Tiny Tiger Lecture Series Episode 3!
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse, your home for martial arts studies, rhetoric, and Tae Kwon Do. Last week I talked a bit about some Summer survival strategies for anyone who has a schedule like a teacher. This week I've been slaving away at some job materials that I should be ready to share here next week.
But, while I'm still cooking up a revised professional portfolio, I figured you've waited long enough for the next installment of the Tiny Tiger Lecture Series! I hope you enjoy Episode 3, a continuation of our discussion of racial identity politics in martial arts performances. This episode focuses primarily on the reconfiguration of Chinese masculinity through Kung Fu films and legends. Enjoy!
Also, I've provided the full transcript and list of sources below the video.
As always, thanks for reading/watching/liking/sharing/subscribing
Welcome to the Tiny Tiger Lecture Series, a compact collection of martial arts studies research brought to you by RhetoricalRoundhouse.com Last time we explored some of the most famous heavyweight boxers in American history and the ways in which their combat narratives functioned rhetorically in larger national discussions about race, politics, and civil rights.
Today we will look at similar themes as they arise in the depictions of Chinese martial arts in various media. To better understand the historical significance of the following martial arts examples, it’s important to examine the rhetorical exigency present in 19th and 20th century China. In this case, a rhetorical exigency refers to an “urgency, or, a situation provoking discussion or argument.” The stage was set for such arguments about the Chinese empire following a massive influx of Christian missionaries in the 19th century, the defeat at the hands of the British navy in the so called Opium wars, and the sustained threats of imperialism from Japan, Russia, European nations, and the United States. In addition, this period was one of national unrest at the tail end of the Qing dynasty as evidenced in the Taiping Civil War, the second bloodiest conflict in world history resulting in roughly 25 million casualties and the Boxer Rebellion, an anti-foreign uprising ultimately quashed by an eight nation alliance all with vested interests in Chinese territories. These massacres were accompanied by equally brutal floods, famine, and economic calamities which eventually marked the collapse of the last dynasty of China. It was this era which earned the once great Chinese empire the nickname “sick man of Asia,” implying that it’s once illustrious status was experiencing its last gasps of relevance in the modern world.
But it’s these moments of crisis and uncertainty when the power of narrative, myth, and legend, can have intense rhetorical effects on audiences. The story of Huo Yanjia is perhaps the greatest example of a single folk hero to inspire generations of Chinese nationals and martial artists to new heights of confidence, unity, and pride. It’s difficult to parse fact from fiction when discussing Huo Yanjia but, because of the way his legend resonates, it’s actually of little importance. What we can say for sure is that Huo Yanjia was a Chinese martial artist who, at the turn of the twentieth century, founded the Chin Woo Athletic association, the first gymnasium to house multiple styles of Kung fu in one place and, thus, embodying a sense of national unity at a time when the country was being divided by foreign powers.
In addition to promoting community among Chinese martial artists, Huo Yanjia became famous for his response to public challenges from foreign martial artists. It’s here that his story becomes highly exaggerated in retellings like Jet Li’s Fearless, a biopic detailing Huo Yanjia’s commitment to fighting off foreign challengers in high profile contests, or Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury where a disciple of Yuo Yanjia seeks vengeance for his master’s murder at the hand of Japanese treachery. Both of these depictions (and many others like them) serve rhetorically to dispute the claim that Chinese are mentally, physically, or politically weak. And they serve as the beginning of an era where martial arts movies began to incorporate subtext and complex narratives using combat as a symbolic,storytelling device, an idea we’ll explore on the next Tiny Tiger Lecture.
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