The daughter of legendary martial artist and pop culture icon Bruce Lee, Shannon Lee denounced the use of the term “kung flu” by President Donald Trump as the nickname of COVID-19. She also shared ideas on how to take advantage of kung fu philosophy to overcome insult.
Lee, who regularly writes and talks about his father’s philosophies, told NBC Asian America that the president’s racist rhetoric runs counter to the real spirit of kung fu practice and the teachings of the late icon. Trump used the term at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last week after joking that the coronavirus “has more names than any disease in history.”
“I can call it ‘Kung Flu,'” Trump told the crowd. “I can name 19 different versions of names.”
Despite the backlash from the Asian American community, the president uttered the phrase again a few days later, to a crowd at Dream City Church in Phoenix, as supporters chanted the term as a kind of rallying cry. Many officials have also duplicated Trump’s words, with White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, who previously criticized the terminology as “highly offensive,” defending him.
Buzz Patterson, a Republican nominee who ran for a seat in the California House of Representatives, came to rhetorically ask, “If the ‘kung flu’ is racist, does that make the Bruce Lee and ‘kung fu’ movies racist? “
“Saying ‘Kung flu’ is somewhat similar to someone sticking their fingers into the corners of their eyes and sticking them out to represent an Asian person,” said Shannon Lee. “It is a joke at the expense of a culture and people. It is very much a racist comment … particularly in the context of the times because it is making people insecure. “
He added, laughing as he heard Patterson’s logic: “My father fought racism in his movies. Like literally.
Lee noted that in Chinese, the term “kung fu” refers to any discipline or skill that is achieved through hard work and practice. Referring to Chinese martial arts, he noted that kung fu is a centuries-old tradition, based on strength and courage.
Given the hate attacks and violence that have coincided with the use of terms such as “kung flu” and “Chinese virus,” Lee said he considers language to be problematic, especially when considering the roots of the practice of Martial Arts.
“From a very pure martial arts point of view, I think it is not appropriate for it to be used in this way,” he said. “It seems so diametrically opposed to the notion of kung fu. Kung fu is building inner strength. “
Lee cautioned against normalizing such a “divisive discourse,” emphasizing that in various aspects of his father’s life, he strove instead to cultivate unity. He actively responded against the reduction of cultures to a stereotype.
While trying to get to Hollywood, Bruce Lee refused to take on roles that would cast the Chinese in the negative light, thus missing certain opportunities. He eventually returned to Hong Kong due, in part, to the difficulty of finding the appropriate roles.
“I did not believe in wanting to present these negative and stereotypical portraits of people. He believed in himself a lot and worked very hard with himself, to be the best version of himself that he could be, being the most authentic and real expression of himself as a human being, “he said.” And that was what he wanted to share with him. world … He wanted to present something more real, more powerful and more authentic of himself, and that reflected his culture. “
Lee noted that his father’s respect for cultures and efforts to foster solidarity extended beyond his time in Hollywood. He also applied this mindset within the martial arts: he believed that traditional styles had a tendency to separate people, since practitioners would not reach the genres to learn from others, so he incorporated styles from different cultures into his own practice.
“He had different sayings like, ‘Under heaven, under heaven, we are all one family,'” he said. “He wanted to be considered first and foremost as a human being.”
Lee acknowledged that amid growing anti-Asian sentiment, many Asian Americans may feel uncomfortable. But he noted that at the core of kung fu practice is a sense of “patience to develop” and said that people in the community should not internalize such hateful words.
“Let what other people are saying or doing be a reflection of them and not a reflection of you,” he said.