Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

“So! Yu-dan! You have the guts to show your face around here!”

“Yes, Li Bai. I have done much thinking.”

“And what have you decided? To face your shame! To be a man! Or to run away, again, like a coward?”

“I feel no shame, Li Bai. I know I made the right choice when I left the school.”

“The you are back! To be a coward. Ha! Ha! Ha! I should have expected as much, from such a weakling.”

“Good grief, Li Bai. Why do you talk like that?”

“I don’t know what you mean, foolish one! Like what, I ask you.”

“In that stilted way. You sound ridiculous. Your sentences are all spoken in fragmented bits. It’s really distracting.”

“Do you challenge me! You fool?”

“Well, I certainly challenge your affected way of speaking. Honestly, it makes it difficult to carry on an intelligent conversation.”

“So, you think me stupid? We will see who is the stupid one! When I accept your challenge…and defeat you!”

“See, now, that’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Taste my…what? Talk to me?”

“Yes. I really think we’re approaching this whole thing the wrong way.”

“What whole thing!”

“Look. You and I both hate the Manchus, right? They make everyone’s life miserable. Yours, mine, Ji Jian Lo’s, Min Feng’s, Wu Yi the Drunkard’s, Crippled Master Liu’s. And yet, what are we doing about it? All we ever do is get into fistfights. And not with the Manchus, but with each other. You’re about to punch me now. Aren’t you?”

“Yes! Your face I will punch, to prove the superiority of my Tae Gu Fist! You think your Choy Li Fut is pretty good, but…”

“You know, actually, I don’t think my Choy Li Fut is all that great.”

“…what?”

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine. Maybe I could beat you with it. Maybe I couldn’t. Who knows? I think it’s a better style, to be frank, but you’ve been back here practicing for the last six months, and I’ve been off in the mountains reading economic treatises. You could probably wipe the floor with me.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“Yeah, it’s really funny. Anyway, my point is, maybe you can kick my ass. Maybe I can kick yours. But what good is any of that going to do against the Manchus?”

“We…I…look! We defeat them! With wushu! Martial skill! Many Manchu pigs have fallen before the blades of Yuyang School!”

“Right. And many more Yuyangs have gotten hauled off and beheaded. We don’t even have any guns, for goodness’ sake.”

“Guns?”

“It’s 1744, Li Bai. Try reading a book sometime that doesn’t just have pictures of people hitting each other.”

“You dishonor our training.”

“I don’t do any such thing. I just recognize its limitations.”

“Then…what will you do?”

“I’m thinking about taking the civil service exam.”

“Civil service! You are not serious, with your words!”

“I am. I think I can change the system from within. All this fighting is just perpetuating an endless cycle of violence. We’re in lockstep with the Manchus. We spend precious intellectual resources — resources that could be used to devise real political and sociological solutions — on figuring out the proper knee positioning for modified cat stance.”

“It’s like this. Your balance knee is up, parallel to…”

“You’re missing my point. I am forsaking a dead-end solution and working towards a new approach.”

“And you think this plan will work?”

“I don’t know. I know it can’t be any worse than standing under waterfalls to improve my resistance to pain, and then getting truncheoned into oblivion anyway.”

“You are a fool, Yu-Dan. History will vindicate my hotheaded face-punching solution! When you and your high-minded schemes for linguistic reform, economic reapportionment and merit-based administrative advancement are long forgotten, people all over China — perhaps even the world — will still revel in tales of how I broke a clay roof tile over the head of a minor trade official, and kicked the stomach of that one cook at Lo Han School who called my sister a trollop!”

“Whatever you need to feel good about yourself, Li Bai.”

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