Spreading Traditional Chinese Culture

ByWang Shasha April 4, 2024

Jake Lee Pinnick, from Illinois, the United States, since 2010 has been devoted to learning and practicing Chinese martial arts on Wudang Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Shiyan, in Central China's Hubei Province. Pinnick is married to a Chinese woman, Cao Lingling, and they have a lovely daughter.

Pinnick, born in 1990, has been obsessed with Chinese martial arts since childhood. He once watched a video, by chance, in which Yuan Shimao, the 15th-generation master of the Zhang Sanfeng Lineage of Wudang martial arts, was practicing martial arts at the foot of Wudang Mountains. At that moment, Pinnick decided to study martial arts under Yuan. 

In 2010, Pinnick registered for the five-year Wudang traditional martial arts training program, run by Yuan, at the Wudang Daoist Traditional Kungfu Academy. After extensive and oft-difficult training, Pinnick graduated, and he became a 16th-generation disciple in the Zhang Sanfeng Lineage. 

Pinnick not only loves Chinese martial arts, he also has a deep love for traditional Chinese culture, including Taoism. Taoism, or Daoism, is a philosophical tradition of Chinese origin attributed to ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that emphasizes harmony between humanity and the natural world. 

Pinnick is now a coach with a martial arts school on Wudang Mountains, and so he considers it his duty to spread Wudang culture and martial arts to people throughout the world. He has taught thousands of students, from China and other countries, in person and via online courses. 

Pinnick's passion for traditional Chinese culture has deeply touched his wife. Cao believes Pinnick has a Chinese heart, despite having a foreigner's face. "He is eager to learn traditional Chinese culture comprehensively. Besides martial arts and Taoism, he also learns tea culture and practices traditional Chinese musical instruments, such as guqin (a seven-stringed Chinese zither) and dongxiao (a vertical end-blown flute made of bamboo). He even wrote a book, in English, on how to play dongxiao, so he could introduce it to more foreigners," Cao says. 

With the help of Cao, Pinnick has recorded many short videos about his and his family's daily life, and he has posted the videos on Chinese and foreign social-media platforms. The videos have attracted many foreign martial arts enthusiasts and learners of traditional Chinese culture. By the end of January, Pinnick had more than 345,000 followers, and he had received more than 7.23 million likes, on Douyin, China's leading short-video platform. 

Pinnick enjoys his life in China, and he regards Wudang as his second hometown. "I love Wudang so much. The martial arts, the scenery and the people here make me feel like this is my hometown. People here are very nice to me. I came to Wudang from a completely different world, but I do feel like I have found myself here, and I have found my family and life here. To this day, everything in my life is centered on Wudang," he says. 

Spring Festival is Pinnick's favorite Chinese festival. "I like the Spring Festival and its customs and traditions. I also teach my daughter these traditions. We have spent most Spring Festival holidays in China, gathering and visiting relatives, like every Chinese family. It's a great holiday for families to reunite," Pinnick says. 

"People have asked me whether there are cultural differences within our family. It seems to me that we don't have it. Jake has always tried to adapt to China, and I have never tried to change him. Instead, he has influenced me and our daughter, in terms of traditional Chinese culture. I'm proud of that," Cao says. 

"Our family is immersed in traditional Chinese culture. Jake is used to the Chinese way of life, eating Chinese food, drinking tea and wearing traditional Chinese clothes. Although our American family members in the US do not understand traditional Chinese culture as deeply as Jake, they try their best to integrate into the culture. I feel respect and love. For example, they will dress in red to greet us when we visit them in the US, and my mother-in-law will give me hongbao (gift money)," Cao adds. The couple hopes their daughter will continue to study traditional Chinese culture. "With our guidance and encouragement, our daughter has developed a great interest in traditional Chinese culture. She learns martial arts and musical instruments from her father. Jake hopes, after she grows up, she can help him translate books about traditional Chinese culture," Cao says. 

Pinnick is interested in classic Chinese texts, such as Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, and he is exploring ways to explain the texts using simple language for foreigners, to help them understand the philosophy in the texts. Pinnick is becoming an envoy of cultural exchanges between China and other countries. 

Pinnick says he hopes to open a martial arts school in China, or in the US, to teach people around the world about real martial arts, and about traditional Chinese culture. "I think the experience I've had, being a foreigner coming to China and learning Chinese culture from outside, is unique. I hope I can be like a 'bridge' between different cultures," he says.


Photos by Wu Zhizun 

(Women of China English Monthly February 2024)


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