Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Ed@Gnostical Turpitude has designated "fakelore" its cool word of the day (well, yesterday), quoting the following definition (which doesn't fit Ed's own sense of what it means), "the representation of materials written by professional authors as reproductions of the oral traditions of historical and ethnic communities". I'm linking to it because of how it relates to my recent posts touching on neo-Pagan pretensions to antiquity and attempts to establish legendary ancestries for the Kalash, Lemba and Zhelaizhai populations.

Ed 's interest in the word is piqued by its use in a Village Voice review of Kill Bill: Vol. 2. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I suspect that the reviews' reference to fakelore has something to do with movie's use of the Chinese folklore figure Pai Mei1 ("Bai Mei" in pinyin romanization, "Bak Mei" in Cantonese, literally "White Eyebrow". Watch any movie that features him as a character and you'll see why). During the late Qing Dynasty, much popular Chinese "pulp" (for lack of a better word) literature was based on the Qing Emperor's destruction of the southern Shaolin temple in Fujian (as opposed to the original northern temple in Henan, though few if any writers bothered to make this distinction). Widespread illiteracy meant that most people received these stories orally, leading to the acceptance of the novels' accounts as historical fact, which may or may not be the case. Whether the novels were accurate or not, many of them fingered Bak Mei as a traitor who betrayed Shaolin, joining the Emperor to wipe out the Shaolin disciples and their teachings. (A classic persecution narrative yes, but at least one that isn't being abused for political ends in academia. Different versions of the story feature different traitors; some feature no traitor at all.) This has actually led to conflict between the practitioners of Bak Mei's namesake style2 and the supposed heirs of those whom Bak Mei was said to have betrayed, most notably practitioners of Hung Gar ("Hong Jia" in pinyin-romanized Mandarin, literally "Hong family"). Some Bak Mei practitioners gladly accept their ancestor's betrayal, interpreting his subsequent extermination of Shaolin disciples as a sign of the superiority of their style. Others claim that the Taoist Bak Mei is accused of treason because he refused to join the Buddhist Shaolin in their struggle against the ethnic Manchurian Qing Dynasty, hewing instead to a strict neutrality.

One of the few attempts to extensively apply the techniques of literary criticism to Chinese martial arts legend is "Complete Wing Chun: The Definitive Guide to Wing Chun's History and Traditions" by Robert Chu, Rene Ritchie and Y. Wu. If you decide to purchase it, I strongly encourage you to order it through the Amazon Associates link on the authors' website. (Full Disclosure: A student of Robert Chu's used to teach me Wing Chun. In fact, I was referred to him by Rene Ritchie.)

1Bak Mei is not one of the Eight Taoist Immortals and would therefore not likely be around today to teach Uma Thurman. Perhaps this is what J. Hoberman meant in his review when he referred to "fakelore".

2Bak Mei is often described as a Taoist style, most probably because stories frequently describe Bak Mei as a Taoist monk. However, Bak Mei bears more resemblance to Fujian "Shaolin" styles than to the styles commonly accepted as Taoist: Tai Chi Chuan, Xing Yi Chuan and Ba Gua Zhang. The term "Shaolin" is often (ab)used to describe most styles not of the Taoist "Big Three" rather than applied exclusively to styles with origins in the (original northern) temple. Ironically, the original northern temple appears to be the source for many of the techniques of Tai Chi Chuan, the Yin Fu-style of Ba Gua Zhang and possibly even Xing Yi Chuan. Bak Mei fits nicely into the Fujian family of styles that includes Wing Chun, Fujian White Crane, Five Elders style, Dragon style and Southern Praying Mantis, all of which are categorized by relatively high, narrow stances with both elbows and knees pulled in. A link between these styles and Xing Yi Chuan, which is similar but northern, has been speculated but with very little corroboration.