Welcome to “Chinese Martial Arts in the News!” Lots has been happening in the Chinese martial arts community, so its time to see what people have been saying.
For new readers, 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 may 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 way too long since our last update so let’s get to the news!
News From Southern China
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) has published a number of interesting features of the TCMA over the last month. The first of these is a treatment of Dog Kung Fu. Given the current interest in ground fighting, there is a fair amount of curiosity regarding this particular school. Still, I don’t think I have met a student of the style. The SCMP suggests that my experience is not exceptional. The art is rare and its future looks uncertain. Still, reading this account it is clear that relatively standardized narratives about the woes of Kung Fu have developed. As unique as this art is, the way its discussed is notably similar to what can be heard in many other cases. Just consider the articles opening paragraph on its origins:
Despite its unusual name, legend has it that the fighting style was developed by Buddhist nuns from southeast China’s Fujian province as a form of protection against the bandits and wild animals they met on their travels.
To most martial students, “the moves are not pleasing to the eyes”, but the technique was “extremely useful” in real combat situations, Li said.
The SCMP also ran a lengthy profile titled “Lion dancing: history, traditions and its special place in Hong Kong culture explained.” This article is also worth reading as it goes into some detail on how students are recruited in modern HK, and the various ways in which the performance landscape has changed. But this article also brings us back to the emergence of a now standardized narrative on “what has gone wrong in the martial arts” in Hong Kong and Southern China. Consider the following:
He sees a lot of interest in the activity among primary school students, who find the lions cute, but few stick with it. “Sport is not as popular with young people today as when I was young,” he says. “Fewer young people take up sport as a hobby, and even fewer take up lion and dragon dancing.”….
He says the lack of space for lion and dragon dance groups to train is also a major problem – especially since the performances are noisy. “There is no government training ground for lion dances, so we can only train in factory buildings and open spaces in walled villages,” says Kwok.
But the SCMP still isn’t done. Unsurprisingly the paper runs a number of stories on Wing Chun. The most recent of these was an extensive profile which explored “How a French wing chun master in Taiwan trained by Ip Man’s nephew went from wayward youth to focused man of wisdom.” Granted, the title is unwieldily, but it gives you a very accurate sense of what you will find in this piece. This article is also well worth taking a look at. The SCMP clearly gets this month’s award for excellence in the coverage of the TCMA.
Kung Fu Diplomacy
This last month also saw a particularly strong run of articles on the role of the martial arts in China’s public diplomacy campaigns. As always, the various English language tabloids were a good source for this coverage.
The first of these articles is a little different from what we usually see. It focused on the role of expatriate Chinese individuals in promoting these efforts and the policy making process. This discussion arose from the case of Hong Weiguo, a New Zealand-based kung fu master who ended up giving an impromptu demonstration before the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing. His exhibition was in support of his proposals urging the government to back efforts to have Taijiquan declared an official UNESCO intangible cultural heritage asset.
“The master brought one proposal to the CPPCC session this year, asking to speed up the process of applying to UNESCO to include tai chi on the intangible cultural heritage list. “What a pity that tai chi has not yet been recognized by UNESCO after a decade-long effort. It is a great vehicle of essential Chinese culture, body exercise and philosophy originating from Taoism,” said Hong. He expressed his hope that more people can understand the importance and urgency of securing the status of tai chi in the world, as well as his hope that the relevant government departments in China will consider forming a tai chi academy.”
There were also plenty of the more regular stories reporting on the efforts of various Confucius Institutes and Consular Officers to organize and promote classes that invariably taught not just Chinese martial arts, but also Chinese culture and critical life lessons. A large percentage of these stories always seem to be set in Africa, though the Chinese government promotes similar policies in many other regions of the globe. A nice example of one such story can be found in the aptly titled: “Chinese discipline of wushu bringing hope and happiness, as well as greater self-confidence, to some of Liberia’s most troubled youngsters.”
While the classes in this story were organized in the usual way, I was a bit surprised to see that the instruction was provided by a Russian, rather than a Chinese, martial arts instructor. Of course Russia is one of the few countries to develop a domestic Wushu program capable of challenging China in global competitions.
Introduced to Liberia in 2011, wushu has taken its place among several martial arts in the country. The new school, funded by the Confucius Institute and the Chinese embassy in Monrovia, trains and recruits young Liberians.
Liberia’s Ministry of Youth and Sports believes the establishment of the school has strengthened cultural exchanges between the people of Liberia and China.
“The intention here is to bring our two countries closer together. Wushu is a major part of Chinese culture. The Confucius Institute is also helping to teach the language and culture of the Chinese people,” former Liberian sports minister Saah N’tow said at the opening of the school in Monrovia in early January.
So far, the school has enrolled more than 30 students. Although a few are irregular attendees, many are showing commitment to learning the sport.
Those interested in the Chinese government’s efforts to push Wushu may also want to check out this brief report. This is a shorter discussion with lots of boilerplate quotes from local officials. But it also includes a bunch of photos that are a bit more candid than what normally runs in these tabloid articles. All in all they suggest that many of these events are still happening on a relatively modest scale.
News From All Over
Regularly practicing Tai Chi — an ancient Chinese martial art form — can help improve respiratory function in people with chronic breathing problems, according to a new study. It could be a low-cost and easily accessible option….
The researchers found that this slow, methodical form of exercise is equivalent to pulmonary rehabilitation for improving respiratory function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a chronic group of inflammatory lung disease that blocks airflow and makes it difficult to breathe.
Needless to say, there are always a number of new articles in this area. This piece in the Business Insider explores Taijiquan’s ability to stave off some of the more common problems associated with aging. (Note that jogging comes highly recommended as well).
Of course no news update would be complete without a word about the Little Dragon and his continuing influence on popular culture. It seems that the Wing Luke museum’s successful Bruce Lee exhibition has just been remounted with a new group of exhibits and was re-opened to the public. There was also a special celebrity appearance to help kick things off.
“A Dragon Lives Here: Do you know Bruce?” continues its popular run with its fourth installment, featuring more of Bruce Lee’s personal effects at the Wing Luke Museum in the International District. Standup comedian and host of CNN’s “United Shades of America,” W. Kamau Bell provides a video introduction with Lee’s daughter, Shannon, to this latest installment. The latest exhibit opened on March 9 for patrons, and to the public the following day.
While we are on the subject of museums, it would probably be a good time to mention that I just found a new reason to visit Shanghai. Apparently they have a museum dedicated to the TCMA located on the campus of the Shanghai University of Sports. The article suggests that the there is an extensive collection of weapons in the display. This sounds like it would make a great day trip for anyone in the area.
“The clash of swords, mystical forces that send people flying and secret scriptures depicting the stances for hand and weapon combat.
It’s all in the Chinese Martial Arts Museum, which takes visitors on a whirlwind tour of kung fu history with more than 2,000 collection items. The museum, inside the Shanghai University of Sports, is a journey into the world of ancient Chinese chivalry. A giant painted column, covered with auspicious clouds, stands upright in the center of the hall. Carved in a fist-holding salute pattern, it represents the spirit of kung fu etiquette and mutual respect.A Hero Born by Jin Yong review – the gripping world of kung fu chivalry”
“MMA fighters batter Wing Chun Masters in China”. So proclaimed the article in Bloody Elbow reporting on Xu Xiaodong most recent viral beat down. Still, in the interest of accuracy we should probably fix a few of the problems with that title. How about: “MMA (journeyman trainer) batters (basically unknown) Wing Chun (practitioner) in Japan.” Yeah, that is better.
One suspects that the last of those points is really the most significant. The Chinese government has made it pretty clear that it is not interested in this sort of thing and that there will be consequences for those who continue to (as they see it) “humiliate the nation.” Hence Xu’s last pummeling was actually staged in Japan, with all of the weirdness that one would expect from a Japanese reality TV event. (A red carpet, really?)
Still, the cultural signaling that went on in this bout was absolutely fascinating. The Wing Chun guy wore shoes and looked as though he walked off the set of an Ip Man movie. Xu went barefoot and dressed like he was showing up for a training session at his gym. While I find the actual fight relatively devoid of deeper meaning (as all acts of violence ultimately are), it was very interesting to see the way that these fighters sought to frame what they were about to do. Clearly they went to lengths to argue no, this wasn’t just a reality TV beatdown, but that their punches actually conveyed deep cultural meanings and critiques. I suspect that Xu’s various spectacles would provide rich material for someone writing in the tradition of Roland Barthes.
The Guardian just posted their review of the recent translation of the groundbreaking Wuxia novel, Legend of Condor Heroes (A Hero Born) and…they really liked it. Actually they loved it. Seriously, drop what you are doing and get a copy now. Here is their final thoughts on the work (the whole review is well worth reading):
“It seems incredible that this is the first book in the Legends of the Condor Heroes series to come out in English, but better late than never. As I read Anna Holmwood’s vibrant translation – gripped by the unashamed narrative zest and primary-coloured fairytale world – I felt a slight regret that I was coming to this novel in my fifth decade. It would be a wonderful initiation into a lifelong enthusiasm for China, its history and civilisation, its vast and chronically misunderstood presence in the world. The first book ends with Guo Jing embroiled in an incipient love triangle, and approaching the trial by combat that has been his destiny since birth, while the Song dynasty dangles by a thread. Other volumes can’t come soon enough. My one quibble is that as the heroes swept back and forth across China and the Mongolian steppe, this reader’s pleasure would have been greatly enhanced by a map.”
Martial Arts Studies
Its time to update your links because the UK based Marital Arts Studies Research Network has a sharp new webpage (thanks Hugh!) which now matches the look and feel of the journal. This is where you can come for all of your updated news on conferences and other projects.
Speaking of conferences, its time to get your proposals in for this summer’s Martial Arts Studies conference focusing on the cultural legacies of Bruce Lee. His impact can be seen in all sorts of places within the martial arts and popular culture. Check out this link for more info on the conference.
Readers should also be on the lookout for a number of new books in the next couple of months. Here are a couple of the highlights that will be of interest to readers of Kung Fu Tea.
Fan Hong (Editor), Gwang Ok (Editor). 2018. Martial Arts in Asia: History, Culture and Politics. Routledge. Released May 9th, 2018. Price $140.
The reawakening of Asian martial arts is a distinct example of cultural hybridity in a global setting. This book deals with history of Asian martial arts in the contexts of tradition, religion, philosophy, politics and culture. It attempts to deepen the study of martial arts studies in their transformation from traditional to modern sports. It is also important that this volume explores how Asian martial arts, including Shaolin martial arts and Taekwondo, have worked as tools for national advocate of identities among Asians in order to overcome various national hardships and to promote nationalism in the modern eras. The Asian martial arts certainly have been transformed in both nature and content into unique modern sports and they have contributed to establishing cultural homogeneity in Asia. This phenomenon can be applied to the global community.
The chapters originally published as a special issue in the International Journal of the History of Sport.
Fan Hong is professor in Asian Studies at Bangor University, UK. Her research interest is in the areas of gender studies and cross-cultural studies with special reference to China and Chinese sport.
Gwang Ok is regional board editor of The International Journal of the History of Sport and editor of Asia Pacific Journal of Sport and Social Science. He is editor in chief of The Journal of Korean Alliance of Martial Arts and Korean Journal of Golf Studies. He has published in The International Journal of the History of Sport, Korean Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, and The Korean Journal of Physical Education.
Mark S. Williams. 2018. Martial Arts and the Quest for Legitimacy: The Sport vs. Spectacle Divide. McFarland. May 16th 2018. $35 USD
Mixed martial arts or MMA is widely regarded as the fastest growing sport. Events fill stadiums around the world and draw vast television audiences, earning strong revenue through pay-per-view at a time when other sports have abandoned it. In 2016, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was bought by the massive talent agency WME-IMG for $4 billion. Despite this success, much of the public remains uneasy with the sport, which critics have denounced as “human cockfighting.”
Through an exploration of violence, class, gender, race and nationalism, the author finds that MMA is both an expression of the positive values of martial arts and a spectacle defined by narcissism, hate and patriarchy. The long-term success of MMA will depend on the ability of promoters and athletes to resist indulging in spectacle at the expense of sport.
Mark S. Williams is a professor of political studies at Vancouver Island University in British Columbia.
Zhouxiang Lu. 2018. Politics and Identity in Chinese Martial Arts. Routledge. Release June 2018. Price $140 USD
Chinese martial arts is considered by many to symbolise the strength of the Chinese and their pride in their history, and has long been regarded as an important element of Chinese culture and national identity. This book comprehensively examines the development of Chinese martial arts in the context of history and politics, and highlights its role in nation building and identity construction in the past two centuries. It points out that the development of Chinese martial arts was heavily influenced by the ruling regime’s political and military policies, as well as the social and economic environment. From the early 20th century on, together with the rapid transformation of Chinese society and influenced by Western sports, Chinese martial arts began to develop into its modern form – a performing art, a competitive sport and a sport for all. It has been widely practiced for health and fitness, self-cultivation, self-defense and entertainment. After a century of development, it has grown into an important part of the international sports world and attracts a global audience. It will continue to evolve in an era of globalisation, and will remain a unique cultural icon and national symbol of China.
Lu Zhouxiang is Lecturer in Chinese Studies within the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Ireland.
Finally, a number of Kung Fu Tea’s readers may be interested to learn that Stanley Henning, long a leading voice in the historical study of the Chinese Martial Arts, has released a much anticipated collected volume of his many articles and chapters. That is great news for the field and anyone looking to critically assess his contributions to the current discussion of the martial arts. The bad news, however, is that this work seems to only be available in China. As such, you will have to hunt to find a way of ordering it. Or better yet, get your local university library to order a copy. Librarians are good at that sort of thing, and doing so will ensure that his articles remain available for future researchers. I have not had a chance to see this book or its table of contents, but click here for a detailed review.
It also seems that more than one publisher is seeking to get Henning’s previous works back into circulation. While hunting (unsuccessfully) for a copy of Chinese Martial Arts: History and Practice, I came across a different collected volume of his greatest hits. This one includes only his articles published in the late Journal of Martial Arts Studies, but it is easily available on Amazon.com.
Kung Fu Tea on Facebook
A lot has happened on the Kung Fu Tea Facebook group over the last month. We have read about the Virtual Ninja Manifesto, explored early Wushu performance and reveled in the comedy stylings of Master Ken! 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!