Home of Kung Fu -Canton Style
Just as we Edinburghers celebrate Sir Sean Connery as one our most famous city's sons; so too do Foshaners with their immortal son- Bruce Lee. As here is where he grew up. For Foshan is truly the ancestral home of kung fu . To be more specific, down here in the south, in Canton, is where kung fu, practised and known as the disciplines of wing cun or hung ga, was one of a variety of skills deemed necessary to have a full Confucian "training". The nanquan or "southern fist" style of this popular Chinese martial art: was developed here.
Perhaps more dear to Foshan people's hearts than Bruce Lee (if that's possible), is the legendary hung ga master -Wong Fei-hung. The son of an already famous folk hero, Foshaner Wong Fei-hung was the real Confucian deal. Not only was he a martial arts expert, becoming a hung ga champion but a learned man of traditional Chinese medicine and an admirable acrobat. Wong was known for his particular brand of lion dance performances; of which Foshan people are also proud, since this unique specific style of the dance emerged and became famous here too. Its apt when you discover that traditionally these lion dances were performed only by martial arts experts.
One of the delightful things about living in China is to witness the ease with which apparently unlikely or incongruous activities are brought together within the same venues. So it comes as no surprise when you visit the Zumiao Ancestor Temple complex at Lingnan Tiandi; that side by side with the smoking incense in ancient censors, there are museum exhibits to kung fu film stars and gurus, along with troops of lion dancers and opera singers ready to entertain you. Perhaps Wong with his Renaissance-man mindset would approve? So here is a place where the martial arts lover can come and discover not only the heritage of Wong Fei-hung but also wing cun master, Yip Man. As a foreign visitor to Guangzhou and Foshan, it's a must for a day- tripper destination, particularly if you are only visiting the region for a short time. There are not many places which offer continuous displays of kung fu bouts and training, regular spectacular lion dance routines, blasts of Cantonese Opera and all of it set amidst the beauty and the, ahem, serenity of a leafy temple grounds,
The Ancestor Temple dates back far as the Song dynasty. and I'm not going into a long history lesson here, suffice to say its old (on a par with medieval castles in Europe) - you'll have to visit yourself to find out more. If you are travel photographer and you are visiting Guangzhou for the first time or even if; like me, you have lived here a while, it is worth heading down to Lingnan Tiandi in Foshan. What delighted me, was the opportunity at this single location, to have a veritable visual pick n' mix of Chinese cultural activities all served up in a oner.
So be prepared photographers for the opportunity to shoot a variety of cultural colour and spectacular acrobatics. I focused on the athletics and leaping energy before me, but I could just as easily have produced a photo essay on the less spectacular activities going on all around the temple complex. Groups of pensioners playing chess and cards under leaf dappled light, pilgrims praying, lighting joss-sticks or dropping coins into khoi-bright pools. Trees festooned with ribbons, shadows in courtyards and lovely abstract vignettes from decorative details - the list was endless. I am sure i will be sharing more images and writing more, about the rest of this district's charms, as the visual treat did not by any means end at the temple.
Essentially now a conurbation of Guangzhou, Foshan and its Lingnan Tiandi District shares in another parallel to Edinburgh for me. Edinburgh's neighbouring port city of Leith, my adopted home, underwent a similar make-over cum preservation and gentrification process back in the early 1990's. Shedding it's humble centre of export and industry status -for one of a more grandly modernised and vibrant cultural-heritage focus. As a result, visitors to Lingnan Tiandi can wander amidst the restored ancient architecture, as if they were wandering amidst alleyways and piazzas of a hip European city. Here historical and commercial buildings are blended seamlessly, couched in a western style overhaul, the local culture sits showcased within it all, like a series of set gems. My visit culminated happily in an Irish bar (i wonder what that says about things?). As I mentioned - more on that later; in a future posting from the Guangzhounaut.
Guangzhounauts can get to Zumiao Ancestor Temple at Lingnan Tiandi District, Foshan by taking the GF Metro line to the Ancestor Temple or Zumiao stop. Take Exit C and go right and right again . Lion dances happen twice daily, the morning performance starting at 10.30am They also take place at the Wong Fei-hung Lion Dance Martial Arts centre at the foot of Xiqiao Mountain.
View more images from the Guangzhounaut at: The Guangzhounaut Dailies, a page set up for daily iPhone photographs taken in and around Guangzhou.