Every time I turn on the television and start surfing channels, I can find some action movies. Those Kung Fu kicks and punches on the screen really catch my attention. Naturally I think about the stereotype: Does every Chinese know how to do Kung Fu? A stereotype is a simplified and standardized conception of a group of people. Yet, sometimes the stereotype is not accurate. There are not many Chinese people actually know how to do Kung Fu even though there are so many Kung Fu movies filmed in China.
Plenty of people ask me if I can do any Kung Fu moves after they know that I am Chinese. Unfortunately, I did not have such a chance to be a Kung Fu master. Thousands of years ago, a lot of people in China learned Kung Fu because it was a war time and it was often necessary for people to learn some sort of martial arts. Historically, Kung Fu in China was an integral part in the education of scholars and the leaders of government. Kung Fu was popular not only among the military, but also among the commons. The skills passed in families from generation to generation.
However, during the Qing Dynasty (1633-1911), foreigners introduced firearms to China. Guns and bombs existed as nightmares to Chinese military and Chinese martial artists. Foreigners laughed at China, saying that Chinese are the sick men in East Asia. Very few could actually stand out against the enemies. Nowadays, more and more Chinese youths no longer believe the power of Kung Fu. Very few people use Kung Fu in the boxing ring because people do not think Kung Fu is practical in real fights. Kung Fu has become a mystery or a legend that does not exist anymore in real life.
Even worse, many kids who become interested in Kung Fu after reading Kung Fu novels or watching Kung Fu movies can hardly reach their Kung Fu dreams because that all parents in China always push their children to study. Parents believe that an uneducated person is never able to get a good job in the future. Strangely, I have seen parents send their children to learn martial arts other than Kung Fu. Parents want their children to learn some self-defense; but they do not believe the power of Kung Fu, the martial art originated from their country.
As the earliest martial art, Kung Fu does not look as cool as modern martial arts. Many people in China would rather to learn any other martial arts other than those simply, inflexible, and boring movements from Kung Fu. There were Taekwondo, Karate, or kickboxing clubs in the area where I used to live but I rarely saw any Kung Fu clubs. Many people believe that Kung Fu is a term which describes a single martial art, much like Taekwondo, Judo, or Aikido. In fact, Kung Fu is a general term which includes hundreds of styles of Chinese martial arts.
Kung Fu movements seem more like a form of dance but in which every movement has specific and hidden meanings: to hit, to defend, or even to kill. It takes long to learn all those moves and it takes even longer to learn the basic movements. For example, martial artists in China practice horse-standing by pretending themselves to be riding on a horse. They bend their knees and straight their back bone for 15-30 minutes every day for years in order to improve their stability and strengthen their kicks. They strengthen their palms and fists by keeping punching the walls or tree trunks for hours every day.
Modern people definitely do not have such time and energy to learn such Kung Fu. Although most people are not able to learn Kung Fu by themselves, they are fortunate enough to watch tones of Kung Fu Movies on media. Like Grant Jenkins had said, “Movies have always been an influence on American culture. ”(2) It was Bruce Lee who first brought the term “Kung Fu” to Americans. His movies such as Fist of Fury or Enter the Dragon “swept American audiences off their feet. ”(Chinese Kung-fu) Bruce Lee became not only the symbol of Kung Fu, but also the symbol of Chinese people.
The stereotype “All Chinese can do Kung Fu” originated from those action movies. Moreover, Bruce Lee is not the only guy who made Kung Fu more and more popular; people like Jackie Chen and Jet Li work really hard to get America people know more about Chinese Kung Fu and Chinese culture. But people in America seldom pay attention to the culture part; they assume that everyone is like those Kung Fu stars back in China. Even if not all of Chinese people are Kung Fu masters, at least everyone knows some moves such as flying kicks or elbow strikes.
Here is a really interesting story about one of my good friends who is now studying in New York City. She is really an active and funny Chinese girl; she told me that story in laugh. One day she borrowed her roommate’s marker pen and forgot to give it back to her after using it. The next day, her roommate needed to use the marker pen so she asked my friend if she could return it to her. But my friend looked for that pen everywhere and she could not remember where she put it; she became extremely anxious and started scratching her head. Her roommate kept asking her because she really wanted o use it immediately.
Yet, my friend just could not find it. She jumped off the floor and did some weird movements that looked like punching some invisible people in the air in front of her. (She did not know any Kung Fu for sure). My friend’s roommate suddenly shut her mouth and sat back to her own chair. After a couple seconds, my friend realized what had happened. She realized that her roommate might worry about being hurt by her “Kung Fu”; because my friend was one of the few Chinese in that school and Chinese people were often known for their Kung Fu skills.
She smiled and apologized for her rudeness. Her roommate looked back to her with an embarrassing face. After this, my friend owned more respect from her roommate. Just like my friend, being an average person grew up in China, I was not lucky enough to have such an opportunity to learn some real Kung Fu. But I always dream about it, dreaming about being one of the Kung Fu masters like Bruce Lee. Sadly it is now too late for me to start learning Kung Fu because Kung Fu should be taught when I was very young.
People in China believe that a person’s body is fully developed after he/she becomes a teenager; it is easier to change the body structure of a child. Anyway I had a good time enjoying my Kung Fu dream during my elementary school years; I and my friends always pretended to be those fighters in the action movies and fought with each other. We even tried to strengthen our bodies by doing pushing ups and running around the playground. Every Chinese boy had a Kung Fu dream in his childhood but few could make the dream come true.