« Kung Fu and Politics »
( 1204 Words )
For thousand of years, the hand to hand fighting techniques of marshal art developed, practiced and perfected by the Chinese are collectively known to the world as “Kung Fu” (功夫). For many people, their understanding of this ancient art comes from the modern action cinemas made popular by Hong Kong and Hollywood Studios. They know their superstars. They know of the violence and bloodshed. Yet, they may never fully realize the philosophical principle and true spirit behind the physical aspect of Kung Fu.

Kung Fu, as a physical exercise, improves one’s health and strengthens the body. As a meditation, it builds confidence and empowers the mind. Kung Fu can be used for self defense. Kung Fu can be used to entertain the mass. Kung Fu can even earn one lots of money and make him a major movie star. Yet, the ultimate purpose of Kung Fu is far more profound and selfless than personal gain. A person with greater ability also bears greater responsibility. Therefore, a person holds the true knowledge and mastery of Kung Fu must defend the weak, protect the poor and assist the needy. When the time comes, Kung Fu as a political symbol can unite one people, to resist foreign aggression and to fight social injustice.

The political usage of Kung Fu in this nature was fully uncovered in the movie “Once upon a time in China”. The movie and 5 of its sequels are a collection of films about the adventures and the life story of the Chinese folk hero Huang Fei Hong (黄飞鸿). The story took place in the 1840s and the 50s where the Qing government of China has been defeated in two of the Opium Wars and were forced to sign many unequal, unfair and unjust treaties with the imperialist foreign powers of the Britain, the France and the United States. Huang Fei Hong, as a young patriotic Chinese, sensed the danger of his country being broken apart, and his people exploited. He was saddened that his people were drugged and poisoned by the British government with million and million tons of opium. He was upset that his people as contract labors and immigrants were lied, cheated and prostituted with a false promise of prosperity in the United States. He was heart broken by the inaction, indifference and powerlessness of the Qing government to protect its people.

As a Chinese and a Kung Fu master in this time of upheaval, invasion and unrest, he must make the decision to rise, to stand by his people and to end the imperial aggression. He found many Kung Fu schools in major cities in the Canton province. He popularized Kung Fu to replace the self destructive habit of opium smoking for his people. He formed a militia group that protected his people from British raids and attacks. Most importantly, he taught his people that “Men Should Strive to be Stronger” (男儿当自强) and that in time of foreign aggression, it is every man’s responsibility to protect and defend his country.

Thru the carefully choreographed fight scenes and the exceptionally well executed fight sequences by Kung Fu champion Jet Li, the vivid depiction of the heroic Huang Fei Hong remains at the heart of his audiences long after the movie ends. Huang Fei Hong is this super hero, this Kung Fu master of masters, this invincible Chinese warrior that never lost a single battle. We know of the exaggerations. We know of the infeasibilities only make possible in the movies. Yet, Huang Fei Hong, unlike Spiderman, the American comic hero, is a real person without a mask, inerasable from history, as a political symbol and patriotic figure that united his people to defend the honor of his country.

“Seven Swords”, a recent film adaptation of the novel “Qi Jian Xia Tian Shan” (七剑下天山) by Chinese writer Liang Yu Sheng (梁雨生) demonstrated how Kung Fu was used as an avenue to fight oppression and demand for social justice. Throughout history, like literature, Kung Fu has been a political outlet for the oppressed Chinese people to express their discontent about social injustice in China. People practiced Kung Fu not only to defend themselves, but also for a greater cause. Kung Fu masters and their disciples would form schools, organizations and clubs to make a social difference. They attempt to change and correct the social problems of injustice. Sometimes, they would go as far as defying authority by disobeying unjust laws just to have their voice heard by their government. Such acts seen by the government were often considered unacceptable, provocative, and punishable.

The prelude to the story is “Jing Wu Ling” (禁武令), an executive order issued by the Qing emperor to prohibit the teaching, study and practice of Kung Fu by the common Chinese people. The rationale or more appropriately the excuse behind this was the false accusation that Kung Fu provoked violence, created social instability and fueled rebellion. For the common people who had already learned Kung Fu, the Qing government sent its army to hunt them down and slaughter them like animals. Only a few months after the “Jing Wu Ling” were put into effect, hundreds of villages suspected of secretly endorsing the practice of Kung Fu were burned to the ground. In the process, men were killed, women were raped, and children were murdered. All of a sudden, people in China were forced to live under the cloud of fear. Every single minutes of their already devastated life, they may face the prosecution of death put upon them without trial. Fortunately, seven Kung Fu masters came to the rescue of the people. With their exceptional skills and bravery, they led the people to a glorious victory over the ruthless Qing army.

It is an unfortunate event that civil disobedience expressed in terms of Kung Fu was mistaken for rebellion one too many times in Chinese history. Instead of addressing the real issues of social injustice, the government often chooses to ignore, deny and crush the demand of its people. A government that neglects the discontents of its people, a government that prohibits its people to voice their grievances is at best a tyrant that terrorizes a nation. Kung Fu as a response to political oppression, Kung Fu as an outlet to social discontent should forever live to guide the people toward a free society of equality and justice.

If you are still not convinced the power of Kung Fu to unite, if you still believed that Kung Fu is only for gore and violence, perhaps you should ask the Bosnian people in the city of Mostar who have recently on November 27 2005 erected the world’s first statue of Kung Fu Legend Bruce Lee.

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Once Upon a Time in China. Dir. Xu Ke. Prod. Xu Ke. Perf. Jet Li. Medusa, 1990.
Seven Swords. Dir. Xu Ke. Prod. Xu Ke. Perf. Leon Lai, Donnie Yen. Deltamac, 2005.
Vaughn, Jack and Mike Lee. The Legendary Bruce Lee. Santa Clarita: Ohara Publications, 1986.
Yahoo News. (2005, Nov). " Bosnia erects Bruce Lee statue" Yahoo.com. http://au.news.yahoo.com/051126/2/wyv6.html [5 Dec. 2005]