Fahrenheit 001

The Chinese Book of History

I am a fan of Ray Bradbury’s work. And one of the books I liked was Fahrenheit 451 which was made into a movie with Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. The basic idea was that in the future no one reads (which was pretty prophetic on Bradbury’s part). In fact, firemen now have the job of burning books instead of saving them. At the end of the movie, to preserve the culture of books, people hide away from civilization and each of them is responsible for memorizing one book.  So they are all walking around, mumbling to themselves, and ultimately people start saying “Well, that one over there is Great Expectations”  and so on, naming people after the books they have rescued.

What is interesting about this is that Ray Bradbury was very much fascinated by China and wrote a number of stories set in China. And–this is my speculation–he probably came across a very interesting story. When China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang Ti decided that “history begins with me” he ordered all the books of antiquity burned.

After his death the scholars were without valuable texts but they located a woodsman who had memorized the entire Book of History, China’s first text on its historical background. There was a time following this when that man, uneducated except for his memorization of this crucial  text, was the only person in China who knew its history. Later, when excavations uncovered copies of the Shi Jing it was shown that, yes indeed, he was absolutely accurate and had correctly carried the treasure through time. That woodsman was, for a while, the living representation of all of Chinese history.

Many  people in the last few decades have been introduced to Kung Fu, especially now that it is gaining worldwide acceptance. And many people don’t realize that they are in the position of being one of these living books. It doesn’t matter if you are the best practitioner possible, it matters what your relationship was with your teacher and your teacher’s information. One of the reasons that we so enjoy running PLUM is to discover so many people who do not realize how valuable is the information they have, how historical and what a treasure it is (and they are).

It is true that you may spend time studying with a teacher and learn a certain form, then you see 14 DVDs available on that same form, now exposed to the public. But that DVD–no  matter how well done–is different from the person to person training you received. We just want to remind people that you are the treasures, you are the living bodies which record the history of Kung Fu.

Ted Mancuso