In the humidity of late summer, I walked into the master practitioner’s office in Hong Kong.
He was a distinguished doctor of Chinese medicine, who counted movie stars such as Jackie Chan, Mark Wahlberg, and others as former patients. He was also a well-respected martial arts master, whose lineage intertwined with that of the legendary Bruce Lee.
I was visiting from Washington, D.C., and was seeking martial arts instruction and medical treatment.
Back home, blaring news headlines provided daily reminders of China’s growing political and economic power, while talking heads and policy types regularly pontificated about a future in which China might displace U.S. global leadership.
Rising global influence was now China’s new bragging right. In the office of the master practitioner, however, a quieter commodity prevailed — traditional Chinese culture.
Traditions, rules, obligations, histories, philosophies, and much, much more give definition to Chinese culture, and at the heart of this rich, complicated web lies the enduring command that one should strive to be a better person.
Chinese martial arts are one facet, one manifestation, of this culture, these traditions.
The use of force, which all martial arts teach, can be terrifying, yet mesmerizing. Many have turned to Chinese martial arts to learn to fight, to inflict harm, to defend themselves. But Chinese martial arts, just as other martial arts, do not merely channel force; they demand restraint, discipline, and respect on the path to self-improvement.
The master practitioner’s practice was itself a reflection of one of the finest traditions of Chinese martial arts: Those who wield the power to destroy also commonly practice the science of medicine; their knowledge of the human body is crucial for both its destruction and healing.
Plenty of martial artists in the West fight, and brag, but very few double as doctors.
At my medical appointment, I offered the master practitioner a video capturing how I incurred one of my injuries.
“Not necessary,” he stated matter-of-factly. Examining me was all he needed to do. Once he administered the treatment and my pain began to subside, it was clear he was right.
At his martial arts class, there was a flurry of strikes, blocks, kicks, and other basic, as well as complicated, moves. There was no bragging from the master, no showing off, even though many martial artists have bragged about far less. The students revered their master’s great skill; he reciprocated with patience and humility.
Upon returning to Washington, I found that the policy discussion about China’s international influence had only become more frenzied. In October, the Economist declared Chinese President Xi Jinping “the world’s most powerful man,” crowning him as someone who had more clout than President Trump.
When Trump visited China in early November, many in the U.S. foreign policy establishment used the occasion to gripe that he was ceding global leadership to China.
After the Trump’s return to the U.S., he began a Twitter feud with LaVar Ball, the father of one of three college basketball players who was detained in China for shoplifting during his visit. Ball refused to give Trump due credit for intervening to win the release of his son. Trump reciprocated by calling Ball an “ungrateful fool.”
Talking heads and Trump critics have obsessively denounced Trump’s rhetoric as undignified and unhelpful. Restraint and humility certainly are not the president’s forte.
Yet in an era where sophisticates like to show off by pondering a future in which China might take over the world, few seem interested in pointing out that no American would want to get stuck in the criminal system of this supposedly imminent superpower. There, the conviction rate is close to 100 percent and effective assistance of counsel, a fair trial free from corruption or political influence, and other fundamental protections, that societies governed by the rule of law provide their citizens, simply cannot be counted upon.
In the world of Chinese martial arts, the use of force is supposed to be complemented by restraint and discipline. The path to meeting immense physical challenges is paved with a broader effort for seeking personal perfection. Yet in the Chinese state’s use of force against its own citizens, the path to the deprivation of personal liberty is often paved with the draconian, the capricious, and the perfectly legal.
U.S. elites have found it gratifying to trash their own president in a drama involving the three American college basketball players, but the Chinese authoritarian chic they ogle reveal the true failure of restraint, the real urgency for improvement.
Perhaps China’s current rulers should heed the command that lies at the heart of China’s rich culture and strive to do better, much better.
Ying Ma (@GZtoGhetto) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is the former deputy director of the Committee for American Sovereignty, a pro-Trump super PAC, and the former deputy policy director of the Ben Carson presidential campaign. She is the author of "Chinese Girl in the Ghetto."
If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.