China youth culture: Parkour as physical freedom

Travel | by Sascha Matuszak
Posted: August 22nd, 2011 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
Years ago I was in Kangding with a group of friends celebrating the Chinese New Year. The whole town was exploding with fireworks while snowflakes gently glossed any untouched surface. We were wandering about, lighting firecrackers, running around with "dragon tails" popping and bursting behind us when we came to the edge of Kangding's main plaza and saw a large group of B-Boys going off to a boombox in the corner. The music was barely audible, but the breaks between staccato explosions were filled by an infectious thumping that sent these kids whirling around the plaza. We took a seat and watched for a while, sipping on baijiu to keep warm and setting off firecrackers. We talked with them for a little bit but they were into their thing and we were into ours, so we basically just showed respect and went on with our lives. But I never forgot them. Those break dancing frontier kids—half-Tibetan, half-Han—spinning in the shadow of white phosphorus and jagged peaks. It was one of those things I am glad I witnessed. Over time the B-Boys showed themselves in other locales: plazas around Chengdu, underneath highways in Chongqing, next to the Star Ferry in Hong Kong. I knew that Bejiing and Shanghai probably had crews as well, but it was the crew in Kangding that always impressed me the most. Those guys are far away from the center, just a few hours away from the wind-blown Tibetan plateau where nomads and yak roam. But they had a boombox and the drive to dance. It was inspiring and when I saw another crew in the tiny gangster-ridden town of Hanyuan in western Sichuan a few years later, after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, I felt the same inspiration (the video in the first link is unavailable, but here is the Hanyuan B-boy account page with lots of related stuff) . Years gone by and I never forgot those b-boys out in the sticks and when I saw a picture of two guys pulling a Great Wall last weekend, I got the bug again. This was the picture that got me thinking about urban obstacles and free running and parkour and b-boys again. The picture is from Ceronne's Flickr Photostream and I was going to use it as a Photo of the Week but those don't go up until Saturday and I wanted to use the shot now. Because whatever you want to call it, physical expressions like Pancho's (VPN or proxy yet, get one. I use Moca.) are about free will and courage and freedom in a visceral way. You know it when you see it. So I dug around a little bit and found out that the parkour scene in China is exploding (has exploded) and I wasn't surprised really. B-Boys in far off Kangding didn't really surprise me then either, it just made me feel alive with the true youth culture that is revitalizing tired societies. But enough talk. Peep some videos below and check out your local plaza for B-boys, traceurs and other free moving bodies. Scoutnetworkblog keeps up with frontline culture in Asia. Here is there story on China's Parkour scene (with videos). 56-1 has great parkour videos from Xinjiang and Beijing Here are the video results for a Google Search "parkour in China", mostly Youtube but also Tudou and others...
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