Kung fu soft power in Africa

By Tiara Lin Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-4 12:33:01

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

An African boy is training a group of kids. He shows them how to move their arms and raise their thighs higher. When he sees a Chinese man walking by, he stops him and says, "Look! My kung fu is not bad, right?" The Chinese man smiles and replies, "Your morning exercise is good."

That was a joke I was told by a Chinese friend who lives in Africa. It shows how much African young people love kung fu but don't know much about it.

Kung fu is becoming increasingly popular in Africa. Every year, dozens of Africans go all the way to China's Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of kung fu, to learn martial arts and Chinese culture. After spending months or years in the forested mountains of Henan Province, they realize that kung fu is more than just physical exercise; it is also about "love, justice and health."

But for those who have never been to China and have probably watched too much kung fu movies, they tend to think all Chinese people know kung fu. When I was visiting Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, earlier this year, I was frequently asked whether I practice kung fu. If I said yes, it made the stranger like me instantly.

Many Chinese who live in Africa benefit from lying about their kung fu skills.

For example, a Chinese man can get attention from ladies at a bar by showing off his "kung fu."

Also, if you tell your potential employer that you know kung fu, the chance of getting hired increases.

You never know how useful kung fu is in Africa. Sometimes, the lie might save your life. I was told that a Chinese lady once got robbed on the street and pretended to use kung fu to fight back. The attacker got scared, dropped her bag and ran away.

Unfortunately, I failed to take advantage of this misperception when I was in Africa. I took a self-defense course with my African colleagues in Nairobi. When the coach introduced me, nobody wanted to practice with me because they thought I would hurt them. No matter how much I explained that I only worked out at the gym, they still kept their distance.

Stereotyping occurs everywhere. When we talk about Africa, many Chinese think it is a land of poverty, famine and disease.

Some still believe Africa is just one big country - it's not. When you see it for yourself, you will fall in love with it and always dream of going back.

There have been times when I felt like I should clear up this stereotype but didn't because a part of me enjoys the friendships that develop out of a love for kung fu.

A taxi driver who drove me to the airport asked me to give him a Chinese name.

"Li Dalong, big dragon," I said, "now you are 'bigger' than Bruce Lee, whose Chinese name is 'little dragon.'" He happily accepted it. Another time, an African boy lowered his voice and asked me if it is true that kung fu could improve one's sex drive. We became good friends after that.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.

Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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