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“Knight of the Yangtze” Lu Zijian dies at the legendary age of 118

Chongqing Economic Times 22 Oct 12

The front page of the Chongqing Economic Times (重庆商报) today features a glowing obituary to Lu Zijian (吕紫剑): Chinese martial arts expert, “Knight of the Yangtze”, “Swordsman of the North East”, “Three Time Knight”, fighter against Japanese imperialism, witness to three centuries and now dead at the freakishly old age of 118. Sounds like an awesome story of a modern Chinese hero, except that much of it might be pure fantasy.

Chongqing Economic Times does have a ripping yarn of an obituary, however. We are told that Lu was born all the way back in October 1893 in Yichang (宜昌市) in Hubei province, which means that he was two months older than Chairman Mao. After 118 years of fighting foreign bullies, training and teaching martial arts, and dabbling in being a doctor and painter,  Lu finally gave up the ghost yesterday morning when he died in his sleep. Shortly after Lu passed away, journalists from the Chongqing Economic Times went to speak to his former disciples and family members to get an idea of the main events in Lu’s long life. The fantastic story that emerged from this goes something like the following:

      • 1893: Born in Hubei province to a family famous for martial arts
      • 1900: At age seven, Lu “follows his mother” and starts training in martial arts
      • 190_: Lu becomes a close associate of Huo Yuanjia (霍元甲), the famous Chinese martial arts fighter who defeated foreign fighters in publicized fights
      • 1911: At 18, Lu arrives in Beijing and takes as his master a former bodyguard of the empress dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) named Ding Shirong (丁世荣). Lu starts studying the martial art form Xingyiquan (形意拳)
      • 1912: Lu moves to E Mei Mountain (峨眉山) in Sichuan province to train in baguazhang (八卦掌)
      • 1920: Lu takes part in martial arts competition in Nanjing and wins first prize
      • 1924: “Patriotic industrialist” Lu Zuofu (卢作孚) asks Lu to help him take back shipping rights on the Yangtze from imperial powers. Lu proceeds to fight and win a duel with a famous Japanese samurai. Henceforth Lu is known as the “Knight of the Yangtze”
      • 1945: Lu is appointed as martial arts instructor by KMT generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蒋介石).  A bodyguard of US General Marshall called Tom John challenges any Chinese to a fight. Lu takes up the offer to fight the 1.9 meter American and beats him using baguazhang
      • 1979: Lu Zijian is elected a member of the Chongqing Municipal People’s Political Consultative Conference. Lu starts to participate in martial arts competitions
      • 2002: Lu obtains the highest rank in the Chinese martial arts association

So there you have it, a swashbuckling, ever-unbeaten, patriotic and long-living fighter, teacher, man of peace and member of government. Its a great series of events but it is filled with inaccuracies and much of its is patently untrue. Firstly, when exactly did Lu die? Chongqing Economic Daily tells us that Lu died ‘yesterday’, which is 21 October 2012. This would have made Lu 119 years old, not 118. While the Chongqing Economic Daily keeps using the word ‘yesterday’, it is unclear when ‘yesterday’ actually was.

Secondly, there is evidence to suggest that Lu was nowhere near 119 when he died. The Chinese Wikipedia entry on Lu points to an entry in a collection of documents entitled Yichang City Literature and History Materials (宜昌市文史资料) from 1986 stating that Lu was in his seventies at the time, meaning that he was actually born sometime after 1907. In fact, this same collection of archival material on the city of Yichang (where Lu was from) has information that contradicts virtually every aspect of Lu’s resume for the first third of his life. For example, another entry from 1992 records that Lu stayed on in Yichang until the 1930s, when he was forced to flee to Sichuan because he beat up a bodyguard at a brothel. Lu then went on to establish a clinic in Chongqing in 1938. He thus never became a close associate of the legendary Huo Yuanjia (who died in 1910 and may not even have fought any foreigners), and never fought General Marshall’s bodyguard.

Yet what a tale. And how ever old he was, he has now passed on. Of that at least we can be sure.

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