The idea of traditional Gongfu permeates Hong Kong's popular culture. But those committed to actually training the arts in the old way are a shrinking and ageing group. A New York Times article posted last year by journalist Charlotte Yang spoke of the demise of Hong Kong's traditional martial arts scene. A combination of rising rental costs, ageing students and lack of interest from the youngsters who in the past would have filled the training halls, meant that few schools are left. Those that are left aren't flourishing. Now, the report suggested, those same youngsters are more interested in their iPads than in the dusty art of gongfu.
In Yang's words: "With a shift in martial arts preferences, the rise of video games — more teenagers play Pokémon Go in parks here than practice a roundhouse kick — and a perception among young people that kung fu just isn’t cool, longtime martial artists worry that kung fu’s future is bleak." Or in the dismissive words of one young interviewee: “Kung fu is more for retired uncles and grandpas".
|Some of the many Taiji schools in Chenjiagou|
Interestingly, at the same time, there has been a renaissance of Taijiquan schools in Chenjiagou. Several of the large schools in Chenjiagou are internationally known, like the schools of Chen Xiaoxing, Wang Xian, Zhu Tiancai etc. But talk a short walk through the back streets of the village and it's easy to find evidence of many smaller and less famous training halls. The images above and to the right show just a few of the many advertising banners in the backstreets of the village.
The scale of change in Chenjiagou in the years since I first visited has been almost unbelievable. Many of the changes don't sit well with me and there are clear parallels with the commercialisation of the Shaolin Temple. That said, everywhere you look there are young people training and images of the cool face of Taijiquan.
Not just for uncles and grandpas! Chenjiagou Taijiquan instructor Zheng Xiao Fei