"Bruce Lee Is a Hero!" Mao Zedong Said; Nixon Admired Jet Li

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Dec. 22 2010 11:00 AM

"Bruce Lee Is a Hero!" Mao Zedong Said; Nixon Admired Jet Li

A column in today's China Daily describes a

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from the year 1974:


By 1974, Mao was diagnosed with a cataract and was advised by his doctors to refrain from reading. Thus he turned to movies. After a heavy dose of foreign biopics, such as those on Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon, he moved on to Hong Kong fare.

The task of collecting these films fell to Liu Qingtang, then deputy minister of the Ministry of Culture, a ballet dancer who shot to prominence by affiliating himself with Jiang Qing (Madame Mao) and starring in her "model repertory".

[...]

Liu, who sat with Mao during the screenings, said he watched The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon. Mao would burst into eulogies when he got excited.

While watching Fist of Fury for the first time, Mao dissolved in tears, Liu recalled, and said "Bruce Lee is a hero!" Mao watched the film twice more. Liu said he did not know of any other movie that Mao viewed three times.

When it came time to ship the prints back to Hong Kong, nobody dared do so lest Mao got another urge to watch them. Only after he was terminally ill were two of the movies returned.

But Mao was not the only high-level martial-arts enthusiast that year. In an essay on his website, Jet Li recounts his childhood experience as a member of a wushu troupe

:


The last stop and climax of our U.S. tour was Washington, D.C., where a select few from our team performed our wushu routines on the White House lawn. After the performance, we were officially introduced to the American dignitaries and posed with them for official pictures. As I remember, President Richard Nixon stood with one of my female teammates, and I stood next to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. At one point, Nixon turned towards me and said, "Young man, your kung fu is very impressive! How about being my bodyguard when you grow up?"

"No, " I blurted out. "I don't want to protect any individual. When I grow up, I want to defend my one billion Chinese countrymen!"

People were stunned. There was an uncomfortable silence. Nobody had expected me to give that kind of an answer-least of all myself.

Kissinger was the one who finally broke the silence. "Heavens, such a young boy and he already speaks like a diplomat!"

Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.

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