Educational authorities in central China's Henan Province, the immemorial home of Shaolin Kung Fu, are considering rejecting the Ministry of Education's recent proposal to introduce dancing in schools nationwide and exposing their students to the old martial art.
Yet teachers and parents alike in Henan have argued that kung fu would be a far wiser choice than dance, given the wealth of resources already available and local children's enthusiasm for the Shaolin martial art.
"Martial arts will not just build up children's health, they can help promote our traditional culture, too," said Liu Guojun, an education official in Dengfeng City, where the 1,500-year-old Shaolin Temple is located.
Dengfeng, China's best-known home of Zen Buddhism and martial arts, has been busy promoting Shaolin Kung Fu in close to 20 primary and secondary schools since the end of 2004 and such a decision would help raise its status.
"It's been easy; many locals are familiar with kung fu and good teachers are abundant in Dengfeng," Liu said, with government figures estimating 200,000 kung fu practitioners exist in Dengfeng alone.
Henan's provincial capital Zhengzhou will also be introducing kung fu into its curriculum from September onwards, according to the city's sports administration.
However, doubts have yet to be dispelled as to whether Henan's schools can accommodate both kung fu and the waltz.
"I think urban schools can easily accommodate both, but I doubt whether rural schools will be able to follow suit," said Guo Weiwei, an official with the provincial educational bureau.
Many of the province's 30,000 countryside schools have no teacher specializing in physical education, she said, adding that some do not even have sports facilities.
Many parents support the idea of teaching kung fu at school, believing that urban children need toughening up in a society where report cards are viewed as more important than physical prowess, according to Zhao Fengqin, a teacher with Yuhong Primary School in Zhengzhou City. She did specify though that some worries were borne from the thought that some children might be more prone to violence if they practiced the martial art.
Zhao Caiqin, a kung fu teacher at No. 2 Middle School in Dengfeng, dismissed these fears, saying "the children often demonstrate such strong morale that many parents were moved by their performance."
This debate originally stemmed from a Ministry of Education survey published earlier this year which painted a worrying image of the sharp decline in the physical ability of Chinese school children.
The ministry firmly blamed this on two facts, a lack of exercise and a surfeit of schoolwork, and it ordered schools to ensure students get at least one hour of physical activity a day. Following on from this, the ministry hit upon the idea of using dance to diversify PE lessons but worried parents are saying this activity could encourage "puppy love", thus distracting students from academic pursuits.
A ministry official in charge of art and physical education reacted to these qualms last week, saying that "teenage love would not blossom through dancing, nor would it die through a lack of dancing."
(Xinhua News Agency June 26, 2007)