Wrestling minus Marx

Antonio Graceffo has the distinction of being an American who wrote and defended a PhD dissertation entirely in Chinese at the Shanghai University of Sport. He has also arguably hit and kicked more people in more countries than any economist alive.

A sort of modern-day, Brooklynite version of Sir Richard Francis Burton, Dr Graceffo has learned pretty much every Asian language I’m aware of and has studied more varieties of martial arts than I ever knew existed, and that was before he decided to become a specialist on economics and US-China trade.

Anyway, I’m currently reading The Wrestler’s Dissertation: Shanghai University of Sport PhD in Wushu, Chinese and Western Wrestling, which is an English-language version of the paper that earned him a doctorate in China, but with all the boring Marxist theory crap taken out and all the interesting stuff, which the university urged him not to include, put back in.

I have to say that although I’m not the kind of person that would normally be enthralled by a book about wrestling, Graceffo offers some fascinating insights into the differences between Western and Chinese culture through the lens of the ancient sport.

You’ll have to read the book for all the details, but this article is an appetizer:

Finally, I determined that the major reasons for differences in wrestling rules, techniques and cultures between China and the US came down to competitiveness, aggression, and violence. The most popular sports in China are ping pong and badminton. Like wushu, these are neither aggressive nor violent. In the US, nearly 800 universities have American football teams, with over a million Americans playing on high school and college football teams. This suggests that American and western sports culture is far more aggressive and violent than Chinese sports culture.

I even made a handy, meme-able table summarizing the differences:

There’s a great deal else in the book, from discussions about Roman gladiators to Andre the Giant, UFC, and the Soviet-style sports education system that exists in China (and why it sucks). The amount of research that went into the book is alarming, actually, and made me want to call Antonio to ask if he was ok.

I did ask him to elaborate on how he was required to stuff his original paper with Communist agitprop, and he had this to say:

PhD dissertations generally have standard sections such as literature review, objectives of study, motivation of study, theoretical framework and expected findings and so forth. In China, however, you also have sections for Marxist theoretical framework, where you extol the benefits of Marxism and explain how the teachings of Marxism enhance your research. A Chinese PhD student who is currently one of my unofficial advisees is writing his sport PhD these about Marxist Policies and Their Effect on Athletic Performance.

When I was at the sports university, for my first PhD, I learned from my Chinese classmates to just write my dissertation in the normal way and with a normal topic, but to include two to three sections for “correct political thought” or “Marxist ideology” which were just huge, the bigger, the better, and complete nonsense fluff, unrelated to the rest of the paper. These things were easily searchable online, so you could find models to follow, so I wrote one, basically saying Marx was great and without him, people couldn’t wrestle. My class sister reviewed my paper and said, “You really need to say more nice things about Marxism.” So, she helped me flesh out that section.

When I went for my defense, I was very worried they would ask me about Marxism. In theory, they could ask you about any part of your dissertation. While they didn’t actually ask me about Marxism per se, they asked a number of very loaded questions about Chinese culture and within the context of Marxism, People’s Republic of China vs. Republic of China. So, I prepared answers which included the words “development, ideological framework, and 5,000 years of history.” Also, when I talked about these concepts, I said “our” rather than “China’s’, as in “We Chinese have 5,000 years of cultural history and exist within an ideological framework of Marxism which is why we are developing faster than the West.” While the professors were all smiling and nodding, satisfied, and my advisor was looking very proud, I quickly added, “and wrestling.”

Fortunately there’s none of that nonsense in the English version, so if you like martial arts, but you’re not big on dialectical materialism, this might be the book for you. You can download the Amazon Kindle edition for $5.49.

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