For those of us with a dirty mind, we are talkin’ about Wing Tsun forms 😉
Warning: This article is about understanding the complexities of Chinese culture. Not the average “learn how to pour your Sifu tea” type cultural tips. This post is simply Scott’s opinion and is definitely not the average google search.
Remember to read the entire article. At the end of this post we come full circle and explain why there are so many different Wing Chun styles. I also explain the SECRET of determining how to unlock Chinese culture complications in different situations.
Why the hell does Scott have so many dam opinions about China?
I lived in China for about three years, speak Mandarin fluently (both reading and writing). While in China I spent a fair amount of time in GuangDong province, where Hong Kong is located. For those new to Wing Tsun, HK is arguably the holy land of Wing Tusn. I also worked in New York City’s Chinatown as a building Manager, making me fluent in “building manager Cantonese.” (i.e where is the water leaking?)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not of Chinese origin, I’m just a white dude who was lucky enough to live in China, truly an outsider looking in on Chinese culture.
Should I learn Cantonese Or Mandarin?
In my mind Mandarin is the way to go. It is currently official language of China and in the long term is more valuable then Cantonese. It may not help you speak to Ip Ching, the current Grandmaster of Wing Tsun, but it will help you find a job.
If you want to Kung Fu it up in Guangdong Province MOST younger people (approximately age 5-40’ish) can speak Mandarin as well as Cantonese. Most folks speak Mandarin in school and Cantonese with their close friends and family.
The aspect of this question most people don’t take into account is that there are probably hundreds of different dialects in China. NOT JUST TWO. Often the dialects are dramatically different from one another. An old grandma from Shanghai most likely can’t understand the old grandma from Hong Kong, because neither one of them speak Mandarin.
The best way I can explain the difference is if we pretend German and French had similar grammar, but the pronunciation is completely different. The two countries boarder one another, but can’t speak their mother tongue to one another.
They only speak Cantonese in Guang Dong (aka Wing Chun Land) right?
WRONG, well kinda wrong.
In this province there are hundreds of different dialects that are SIMILAR to Cantonese. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people from Hong Kong unable to speak to people from Taishan, China.
That’s like someone from Upstate New York not being able to speak to someone from New Jersey. Two places that are kinda close to one another and they are from basically the same country.
The same rule applies in the rest of China. Folks in Shanghai speak Shanghainese, people from Henan (where the sholin temple is located) speak Henan dialect, peeps in Fujian speak Fujianese, the list can go on forever.
And thats without talking about smaller villages and minorities. For instance, Taiwan has a number of different minorities all speaking different dialects, many completely different from Mandarin and Cantonese.
How does someone from Beijing speak to someone from Shanghai? IF they are educated, they speak Mandarin to one another. Mandarin in China is becoming so mainstream, its wiping out many dialects in China.
There has been numerous times that I spoke Mandarin better then a Chinese person. Yes, it is frustrating and somewhat humorous when a white guy speaks Chinese better than a Chinese person. It’s not because I’m a genius, I’m sorry to say its because that person didn’t do very well in high school.
Why are you talking about this on a Wing Tsun blog?
The same rule of diversity that applies to Chinese dialects, applies to Kung Fu. In Fact it applies to everything Chinese, another good example would be food. The traditional food over in Hong Kong is totally different then the munchies in Shanghai.
The most radical example of the diversity of Kung Fu is when I had a month’s stay in Chen Village, the birthplace of Tai Chi. Based on my observations, there were tons of different family styles. Meaning its possible that two people living next door to one another train two completely different forms of Chen Style Tai Chi.
To drag this example out a little further, my Tai Chi teacher in Shanghai taught us “ShanDong – Chen Style Tai Chi.” The form I learned from him was totally different from what I learned in Chen Village.
What about Wing Tsun?
Wing Tsun is no different, lets have a look at two of Ip Man’s students. William Cheung and Wong Sheng Long.
William Cheung’s Sil Lim Tao Form
Wong Shen Long Sil Lim Tao Form
Both of these Wing Tsun legends are training the same form and have different “flavors” of Wing Tsun. They are both from Hong Kong, they both had the same teacher, and both have two different variations of Wing Tusn. Clearly they went their separate ways, trained with other people, but take a moment and imagine this example on a grander scale. This is why Wing Chun in Mainland China often looks very different the Hong Kong Wing Tusn.
If you haven’t figured it out already heres a math equation to help break it down.
Place + Sifu’s personal kung fu development = the evolution of the style of Wing Tsun you will encounter.
How many different Chinese traditions do I have to memorize to avoid offending a Sifu?
None. Just be polite and respectful. Remember saving face is extremely important in China, do your best not to embarrass anyone.
China’s a big place and traditions often vary from place to place, its impossible to learn them all. The best advice I can give you is to roll with the punches, I mean that figuratively, please don’t start a Kung Fu battle, and blame it on me.
If you are of non-Chinese origin, you often get more then one “get out jail free card.” The locals will take into account that you are not from there and most likely not have a clue as to what is going on.
Its very easy to become overwhelmed when dealing with the vast differences in China. Just keep your cool and enjoy the experience.
What if I am Chinese and don’t know what to do?
Sadly, I can’t help you here. If you return to the motherland you should expect to be treated like everyone else. If anything, you should be mad at mommy and daddy for not bringing up Chinese culture earlier. 🙂
Scott’s Not So Secret – Secret List of Chinese Culture Tips
If I absolutely must give a few tips, you MUST keep the following in mind:
- Accept business cards with two hands (holding both corners) and pretend to read it like its the most interesting novel you ever laid eyes upon, reading both front and back of the card. Then immediately put it into your wallet, not your back pocket. Making connections is very important in China, give the person a little face, and don’t just put the card wherever. This is important, you’ll be coming home with a collection.
- One person flips the bill.
As a visitor to China, you can expect to be often treated for dinner pretty often. But when your turn is up to pay, don’t expect to split the bill with your new Chinese buddies. If your Chinese friends take you out, at the very least pretend like you are struggling to pay the bill, even if you have no intentions of paying. Saving face and not looking like a cheap-o is the key.
- Its okay to turn down cigarettes. Smoking is very prevalent in Chinese culture and especially if your male, expect to be offered about 500 smokes. If you do not smoke, just smile and say you don’t smoke. Just keep in mind its polite in Chinese culture to turn down what the person is offering, even if you really want it. They will assume you are being polite and they in turn will be polite and keep offering it to you. You may have to turn them down a number of times before they establish you actually don’t smoke.
- As a rule of thumb, just turn everything down a few times, even if you really want it, don’t just grab at it right away. Your new Chinese friend will continue to offer it to you to be polite and do a move similar to “okayyyyyyyyy, if you insists, I’ll just haveeee to take it.”
- Just remember saving face is very important in China. Don’t diss anyone and if you have to, pretend you’re thrilled to see everyone.
Has anyone else been to China before? If so, have any interesting experiences to share?