The other day I wrote a story for Fightland about an interaction I had had with Chen Jia, the Taiji Princess I’ve mentioned here before. It was about a fight her master’s brother, Chen Ziqiang, was setting up with Thai fighters. I spent an hour telling her how bad the idea was.
I reenacted that for the Fightland story, and then went on to hijack Prof. Ben Judkin’s essay on taiji and Taoism as symbols in a marriage of convenience, to link the idea of Chinese patriotism to Taoism/Taiji and through that find some explanation for what I considered to be an absurd, misguided macho ploy. I ended the story by saying I was happy the fights did not take place, because I didn’t want to see taiji sullied.
But in fact, the fight did go down. Last September in Jiaozuo, Henan Province, just a few hours from Chenjiagou Village and the Shaolin Temple.
So I got the links and watched the fights. Sadly, this “match-up” was exactly what everyone says fights in China are like. The fights were rigged – Chinese fighters wore black pants to hide shinguards, referee saved Chinese fighters from anything more than a 3-punch combo, Thai guys were paid to take a fall.
The biggest mistake I made was to presume that Chen Ziqiang didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he set these fights up. It’s ridiculous that I thought these fights would be real, given what I had already seen in Chenjiagou regarding the Chen clan’s marketing ability and business savvy. But it’s also the sign of a clan with one foot still in the rice paddy. The trends are moving the other way. Businessmen have found that Chinese who were once satisfied with a comforting farce of a fight, are now unable to suspend their disbelief.
The system in China has completely revealed itself, flipped up a skirt to show hooves, and people here are wise to it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity and the fight game recently. I’m focusing on the game now, and the biggest game in town is MMA, a sport that thrives off of its reputation for being authentic and real. Authenticity is a powerful force, and an authentic fight game has entered the Chinese martial arts scene at a very auspicious time in China’s social development.
A sport known for its realness meets a society drowning in fakery.
A girl atop Huashan outside of Xi’an told me once that “假是我们中国文化的一部分” which means “fakery is a part of our Chinese culture,” and she said it with a measure of pride. The trickster has always been a hero in Chinese culture, and held above the great warriors who must eventually sacrifice themselves for either cause or country, while the schemer survives. That tradition, combined with a half-century of non-stop brutal lies and another three decades of desperate money mongering, has reached its most bloated moment.
I don’t think the moment can last forever, and I believe a cleansing of the martial arts will hasten the end of a century of lying.
It’ll still take a long while though, so for now, let’s enjoy these final moments: