American Wudang

Clad in traditional Daoist robes, Zhong Xuechao looks like he just walked off the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. While Americans are familiar with robed Buddhist monks like the Dalai Lama, Daoist attire has a distinctly Chinese flair, yin black and yang white accentuated with an assortment of dark-hued blues. Instead of shaven pates, Daoists let their hair grow with the flow. It's long and uncut, tied in a top knot with a signature dragon hairpin. To top it all off, Daoists customarily don traditional hats which are unlike anything seen in the West. The overall appearance is dramatic, as if an immortal hermit mystically escaped from a Chinese painting.
As a Wudang priest, Zhong Xuechao (鍾學超) always wears Daoist robes as an expression of his practice. Zhong, who also goes by Master Bing, is now teachingko in Los Angeles, but in the City of Angels his unique apparel barely attracts a second glance. "There's less staring in America than in China," says Bing in Mandarin. "They don't see many Daoists from the mountains in China. In Los Angeles, most people don't ask. There's plenty of unusual stuff there. Sometimes people ask me where I bought my outfit ? Chinatown? I tell them I got it from China."


Master Bing stands among the first pioneer Daoist priests from Wudang to come to America. While Chinese kung fu masters have been in America for decades and  Shaolin monks have been immigrating here since the early '90s, genuine Wudang devotees are just beginning to arrive. The Wudang community is smaller than those others, but just as outstanding and not just because of the way they dress.
Respecting Wu 
"America doesn't know Wudang," observes Bing. Nevertheless his outfit is regarded with some esteem. Bing is often treated as a man of the cloth. He finds himself answering questions about spirituality and discipline, all asked reverently. "They seem to feel I'm more religious ? more like a Western priest ? instead of Daoist. I recently mailed a sword and the people at the U.S. Post Office took such good care. They felt it was very precious. Maybe the quality of service is better in America, but I feel the respect."
Bing first journeyed to America in 2002 for a week-long visit. He was part of the five-member entourage of Zhong Yunlong, the Chief Priest at Wudang. It was the first Wudang delegation to grace America. Propitiously, 2002 was the 10th Anniversary of this magazine. In celebration, we held a Gala Benefit for the U.S. Olympic Wushu Team. The Beijing Olympics had just been announced, and we were all hopeful that wushu would be the next new Olympic event. Chief Priest Zhong was a guest of honor at that Gala. He was the only master permitted to demonstrate in our coveted Cover Masters showcase who had not previously graced our cover. We rectified that the following year by featuring Zhong on the cover of our September October 2003 issue. It was America's first real glimpse of an authentic Wudang priest.
During Bing's short stay, he was struck by the freedom we Americans enjoy here. These freedoms were more personal than political, like the informality with which children address their parents. Chinese philosophy stands upon three pillars: Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Confucianism establishes a rigid social hierarchy where students bow to masters and children bow to parents. Overhearing some children addressing their parents by name instead of a formal title was a little shocking to Bing. Nevertheless, he was impressed by the atmosphere of freedom and hoped to return to America someday.
When he went home to Wudang, the tourist industry was growing. Wudang enjoyed an economic boost from a spike in tourism in the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Bing found himself escorting many American guests around China's mystic mountain. It was a sharp contrast from his short experience in the States. "Life at Wudang Mountain is peaceful," recounts Bing. "We study the Daoist canons and practice kung fu. It makes you focus, slow down the pace, and not live to be so busy and material. We chant in the morning and evening. In some rituals, each character from the canon is chanted for a minute. We chant for at least half an hour a day."
Daoism is one of the most misunderstood traditions in the West. Difficult to categorize into a western box, it vacillates between a philosophy, a religion, a folk custom and shamanism. Ancestor deification, communion with nature and the quest for immortality are all major elements. It is from Daoism where we get the concept of taiji, not just as a martial art but as a cosmological paradigm. Traditional Chinese Medicine, Feng Shui, the Chinese Zodiac and even Chinese food are all deeply rooted in Daoism.

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