Kung Fu

The term kung fu (功夫) is often misunderstood. As explained by Christopher Pei, president of the US Wushu Association, while at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program China: Tradition and the Art of Living, the literal translation of kung fu from Chinese is “good skill”—referring to any individual accomplishment or refined skill that requires patience, energy, and time. What we think of as kung fu—a striking style of martial arts that utilizes kicks, blocks, and both open and closed hand strikes to defend against attackers—is what the Chinese call wushu or “art of war.” In Chinese culture, the art of war or martial arts contains a philosophical side related to Buddhist and/or Daoist principles. Demonstrating elements of wushu at the Folklife Festival were Chai Yunlong (柴雲龍) and Tian Mengyi (田夢藝), two martial arts students from Beijing Sports University.

Questions for Discussion

  • What is kung fu and why is it important in Chinese culture?
  • What adjectives would you use to describe the kung fu movements depicted in the video?
  • How has kung fu been depicted in movies, music, and popular culture?