Lost in Translation


By Alix Lee


This article is about some of the problems in standardising and internationalising Chinese martial arts.

First we have to be clear why this problem is not the same as, for example, standardising and internationalising indigenous Mexican martial arts, or South African martial arts.

I mean no disrespect to the native martial arts of those countries, or any other countries. Any culture will have its own system of martial arts -- ways to fight and protect one's people have, after all, always been necessary, in order to ensure the preservation of the nation and its culture. Or at least they have been so historically, for most nations.

However, for the vast majority of people around the globe, 'martial arts' today means, principally, east Asian martial arts. Even many non-east Asian martial arts (for example, the French art of savate) owe their origins to the east Asian martial arts.

And, to a large extent at least, other east Asian martial arts have their roots in Chinese martial arts.

ONE: It all Began with Shaolin

'Tien-sha wushu chu dz Shaolin'

(Shaolin is the origin of the world's martial arts)

Of course, taken at face value, this seem a pretty gross exaggeration. I, like most other non-Chinese long-term residents in Chinese society, was already pretty much inured to such extravagant claims on the part of Chinese by the time I first heard this one.

Frankly, if someone had told me that Chinese had discovered the Americas '5,000 years ago', or that they had already invented the telephone 'at the time of Confucius', I wouldn't have batted an eyelid.

Yet, as a practitioner of taekwondo and karate, I could still hardly help but bristle at this notion. How could these loud-mouthed, 'hairless wonders', so obviously incompetent in every other respect, claim to be the people who created the martial arts? If they were such martial arts masters, why didn't they excel in anything else, I asked myself? Even the Taipei transport system, entirely depended on adopted foreign technology, was completely dysfunctional. There were hundreds of examples around the world of cities where the public transport systems worked fine, and private transport (ie., privately owned cars, motorcycles and other vehicles) integrated seamlessly. The nearest good examples of this were in Japan. Even the British-administered traffic system in Hongkong was a vast improvement on any city in Taiwan, let alone the disastrous traffic systems in some of mainland China's cities. With so many places to learn from, why couldn't the Taiwan Chinese get something so basic right?

If the Chinese had once been such innovators, as they almost constantly claimed, how was it possible that they could create absolutely nothing original now, I asked myself? I was constantly witnessing the total dearth of creativity in Taiwan. For example, on my locally-made radio-cassette player, I often heard songs in Mandarin which had been copied, almost note-for-note, from songs I had heard elsewhere in English. They were put across not as cover versions with different lyrics, but as entirely new works. The radio stations themselves and the advertisements broadcast on them, often featured jingles I had heard elsewhere, usually in the advertisements of globally-known brand-name products.

The radio-cassette player I listened to them on was called -- in a remarkable example of modern-day Chinese inspiration and originality -- a Tobishi. I never found out if the company which made it was licensed by Toshiba, or whether it was a 100% local outfit.

You could almost imagine the company's founders sitting in an office somewhere brainstorming for a company name. Finally, after endless suchlike sessions, one of their number, after having racked his brains fruitlessly many long hours for a name with the right ring, shouts out: 'I've got it! Tobishi!' A desktop-full of notepapers is simultaneously swept to the floor. Hundreds of unsuccessful attempts at a genuinely original name are scribbled on these papers: 'sonic-pana'; ic-pana-son'; 'saki-kawa'; 'saki-wa-ka', etc., etc. His colleagues mumble the proposed name a few times before loudly congratulating the creator. Finally, a genuinely 'original' name with a good ring to it!

If the company was licensed by Toshiba, the Japanese company was obviously only letting Tobishi use the most dated of their technology. The sound quality was pretty awful, even by the standards of the time.

Every time I left my flat, I had to walk through a local market to get to the nearest main road. Of course, I was used to seeing road-side vendors flogging 'brand-name products'; clothes, bags, shoes and watches. These traders mostly didn't bother with a portable stall, simply laying everything out on blankets or canvas sheets which could be used to scoop up the goods and hold them if a fast getaway was needed. And I had witnessed several times just how fast these characters could get away from the heat when the word 'police!' was relayed through the market.

And I bought some of these fake goods myself. Why not? They were cheap. The idea that they were the same quality as the products they pretended to be was, of course, usually laughable.

But not always. The 'Lacoste' t-shirts I picked up once could have passed as the real thing if you only wanted to wear them once. (The problem was, after the first wash, they were barely two-thirds the original size, and a completely different shape.) And I hardly hesitated in parting with the equivalent of about twenty US dollars after looking over some impressive 'Rolex' watches. But I regretted even having spent this money when the one I bought stopped working less than two weeks later.

On one occasion I asked a vendor of 'brand-name' bags why the maker didn't just use their own name? After all, the quality of the bags was fairly reasonable, I opined. 'Who would want to buy them?' the vendor replied. If people knew for sure they were made locally, nobody would want them, he told me.

The value of the fake goods lay in the fact that, while the buyer and seller would, of course, know the goods were fake, a casual onlooker elsewhere -- naturally, generally viewing from a greater distance -- would not necessarily know this. On the other hand, if a product declared itself to be made locally, then everybody would know it to be of shoddy quality (and there would be no point in producing even cheaper copies of it). So most people in Taiwan were well aware that locally-made goods could not compete with imported brand-name goods.

And most people must have also been aware that very little original was being created in Taiwan at all. Some of the best quality goods that were being produced in Taiwan were, in fact, fake imported goods...but even these would not fool the trained eye at close inspection.

Perhaps a lot of people didn't realise that many of the songs and advertising jingles mentioned earlier were not original, having only ever heard them in Taiwan. But I did. So naturally, the idea that Chinese had once had it in themselves to create something entirely original from scratch was one I initially felt inclined to take with a pinch of salt.

However, I was later to come to the conclusion that there is, after all, some truth in the claim that the world's martial arts originated at Shaolin.

One of the reasons I felt like giving this notion the benefit of the doubt was that I knew that in fact a nation's present state may give little indication as to its former glory. In some cases (such as the ancient cities of the Maya in central America, or the Ankor Wat in Cambodia) archeologists and scholars of various fields, upon seeing the extent of the manifestations of the existence of relatively advanced civilisations, concluded that these ancient peoples could not possibly be related to the present-day inhabitants of the same areas. Only to be later proven wrong.

Also, I knew that a considerable body of evidence indicated that the Indian martial art kalaripayyattu predated even Shaolin gung fu and was in all likelihood the oldest system of martial skills known to man. And yet in terms of mastery of modern-day technologies and original, creative thinking, I considered India even less advanced than Taiwan.

A 'system' of martial skills is not the same as having the need or ability to fight. Certainly, in all places inhabited by people, martial skills have been needed by those people to protect against attacks from outsiders, as well as attacks from wild animals. But these may seem random, or known only to the practitioners intuitively as effective fighting skills, as no record had been made of how to train and master these skills. In any case, in cultures lacking any means to record these skills, they could only extend as far as any one practitioner's ability to consign them to memory.

Another reason for giving the -- at first, seemingly preposterous -- idea that the world's martial arts originated at Shaolin serious consideration, was that the Chinese connection was not denied by native masters of some of the major Korean and Japanese styles. Of course, it was no surprise to see hear my Taiwanese Shotokan karate teacher claim that the Okinawan style had its origins in China. But while browsing through martial arts books in various bookstores on visits to Japan, I discovered that in fact many of the major unarmed Japanese styles trace their origins back to China. They don't deny that connection.

Thus, while strictly speaking, kalaripayyattu may predate Shaolin gung fu, it's difficult to establish whether any connection between the two systems existed, while a clearer connection is evident between the martial arts of Shaolin and the other east Asian schools. And, as mentioned already, in the psyche of the people of the world at large, 'martial arts' today means, principally, east Asian martial arts and their non-Asian derivatives.

But it wasn't until I myself began learning Shaolin gung fu, that I realised how much more complex and extensive this school of martial skills are, compared to any other. Part of the problem here is in terminology. People, especially those outside Asia, refer to Shaolin gung fu -- or worse still, just gung fu -- as one style of martial art, when in fact it includes many dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of styles within it. For example, kendo is one Japanese martial art for sword skills. Shaolin gung fu includes sword skills within it, not as a separate martial art.

True, the larger and better-known Japanese martial arts, for example, also have their sub-styles or sub-schools. For example, there are four main schools of karate in Japan. But they are all karate, even to the extent that they mostly share the same names for their various kata and the moves within those kata. This is comparable with the various styles of taiji (tai-ji, tai-chi, etc.), for example, but not with a definition so broad as 'gung fu'.  

Worse still, Shaolin gung fu is not the total of Chinese martial arts, although it is regarded as the mainstay, or backbone of Chinese martial arts. Gung fu is a term used by Chinese to refer to all martial arts (and more, but here I use it only in the 'martial arts' meaning). However, it is used in the world at large outside Chinese society to refer, supposedly, to a particular Chinese martial art, on a par with, say, judo, or Thai boxing.

This problem of terminology or categorisation, exists mainly because of the under-internationalisation of Chinese martial arts. Taiji for example, is now well-known internationally, and so is often treated as a category in itself. Thus, taiji is often referred to as a separate martial art from gung fu. But for Chinese, taiji is also a kind of gung fu, though not strictly speaking Shaolin gung fu. If the rest of 'gung fu' were as well defined, standardised and internationalised as taiji (which isn't saying much), then instead of having a martial arts category called 'gung fu', there would be a large number of martial arts schools originating in China.

And so, in the course of learning one style of gung fu, I came to realise just how large this body of martial arts skills called 'gung fu' was. Admittedly the school I was learning, chang chuan (long fist) was one of the largest in terms of skills to be learnt, but I soon realised that just by itself there was enough to chang chuan for a lifetime of practice and learning.

As I practiced chang chuan, and came to learn of other styles, I began to feel that something was seriously wrong for Chinese martial arts to be so under-represented internationally. It now made sense that China -- with a population over ten times the size of Japan's -- was home to so many more martial arts than Japan was. And yet, Japanese martial arts were -- and are still -- far better understood in the outside world, and far more standardised and internationalised than Chinese martial arts.

On my regular trips to Hongkong, I would usually take the opportunity to browse those bookstores with plenty of martial arts books both from mainland China and from Hongkong. Sometimes I would happen upon publications on Chinese gung fu schools that even my own gung fu teacher hadn't heard of.

That's when I realised that the world of Chinese martial arts, rather than being a world-in-itself waiting to be discovered, was more likely a world about to disappear without trace. Chinese cultural problems and the complex political situations mean that many of the more obscure styles, and even some fairly well-known styles are standing on the verge of becoming lost arts.

The problem isn't just that not enough is known about them, or even that there are not enough skilled masters in any particular art to ensure its survival. The problem is that these days many of the traditional arts just don't have a wide enough appeal to bring new students to the dojo. Today's students, looking for a quick-fix 'black-belt-guaranteed-in-one-year', aren't interested in skills that demand years of hard work and don't leave you with an internationally-recognised certification.

College-age students with a vague interest in the martial arts and a desire to be able to protect themselves, will always go for the quick-fix commercial solution. On the one hand, even if they do relatively poorly, they are almost certain to leave with at least a better concept of self-defence, fitter than when they began, and -- if that black belt in one year really is guaranteed -- a black belt. This is something that looks good on the CV of any job applicant, regardless of the position applied for. It's a demonstration of an ability to persevere and reach a goal, despite pain and difficulties (although the easier getting a black belt becomes, the less that is the case).

Even most of those students whose martial arts interests go beyond that will also be drawn to the quick-fix commercial solution. If you are looking for a career in the martial arts, and -- like most people -- don't have unlimited time and money, then you want to start earning back some money as soon as possible. In the commercial model, you get your black belt after a year, perhaps then start teaching classes at the same dojo to pay for your further tuition. Within another year or two, you have a second or third dan. You may then start looking for premises to start your own school, or you may take your internationally-recognised certification with you wherever you want to go, for a paid post in some other school large enough to hire outside instructors.

The place I learnt chang chuan was a good illustration of this problem. At the time (the early 1990s), the school was already relatively successful. Several former students had already opened their own dojos (belonging to the same system) in various locations across northern Taiwan, and all were faring well. In fact, taken as a whole, the system was already the largest one teaching Chinese traditional martial arts in Taiwan. But the total combined number of students was barely more than half of the place I had learnt taekwondo.

I also noticed that the students of my taekwondo and karate schools were a fairly typical representation of Taiwan society. On the other hand, well over half of the gung fu school's student population were second-generation 'mainlanders', people who did not consider themselves 'native-born Taiwanese'. This indicates that many students were learning partly, or even only, because they felt it was part of their Chinese cultural heritage. The majority, native-born Taiwanese population (at that time already around 85% of the total population but slightly less in the capital) seemingly didn't feel so strongly about this being a part of their culture. If this ratio continued as mainlanders were assimilated over the next generation or two, then that would spell the end of a viable resource of new students.


TWO: A Lone Dragon, or 'Team Pig'

By the late 1980s, I was beginning to get a better grasp on the defining characteristics of Chinese society, on its strengths and weaknesses.

But, several things I had found in the first few years in Taiwan had made getting along with locals difficult at times.

Firstly, it was almost impossible to escape from being stereotyped, and that stereotyping was absolute. When you offered to give advice to a local about almost anything, and that advice differed from what they already knew, or what others had told them, then that difference was 'because' you were a foreigner. In the late 1980s, Taiwan was still a relatively closed society and I rarely met locals who had even been abroad, so theoretically I had the benefit of quite of bit of experience in the outside world to offer. But even to acknowledge that a foreigner knew more about anything than themselves was a loss of face for many locals -- especially, but not only, for those who considered themselves mainland Chinese.

In fact, very often it was almost impossible to tell anyone anything on any subject not related exclusively to 'your country' without instant disagreement.

That disagreement may well have been expressed mildly, along the lines of 'well, not necessarily...', or even laughingly along the lines of 'oh, I know you foreigners think so, but in fact...' But nearly 100% of the time, disagreement was guaranteed, along with, usually, an attempt to set you right on the subject.

The worst thing you could do, I found, was enter into debate with them. They could argue with you till the cows came home and no amount of evidence in favour of your view would convince them. Sometimes the debate would even take on an almost surreal aspect as even the most basic criteria of judgement were changed to suit the conclusion already reached: you were wrong and they were right.

Sometimes, as they changed the rules of rational argument to guide the arguments' eventually outcome I felt as if I was in some bizarre Monty Pythons-type sketch, but it was something I eventually got used to: you just couldn't win. From the Chinese point of view, this was logical: how could it be any other way? Obviously you were in the wrong if you had an opinion that differed from their received knowledge. Whether you were willing to listen to common sense was another matter.

Then, in about 1987, I happened across a book called The Ugly Chinese by a local writer called Bor Yang. Coming across this book was not so much like a 'breath of fresh air' to me, rather, it was more like a typhoon of fresh air after months of stifling heat. I had never read anything like it about the Chinese. Its frank, open, honest, and often amusing criticism of the major failings of the Chinese were not only right on the mark, but coming from a local, proved that such things were not beyond them. In fact, at first, I couldn't even believe the book to be written by a Chinese. Of course, it was a controversial book, whose publication was formerly banned. The writer was an ex-political prisoner whose outspoken views -- and especially some cartoons featuring the former president he had once produced -- had earned him 12 years in prison on Green Island, a small island off Taiwan's east coast.

In the storm of debate the book's publication now caused, Bor Yang received insults left, right and centre from people writing for the local press, and from the general public. Many people expressed the opinion that they just couldn't comprehend why someone would want to pick holes in the culture of their own people; why couldn't Bor Yang write about the many 'beautiful aspects' of the Chinese people and their culture? For my own part, after several years of hearing little else but Chinese extolling their own virtues on a daily basis, it was just great to hear a dissenting voice for a change.

And I have to say that with the Chinese government's preference for nurturing sycophantic foreign 'friends of China', restricted travel and residence possibilities in mainland China and even in Taiwan for much of the cold-war era, along with the fact that many of the foreign people I knew were confirmed sinophiles, Chinese-culture worship was pretty commonplace among my own non-local friends and associates.

But most of those foreigners would at least show interest in the points of view Bor Yang expressed in this book. The idea among Europeans, inculcated from childhood, was that they should 'hear both sides of the story'. On the other hand, however, the reaction of many of my Taiwanese friends and associates, upon discovering that I was reading this controversial book was a sharp-tongued 'Why don't you read The Ugly American instead? You may be able to learn something about yourself from it'! Many even suggested that I write such a book, and were almost all were taken aback to learn that there was, in fact, already a book called The Ugly American, and that I would have loved to read it if I had had the chance. (Of course, if these locals were people I knew well enough to remember that I wasn't American, they would tell me to read The Ugly Briton, a book I unfortunately hadn't heard of at that time).

In fact, this inability to accept criticism is one of the major weaknesses in the national characteristics of Chinese, and one that Bor Yang describes to a tee in his book. We can see this regularly with the present government of the Peoples' Republic of China, which uses it to its advantage politically and diplomatically. For example, in the run-up to 2008 Beijing Olympics, the publication of some unfavourable advertisements by the human rights organisation Amnesty International was met with a barrage of criticism from China's government that they were 'anti-Chinese'. The term PRC officials used here (and in many other similar instances) for 'anti-Chinese' ('fan-hua') refers to the Chinese people as a whole (worldwide), not only those with PRC nationality. This deftly deflected the intended criticism of China's government, and re-directed it to all ethnically Chinese people. With minimal government-inspired guidance, every form of Chinese-language news and information media, both inside and outside the PRC -- particularly the Internet -- was almost instantly alive with criticism and insults for this anti-Chinese so-called human-rights group, and its ugly, imperialist plots.

Sometimes, initially government-organised 'spontaneous protests of the people' in China, quickly snowball out of hand, and end up having to be put down violently by the very people who started them. This has happened several times in recent years, when comments by Japanese political figures regarding Japan's occupation of other Asian states during WWII, or its administration of the Senkaku islands near Taiwan were met with Chinese protests originally only designed to show public dissatisfaction with Japan's stance in a limited way.

This kind of thing is not limited to the PRC, which has virtually complete control of the nation's media even today.

A good example in Taiwan which comes to mind is a 1989 article in the traditionally sycophantically pro-Nationalist Chinese US publication Time, called 'Island of Greed'. Mysteriously, for the news magazine's Taiwan Chinese readers, and without official explanation, Time did not appear on the newsstands that week. A couple of years later, a Government Information Office official revealed that sheltering the local population from criticism was not the main aim in preventing the article from being available in Taiwan. It was the fear of an explosion of 'anti-foreign' sentiment, and perhaps violence.

As Taiwan opened up to the outside world, and Hongkong returned to mainland Chinese rule, press freedom in Taiwan -- barely freed of the last vestiges of government control by 1997 -- soon outstripped that of the former British colony. But the kind of criticism typical of pro-opposition party newspapers -- that is, criticism of particular government policies -- is not the same as blanket criticism of a nation's culture or way of doing things. In the aftermath of the devastating 9-20 (September 20th), 1999, earthquake in central Taiwan, a team of Japanese earthquake experts was among the foreign groups allowed unrestricted access to the area, ostensibly to survey the area, collect information for further research and release a report on their findings. They were sent packing immediately when their report put the blame almost entirely on the traditional Chinese practice of skimping on essential-- and legally required -- building materials in order to cut costs (although building requirements in this earthquake zone are subject to very stringent laws, in practice they are rarely enforced). That kind of criticism is still very hard to accept coming from non-Chinese, even though all people in Taiwan are aware of the problem.

When I discussed these problems with an American Sinologist a couple of years later, he admitted that, though he was painfully aware of them, and had even considered writing a book like The Ugly Chinese himself, he was afraid of possible violent reactions (both the Nationalist and the Communist governments had been known to assassinate people openly critical of them, even as far away as the United States). But while that possibility could not be ruled out, it was remote. His bigger fear was the certainty of losing many of his ethnic-Chinese friends in the United States. 'They (his friends) would think I've turned against them', he told me.

Generally, Chinese, from the most powerful political leaders, down to the managers of relatively small enterprises, love to surround themselves with lick-spittle, toadying sycophants who are constantly putting on shows of loyalty. My own belief is that, while this is changing slowly, it will take several more generations before Chinese are able to accept criticism in the way that is taken for granted for most other nations elsewhere.

In The Ugly Chinese, Bor Yang also describes to perfection the related Chinese characteristic of not being able admit error, which he describes as being 'willing to die before admit error'.

However, not all Chinese will see assumed infallibility as a weakness. On the contrary, many will see it as a strength. This is especially the case with leaders, where an admission of error is likely to instill feelings of doubt in the leader's abilities. Deng Xiaoping, for example, who oversaw China's transition from the shambles of the 'cultural revolution' aftermath to the 'one country, two systems' model in place today, is on record as saying that he never made a mistake in his political career.

I have never heard a Chinese make what I would call an 'unqualified mistake', but would say that Chinese are known on occasion to admit to making 'qualified mistakes'.

By 'qualified mistake', I mean that an admission of error is possible, somewhat along the lines of, for example (an employee to his superior), 'Sorry boss. It was my fault.' But then the mistake is 'qualified' with an explanation along the lines of..."Problem is, I was given faulty information to begin with. If that incompetent new guy had done his research and given me reliable information on which to base my judgement to start with, this would never have happened. I've never made a mistake before in my life; its all his fault that I have now.'

This kind of admission of error just about absolves that person from the 'guilt' of having committed any error at all.

As for a Chinese admitting to an 'unqualified' mistake, such as a simple 'Sorry, boss. It was all my fault', left at that...that is hard for me to even imagine, and it would be a sure way to get fired on the spot. No Chinese is going to admit to incompetence in such a way, unless there is some ulterior motive to doing so.

I'm not saying no Chinese has ever made an unqualified mistake. Chinese history goes back a long way and I am simply not well enough read in it to state that it has never happened. But when such a mistake has been admitted to, I would imagine it could only have been said as a clever deception; a strategy to lure the opposite party ('the boss') into a sense of complacency, before turning the tables, and then coming down on him (or them) 'like a ton of bricks', destroying the boss completely before going on to destroy everything and everybody related to him for ever having had the audacity to believe it possible he could make a mistake. (And of course, setting himself up as the new 'boss' in the process.)

This infallibility characteristic is at the core of the Chinese 'co-operation' problem. Often it's difficult to get anything done effectively in Chinese society on account of so many would-be bosses.

It's a little bit like having a football team with eleven captains. The captain may in many ways be the most important position, but that doesn't make a team with eleven of them better than a team with just one captain. And of course, it's easy to imagine how sparks fly when these eleven captains start attempting to assign blame for the latest 6-0 defeat by a team with a mere one captain to its name.

True, in reality, everybody is aware of who is nominally in charge in any given situation, by the position they hold, so the eleven-captain team isn't really a possibility. In reality, you would just have ten players who believe themselves much better able to do the captain's job than the captain himself can.

Another problem which complicates this situation further is that, these ten would-be captains -- to continue with the same analogy -- are not constantly vying for position with each other, putting forward arguments stating the reasons for their being better suited to take the captain's position, in which case their merits could be compared. There is no way of knowing from what Chinese say whether they believe what they say themselves or not. Thus, a person may feel strongly that he or she should be put in charge, and they may put their case assertively. Or they may feel equally strongly that they should be in charge and yet say nothing at all. They may even nod sympathetically when you explain that not everyone can be in charge and that they have to listen to the appointed head, and still feel strongly that they should be in charge.

Of course, the same things could be said for the people of any nation; these are manifestations of human characteristics. This only difference is a difference of degree, and this is something which can work against the admission of these problems even existing in the first place.

The fact is, Chinese are adept at saying things that sound right for any given situation. For example, as I have said before, a foreigner in Chinese society may be asked a series of predictable questions by a stranger who isn't really listening to the replies. Chinese contains a huge number of polite but largely meaningless pleasantries for any given situation.

A perfect example is 'yo kung lai wan'. This polite nothing literally means 'come to play if/when you have time'. 'Play' here means anything light and relaxing which isn't work, an idle 'natter' for example. People typically say this to visitors when the visitor is leaving. On several occasions I have even had the shopkeepers of small stores say this to me. This, of course, is not to be taken at face value. It's easy to imagine the bewilderment and confusion that would ensue if one were to simply turn up at the home of people you had previously had reason to visit once before, and just 'make yourself at home', explaining only when asked that you are just dropping in for tea and a chat to kill time. Or if I had done the same at any of those shops I was invited to, without actually buying anything!

In the same way, any of the would-be captains may well sit smiling amicably, saying, 'yes...yes, I see', while the real captain explains the team strategy for the next match. The words spoken mean nothing. They don't mean the speakers agree with the strategy or even that they've taken in any of what has been said...but then again, they don't mean they disagree either.

(This problem is linked to the problem of face and formalism, the notion that appearance is what really matters. This can be best illustrated by the countless government attempts to limit the leakage of any bad news of events occurring in China. The most extreme example of this may be the Tangshan earthquake of July 976. Estimated to be the worst in history at the time, with around quarter of a million deaths, it happened during the tail end of the Cultural Revolution, and thus it was quickly decided that foreign concerns of a major earthquake should be put to rest. Thus, when the earthquake itself could no longer be denied, it was impressed upon those outside China asking inconvenient questions that there had been no change in the unending happiness of those people lucky enough to be living in China's 'communist utopia'. UN help was refused, the extent of the disaster played down, and warnings were issued that the real issue to worry about was that Deng Xiaoping may try tp play up the disaster's importance in an effort to muster support for a comeback).

My first clear lesson in the problem of not being able to take people at their word arrived one Sunday afternoon in my second year in Taiwan. Along with three local friends, I visited Karl, a Swiss friend of mine and his Taiwanese girlfriend, who at that time were trying to persuade another local friend to ride to the beach with them. Karl then suggested we all take advantage of the balmy late spring weather by going to the beach together. We had seven people (all mutually acquainted) on five motorcycles, and Mae-li, Karl's girlfriend knew the way. We could eat lunch there, Mae-li suggested enthusiastically...and if anyone wanted to go in the water, there were shops nearby selling swimming costumes and other such beach gear.

Everyone seemed to be in agreement and even mildly high spirits as we set off from outside my Swiss friend's flat, his bike in the lead, with Mae-li navigating.

As we rode away from the city, we soon reached a large roundabout with a number of turn-offs. Last in line, I watched as Karl's bike took the third turn-off, along with one of my friends, a girl called Yi-ping, who was riding her own scooter. My other two (male) friends took the first turn off, and Karl's friend took the second.

Karl was zooming on ahead, seemingly oblivious to the fact that only two bikes were behind them now. Twisting the throttle to the limit, I finally caught up with the two leading bikes and flagged them down, explaining that the other two bikes had taken wrong turnings. They quickly agreed to wait while I rode back to see if I could find them.

I rode up each of the roundabout's other turn-offs, but there was no sign of either straying motorcycle. Going back to Karl's group, I said that we had lost them. We discussed our next move. I was puzzled that none of the other three had realised Karl's bike was no longer in front and turned back to the roundabout.

'Don't be silly,' Yi-ping said, 'They probably just decided to go somewhere else...actually, I don't really want to go to the beach either.'

With that, Karl and his girlfriend continued to the beach alone. I was confused that Yi-ping had 'suddenly decided' she didn't want to go to the beach. Twenty minutes earlier she had seemed all in favour. But I had invited her out that day, and so felt obliged to go where she wanted. She decided she wanted to go to the art museum instead. 'But why did you say you wanted to go to the beach?' I asked, still genuinely puzzled.

'I just didn't want to be unfriendly. Of course, I didn't really want to go the beach. It's too far. It was a really stupid idea. Anyway, now we can go somewhere interesting and leave those fools to fry in the sun...come on!'

Two days later, I met one of my other two friends and asked what had happened? They had gone to watch a baseball match, as planned, he explained.

'As planned? But we all agreed to go to the beach!' I objected.

'No we didn't', he returned. 'I didn't say anything about going to the beach!'

'But you agreed with Karl that we should take advantage of the good weather. And you didn't say anything at all about a baseball match!'

'I know you don't like baseball; why should I say anything? Yes, it was good weather, but it won't be warm enough for the beach till next month. You should pay attention, Alix...'

A few days after that I ran into Karl's friend and asked him why he had taken the wrong turning on Sunday.

'I didn't take the wrong turning. Karl took the wrong turning.'

'But we agreed that Mae-li knew the way, so we should follow them', I reminded him.

'Alix...I have lived here for 30 years, you know. Do you think I need Karl's girlfriend to tell me the way to the north coast? Yes, I know the route they took also goes to the north coast, but it's a dirty, unpleasant ride. I went by a much better, cleaner, mountain route'

This is, of course, only one small example of the difficulty in even knowing the degree of co-operation that can be depended upon within a group or Chinese doing anything, on account of not being able to take people at their word. But it stays in mind as a vivid memory which I only later found mildly amusing.

In The Ugly Chinese, Bor Yang compares Chinese and Japanese in their facility for teamwork.

A single Chinese, he says, may be a 'dragon'. That is, an exceptional person, a person of outstanding ability and great achievements. However, a team of Chinese dragons does not add up to one big collective dragon. A team of individual Chinese dragons is collectively just a pig.

A single Japanese, however, taken individually, may be no more than a pig. Put him in a team of other pigs, and the result is not a collective pig, but a dragon.

Thus it can be seen that this inherent incapacity to co-operate has its good side and bad side.

Some readers, will see my comments so far on the national characteristics of the Chinese people as unfair or unreasonably critical. That's because this article is about the weaknesses in Chinese national characteristics (and how they interfere with the standardisation and internationalisation of the martial arts). It doesn't mean that there are no strengths or good points to speak of. Of course, there are.

For example, a few months ago, The Forbidden Kingdom joined the relatively short list of martial arts films which have become international blockbusters, with mass appeal. Its stars, Chen Gang-sheng (Jackie Chen) and Li Lienjieh (Jet Li) are in a class of their own in martial arts film. There are, for example, no Japanese or Korean martial arts film stars of anything like the same status.

It seems that now, as Chen enters what can only be the twilight of his career, he has finally taken the mantle from that other lone dragon, 'Little Dragon' Bruce Lee -- Chen is now the world's best-known martial artist film star. All three of these martial arts film stars are outstanding individuals.

Unfortunately, however, 'lone dragons' are not what is needed when collective action is required, and it is collective action that is required to promote Chinese martial arts internationally. As far as this lack of ability to co-operate collectively is concerned, Chinese culture would need to go through some fundamental changes before it would improve significantly. And that is a definite prerequisite to establishing standardised systems of teaching and grading for Chinese martial arts.

There are definitely some advantages to having it in you to co-operate in standardising a particular martial art in the way that Japanese and Koreans have demonstrated. Taking taekwondo, for example. There are two main organisations concerned with standards for teaching and competition: The World Taekwondo Federation and the International Taekwondo Federation. There is, naturally, some rivalry between them. But that's it, just the two. With Chinese martial arts, it's a different story completely.

THREE: China and its Martial Artists -- their own Worst Enemies

In this chapter, I'll expand on how the co-operation (or lack of same) problem can manifest itself in the martial arts, and how some of the other cultural problems like face and ethnic chauvinism come into play.

When I began learning martial arts, I soon found myself willing to spend a good deal of my leisure time lapping up all available information on them.

The two main methods of doing this were browsing the martial arts bookshelves of the local bookstores, and watching martial arts films. The first was a great choice when I was in good enough shape to stand up, the second was the better choice if I had at least a couple of hours to spare and my legs ached too much to stand, or were so bruised from sparring that walking was difficult!

In those days a popular way to watch a film in Taiwan -- still around now, but much less popular -- was the 'MTV'.

MTVs were quite unrelated to the American music channel from which they took their name, though some of the larger establishments had a common lounge area usually featuring a screen with music videos playing. The main -- and often sole -- function of the MTV was to provide private rooms or cabins to watch videos (I almost said DVDs, but these were still science-fiction then!).

MTVs were a big hit in Taiwan. Apart from being cheaper than the cinema, many offered a huge array of films which you could watch 'on-demand', in a room or cabin where you didn't have to worry so much about other people hearing your comments or having to listen to theirs. Many also had illegal films, such as mainland Chinese imports. But the main reason for their success was that in this densely populated society there were few places young people could be alone with someone of the opposite sex.

I can't even remember the names of a lot of the martial arts films I saw in MTVs, there were so many. Some, I am only now re-discovering as I put together content for a martial arts film site.

The vast majority of martial arts films were (and are still) Hongkong-made, and some were, frankly, pretty awful. One of the most common features of these early productions was inter-dojo rivalry. This usually escalated from members of one school using some underhand tricks or techniques to defeat members of another in some competition or other, into something approaching open warfare. Or perhaps one school would be involved in some kind of disreputable or criminal activities, led by a master who had chosen to walk the 'dark path'. Though a bit tiresome, I also found these excuses for displays of martial arts prowess mildly amusing.

At the time, I was still learning Japanese and Korean martial arts. I didn't think that such bitter rivalry between different schools could exist in reality; that was just an excuse to showcase the martial arts skills. Then I started learning Chinese martial arts.

The most obvious problem here is that, just like in the films, no universally-accepted standards exist. A teacher sets up his own school, within which he is the law. Students wishing to follow in his footsteps depend upon receiving his blessing. When they set up their own schools, teaching the same skills they learnt from him, they benefit from his good reputation, if he has one, and may take with them many of his students (if, for example, the new master's school is more conveniently located for those students), usually with the grandmaster's tacit approval. The school's founder doesn't really lose much; he gains in reputation by having a second practice hall somewhere teaching the same system -- his system.

As far as this works, it depends on the very feeble abilities of Chinese to co-operate among themselves, and not let their own egos get in the way. For this reason, while there are various (very various) Chinese martial arts 'federations' and 'associations' -- in fact, a huge number of them, mostly mutually unrelated -- they quickly tend towards less integrity as they grow, rather than more. It doesn't take long before some member/s of the federation realise they are wasting their time in this federation when they can do things much better themselves. And so they set up their own federation with a totally different way of doing things.

From one Chinese martial arts school to the next, grading methods can vary considerably. A Chinese martial arts school may adopt the coloured belt system typical of Japanese and Korean arts, or it may not. Or it may use some variation on that, such as otherwise graded belts or uniforms, or it may use nothing at all. It may issue certificates for every test, or only for major ones. Or it may issue no certificates at all. In a lot of small dojos, all the student may receive in the way of recognition for years of practice is the master's verbal acknowledgement of this.

In the school I learnt chang chuan gung fu, no system of grading existed at first. Then, as the school's success grew rapidly, grading, certification and uniforms were introduced, but not insisted upon. Finally, uniforms were insisted on, although at the time I left, grading was only encouraged, not insisted on.

Going from strength to strength, the time came when several of the first batch of students, who had been with the school from the beginning, were approaching fourth dan level (of obvious ability, they had been allowed to skip early tests, and start at second dan). Fourth dan was the level at which, the master had decided, they would be qualified to set up their own schools teaching his system.

There were three students at or approaching the level of fourth dan. Master Chen suggested an association might be the next step, with a shared commitment to teach the same system. Each practice hall would be recognised by the others and students could switch between them if desired. Master Chen's dojo -- the head dojo -- could help in the setting up of the other dojos. All three students seemed very interested; their ambitions were the same -- they were in it for life.

Then, a suitable premises became available close to the home of one of the prospective new teachers. The other two dropped out of the plan immediately. Apparently, one was incensed, and the other despondent that the master had chosen to back the student he did, first -- and in preference to them. This was an arrangement neither of these two fourth dans could accept. The angrier of the two students told the master he couldn't understand why he hadn't been chosen to run the first of the new practice halls, when he was obviously first in line in terms of skills and years spent learning.

Although Chen -- at least according to his own explanation -- tried to make it clear that he had no bias as to who 'came first' and that the decision had been made purely on the basis of practical considerations -- that a suitable premises was available immediately at a very good price -- there was no persuading these two prospective teachers to stay with the school from that point on.

Being the first of the second generation dojos set up would not give the new dojo's master any practical benefits over the second and third, but this was an issue of considerable importance in terms of 'face'. All three students wanted to be the first of the second generation, the most direct descendent in the lineage after master Chen. There was no way either of the other two could tolerate someone else coming before them.

One of these fourth dans decided to give up all his long-standing martial arts ambitions there and then. Putting it all down to experience, he took a philosophical approach: he had wasted his time through no fault of his own. He had been misled...but that was life. According to a fellow student who met him by chance a couple of years later, he hadn't practiced martial arts at all since.

The other former student was not taking it lying down. Within a few weeks of his dropping out of Chen's school, a new gung fu school appeared a couple of hundred metres down the road from Chen's own dojo. Reports were that the system taught was virtually the same as Chen's, but the name of the system was that of the former student himself, and the tuition fees were barely half of Chen's.

Another problem, only indirectly connected to the co-operation problem is an ages-old custom for a martial arts master to not teach his students everything he knows.

Called 'liuo yi-shou', it literally means to hold back one skill or technique, although in practice it can mean holding back many more than just one. One reason for 'holding back' some techniques (ie., keeping their teaching secret) is insecurity. There is always the possibility that one day one of your own ex-students, or perhaps their students, will, for whatever reason, be pitted against you. In that situation, this secret technique/s, which only a select, trusted, few (or in some cases, only the master himself) knows can then be used against those people. The secret technique, or more usually the secret body of knowledge, is only passed down to a very small number of the master's most trusted disciples. In extreme cases, the secret teachings may never even be taught directly, only explained in written form to the most direct inheritor/s, after the master has passed on. Another reason for keeping this knowledge secret is to keep it out of the hands of rival schools, for fear that the same dangerous skills may find their way to being used against the school, or even being used publicly to the benefit of the other school.

Chinese martial arts lore is full of stories of such secret skills finally being utilised when the hero who has inherited the knowledge is faced with a life and death confrontation.

Nowadays, this is now longer as big an issue as in ages past, but it still exists, and a version of it is especially relevant to the topic of internationalisation.

Because many Chinese martial arts practitioners, even those with open-minded, forward-looking personalities, who deem the liuo yi-shou problem as generally a bad practice to be consigned to history, don't see it that way when applied specifically to non-Chinese.

Many Chinese believe that Chinese martial arts should be two-tiered. The first tier, or outer tier is 'Chinese Martial Arts for Foreigners', and this is the one which should be internationalised. The second, or inner tier, is Chinese Martial Arts for Chinese.

Growing up in a multi-ethnic society a generation after Bruce Lee became a household name, when I read that some figures in Lee's American Chinatown community had objected to his teaching non-Chinese, I had to take it with a pinch of salt. It didn't seem believable in the present day and age.

However, while working as a translator in Hongkong, apart from learning martial arts there, I tried as much as possible to make regular trips back to Taiwan for one-to-one classes with my chang chuan teacher.

I was often frustrated with the nature of translation work. As a freelancer, you could go two weeks with absolutely nothing. And then, suddenly, you would have several hefty documents commissioned from different sources, all at the same time. More often than not, this meant at that at least one job would have to be refused. Many companies or translation agencies would take no more than a couple of refusals -- if that -- before simply striking you off their list of translators.

On the other hand, all the time spent with no work at all meant that my income was still a well below that of an average office job. I decided that I needed some translation work I could work on at my leisure, so to speak. Something without an impossible deadline, to fill in the slack periods. Something I was interested in, I thought, that wouldn't leave me feeling exhausted. Why not martial arts, I asked myself?

'That's exactly what I've been thinking', master Chen told me when I suggested at our next class that he may like his own books translated into English. 'In fact, I'd like to have them all translated into English. We could have bi-lingual versions like the ones you often see in Hongkong, or just English versions. They could be sold by the South African dojos too; I'm sure they would be interested.' And with that, master Chen resolved to put the idea to the other dojos now in his association at the next meeting.

Some months later, after another class, I brought the subject up again. Chen sighed heavily. There was no agreement among the other teachers on what to publish in English, he explained. I asked him if he meant which book should be translated first?

'No. Everyone agrees that almost all my books should be translated. They just haven't agreed on which parts...'

I looked inquisitively. 'Yes, I know', he came back. 'I would just translate the lot. But the other teachers aren't agreed yet on which parts foreigners need to know and which parts they don't. They don't think it's appropriate to have everything which is available to Chinese also available in English, for any foreigners to come along and learn.'

FOUR: The Politics of Chinese Martial Arts

It almost goes without saying that China, as a state, would like to see the Chinese martial arts become standardised and internationalised and perhaps eventually become even more popular worldwide than Japanese martial arts or any other Asian martial arts. The Peoples' Republic has also taken deliberate steps in the direction of realising that goal.

Unfortunately, there are a whole host of problems with the steps that have been taken. The present model would have to be drastically altered to be a success globally.

Throughout China's history, civilians competent in fighting skills have often been a thorn in the sides of the country's rulers (sometimes more a spear than a thorn). For most of China's history, the country's rulers have been forced to employ civilian martial artists to work for them, for fear that otherwise they could be employed by anti-government forces against them.

Since as long ago as the early seventh century, China's rulers realised the need to co-opt the monks of the Shaolin temple to carry out missions on behalf of the state, and to this end, permission was granted to the temple to train monk soldiers to serve the state, and special dispensation was given for the monks to be allowed to consume meat and alcohol.

During the Song dynasty, fighting monks proved themselves superior warriors to the regular forces of the neighbouring Jin state when around 500 of them soundly defeated the Jins attempted invasion. Later, during the Ming dynasty, monks were used by the government to suppress the annexed nations of south-west China and put down their attempted rebellions. It was also during the Ming dynasty that Japanese pirates became the scourge of China's eastern coastal regions. Regular Chinese troops proved completely incapable of repelling these attacks until monk soldiers joined the defenders.

However, during the last imperial dynasty, the Ching, the government banned monks from practicing martial arts, for fear that opposing forces would use martial monks against them. By this time, the abilities of the Shaolin monks were already legendary. And legend has it that in the early years of the Ching dynasty, anti-Ching (and pro-Ming, ie., pro-the preceding dynasty) monks took refuge in southern China -- probably Fujian province -- where Ching rule was to remain tenuous at best for most of the dynasty's period of rule. There, it is believed, they set up a 'southern Shaolin' temple where pro-Ming monks were trained for an eventual attempt to overthrow the Ching government in the north. The exact location of southern Shaolin remains controversial, and indeed one explanation for this is that there were in fact more than one southern Shaolin temple. In any case, the temple or temples were razed to the ground when the Ching rulers got wind of the monks' loyalties and intentions, and the only records of southern Shaolin as a temple/s that exist are those of an illegal organisation called the 'Heaven & Earth Society' which a handful of monks set up after having successfully escaped the temple's destruction.

Whether a southern Shaolin temple ever really existed cannot be proven, but what is certain is that a separate style of Shaolin gung fu evolved from the Heaven & Earth Society. It later became known as hong chuan, and this school remains the mainstay of 'southern style' Chinese gung fu.

In the latter half of the Ching dynasty, the government, faced with the superior military forces of the 'far barbarians', the western European colonialists, began to re-assess their options. The colonialist powers were led by Britain, which managed to force from China's Manchu rulers a cession for a barren island off the coast of Guangdong province with hardly any loss of life of British life. European military powers, particularly Britain, Germany and Russia, along with a newly ascendent Japan, brought shame and doubt into the heart of China and its rulers. The once-invincible Manchu rulers, who had successfully forced all Han Chinese males to wear their hair in pigtails (to differentiate them from Manchurians of the ruling class) now faced dissent and open revolt from within as never before. Foreign forces -- supposedly inferior peoples -- were seen to be following Britain's lead in carving China up into European colonies with little difficulty or effective resistance.

The Manchu emperor, Guangxu, was forced into making concession after concession to the foreign powers.

The Boxer Rebellion was an uprising which occurred at the turn of the 19th and 20th century in north-east China. The Boxers were bands of civilian martial artists who dedicated themselves to the 'overthrow of the Ching' government, and the 'extermination of foreigners' on Chinese soil. The first aim was precisely the same stated aim of the anti-Ching Ming restorationists who had taken refuge in Hongkong, Macau, Taiwan, parts of south-east Asia and poorly administered regions of southern China for over two centuries. (Hopes of 'restoring the Ming' had finally faded, or rather been replaced by a new breed of revolutionaries who aimed to set up a modern republic). The second aim was a new one. Although Chinese nationalism in the modern sense was still weak, the Boxers had the sympathy of a large part of Han Chinese society in north-east China, for the simple reason that people were incensed that the Manchu government continually succumbed to foreign demands, granting foreigners resident in China extra-territorial rights, and permitting them to trample on the rights of ordinary Chinese.

Finally -- but all too late -- the Ching rulers decided that it would be better to co-opt the anti-government Boxer gangs. The more conservative Empress Dowager seized power, and declared war on the foreign powers. The Boxers' motto was changed overnight from 'overthrow the Ching, exterminate foreigners' to 'preserve the Ching, exterminate foreigners'.

The Great Powers were at first slow to respond, and the Boxers, mostly unarmed, along with some regular Chinese soldiers (most of the military had failed to respond to the Empress Dowager's declaration of war) went on a rampage, killing hundreds of foreigners and thousands of Chinese Christians. When relief arrived, it did so with a vengeance. Most of the foreign troops raped, looted and pillaged wherever they went and the compensation demanded from the Ching government was astronomical.

As the government of Nationalist China, established in 1911, was one which never even managed to bring the entire country under its control, there was never any effective policy of banning or otherwise controlling the private teaching of martial arts, although there were government-run and government-sponsored martial arts organisations. But during the first decades of Communist rule in China, Chinese martial arts suffered an huge blow in their country of origin.

Firstly, the Nationalist-Communist civil war had resulted in a massive exodus of anti-communists, non-communists, and of many others who felt they would suffer reprisals under Communist rule for previous evidence of Nationalist support or lack of support for the Communists. Among these were many outstanding martial arts teachers, especially those of southern styles such as hong chuan and yong chun chuan, most of whose practitioners were located in south China, closer to Hongkong and Macau (both of which suffered a crippling influx of refugees).

Later came the Cultural Revolution, launched primarily by the infamous 'Gang of Four', led by Mao Zedong's main mistress, Jiang Ching. During this period, which lasted for ten years beginning in 1966, millions of people would die, murdered directly or persecuted to death, mostly by brainwashed teenagers. All aspects and manifestations of traditional Chinese culture would suffer near-fatal blows, including the martial arts. Chairman Mao, now too dim-witted to recognise the scale of the disaster the country was sliding into, could no longer separate political realities from his own cretinous political quips, and gave his mistress free rein to carry out the Cultural Revolution. 'Red Guards' rounded up anybody who could possibly be associated with the 'old China' for public beatings and stonings which often led to outright murder or to suicide.

The Red Guards attacked all religious orders, and the Shaolin temple, heart of Chinese martial arts, was naturally among these targets. The handful of monks who hadn't already fled when the Red Guards struck were shackled, made to wear placards declaring their crimes, and paraded through the streets where people (as was typical behaviour at the time), demonstrated their dedication to the Revolution -- and fear of the Red Guards -- by throwing rubbish at the anti-revolutionaries. As the last of the monks were flogged and jailed, it seemed like the end of Chinese martial arts in their birthplace.

However, while Jiang Ching's zealots may have debunked Chinese history in its entirety, the more level-headed among the Chinese Communist Party knew that the party had to learn from history in order to survive. Throughout the ages, successive Chinese governments had chosen the path of co-opting martial arts masters rather than trying to jail or kill them all. Only during the last imperial dynasty had martial arts practice been partially banned, with the unfortunate eventual effect that fugitive monks had spread the skills of 'southern Shaolin' among ordinary citizens.

Modern weaponry had, of course, changed much, as the response to the Boxer Rebellion had earlier demonstrated. Nevertheless, the Chinese Communist Party took to rectifying the unfortunate circumstances whereby civilians -- perhaps even including those of questionable loyalties -- could learn dangerous combat skills unchecked. Moves were made during Mao's rule to create a 'New Martial Arts' system.

In this, the CCP brought martial arts teaching and learning under more effective control than any previous Chinese government had achieved. Ostensibly, by creating the New Martial Arts, a simplified, essentially display-oriented system of Chinese martial arts (the new system does include sparring, but with strict rules and limited strikes), martial arts were being made more accessible to the people. A laudable aim. In the same way as Okinawan karate had simplified Chinese empty-hand fighting skills and made a new, native Japanese system which anybody could learn, government supervision of Chinese martial arts instruction provided the framework by which the complex mess of schools and styles could be slimmed down into a single system of government-recognised skills. It also brought the internationalisation and worldwide standardisation of Chinese martial arts closer. At least that was the theory.

However, the other, less laudable aim, was, as already stated, to avoid the possibility of anti-government forces utilising traditional martial arts combat skills, perhaps even in a systemised manner. In riot situations, such a possibility could be disastrous. And riots were (as they are today) an ever-present threat to a thuggish regime which kept the country stable only by the most severe punishments, including public executions. The CCP was wise enough not to scrap all teaching of traditional Chinese martial arts. Those skills were reserved for special units of the Peoples' Liberation Army and, later, the Peoples' Armed Police. This approach also killed two birds with one stone: public displays of awe-inspiring martial skills by the security forces, especially in restless regions, could on the one hand impress law-abiding citizens, and on the other, intimidate dissidents or anti-government elements. Those who liked what they saw enough to want to learn it would know there to be only one to do so: by joining the security forces themselves.

The simplified versions of traditional Chinese martial arts found in the New Martial Arts system are in fact, generally very representative of the basic principles of the arts, although it has to be said, that in the simplification process many styles have, intentionally 'lost their teeth', as well as a lot of more complex moves. And in fact, by taking one martial arts style, such as chang chuan (and some styles contain literally dozens of katas), and reducing it to one easier-to-learn kata, the overall effect of simplifying Chinese martial arts hasn't happened at all.

Instead, Chinese martial arts have become more complex than ever before, with this new layer of martial arts called the 'new martial arts' having been added to an already mind-bogglingly complex mix.

The problem is, while the new display-oriented system is the system the Chinese government would like to have seen taken up worldwide, the Chinese diaspora, even before the Communists took power, had already established martial arts schools all over south-east Asia and elsewhere, free from Chinese government control, and these schools continued and continue to flourish, teaching their own systems. Chinese martial arts instruction in Taiwan, and even Hongkong has been relatively unaffected by the introduction of the new system, and interest in it has been limited in other parts of the world, for the same reasons. On the other hand, in the last decade or two, there has been a revival of traditional Chinese martial arts instruction in China itself as effective supervision on private martial arts instruction has diminished.

The end result then, for the aspiring non-Chinese martial arts student, is one more system added to the confusing array of similarly-named Chinese martial arts to learn.

To my mind, learning simplified versions of Chinese martial arts brings to mind learning the simplified version of the Chinese language.

During the early years of the Peoples' Republic, simplified Chinese characters were introduced in order to improve the problem of illiteracy among the largely peasant population. Taiwan, Hongkong and Macau did not adopt the simplified system, having no real need to resort to such drastic measures to tackle their much less severe illiteracy problems.

Now, two systems exist, with the traditional, complex-character system still in place in Taiwan, Hongkong and Macau and among most non-Asian overseas Chinese communities. The simplified system is enforced by law in the PRC, and has also been adopted by Singapore and some other south-east Asian Chinese communities.

For a non-Chinese, learning simplified Chinese seems an easy choice over complex characters. Why learn complex characters, when they are by nature more difficult?

However, the fact is that, apart from complex characters still being in use in many places, there are other reasons to learn complex characters first. When you can read complex characters, you will find learning simplified characters truly simple. When you can only read simplified characters, you still have a lot of hard work to put in before you can read complex characters. Many historical texts will also be unreadable, and the characters in use in Korean and Japanese will be more difficult to learn than otherwise. Many Japanese kanji are also simplified, but the system used is not the same as China's; some characters simplified in the PRC are not simplified in Japanese, and vice versa. With a thorough knowledge of complex characters, it's easier to get a grasp on those simplified characters in use in Japan as well as those in use in the PRC.

If you have no other choice, then by all means, learn simplified Chinese or simplified Chinese martial arts. These present better-than-nothing opportunities to make a start. But if you have a choice? Well then, why learn the peasant version if you can learn the real thing? It's like choosing to buy a ramshackle Volkswagen instead of a new Rolls-Royce when both are the same price. In such circumstances, the only respect in which the VW is superior is that it takes up less space. Similarly, the simplified Chinese martial arts 'take up less space.'

But of course, whatever system you choose to learn, and however popular it may be near where you live, don't expect to find it well-represented elsewhere. True standardisation and internationalisation of Chinese martial arts is still a long way off by any measure.


FIVE: The Hongkong Connection

When Funakoshi's brand of Okinawan karate began to receive international attention, the founder himself was an old man. He objected to the inevitable breakdown of karate into separate schools and to the use of the word 'shotokan' to describe the brand which stayed most true to karate as he taught it.

However, Shotokan was still called Shotokan by all people who knew about it. Karate was still called karate. The terminology was the same for everyone involved in the art. A kata may have the same name in two different schools and be practiced differently. Or it may be a completely different kata. But it was still a kata, practiced, mostly, in a dojo, taught, principally, by a sensei. These were all universally accepted terms within Japan, and terms that soon came to be used worldwide for the same reason: everybody agreed that these were the correct ones, or at least the most suitable ones.

In Chinese martial arts, the same situation does not exist. Even the arts themselves have different names, according to who you are speaking to.

Unfortunately, this is a huge impediment to internationalisation. A foreign student may not, at first even realise, for example, that there is a school just around the corner of the very same Chinese martial art he studied previously elsewhere. Because the art doesn't even have the same name, when transliterated into his language.

The first problem is unavoidable: Chinese doesn't transliterate easily. Even when it is assumed that you are trying to convey a Mandarin Chinese word's sound in English, or in a kind of generic romaic European, rather than some special phonetic system, it's already very difficult to do.

While it's true that you may be able to mimic a sound with accuracy using a phonetic system based on roman characters, this is of little help to the vast majority of people, who may only want to be able to say a few common words in Chinese in an intelligible way. People are not going to learn a phonetic system simply so they can correctly say 'Beijing', for example, or the name of the Chinese president. And this includes most non-Chinese studying Chinese martial arts; they generally only want to be able to correctly use a limited, martial arts-related terminology.

To give an example of the spelling problem, to someone familiar with China's pinyin system it may be obvious how the word 'xiao' (small) is supposed to be pronounced. I can remember reading the name of the former PRC leader, Deng Xiaoping, many times in news articles of the early '80s, without knowing how to pronounce it, and I always seemed to miss it on radio or TV. It seemed to me that logically the letter 'x' should be pronounced with a hard 'kzz' sound, which is of course a long way from the right sound.

When I arrived in Taiwan I noticed in my travellers' phrasebook that the same use of the letter 'x' to begin a word was to found in 'xieh-xieh' ('thank you'). I decided to try this word out at the store outside the youth hostel I stayed my first few weeks in Taipei. The girl working there, unable to understand me, called her father, the store-owner.

'No, no, it's OK!' I put in hurriedly as the owner appeared. 'Nothing! No problem. Just wanted to say...kzz-ieh, kzz-ieh!'


The store owner looked completely non-plussed and I left the store wandering what on Earth could be wrong with my pronunciation.

'Thank you' was just too basic a word not to know. I probably knew how to say it in several dozen languages by this time; it was simply something any traveller worth his salt couldn't not know. The hostel I was staying was host to a whole bunch of world travellers and people who were working their way through Asia. Two were full-time Chinese-languages students. It would have been embarrassing to admit to not even knowing how to say 'thank you' in a country I was looking for work in! But after several days of listening out for a word that sounded like 'kz-ieh, kz-ieh', I still hadn't heard it and remained none the wiser to the actual pronunciation.

I noticed a text book on the hostel lobby's communal table one lunchtime. It belonged to one of the full-time Chinese language students, an Australian girl on a year out before university, and I asked her if she minded me taking a look at it?

I quickly located a conversation in which one party finished with a 'thank you'. Only here, it was written 'hsieh-hsieh' .

This is a major barrier to communication: the official system of transliteration in Taiwan was different from that in the PRC. These were the two main systems of transliteration at the time, but unfortunately there were (and are) a whole bunch of others too.

Of course, I ended up having no success in making people understand 'ah-shieh, ah-shieh', either. I had never seen words in any language beginning 'hs' and could not imagine how they should be pronounced, until finally, after nearly a week, I was forced to ask. The lightly aspirated 'sh' of 'shieh-shieh' and the quick, downward tone was so far from what I had imagined that I realised I had probably already heard the word countless times by then without knowing it.

So, just finding an effective, accurate system of transliteration from Chinese into English, which is readable by non-linguists, is an uphill battle. Most of those around at present do not fit the bill.

But this is made much worse by the fact that many speakers of Chinese dialects have already established their own dialects as the source language to translate from. Take yong chun chuan, for example. This is now more popularly transliterated according to the Cantonese pronunciation. But even here, wing chun and ving tsun (common transliterations from Cantonese) are only the most popular spellings among a number of possibilities.

There are a number of Chinese dialects and sub-dialects. If we throw this fact into the equation, it now seems we have an almost unlimited number of spelling possibilities for any one word! And there are always those people who will simply 'play by ear', that is, they will transliterate 'intuitively' according to how the word sounds to them, rather than following any particular spelling system.

Fortunately, of all the speakers of Chinese dialects, only the Hongkong Cantonese have been consistently stubborn enough to use their dialect in place of Chinese when teaching non-Chinese. But this alone has created a great deal of confusion, which isn't going away any time soon.

A situation has been created whereby many Chinese martial arts styles are actually better known by their dialectical pronunciation than the correct pronunciation in standard Chinese. It's as if some karate schools decided to call themselves 'garate' schools, and others 'garade' schools and so on, leaving the new student thoroughly confused as to which is which and what the differences between them all are -- when, in fact, they may all be the same!

The biggest culprits in this are the Cantonese-speakers of Hongkong and their overseas diaspora, who haven't themselves gone to the bother of learning standard Chinese, or -- worse still -- can speak Chinese, but prefer not to. They have created a situation whereby a major style such as yong chun, for example, is better known as wing chun, and jie chuan dao is better known as jeet kune do (or some other spelling variation of the Cantonese pronunciation). As only a small fraction of the total Chinese population speak Cantonese, most native Chinese know these styles only by their correct Mandarin pronunciation. But the same cannot be said of many non-Chinese martial artists, who paradoxically have -- often unwittingly -- learnt a set of Chinese martial arts terms only understood by speakers of a minority dialect.

I have even seen web-sites of European martial arts teachers, in which a mixture of Cantonese and standard Chinese is presented to introduce the terminology used in the school. I would bet that some European teachers don't even know which terms are Chinese and which are Cantonese.

The same problem exists -- to a much reduced extent -- with the other Chinese dialects. However, in the vast majority of cases, when a speaker of another Chinese dialect introduces a term he or she uses (and, of course, this applies generally, not only to martial arts teachers) they will explain with words to the effect of: 'in my dialect, we call this such-and-such'.

However, with the Cantonese, especially those from Hongkong, there is a remarkable difference. Instead of calling their dialect 'Cantonese' when speaking to foreigners, they call it 'Chinese'. They differentiate this 'Chinese' further from the Chinese the rest of the world calls Chinese (ie., Mandarin), by calling that Chinese 'national language', 'common language', 'official language', or (when speaking English or other foreign languages) 'Mandarin'.

I first came across this problem shortly after moving to Hongkong in 1992. My Cantonese teacher, who was also a fluent speaker of both English and Mandarin, often switched between the three languages when talking to me outside class time, and sometimes inside class time. At one point, while she tested my listening comprehension, I found myself repeating her Cantonese sentences to myself audibly (in Chinese) as she spoke.

Then, she asked me to repeat the sentences she had just spoken, but in Chinese. Unsure whether she had been paying attention to the words I had just spoken in Chinese, I repeated them. Then, she said to me, in English: 'Yes, that's the meaning. But could you say those three sentences again now, in Chinese'.

Now, this was becoming interesting. I thought, as we often spoke English, that on some subconscious level she had heard my Mandarin words yet imagined that I had been speaking English, not Chinese, and this was why she was now speaking to me in English. 'I just did', I said, smiling and waiting for her to realise her mistake.

'No, you didn't' she replied.

'Yes, I did', I told her again. Then, for the third time, I said again the three sentences she was referring to, in Chinese.

'Now, Alix,' my teacher came back with an exaggerated sigh, 'that's fine. But can you please tell me how you would say those three sentences in Chinese.'

At this point I was beginning to wonder what on Earth was going on. I stared blankly at her for a few moments waiting for something to happen to clear the confusion. 'Didn't I just speak Chinese?', I finally asked.

'No', my teacher replied, 'you spoke Mandarin'!

Incredibly, for many Hongkong Cantonese, 'Chinese' means only their own minority dialect, one which, for the most part, is incomprehensible to most of the population of China. My teacher had learnt Mandarin in Taiwan; there was really no excuse for her pretending that 'Chinese' could mean anything other than Mandarin for most people. That, unfortunately, is a measure of just how stubborn the Hongkong Chinese are in protecting their own dialect at the expense of everyone else's mutual comprehension.

I later found that there were even some 'Mandarin to Chinese/ Chinese to Mandarin' dictionaries and language courses in the local bookstores!

In the past few years, there has been an increase among Hongkongers in the use of the term bai-hua for Cantonese, to differentiate it from standard Mandarin Chinese. Though a step forward, and far more accurate than calling Cantonese 'Chinese', this is still a less than ideal term. Bai hua means the spoken language; the language as it is spoken, as opposed to the written language. As such, it can mean any Chinese dialect or colloquial -- or even any dialect or colloquial per se -- not just Cantonese. To avoid confusion, Cantonese should only be called Cantonese or 'the local Hongkong dialect', especially when Hongkong Chinese are talking to non-Chinese.

It is true, of course, that Cantonese is 'a kind of Chinese'. But, make no mistake about it, for the vast majority of the world's people, including Chinese, 'Chinese' means standard Chinese, the official language of China. Otherwise known as Mandarin.

There are over ten times as many native Mandarin speakers as there are native Cantonese speakers, just within the borders of the Peoples' Republic. And then there are several hundred million speakers of other dialects, who also speak Mandarin, but not Cantonese. Cantonese is spoken only in the western half of the southern province of Guangdong, not even throughout the whole province, and furthermore can also be divided into sub-dialects, of which the variety spoken in Hongkong is only one.

In Taiwan, as with regions within the PRC, when one says 'Chinese', the meaning is, again, Mandarin, the official language of Taiwan, not the local Taiwanese dialect of Chinese. If you mean the Taiwanese dialect, you say 'Taiwanese'.

In south-east Asia, where the problem of different Chinese dialects was for a long time a barrier to communication within the ethnic Chinese populations, great progress has been made in doing away with Chinese dialects, particularly in Malaysia and Singapore.

Singapore, as south-east Asia's only predominately Chinese state, serves as a guiding light to the ethnic Chinese communities of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and other south-east Asian states. In the past couple of decades, the government there has actively encouraged ethnic Chinese to speak Chinese, not dialect. In this, they have provided no opportunity for confusion. Chinese is referred to as exactly that ('hua-yu'; literally 'ethnic Chinese' language), while dialect is referred to as dialect ('fang-yen').

Now, a young generation of ethnic Chinese Singaporeans exist who actually speak Mandarin fluently, arguably even as their first language, even though, strictly speaking, this is often not be their 'mother tongue' (ie., in many cases, their parents don't speak Chinese as their first language, but dialects such as Fujianese and Cantonese).

I discovered while living in Hongkong in the 1990s, that even within the foreign population there, there was very little interest in learning Cantonese, and a lot more in learning Chinese.

For example, while I lived in the territory, during the last years of British administration, I knew a number of Korean and Japanese families (mostly my English students, or people I had met through teaching English). Of the several dozen I knew, approximately half were either studying Mandarin in their spare time, or had learnt it prior to moving to Hongkong. Only one -- and she was already a Mandarin speaker -- bothered to learn the local Cantonese dialect.

And yet, ridiculously, to this day, a large part of Hongkong's Cantonese population speak either appallingly bad standard Chinese, or none at all. And despite the fact that the territory has been a part of China for over a decade, most of the local population stubbornly cling to the practice of misrepresenting their dialect to outsiders as 'Chinese'.

Even more absurd is the fact that the Cantonese-speaking Hongkong Chinese are far and away the most nationalistic, racialistic and chauvinistic people in all east Asia.

This is akin to right-wing nationalists in other countries, such as, say, Jean-marie Le Pen and his followers not being able to speak French. Or perhaps not even trying to speak French, but rather insisting on speaking only some ancient Norman dialect, calling this dialect 'French', and referring to modern French as something else like 'official language'. Who would take them seriously?

Yet, unfortunately, in the world of Chinese martial arts outside east Asia, many people have taken the speakers of the Cantonese dialect far too seriously for far too long. To the extent that a large proportion of the web-sites, books and magazines that exist to teach or discuss various Chinese martial arts use a terminology which includes Cantonese pronunciation of Chinese words. It isn't easy to transliterate Chinese into European languages, but even assuming a newcomer looks at these Cantonese words and manages to repeat them accurately according to Cantonese pronunciation, most Chinese (as the majority don't understand Cantonese) are still not going to know what the newcomer is talking about, and probably won't even realise that the newcomer thinks he or she is speaking 'Chinese'.

It should also be mentioned that while some northern dialects are close enough to Mandarin to be mutually intelligible, Cantonese is a dialect that features pronunciation markedly different from standard spoken Chinese. Most words in Cantonese are unintelligible to the uninitiated speaker of Mandarin and/or another dialect (ie., one who has not been exposed to Cantonese long enough to be able to 'tune-in' to it). While regarded as a 'dialect' rather than a 'language' for political reasons, the difference in pronunciation between Mandarin and Cantonese is probably at least equal to the difference between Dutch and English.

In addition, Chinese, including all its dialects, is tonal. Mandarin, with only four main tones and a 'light' tone, is far more suitable for non-Chinese to quickly learn to pronounce correctly. Many of the southern dialects have seven, eight, or even more tones, making them truly formidable for non-Chinese to master. Native speakers often 'know' the tones only through daily practice outside work and school, as the language of education in China is, of course, Mandarin. As Chinese continues to grow as a popular foreign language outside China, expect interest in Cantonese and other dialects to continue to fall. At the time of writing, the newly-appointed Australian prime-minister, for example, has already spoken publicly about several topics concerning China and relations with east Asia -- in Mandarin. And as Chinese becomes an increasingly important language worldwide, also expect to see an increasing number of non-Chinese heads-of-state and other political leaders who are fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

So, for the world at large, Chinese means Mandarin, and in future this will become, if anything, only more the case. Practitioners of Chinese martial arts are perhaps the only group left behind in this. Obviously, this practice of using dialectical pronunciation in transliterating Chinese words is going to have to go if Chinese martial arts are ever to become truly international. At present, in English-language martial arts publications, some terminology is taken from standard Chinese, some from dialect. It will probably take many years for standard Chinese terminology to replace dialect, and in the meantime the use of dialect represents only a barrier to the spread of Chinese martial arts knowledge.

A related problem can be found in the various media used to publish martial arts information, in which again, the Hongkong connection is very evident.

First is books. A good many non-native English speakers -- including those from Hongkong -- are proficient enough in English to hold conversations on almost any subject without any serious misunderstandings arising, and they can write as well as they can speak.

But that is not good enough for publishing. Especially if you are hoping your books will reach a wide range of native and non-native English speakers. In fact, it is even more important for non-native, non-Chinese readers that written English be free of any traces of 'Chin-glish' than it is for native English speakers. Non-standard English usage particular to them will not be the same as the non-standard English particular to people who speak Chinese as their first language.

Yet many Hongkong Chinese martial artists publish their own books, in English. I have seen some so bad that, while at first glance they seem fascinating and informative, a couple of paragraphs is usually enough to convince most readers to abandon any hope of understanding the topic -- they can't even understand what the writer is talking about.

On my desk here, for example, is a book about yong chun written by a Hongkong Chinese martial artist, resident in the USA. In it, he refers often to 'horses'. In the 'ma bu' sense, that is, meaning 'stances'. The problem is, nobody -- unless already familiar with Chinese -- is going to know why he keeps talking about horses. They may even wonder if this is some weird equestrian martial art?! The English word for 'stance' is not 'horse'; it is 'stance'.

It doesn't cost that much to get a native English speaker to edit a slim martial arts book, which is likely to be heavy on illustrations and light on text to begin with. It seems ridiculous to me to go to the trouble and expense of writing and publishing a book, which presumably you hope will sell, and yet not go to the trouble of first making sure it is readable.

This problem is even worse in martial arts film. Hongkong is easily the biggest producer of martial arts films in the world, and has been for decades now. The Hongkong film industry is in a unique position to help spread awareness of Chinese martial arts while at the same time entertaining viewers worldwide.

Instead, it has traditionally chosen to provide the outside world with otherwise entertaining films featuring subtitles that leave viewers puzzled or confused. In the worst cases, you can even find spoken lines missing completely from the subtitles, presumably because the translator didn't know how to translate them, but also possibly because the deadline was so close that they were unknowingly skipped over.

A typical example -- and a good illustration -- of the problem which comes to mind is Jackie Chen's Drunken Master II, which I remember seeing on its release in Hongkong in 1994. (As English was still the first official language, non-English language films shown in local cinemas had subtitles at the time). In one scene early in the film, Jackie Chen chases a thief, who attempts to fend Chen off with a spear; the thief warning Chen that he will 'shoot' him if he comes any closer.

Now, it's patently obvious that you can't 'shoot' someone with a spear, so anyone relying on the subtitles would have wondered whether they had missed something here. However, the word 'spear' and 'gun' ('chiang') are the same in Chinese, so it's also obvious to anyone not relying on the subtitles that the translator only read the script; he didn't see the film.

It's amazing to me, that after making the huge investment in time and money that a major production like this requires (OK, not huge by Hollywood standards, but considerable nonetheless), no steps were taken to make sure the subtitles were accurate, made sense and read well. I don't know how the translation is handled for films like this -- in-house by the company producing the film, by a translation agency hired by the film producers, or by the distributers. But in any case, as the situation stands, it's up to the film makers make ensure the quality of the translation, otherwise their films suffer as a result.

The only benefit to the present situation -- apart from saving someone, somewhere, the expense of having to hire genuinely professional translators -- is the insight it provides into the careless, lackadaisical attitude many Chinese adopt when dealing with matters not deemed essential...especially those where opportunities for cost-cutting exist.

There is another problem with Hongkong martial arts film which makes it less accessible to non-Chinese than it could otherwise be: stories which weave around the subject of Chinese racial chauvinism, especially the anti-Japanese variety.

For example, at the time of this writing, I have just seen the film Yeh Wen, which purports to be about the life of the famous yong chun chuan teacher of the same name. Much of the story takes place in Japanese-occupied China during WWII. Although the characters in the film are based on real-life people, the story, which revolves around brutally unfair (Japanese military versus Chinese civilian) unarmed combat events -- arranged for the entertainment of the local Japanese governor -- is entirely fictional. Although expected, I couldn't help but feel somewhat disappointed that this tired, tired, BORING old worn-out subject is still the major and recurring theme in Hongkong-made films that it is.

The roots of this problem are complex. They lie in the fact that many of the directors, script writers and others involved in the making of films -- martial arts and otherwise -- in the territory since even before Bruce Lee's era, have been Nationalist refugees of the civil war in China, and their descendants.

The Nationalist-Communist civil war may have dragged on year after year, but when the Communists finally flushed the Nationalists out of China in 1950, their victory was decisive and absolute. Hongkong's Chinese population in the 1950s and '60s was overwhelmingly anti-Communist and sympathetic towards the Nationalists; it was only very gradually over the subsequent decades that the influence of the Chinese Communist Party grew to dominate nationalistic Chinese sentiment in the colony.

The shame of such categorical defeat as the Nationalists suffered at the hands of the Chinese Communists was compensated for, in part at least, by fictional accounts of heroic Nationalist resistance against the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of China a few years earlier. The veracity of which was naturally harder to be sure of than more recent Nationalist-Communist conflicts. That sense of shame among a very nationalist people was also compounded by the fact that the only thing keeping the Nationalists safe from Communist retribution in Hongkong was the protection provided by the British colonial government and the British military stationed there. Stories of heroic battles against the Communists would obviously have been unconvincing in light of these facts.

The Japanese occupation was, of course, no longer a current issue...yet anti-Japanese sentiment was something common among virtually all Chinese, including Nationalist refugees in Hongkong, Communists within China and their slowly growing number of sympathisers in the colony, and even among those Hongkong-born and bred Cantonese-speakers of no particular political affiliations, who had suffered during the three harsh years of Japan's occupation of the colony. Thus, partly for local consumption (ie., to convince themselves, their children, and the already-resident Chinese population of Hongkong), and partly to impress their new foreign guardians and lend legitimacy to their status as refugees, the first generation of Nationalist refugees in Hongkong created a vast and constantly growing collection of fictional accounts of their own heroic refusals to be subjugated by a common enemy -- the Japanese.

The British colonial government -- on whose goodwill the survival of these refugees depended -- knew from first-hand experience that it had been close to impossible for any nation in east Asia to resist the force of the Japanese military completely, generally sympathised with the sorry state of these 'plucky' Nationalist Chinese survivors, and gave such stories the benefit of the doubt. The United States, the newly ascendent military power, which had defeated the Japanese in the Pacific War, loved these stories. Its own media had consistently, for many years, painted (or at least tried very hard to paint) a glowing picture of the corrupt and inept Nationalist Chinese government and its leader, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, while the US government poured massive amounts of money and other aid into the black hole of the Nationalist government.

Those in the know, of course, were well aware that the Chinese war of resistance against Japan, such as it was, had been fought almost entirely by the Communists, but such views were not welcomed in post-war capitalist states, especially as the world slowly slid deeper into the cold war. Thus, a tradition evolved in Hongkong's media -- particularly its film industry -- to exaggerate and glamourise the role of Nationalist Chinese resistance to the domination of the aggressive, brutal, warmongering, almost inhuman, Japanese.

The problem with these fantasy accounts of heroic Chinese and evil Japanese is that, while they may still hold appeal to many Chinese, including perhaps even the younger generation in Hongkong and within the Peoples' Republic itself, non-Chinese cannot relate to them easily, and quickly tire of the repetition of the same old racist theme. It is off-putting for many non-Chinese to get part way through what seems like a promisingly good martial arts film, such as Yeh Wen, only to find they are watching, once again, another vehicle for anti-Japanese racism.

Generally speaking, the quality of martial arts films coming out of Hongkong has come a long way since the days of Bruce Lee, and continues to improve. However, the above-mentioned problems of appallingly bad translations, and the recurring themes of Chinese racism and assumed cultural superiority continue to hamper their acceptance outside Chinese society. Hongkong's martial arts film industry could do a much better job of bringing an understanding and interest in Chinese martial arts to a non-Chinese audience if that was something it really wanted to do, but apparently that isn't an aim it is serious about.

The above are a few of the problems in standardising and internationalising Chinese martial arts. There are others, but I hope this article has served to sum up the main ones.