more memorable magazine cover appearances. Be sure to check that one out. It is clear that Yu’s many contributions to the Chinese martial arts and film will not soon be forgotten.
ECNS.CN recently ran a piece titled “International students fall in love with Wushu.” Human interest articles in this genera are pretty common, but this one was certainly a cut above average. It profiled three different international students at Chinese institutions of higher learning who had taken up Wushu training and briefly explored their motivations and experiences. After reviewing their experiences the author concluded:
“Unfortunately few international students can endure the hard work and patience to really learn Wushu well, but their solitary accomplishments still make them feel connected to Chinese culture.”
One suspects that there is a lot to unpack in this sentence.
The same theme of identity moving (and even traveling) through the martial arts was also the subject of our next article. The Global Post ran a piece looking at a public performance of Shaolin Kung Fu in Milan Italy. Apparently the display was one aspect of a larger event attempting to promote Italian tourism within Henan province. This is an interesting article as it points to a trend (seen in other places as well) of individual cities and provinces using the martial arts to promote their local image abroad separately from other state centered campaigns of public diplomacy. This is an interesting issue for me as it brings to the surface certain tensions in how the martial arts will be understood in the future, as a national project or a product of local culture and history.
The compliment of the previous story can be found here. This short note discusses a “Chinese Kung Fu Show” held at “Dragon Mart” on Barwa Commercial Avenue in Doha, Qatar. This display of traditional martial arts and dancing was part of the lead-up to the larger “Qatar-China, Year of Culture 2016” event. This event was one of many organized by the Chinese Embassy in Qatar. In it various performers displayed unique styles from China’s many martial arts schools and regions. The goal of the year long event is to “strengthen the cultural ties” between Qatar and China.
Along similar lines I saw the following note in the Shanghai Daily. Directors of “Confucius Institutes” from around the world recently arrived at East China Normal University for a nine day conference on the sharing of Chinese culture. These Institutes are often involved with the promotion of events like martial arts demonstrations and traditional opera performances in local communities around the globe as part of their mission of promoting cultural exchange and understanding.
The Chinese community of Liverpool was also getting more press over the last few weeks than one might expect. Much of this focused on the declining fortunes of the city’s Chinatown (one of the oldest in Europe.) But the following story was more upbeat. It profiled the career of Kwong Ngan (known locally as Kenny Tam) for his years of public service to the Liverpool Chinatown community. In reconnection of his contributions he has been awarded the British Citizen Award. It turns out that Kenny Tam is also responsible for the introduction and promotion of Taijiquan within his local community, and its interesting to think about how these two sides of career (community organizer and martial artists) may have intersected over the years. Congratulations!
Chinese Martial Arts in the Entertainment Industry
It looks like Donnie Yen has finally found a way to avoid being forever typecast as “Ip Man” in the minds of Western viewers. Multiple sources are reporting that the well known actor beat out Jet Li in a competitive audition process to play the role of a Jedi who would befriend and appear with Han Solo in the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII.
The Apple Daily is reporting that Yen’s price of a paltry $4 million USD per film (compared to Jet Li’s $10 million) may have helped to sway studio executives in his direction. None of this has been confirmed by Disney or Lucasfilm, but casting an actor like either Li or Yen would certainly help to expand the films appeal in the lucrative Chinese market. It should also be noted that fans have been actively discussing the lack of Asian characters (and Jedi) in the Star Wars Universe for at least the last decade. Given the debt that this franchise owes to both the Asian martial arts and cinema, this seems like a remarkable oversight. Even NPR got in on the act attempting to discover the fate of the first Asian actor in the series to have an (uncredited) speaking part.
I for one would very much like to see a lightsaber master who fights with a “Chinese accent,” so you can be sure that we will be following this story as it develops. Maybe it will even inspire me to work on a couple of those Star Wars posts I have been kicking around…..
AMC’s new martial arts/action series Into the Badlands has been getting a lot of press. This series, based very loosely on the Chinese classic “Journey to the West” has been promising to bring martial arts excitement back to the small screen. Yet until recently we had very few visual clues about what to expect. All of that changed with the show’s recent Comicon presentation where fans got a lot of information and a lengthy, high detailed, trailer. The aesthetic of the film appears to be based on a feudal post-apocalyptic world placed somewhere in the deep south. And there are opium poppies. Lots of opium poppies.
Check out this article for more, including links to both the trailer and another (to me more interesting) short film proving an inside look at the martial arts training camp that has been set up for the show’s cast and various stunt teams.
Are you more interested in Hong Kong Cinema? Have you ever wondered about the evolution of the industry? Do you only have five minutes to find answers to all of your questions? If so, Timeout Hong Kong has an info-graphic for you. This easy to follow chart will walk you through the evolution of the industry. With these facts you are sure to amaze your friends at the next cocktail party where Kung Fu films come up (because don’t they always?)
While on the subject of nostalgia, Black Belt Magazine recently published piece providing some personal reminisces of Jim Kelly. Best known for his supporting role in Enter the Dragon opposite Bruce Lee, Kelly proved to be a highly charismatic and popular actor who went on to star in a number of martial arts films. A nice piece for fans of the 1970s Kung Fu films.
Of course the entertainment industry’s fascination with the Chinese martial arts goes well beyond the world of film. Many of my more historical posts have touched on the role of Wuxia novels in supporting and transmitting “martial culture.” Nor is this all in the past. These stories are still highly popular and exist in an reciprocal relationship with both the world of practicing martial artists as well as more visual mediums of story telling such as film and tv.
Beijing Today recently ran a piece that picks up on some of these themes. It introduces a collection of Wuxia stories authored by Xu Haofeng. At the moment Xu is probably best known as the screen writer for the Ip Man biopic “The Grandmaster,” but he is also a martial artist and writer in other genres. But if you are in the market for summer reading, this might be it.
Opera has always had an important relationship with the Chinese martial arts. Indeed, one suspects that prior to WWII most individuals received their first exposure to these skills and the cultural complex that surrounds them through opera performances. Unfortunately the popularity of traditional opera declined rapidly in recently years as fewer young people have taken up an interest in the art form. But the Shanghai Daily recently ran an article detailing successful efforts to counter this trend. A group of Beijing Opera performers have been holding workshops to introduce younger people to the traditional arts of singing, acting, and martial performance which comprise these shows. Head on over to read more about these efforts to cultivate a more educated and enthusiastic audience.
Martial Arts Studies
First off, we are happy to announce that the interdisciplinary Journal Martial Arts Studies is now an imprint of Cardiff University Press. Check out this post to learn more about this partnership.
At the recent martial arts studies conference held at Cardiff University I had an opportunity to see dozens of papers. But perhaps the single most entertaining (and intriguing) presentation I personally witnessed was given by Luke White and Susan Pui San Lok. Their paper, titled “Exiting Through the Window: Wing Chun as Woman Warrior,” provided a finely grained examination of Yuen Woo Ping’s 1994 comedic masterpiece “Wing Chun.” For my money this is still the best film that has ever been filmed on the system. While over at Academia.edu I noticed that they had posted an abstract of their paper. Head on over and check it out. Hopefully the full version will be out soon.
Also new at Academia.edu is Steven Trenson’s article “Cutting Serpents: Esoteric Buddhist Dimensions of the Classical Martial Art of Drawing the Sword.” This paper on the history of Japanese swordsmanship was first published in a Polish journal in 2014, so I suspect that most of us are just becoming aware of it now (the piece itself is in English).
On a related note readers should remember that we are only weeks away from the release of Alexander C. Bennett’s new book Kendo: Culture of the Sword. Published by the University of California Press this new addition to the Martial Arts Studies literature should hit the shelves on July 31st. The publisher’s note reads as follows:
Kendo is the first in-depth historical, cultural, and political account in English of the Japanese martial art of swordsmanship, from its beginnings in military training and arcane medieval schools to its widespread practice as a global sport today. Alexander Bennett shows how kendo evolved through a recurring process of “inventing tradition,” which served the changing ideologies and needs of Japanese warriors and governments over the course of history. Kendo follows the development of Japanese swordsmanship from the aristocratic-aesthetic pretensions of medieval warriors in the Muromachi period, to the samurai elitism of the Edo regime, and then to the nostalgic patriotism of the Meiji state. Kendo was later influenced in the 1930s and 1940s by ultranationalist militarists and ultimately by the postwar government, which sought a gentler form of nationalism to rekindle appreciation of traditional culture among Japan’s youth and to garner international prestige as an instrument of “soft power.” Today kendo is becoming increasingly popular internationally. But even as new organizations and clubs form around the world, cultural exclusiveness continues to play a role in kendo’s ongoing evolution, as the sport remains closely linked to Japan’s sense of collective identity.
Readers may also recall our extensive three part discussion of Denis Gainty’s book Martial Arts and the Body Politic in Meiji Japan. While making an important contribution to the Martial Arts Studies literature, the heft price tag of this book (originally over a hundred dollars) probably restricted it sales to university libraries. But it looks like it is now due for a paper back release! That should knock about $50 off the price tag and get this work some of the discussion that it deserves.
If you are looking for a more popular (though still informative) bit of “beach reading?” If so why not try Tuttle’s new release Samurai and Ninja: The Real Story Behind the Japanese Warrior Myth that Shatters the Bushido Mystique.
Recently I have been working on a couple of projects to prepare for the August 1st release of my own book The Creation of Wing Chun: A Social History of the Southern Chinese Martial Arts (State University of New York Press). One of these was an interview with the University of Rochester’s magazine, the Rochester Review. It proved to be an interesting discussion as I was given an opportunity to frame my project and explain its theoretical significance to a much more general audience than the one that I normally write for. I like the way the interview came out, and now that it has been released you can read it here.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
As always there is a lot going on at the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group and this last month has been no exception. We explored the martial arts of various Chinese ethnic minorities, saw a 19th century military training manual, and learned about upcoming Martial Arts Studies conferences. Joining the Facebook group is also a great way of keeping up with everything that is happening here at Kung Fu Tea.
If its been a while since your last visit, head on over and see what you have been missing!