Do all Chinese know Kung Fu?

Revered martial art superstar Bruce Lee famously described Kung Fu in the following: empty your minds, be formless, shapeless, like water. now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. you put it into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

The impression that “everyone in China knows Kung Fu” comes from pop culture. In Hong Kong action movies Chinese people are always shown to know Kung Fu or are flying through the air all the time. Jet Li, who is also known for his lightning fast moves and inventive choreography, is seen to have continuously promoted Kong Fu and Bruce Lee’s heritage. Li first became famous during the peak of the Hong Kong action film era, then later brought Kong Fu to Hollywood, along with another famous Chinese actor Jackie Chan. The two largest contemporary movie stars in Asia are, not so coincidentally, the largest martial arts stars in particular.

Kung Fu had long been the spokesperson of the Chinese culture in the world and one of the main ways that garners interest from other cultures. For example, in the Confucius Institutes around the world, martial art classes are oftentimes provided as part of the program offered. Kung Fu performances are offered in the diplomatic receptions of foreign guests In the early days and nearly every year at the Chinese New Year Gala.

The Wuxia genre of Chinese fantasy literature depicts “martial heroes” who practice a code of chivalry and fight for righteousness. The heroes most likely are also Kung Fu masters that are there to do right and redress wrongs. The stories written by Jin Yong and Gu Long also enchanted many Chinese through their fantastical nature, but they are well aware that those forms of martial arts featured in the spellbinding Wuxia tales are not real. With that being said, not all Chinese know Kung Fu, just like not all Texans know how to ride on horseback.


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