The Literary vs the Martial

Using examples from recent movies, this post in The China Beat makes an interesting observation about the kungfu genre, and why Kung Fu Panda really relies more on American cultural tropes than Chinese ones:

The assumption is that writing encodes greater cosmic-martial truth than image. Those who can read attain higher occult power than those who can only view. While this may sound hopelessly snooty in the age of YouTube, the basic idea still resonates in Chinese cultural spheres.

Variations of this idea can be found in most Chinese-language kungfu movies. The literary and martial arts are taken to be two sides of the same cosmic coin, or the Way. Both are said to be inspired by the tracks and movements of birds and beasts. Hence the same metaphors and protocols inform both the civil and martial domains, invariably urging the harmony of heaven, earth, and man.

But I wonder if the author’s mixed up his genres. The observations about the cosmological importance of the written word apply more to wuxia movies rather than gongfu. (For a quick description of wuxia, Wikipedia suffices although I don’t totally agree with the list of movies in the entry.)

Kung Fu Panda has more in common with the gongfu works of Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu etc. Those latter movies can be interpreted as perpetuating a middle-class self-improvement morality tale as the blog entry implies, but it’s difficult to deny that they’re any less Chinese than wuxia.

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