Tai chi master takes a beating – China society and culture news from May 4, 2017

Society & Culture

A summary of today’s top news in Chinese society and culture. Part of the daily SupChina news roundup "Chinese cosmocrats — from mission control to the governor’s office."

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JUNE 20: (CHINA OUT; PHOTOCOME OUT) Graduates attend a graduation ceremony at Shanghai Jiaotong University on June 20, 2005 in Shanghai, China. According to the Ministry of Education, about 3.38 million college students will graduate this summer, 580,000 more than last year. Graduates face fierce job competition, as the number of graduates leaving colleges and universities have increased since 1999. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

It took only 10 seconds for mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Xu Xiaodong 徐晓冬 to destroy tai chi master Lei Lei 雷雷 in an exhibition fight held on April 27, but the ensuing tai chi-MMA debate has been such a widely discussed topic on Chinese social media since then that even Alibaba chairman Jack Ma 马云 weighed in.

The buzz began with a short video circulated on the Chinese social media platform Weibo last week, in which the modern-style fighter unleashes a series of punches on his opponent’s face and knocks him down almost immediately after the fight starts. The tai chi master is then seen lying on the ground bleeding while two men from the crowd help him up.

The fight was initiated by Xu, who, according to Sixth Tone, said repeatedly that his goal is to prove that Lei is not even remotely comparable with him when it comes to real combat. In an interview (in Chinese), Xu said that “90 percent of traditional Chinese martial arts are just self-brainwashing and self-deception,” and “this line of thinking passed on from generation to generation.” Xu also invited other self-proclaimed tai chi masters to challenge him. On Weibo, many commenters questioned (in Chinese) Xu’s motive, accusing him of attracting publicity by saying arrogant things, while others applauded his courage to expose the weakness of tai chi in a real fight.

On the other side, after the embarrassing loss, Lei insisted (in Chinese) that the reason why he lost the fight is because he didn’t use internal power, a tai chi technique that he said “can’t be easily activated, as it might cause the opponent’s death.” The explanation was unconvincing to most commenters. “His brain must have been damaged during the fight,” one person ridiculed (in Chinese).

Jack Ma commented (in Chinese) on his Weibo account that the fight is, in fact, a “show” that doesn’t deserve such public attention. “The fight didn’t involve any techniques and is not watchable at all. The only special thing about this is the large audience online. They want the show to grow bigger and bigger,” Ma wrote.

Work hard and love your country: May 4th movement at 98

This year is the 98th anniversary of the May 4th movement, a political and cultural movement broadly supported by students protesting the Chinese government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles and the granting of Shandong to the Japanese under former German concessions. The May 4th movement was against Western colonization and imperialism, but is often connected to the New Culture movement, which rejected the strictures of aspects of traditional Chinese culture and strove to build a society based on Western ideas of science and democracy.

Although the intellectual foment of the May 4th movement provided the Communist Party — founded in 1921 — with some of its animating spirit, the Party has an awkward relationship with it: How to energize the youth with patriotism, maintain a patina of anti-imperialist credibility, yet avoid too much chattering about democracy? Xi Jinping’s answer was given in a speech to students at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing in advance of May 4: The Party is engaged in a campaign to make its primary message about patriotism and hard work. The People’s Daily has an article (in Chinese) about Xi’s speech, or you can refer to this handy English infographic by the China Daily.