As taekwondo gyms mushroom in the capital city of Beijing,
China's millennia-old martial art of kung fu is losing favor among
The Wushu Association, a student society of Renmin University of China,
used to offer workshops in kung fu, sanda (free-style
grappling) and taekwondo. However, the association was forced to
cancel kung fu lessons in the 2004-05 school year owing to lack of
interest, despite strong registrations for the latter two
"The association aims at promoting and popularizing the kung fu
spirit, but now it has to be maintained by teaching sanda and
taekwondo," said Yi Xin, the association's chairman and a senior
majoring in environmental science. "Taekwondo was imported from
South Korea, while sanda comprises such elements as boxing and
wrestling. Both are very unlike the traditional martial arts."
In their fierce competition for market share, the imported
taekwondo, karate and Thai boxing have taken the lead over the
traditional kung fu. Taekwondo, which was introduced into China in
the 1990s, has become fashionable among young people aged between
15 and 35.
In one trendy downtown shopping area between Dongzhimen and
Chaoyangmen, which stretches no more than two kilometers, some four
taekwondo gyms are thriving. Despite their high expenses, they are
thronged with a constant stream of visitors every day.
"An art of attack and defense, taekwondo has been updated in its
uniforms and dan (achievement level) system to meet market
demand. However, very few changes have been made to China's martial
arts for this purpose," said Dr. Liu Weijun of Beijing
Sports University, who was one of China's first athletes to
learn taekwondo and has written extensively on the subject.
There are now more than 200 taekwondo gyms in Beijing, and the
karate and fencing populations have been steadily expanding. The
situation in other big cities like Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou
is roughly the same.
Wang Youlin, chairman of Chinese Wushu Association, said on
March 19 that both the Education Ministry and the Publicity
Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
have required kung fu courses be added to elementary and middle
school curriculums, as part of the students' patriotic
Some universities do offer kung fu courses, but students usually
take it either because it is a school requirement or simply because
they are seeking more credits.
A sophomore surnamed Wang at Renmin University of China took
kung fu as an elective. He complained, "I was so disappointed after
learning the 24 basic movements of tai chi. It's like doing radio
exercises, no good for self-defense at all."
"College students are losing interest in kung fu," said
Professor Xu Weijun of Beijing Sports University. "It was remolded
to be fancier without practical use, in the hope of getting into
the Olympic Games. Thus it's becoming more and more like gymnastics
or diving, losing its own attack-defense purpose."
China is indeed stepping up efforts to get kung fu into the
The General Administration of Sports (GAS) has increased the
number of kung fu gold medals from 18 to 19 for this year's 10th
National Games, following only track and field and swimming.
Japan and South Korea, as previous hosts of the Games, succeeded
in getting judo and taekwondo accredited as Olympic sports. "It's a
common wish of all Chinese people to watch kung fu competitions at
the Beijing Olympic Games," Huang Linghai, vice director of GAS'
Wushu Administrative Center, said on March 22.
But International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques
Rogge has been advocating reductions to the cost and complexity of
the Olympics since he took office in 2001. As a result, the IOC has
hesitated to vote on the kung fu matter. However, during his
Beijing visit last year, Rogge expressed his intention to discuss
with China the possibility of putting kung fu on the list of
Beijing's application proposal included three plans, with four,
six or eight gold medals for kung fu. "Of course it's our goal to
make it a formal game, but we cannot rule out the possibility of
listing it as an exhibition event," said Huang.
"The kung fu issue will be voted by the full IOC July 6 in
Singapore. If no clear decision is made then, the IOC Executive
Board will hold an independent discussion on it to make the final
determination," he said.
(China.org.cn by Shao Da, April 11, 2005)