Opportunists, Here Comes Payback Time

Opportunists, Here Comes Payback Time

A February 27, 2018 op-ed published by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC; see note) made a bold claim that Australians must revise what they already knew regarding the cultural practices behind Lunar New Year. Having lived in Beijing for ten years before emigrating to Australia, the Mainland Chinese author argued that the Lunar New Year activities Australians are familiar with, such as the lion dance, are nothing like what she had seen back in China before her move to Australia. This is obviously the author’s way to reject the Cantonese culture and the culture of Hong Kong in the name of “China”. I’m afraid that in the near future, overseas Hong Kongers can only watch northern-style lion dances, stuff themselves with Beijing dumplings, and drown themselves out with China Central Television’s “New Year’s Gala” as part of their Lunar New Year celebrations.

Cantonese Martial Art and Chinese Kung-Fu

Let’s talk a little bit about the bygone days of Hong Kong. During the 1960s and the 1970s, Cantonese kung fu, as well as other elements of Cantonese culture in Hong Kong, had come to represent and define what Chinese kung fu and Chinese culture were. Yet sometimes what was clearly local Cantonese kung fu styles were foolishly misbranded as “Shaolin Kung Fu” for the purpose of self- and other-deception. In the ’80s, the Communist Chinese government released the movie Shaolin Temple in an attempt to revive China’s traditional martial arts, thereby usurping Hong Kongers’ past efforts to promote China. In the ’90s, Hong Kong directors committed the despicable crime of hiring northern Chinese martial artists to play the great Cantonese kung-fu master Wong Fei-Hung. This is an act akin to self-sabotage, as they managed to erode the Hong Kong Cantonese film and television industry painstakingly built by earlier actors such as Kwan Tak-Hing and Cho Tat-Wah, leaving nothing to posterity. The Wong Fei-Hung portrayed by Kwan Tak-Hing entrenched in my memory was not too removed from modern times. He wore costumes that were actual clothing worn during the early Chinese Republican period. He got rid of the queue hairstyle, and spoke Cantonese. On the other hand, the Wong Fei-Hung portrayed by northern Chinese martial artists such as Jet Li or Vincent Zhao wore clothing hailing from the Qing dynasty, kept the queue that symbolized the Qing dynasty, and had their dialogues dubbed in Cantonese.

During the early years of the Republic of China, Wong Fei-Hung’s student Lam Sai-Wing (nicknamed “Porky Wing”) published illustrated treatises on Hung Ga Kuen for the very first time.  On the covers of “Taming the Tiger Fist” and the “Tiger-Crane Paired Form Fist”, Lam called a spade a spade and wrote the words Cantonese Martial Arts – not “Chinese kung fu”, nor “Chinese fist styles”.

The Cantonese Lion Dance and the Northern-Style Lion Dance

And let’s not forget about Hong Kong’s lion dance. The lion dance found in Hong Kong has its roots in the martial traditions of Cantonese lion dances based on the semi-historical characters of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. Based on southern Chinese folklore and shamanistic custom, the dance was intended to ward off evils and misfortunes. Yet since the 1980s, the majority of these local traditions have been curtailed in an attempt to appease certain groups in exchange for more job opportunities. The strong, powerful and fierce nature of the Cantonese lion dance has been greatly diminished as a result. At the same time, fluffy hair has been added onto the Cantonese-style lions, turning them into lion plush dolls and making them look more like the lions used in northern Chinese style lion dance. Yet imitation is not always the best form of flattery – when you pretend to be someone else, you often end up being rejected. This is exactly what Communist China is doing now – they are rejecting the legitimacy of Cantonese-style lions, and making the bold assertion (in an article published by an Australian newspaper no less) that the Cantonese lion dance is not part of the Chinese culture. Hong Kongers’ ultimate loss to Communist China did not come out of the blue. The road to failure has been paved with dishonesty, disrespect for our own traditions, and, for certain Hong Kongers, betrayal and sabotaging of their homeland in exchange for wealth and power through their collusion with Communist China.

In Japan, Japanese renamed the Ryukyuan (Okinawan) martial art Tuudii or Tōde (literally, “Tang Hand”) “Karate” in order to distance themselves from the Chinese culture, even though they never deny the relations between the Fujian White Crane style and Karate techniques. Doshin So (or Nakano Michiomi), the founder of Shorinji Tempo, indeed came from the Shaolin Temple, as he studied martial arts on Mount Song’s Shaolin Temple back in
early years of the Republic of China. When he was invited back to the Temple in the late ’70s by the Chinese Communist regime, however, he discovered that what he had once learnt there could no longer be found.

During the 1970s, Long Qing Gang – a student of Bagua Style Master Jiang Rong Qiao and Liu He Style Master Gu Ru Zhang – had a eureka moment during his time teaching martial arts in Japan, and began calling the techniques he was teaching such as the Iron Palm (versions improved and perfected by him) “Hong Kong Kung Fu”. When the Japanese saw his dojo’s signboard, they thought Long was “Mr. HONG KONG Kung Fu”!

Note: “Never Heard of a Fortune Cookie: What Australia gets wrong about Chinese New Year” was written by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Beijing Correspondent Cecily Huang.

(Editor’s Note: This article was published in the 56th printed edition of Passion Times. Please support us by subscribing to our printed newspaper:http://www.passiontimes.hk/4.0/regform.php

(Image from the Information Services Department of Hong Kong)