In the Central Eastern Chinese Province of Henan lies the Shaolin Temple, home of the famous kung fu monks. Eager to take advantage of their prestige, more than 50 kung fu schools dot the surrounding countryside, all of whom house and train children in the timeless Chinese Art of Wushu. The Song Mountain Shaolin Exquisite Kung Fu School is once such place, housing 500 students ages 3 to 20. In the masculine world of kung fu, mostly male faces are found in the halls and training yard. Yet times are changing and 23 girls are now calling the school home with ChengWu ShuQin being the newest and youngest of the girls. Now she is fighting both to find her place among the crowd and against homesickness. The students wake at 5:30 for their morning practice. Their days are regimented and consist of 4 hours of kung fu practice and 4 to 6 hours of class with lights out at 9:30.
Job opportunities for students at the kung fu school include Physical Education teacher, Government or Private Security Officer, or the option of staying on at the school to teach. The school also states that is will recommend its students for college or for security work overseas.
At age eight ChengWu is both the youngest female and one of the smallest at the school, surrounded by students up to 12 years older.
During lunch ChengWu protests as her friend tries to steal her orange. As the smallest girl in a school dominated by boys, she has had to learn to stand up for herself.
ChengWu’s parents are laborers, which makes the relatively inexpensive cost of the school an appealing option. They want their daughter to be stronger and of course, they hope that she might have the once in a lifetime chance of becoming a kung fu star.
With only 23 girls attending the school the entire female population fits into one dorm room complete with 12 bunk beds.
In the densely populated country of China, competition for education and college is fierce. Students who don't succeed academically are often sent to kung fu schools as a cheap alternative. Total yearly cost for room and board, food, books and lessons is approximately 13,000 Yuan or around $1,900 dollars, about $5 a day.
Having been at the school only three months, ChengWu is battling a fierce case of homesickness and clings to the stuffed animal her father gave her. With her parents a three-day bus ride away in the ZheJiang Province, she will probably see them only once a year.
The Song Mountain Shaolin Exquisite Kung Fu School is based on the teachings of the Shaolin Monastery whose earliest evidence of Kung Fu monks dates back to 620. Since the 1970’s Shaolin, in popular culture, has taken on a second life appearing in countless movies, video games, and even a Simpson’s episode entitles Goo Goo Gai Pan which first aired in 2006.
As ChengWu is the youngest of the girls, she is often mothered by several of the other older females. This includes fixing her hair, helping her eat, or comforting her when she cries for her parents.
In the brochure the school states that its mission is to help the world to understand 5000 years of Chinese history and in particular to reveal the secrets of Martial Arts.