I was in a bar down Nanluoguo Xiang last night, catching up with my friend H, who’s back in Beijing after being away for nine months. When she had to pop to the bathroom, I idly picked up a copy of Beijing Today that was lying around. It’s edition 402, dated Feb 13 2009. There was a full-page article inside with the title “Hard days for wushu schools”, which featured Yiquan Master Yao Chengguang rather prominently. The article, by Jackie Zhang, isn’t online, and I don’t want to type the whole thing, but there are some interesting points.
Talking about his wuguan (where I studied briefly last year), the article says:
Since the wuguan was established 15 years ago the number of students has remained at around 40. With each course costing 300 to 400 yuan, the money the school makes is barely enough to keep going. “We have to rent houses and employ coaches. Some students are from places outside Beijing and we have to provide them accommodation and food,” Yao said.
To make more money, Yao created yiquan instructional manuals in print and video. “The financial situation is now better; we only have to worry about next month,” Yao said, adding that wuguan who are doing well can be described the same way.
In the past, wuguan flourished because owners also ran other businesses at the same time. “They ran businesses that took advantage of their wushu skills. […] But that business model cannot work any more. “I’m busy with the daily affairs of the wuguan” Yao said.
The article continues to say that many wuguan used to receive sponsorship from businesses whose owners are wushu enthusiasts, but that this is drying up as businessmen seek clearer financial returns for their money, as well as the global economic downturn affecting them.
Master Yao is quoted as saying that most wuguan were forced to close or go underground during the Cultural Revolution.
China’s economic reforms that began in 1978 gave wuguan new life. “Wuguan started opening again, but years of lying dormant made it difficult to repopularize the martial arts”, Yao said.
Wuguan are regarded as folk organizations, so they do not get support even from wushu associations
“Wuguan are not our business, a woman surnamed Lian from the Beijing Wushu Association said. She said the role of the association is to sponsor meetings of directors of each of their 57 wushu research organizations and to disseminate information about wushu competitions and policies”.
The article goes on to discuss the difficulty of motivating Chinese students to take up wushu; they are offered taekwondo in school, and those who try Chinese wushu often give up when they discover that it takes hard work, and that they won’t acquire movie-style super fighting skills. Finally the article mentions that wuguan see hope in attracting more foreign students; it talks about Master Yao’s Polish disciple Andrzej Kalisz (although not by name), and the spread of Yiquan wuguan to other countries.
The article ends with a quote from Xiao Bing, vice-chairman of the Foshan Wushu Association:
There is potential for the renewal of Chinese martial arts. Every little attempt brings hope for the future”.
This reminds me of my recent post about the decline of Chinese martial arts in Singapore for much the same reasons. Very sad.