He never intended to become a political dissident

Monday, November 4th, 2019

He never intended to become a political dissident, but then Xu Xiaodong started beating up tai chi masters:

Since 2015, Xu has been the director, producer, and host of a lively one-man martial arts talk show called Brother Dong’s Hot Takes that he self-distributes via his various social media accounts. Each episode features Xu speaking, sometimes quite passionately, about whatever is riling him up that day. One recurring bit that initially gained Hot Takes a cult following was Xu’s profanity laced call-outs of “fakes,” or pianzi, in the Chinese martial arts world.

These callouts were inspired by what Xu calls a “bad wind” of fake tai chi masters penetrating the national consciousness. This was largely thanks to government intervention. Traditional Chinese martial arts (wushu), and tai chi in particular, are a core component of what President Hu Jintao called in 2007 the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Since rising to power in 2013, President Xi Jinping has redoubled efforts to promote and spread “traditional Chinese culture”—which includes tai chi as well as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)—through a battery of subsidies, policy interventions, and good old-fashioned propaganda. Last year, it became mandatory for students in southeastern China’s Fujian Province to prove mastery of 24 tai chi moves in order to graduate from high school. Only a few months ago, state mouthpiece People’s Daily announced the establishment of the “People’s Tai Chi Development Alliance,” which purports to be aimed at making tai chi “fashionable” for young people and showcasing the accomplishments of Chinese civilization to the world.

Meanwhile, grandmasters from across China’s martial arts schools were called on to hype up tai chi in the media. In a 2013 program called The Showdown Show, the famed 12th-generation Chen-style tai chi master Wang Zhanhai showed how he could harness his energy to fling off four musclebound attackers in a single movement. On another episode of the show, the 76-year-old pressure point (dianxue) master Zhang Zhenling showed up a group of skeptical, strapping young kung fu students by causing one to double over in pain with a single touch to the ribs. (Zhang then cured the humbled student by touching a pressure point in his neck.)

Xu was unimpressed by all of this. In early 2017, he started honing in on the young Yang-style tai chi grandmaster Wei Lei, who had recently come to national attention thanks to a CCTV-4 program called Real Kung Fu, in which Wei was featured performing such feats as turning the inside of a watermelon into mush without penetrating its skin and keeping a live pigeon perched on his hand from flying away through a personal force field. Xu called Wei Lei “brainwashed” and “a dumbass.” In retaliation, Wei Lei, or one of his associates, published Xu’s personal information, including his address and phone number online. Xu, enraged, flew to the southwestern city of Chengdu, where Wei is based, walked into the tai chi master’s gym, and demanded they fight right there on the spot.


  1. Kirk says:

    Things like this are how you know that a totalitarian system is under stress, significant stress. Under normal circumstances, someone like Xu would be an ephemeral phenomenon, unimportant to official notice. With the Chinese government as involved as it is in things, far past the point where a government should be engaged, Xu is a mortal danger.

    Not necessarily because of who he is, but what he represents–An alternative view of the situation.

    The more control you reach for, the less you will actually have. The Chinese Communist Party has yet to grasp the implications of this, which will become increasingly important as time goes on. My guess is that we’re not too far off from the next big disengagement from the world, similar to what happened with Zheng Ho. Rather than face the challenges and realities of being a world player on an even stage, which is what the rest of the world will demand of China, they’re going to throw the whole thing up and move towards insular autarky, quite probably not long after they get their fingers burned in some international adventure. The Chinese keep throwing up these totalitarian governments, and then suborning them from within, which is what really does the whole system in, when you get down to it. My guess is that the whole demographic/economic situation in China is going to reach a crisis of internal inconsistency sometime in the next 20-30 years, perhaps sooner. Where they go, afterwards? Who knows, but I doubt it will be “world domination”. That’s going to prove to be about as likely as the previous bug-a-boo, the one we had going about “Japan, Inc.”.

  2. Gaikokumaniakku says:

    On the one hand, I have great indignation against martial arts teachers who pretend that they are teaching fighting styles when they are really just teaching qigong stretches that improve your circulation but are useless in combat.

    On the other hand, I have great indignation for prize-fighting thugs who feed their narcissistic egos by violating the customs and courtesies of organized fights.

    In my opinion, there are no good guys in this story.

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