Fighting talk

Updated: 2011-12-22 07:43

By Gan Tian (China Daily)

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Jet Li says he'll focus more on combating injustice through charity and promoting tai chi, and less on kungfu flicks. Gan Tian reports.

Fighting talk

The 1982 film Shaolin Temple featuring Jet Li (right). Twenty-nine years later, Li uses every opportunity to promote tai chi and his charity. Provided to China Daily

Kungfu superstar Jet Li says acting is just a hobby now. He has seldom appeared in public to promote his films in the past three years. But he has seized every chance to discuss tai chi and his charity. And he espouses a new philosophy about martial arts - that traditional culture should be commercialized to survive.

In his recent partnership with Swiss watchmaker Hublot, the 48-year-old designed a luxury watch under its Big Bang series. It features a Shaolin Temple window on the front and the yin-and-yang pattern with Li's signature on the back. Only 200 were made.

"It is all about yin and yang in tai chi, as it is a combination of the advanced Western watch-making technology and traditional Chinese culture," he says.

Li believes few young Chinese people pay attention to their own culture and heritage - not because they are not fascinating but because they need to be more merchandized, he says.

"We can't wait for the world to come to see our culture," Li says.

"We have to promote it to the world. To merchandize tai chi is a new way to promote it."

He says he has been pondering this for nearly 30 years. When he was in the United States in the early 1980s, he met a Chinese kungfu master and a South Korean taekwondo master.

The Chinese opened three martial art clubs. He taught several hundreds of apprentices himself. But the South Korean master hired his students to start a business, and has more than 10,000 clubs all over the US.

"It suddenly occurred to me, at that moment, it (commercialization) would not work in this way," Li says.

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"Our culture could not be duplicated and turned into business. We have to find solutions."

It was at that time Li founded his first company promoting kungfu and tai chi, but it wasn't profitable.

"At the beginning of the 1980s, people were not familiar with the market-oriented economy, and they thought I was 'promoting capitalism'. That's why I failed," Li says.

But he is starting again 30 years later. To explain his approach to promoting tai chi, Li used the traditional Chinese adage "tianshi, dili, renhe", which literally translates as "good timing, geographical convenience and good support from the people".

The domestic and foreign markets for tai chi exist, and public understanding is forming. But most importantly, China needs a cultural signature, Li says, and he believes that should be tai chi.

He partnered with sportswear giant adidas in 2009 to launch the tai chi-inspired Wu Ji collection.

This April, Li founded the company Taichi Zen with Alibaba Group's chairman Jack Ma. The martial artist tries to promote tai chi as a fashionable sport for young people like India's yoga, Japan's judo and South Korea's taekwondo.

At the same time, Li believes tai chi is not only a sport but also a complicated philosophy about the balance that exists in everything, including the military, politics, culture and economics.

Li adopts some principles from tai chi's philosophy in running his charity One Foundation, whose central concept is "One Person + One Dollar + One Month = One Family".

He's currently in discussions with China Mobile about launching a special One Foundation program through which users can donate 1 yuan (16 US cents) a month. China Mobile has 500 million to 700 million users, so the foundation could generate that many yuan a month, he says.

Li believes One Foundation will change people's stereotypes about charity.

"My goal is to prepare for the future," he says.

"No matter what natural disasters happen, we have enough money to help people. It's the same with the traditional Chinese philosophy of, moving keeps people alive and always be prepared."

When asked whether he still practices kungfu daily, Li laughs, and says: "You mean physically or mentally? Physically, I do not. But mentally, I never cease."