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The authenticity of Chinese martial arts in China

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In late December 2008, news outlets around the world reported the discovery of the tomb of the 3rd century warlord, Cao Cao (pronounced Tsao Tsao).

“He ruled northern China from 208 to 280 A.D. during the Three Kingdoms period, when what is now modern China was divided into three kingdoms.

A crafty tactician from the time he was young, Cao appears as an unscrupulous villain in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Though the novel and the opera and movies based on his life are fictional, Cao Cao was known in his lifetime for his brilliance at outsmarting his enemies and for reforms such as improved agriculture and education within his kingdom.”

CaoCao
Cao Cao, as depicted in popular video game serie: Dynasty Warriors

As the news were propagated, a total of 23 experts and scholars voiced their skepticism, openly stating that the tomb had been planted by false artifacts. Such experts include Li Luping, director director of the Committee of Calligraphy and Appraisal of Jiangsu Province and Lin Kuicheng, director of the Calligraphy and Painting Committee of Kaifeng Federation of Literature and Art Circle, Henan Province, who found historical incongruity in the texts inscribed on the found artifacts. 

Some claimed that the faking of evidence was done by a county government in hopes of cash in on tourist attractions surrounding the tomb. He also added that it would not have been the first time that the Communist Chinese have done such a thing…

Examples of such actions in the past? Here’s one: The Shaolin Temple!

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Although sourced, the arguments and information below can only be at best, a source of reflection unless the Chinese communist openly admits (or proves otherwise) to such activities.

When the Chinese Communist Party came to power, they banned all religions. One can argue that the CCP did so in order to help its people free themselves from “archaic superstitions”, which would be somewhat noble, unfortunately, their methods of achieving their goals were not.

StatuesAndObjectsDestroyedByRedGuards
Buddhist statues and ritual objects in the Jokhang Temple were destroyed by the Red Guards.
Description and photograph taken from http://voyage.typepad.com/china/2007/04/tibet_during_th.html

In 1966, when the cultural revolution broke out, the CCP and its red guard burned down temples, destroyed statues and relics, expelling peaceful monks with violent methods. Some monks were imprisoned while others were forced to give up their vow of celibacy, to marry and to lead a “normal” life.

Amongst the banned religious practices, martial arts were also banned, as the CCP believed martial atrs school could be training grounds for “revolutionaries”.

Even with its notoriety, the Shaolin temple did not escape this fate. As time went on, the CCP did allow religions, as long as they suited (or at least did not oppose) the purpose of the CCP.

In 1982, a young Jet Li starred in his first movie:”Shaolin temple”. The movie was an instant success that many in the movie industry tried to copy or replicate, causing increased awareness and interest in the mythical Shaolin temple. Shaolin becomes a house hold name, with martial arts school branding themselves as Shaolin kung fu.

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Jet Li's first movie: The Shaolin Temple (1982)

In 1989, the CPP, probably recognizing the potential of the Shaolin temple as a tourist attraction, assists efforts to restore the temple. The Shaolin wushu guan (institution) is thus created, attracting thousands of foreigners in search of “authentic” martial arts training.

Besides Shaolin temple, which is by far the most renowed martial arts related temple in China, there are other mythical “martial arts temple”, like the Taoist mount WuDang and Hua Shan temple, who like the Shaolin temple, were sacred religious grounds now turned into tourist attractions.

Wudang
Tourists crowd the ticket counter for the cable car leading up to Wudang mountain

No doubt, those places are worthy of a visit, because of  their beauty and historical value. But if one was to go there in search of the authentic blend of martial arts and peaceful religion, he better consider the following points of thoughts.

First points of thought:

Why would the CPP help into restoring a place that they thought,30 years earlier, was a threat to their power? Where did the CPP find monks to teach martial arts at the Shaolin temple? Would any of the persecuted monks come back to the temple? Or did they perhaps hire people to pose and to live as monks?

Second points of thought:

The second area of reflection lies in the martial arts they propagate. While observing most traditional martial arts styles that managed to keep some of their authenticity, it can be noted that while being effective, are extremely dull to watch. But why is Shaolin’s martial arts so aesthetically pleasing? Why are they so acrobatic? Why have they replaced traditional weapons for lighter, non functional ones? So that their moves look more impressive? Since when do monks aim to be impressive? Why do they feel the need to entertain the world with their martial arts performances? Shouldn’t they be spreading messages of love, compassion and tolerance, like the Buddhist organizations?

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Shaolin monks performance: Is this representative of Buddist values? 

Third points of thought:

Why is the Shaolin temple, who primarily is a place of worship, becoming a place of commercialism? Is it because the head abbot, Shi Yongxin, who happens to be one of the first Shaolin monk with an MBA, runs the monastery as a CEO would run a company? How (and why) did he get promoted to head abbot anyways? Does he also enjoy the view of beautiful women (over the monastic life of seclusion and chastity), as he allowed the temple to be used as a backdrop to a swimsuit-clad beauty pageant?

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Swimsuit fashion show, as part of a Beauty pageant held on Aug. 17 2009, in front of the Shaolin Monastary main gate.

 

The author does not claim to have the answers, in fact, he has none. If you have any thoughts on the subject, feel free to leave a comment below:

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 March 2011 19:37  

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