For years I taught class of gongfu in a private and public capacity. The ‘private’ aspect involved my family’s Ch’an Dao School which involved a rented hall and two-hours of gongfu training on a Sunday morning. Initially, this only involved members of the British Born Chinese community in Sutton who were related to us (the Sai Kung Chan Clan), or who were associated through business, warfare or any other historical means. Just being ethnically ‘Chinese’ was not enough to train in our gongfu hall as we are of ‘Hakka’ Chinese ethnicity. This is the old way and very different to how many Westerners mistakenly view traditional Chinese culture. In this context, Chinese people of clans considered ‘enemies’ were termed ‘foreigners’ and excluded from consideration. However, although this was the reality, Master Chan Tin Sang (1924-1993) was of the opinion that we had to find a way of ‘evolving’ beyond this feudalistic attitude.
As more and more Westerners started enquiring about training, when I was promoted to the Head of the Ch’an Dao School, I decided to open our doors to a class of people we did not know and were not related to. This also included other Chinese people we did not know regardless of their surnames. Around this time (the late 1990s), I also started being approached by Mainland Chinese people living in the UK, who explained to me about how ‘New’ China was thoroughly ‘modern’ and how this attitude of openness and inclusiveness was being used in China to teach all foreign visitors about the beauty of Chinese culture and what it has to offer to the contemporary world! As this change in attitude dove-tailed with what Master Chan Tin Sang had in mind, I decided to transform our family style of Hakka gongfu and ‘revolutionise’ the way in which we managed our martial arts lineage!
Although I was brought-up in the old way, I never felt comfortable with its exclusiveness and ethnic clannishness. Although I was accepted as someone of mixed ethnicity – this acceptance only extended to my immediate Hakka clan and Chinese people who knew me. When outside of this group, I was subject to this ‘exclusive’ attitude and marked as a ‘foreigner’ who was not welcome within the inner workings of the Chinese community. When this happened – I would scurry back into my cultural safety zone knowing I had just experienced something very unsavoury! After 1949, Mainland China thoroughly rejected this feudal attitude and embraced ‘Internationalism’ which is designed to open-up the beauty of Chinese culture for anyone who would like to benefit from it! Since the early 2000s, I have defriended many Mainland Chinese people (living and working in the UK and in China via the internet), and have even started various academic projects and translation initiatives. Indeed, our family gongfu has evolved because of these experiences from an insular, feudal entity to a local practice premised upon universal principles!
The Master said: If a student is not suitably eager to receive genuine knowledge, then I will not eagerly expound genuine knowledge. If a student does not express suitable urgency to receive genuine knowledge, then I will not urgently explain genuine knowledge. If I hold-up one corner and the student does not respectfully bring me the other three corners, then all interaction with that student immediately comes to an end. — Confucius, Analects 7.8
My above translation is exactly how an ethnic Chinese person understands this saying of the Sage known in the West as ‘Confucius’. Indeed, all interaction – even within modern China – which involves a transference of knowledge from some ‘who Knows' to someone who ‘does not know’ is premised on this short paragraph. The agency of ‘silence’ is a time where a student can re-set their mind and body to begin the interaction yet again - until the circuit is complete and the knowledge flows efficiently from teacher to student. ACW (6.6.2021)
Translator’s Note: Reading through historical texts on the Chinese language internet (Baidu) - I came across the following true story apparently recorded in a journal or diary written by the British imperialist living within Fujian province at the time - John Charles Oswald (1856-1900) - who was responsible for running a tea house and horse-racing track! The photographs were found in the journal entry but it is not clear whether he took them or if they were taken for him. This episode – essentially a legal case – took place in 1895, and although cameras were known, there numbers were few in China. Such devices would have been considered a very rare and specialised piece of technology. However, the photographs themselves are of a very good quality considering the time they were taken. I suspect the pictures were more or less ‘posed’ for and that the ‘criminals’ had to participate in sessions despite all being sentenced to death and scheduled to be killed on the day of the photographing! The Emperor of China tried to keep out all foreigners, but they managed to penetrate the border guards, they were directed to Fujian province, which was full of robust and loyal Chinese people who knew how to ‘control’ and ‘limit’ the activities of these visitors. These English and American visitors ended-up in exactly this place, despite their dominating and oppressive attitudes and behaviours. People from Fujian province often travelled to the Island of Okinawa – an ancient Chinese settlement – and it is their Chinese martial arts which eventually evolved into ‘Karate-Do’ - now considered a ‘Japanese’ art. In these photographs we see the grinding poverty of the ordinary Chinese people, and can see that two men entrusted by the Authorities to carry-out executions – despite being relatively well-dressed – nevertheless, lack any semblance of shoes or socks! From their stance-work it is obvious that traditional Chinese martial arts were brutally effective in practice rather than ‘flowery’ or ‘elaborate’ in theory. ACW (4.6.2021)
Chinese prisoners who killed foreigners in the late Qing Dynasty - were forced to the execution-ground after a simple interrogation (with no legal defence). Four suspects in the ‘Gutian Religious Case’ include Du Zhuyi (杜朱衣), Zheng Huai (郑淮), Liu Xiangxing (刘祥兴) and Zhang Ch (张赤). In the early morning of August 1st, 1895, more than one-hundred members of the "Piety Association" (斋会 - Zhai Hui) situatin in Gutian County, Fujian Province - attacked Mount Hua - where British and American missionaries lived, resulting in the deaths of eleven British missionaries and other female Christian assistants. Many other people were injured. This incident became known as the "Gutian Religious Case" in the history books. This is one of the two largest religious-orientated single cases that happened during the late Qing Dynasty – with the other being the "Tianjin Religious Case" which happened in 1870. Western missionaries aggressively penetrated and took-over large parts of China and used brutality to force Chinese people to ‘convert’ to a religious they neither wanted nor understood. Every so often, this foreign aggression and brutality was met with ‘resistance’ primarily from the embittered peasant community – which generally paid dearly for its loyalty and bravery.
The suspects in the "Gutian Religious Case" were arrested by the Qing government. This group of photographs was found in a recently discovered album left by the Englishman John Charles Oswald (1856-1900), which recorded key scenes relating to the trial of the suspects. Oswald once ran a tea and horse racing business in Fuzhou, and it is not certain that these photographs were taken by him personally. After the "Zhaihui" congregation killed people, they robbed the missionary's residence and set fire to it.
The scene after the looting of the British and American missionaries' residence was very bloody. In the late Qing Dynasty, missionaries went deep into China to preach, and there were often conflicts between the church and the local people. The involvement of missionaries in the opium trade, forced land leases, and illegal act of shielding the faithful aroused the anger of the local people. The Gutian "Zhaihui" and the church have had long-standing grievances, with both encroaching upon the other’s territory. The church employed all kinds of illegal methods but continuously got away with their crimes – which included rape of Chinese women and girls. If the Chinese Authorities dared to act against this foreign criminality, then the foreign governments would often send in their armed forces and make matters far worse. When the ‘Piety Associations’ fought-back – they were invariably ‘blamed’ when caught and issued with the severest of punishments demanded by the church missionaries – who enjoyed watching the spectacle of scared men kneeling to be ‘beheaded’!
After the incident, foreigners in China reacted strongly. The British and American envoys in Beijing protested to the Qing Court and sent warships to intimidate along the coast of Fujian. The "New York Tribune" of the United States even clamoured to put China "under the gun" and subject it to "the most severe sanctions."
Du Zhuyi - one of the main criminals in the case - was kept in a cage. In his early years, he repeatedly failed the exams, and then he despaired of his career and joined the "Zhaihui". Because he couldn't understand the arbitrary behaviour of foreigners, he rebelled against their corruption. The "Zhaihui" is mostly comprised of the poor people at the bottom of society, and a small number of frustrated intellectuals and small businessmen.
The British who died were buried in Fuzhou. On August 5th, Emperor Guangxu decreed, "The case is serious. The generals (Bian Baoquan, Governor of Fujian and Zhejiang Province, General Qingyu of Fuzhou) should send troops to severely deal with the perpetrators and be punished in accordance with the law; The church residence was properly protected by the stern magistrates, and there was no need to do anything else," which shows the attitude of the pro-Western Qing Court.
Chinese, British, and American personnel involved in the investigation and trial of the case. On August 13th, an investigation team composed of British and American diplomats, military officers, and missionaries went to Gutian to investigate the incident and participate in the Qing government’s trial of the arrested suspects. Under their pressure, the Qing government offered high rewards and arrested hundreds of people. Among them, a large number of innocent people were implicated for being allegedly reported by others.
The scene before the execution. In order to quell the adverse effects caused by the case as soon as possible, the Qing government adopted a method of rapid arrest and rapid trial. The procedure was very simple, and the participants in the confirmed cases were immediately sentenced. By October 18th, the trial was completed in just over two months, and 92 people were finally determined to be guilty, of which 26 were sentenced to death, 17 were enlisted in the military, 5 were imprisoned for life, 27 were imprisoned for 10 years, and 5 were imprisoned for 5 years. 5 people to hold the stone pier for 3 years, 5 people hold the stone pier for 6 months, and 2 people hold the stone pier for 2 months.
The executioners who carried-out the death penalties. During the trial of the case, the British and American authorities did not claim compensation, but only demanded that the perpetrators be punished. This is a rare case in modern history that caused heavy losses without financial compensation. Reference materials: Liu Guoping, "Research on Gutian Religious Cases in 1895", Yang Guanghui, "Public Opinion and Modern Religious Cases".
Original Chinese Language Source Article:
I was recently asked (by a prominent [British] Muay Thai practitioner) to write a short text about the cultural differences between ‘Western’ Thai Boxers when compared with ethnic ‘Thai’ Muay Thai counter-parts. He was particularly interested in the different cultural patterns of ‘effort’ that are in effect in the Thai Boxing ring in Thailand. He explained to me that he knows full well that many dedicated and very respectful Westerners travel to Thailand to compete in ethnic Thai Boxing competitions (not ‘adjusted’ to the sensitivities of the international community) - and as soon as they step-off the aeroplane suffer the beginnings of a psychological collapse and the development of tremendous feelings of doubt!
Furthermore, despite bravery and stoicism – as soon as the ‘smiling’ Muay Thai Warriors the ring and being the traditional ‘Ram Muay Wai Kru’ - an ancient ritual of respect that praise the Hindu God – Rama – as well as the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – a very strong sense of ‘alienation’ manifests. This sense of ‘cultural’ distinction is made even more pronounced as the Thai practitioner also ‘praises’ his or her family ancestors, parents, teachers and fellow students, etc. Perhaps this is one of its main purposes. This ‘dance’ is in fact a ‘secret’ martial art that only true Muay Thai Masters know how to interpret and use in combat. Muay Thai Masters have told me that it is a Thai manifestation of ‘internal’ martial art similar to the Taijiquan of China – which is often performed nowadays to ‘music’ as is the ‘Ram Muay’ (this is the shortened title my ethnic Thai friends us who live in the Warwick area of the UK).
I have had the privilege to train in the UK with students of Master Sken and Master Toddy over the years – despite never meeting these two experts in person. When some of these practitioners have passed through Sutton (South London) - they have come into our gongfu training hall on Sunday mornings and we have worked together. They have always been respectful, tough and very dedicated. Other than this contact with Muay Thai, my family frequent the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, and on occasion, the Forest Hermitage (Wat Santidhamma) in Warwickshire – both of which serve the British ethnic Thai population and the Theravada Buddhism they practice. Years ago, when I lived in Hereford, I sparred full-on with ethnic Thai visitors and I was impressed with their ‘relaxed’ attitude and ‘fierce’ manifestation when fighting! I was inspired by how they live and breathe Buddhism first and foremost – and throw punches and kicks only after they have learned the Buddha’s Teaching fully! This is why I often seek-out special Theravada Bhikkhus living in the Buddhist temples in the UK. Unlike in the Thai villages and forests – this is not a common occurrence in the UK – but occasionally I get lucky!
I have also discovered that the Head Monks are often reticent to discuss this issue in the temple due to many Westerners developing the wrong attitude about Buddhism and Muay Thai. The way this works is that if the Head Monk wanted Westerners to learn Muay Thai – he would make its presence known and organise access. When I have discovered Muay Thai practice in the Buddhist temples – it has always been by mistake. This has also included incidents of special ‘tattooing’ sessions – whereby ‘sacred’ images and spiritually empowered mantras are ‘tapped’ into the skin – using a pointed-bone and coloured ink... These marks are considered ‘sacred’ and ‘divine’ as they grant the carrier with special spiritual powers. Interestingly, when I asked the Head Monk about how a person should begin their practice of Muay Thai? He answered that I should read the Pali Suttas about ‘correct breathing’, and about ‘stilling the mind’ - whilst living in an isolated meditation hut for at least three-years. Without this foundation of ‘Dhamma’ - I was told – I cannot practice ‘genuine’ Muay Thai.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.