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Who Was Li Zongwu?

Many people are curious these days about Li Zongwu, the inventor of Thick Black Theory.

Who was he?


Nan Huaidong relates his experience of Li Zongwu:

I left Zhejiang for Chengdu. I had just turned 20 years old. People in Chengdu weren’t too fond of people from Zhejiang, but I wanted to study Feijian kung-fu and fight the Japanese army.

So, I often visited people who were famous, well-educated and had a lot of kung-fu skill and knowledge.

In Chengdu at the time, there were a lot of tea houses in Shaocheng Park.

Brew a pot of tea, sit for half the day or the whole day and pay when you left.

If you had to leave at some point to run some errands, you could leave and just put the lid on your cup up-side down, the owner of the shop would leave it until you got back.
If you didn’t have any money to drink tea, that was okay too.

When the boss asked you what you wanted, you just told them I’ll have a glass.

And they would bring you a glass of water

I don’t think we’ll see this kind of rural relaxed atmosphere ever again.

Shaocheng Park was a the place to gather for many famous people and many people that still followed older traditions.

You could often see people wearing long qipaos and cloth shoes.

These were just the type of people I was looking for, so I often went there.

To the people there, I was just a kid.

I wore Sun Yat Sen style suits and I was from Zhejiang–the place Chang Kai Shek was from.

People were suspicious of me at first.

Maybe I was sent out to Chengdu by Chang Kai Shek.

After a while, people slowly began to understand.

I was out there to learn.

The suspicion faded and I began to make friends.

One day, I was at Chengshao Park with some friends drinking tea and playing chess.

A man walked in. He was tall, hunched over and wearing a felt cap.

He had an interesting look–he looked like someone from ancient times.

When he came in, everyone nodded and said hello.

I asked my friend Mr. Liang who it was. He told me that it was the father of Thick Black Theory Li Zongwu and that he was quite famous in Sichuan.

Then Mr. Liang told me Li Zongwu’s story. I wanted to meet him.

So, Mr. Liang took me over there and introduced me.

The father of Thick Black Theory invited us to sit down and have some tea and chat.

Our so-called chat consisted of us sitting there and listening to him expound his theories of this and that, talk about the Japanese occupation, listen to him curse the Sichuan Army and listen to him talk about how this and that person were worthless.

This was my first meeting, but after I would see him often in Chengshao Park.

One time he said to me, “I can see that you want to make a name for yourself–become a hero.

I can teach you a way that will make it happen much faster.

If you want to succeed and make a name for yourself you should curse people, that’s what I did.

And you don’t need to curse a lot of people, just curse me.

Say ‘That Li Zongwu is a bastard. He should die.’ And you’ll succeed.

But you need to stick a note extolling Confucius on your forehead while you do so.

And in your mind honor me Li Zongwu as the god of Thick and Black.”

I didn’t take his advice and thus didn’t make a name for myself.

Another time when I was talking to him, I told him that he doesn’t need to talk about Thick Black Theory anymore and he doesn’t need to curse people anymore.

He turned and said to me, “I’m not just cursing people at random.”

Everyone has a ‘thick face.’ I’m only taking that false face and peeling it off.

I told him that he needs to be careful and that there are people in the central government that are noticing him.

There he might get taken to jail.

He replied, “My boy, you don’t understand. I’m the same age as Einstein.”

Einstein invented the Theory of Relativity and now he is a world famous scientist.

But I’m here in Sichuan, in Chengdu and I haven’t really made a name for myself.

I hope they catch me. If they throw me in jail, then I’ll be world famous.”

He was never taken to jail and he didn’t become world famous.

Later he said that it was bad luck.

But that year, his book was very popular all across China.

A lot of people were a bit scared of him after that, but not me.

I still talked to him quite often.

A couple years later, a friend of mine, a monk, had passed away.

My friend, also a monk, and I wanted to go to Zilongjing to pay our respects.

We traveled for eight days. When we found the friend’s grave, we bowed our heads and burned incense.

At the time, I hadn’t realized how far away Zilongjing was from Chengdu. It would be another eight days to get back.

It dawned on me that I wouldn’t have enough money to get back.

I started to get very worried.

Then I remember that Li Zongwu was from Zilongjing.

And he was a famous person, so I was sure that anyone I asked would know where his house was.

We began walking and asked around.

His house was quite big and the front gate was wide open. Before it was always like that in the countryside.

The front gate was opened in the morning and not shut until night.

Not like how it is in the big cities these days.

We walked in and called his name.

He came right away and he seemed very happy to see me.

“Where did you come from? What are you doing out here?”

I came to visit a friend of mine who passed away.

But I’m not dead yet!

After the brief misunderstanding was cleared up, he arranged for dinner to be prepared.

After the meal and some drinks I told him that there was another reason I was there to see him.

I told him that I didn’t have enough money to get back to Chengdu.

He asked how much I needed and I told him that I needed ten dollars.

He got up and went to a cabinet in the living room and got and envelope and gave it to me.

There was twenty dollars in there. I told him that I only needed ten.

He insisted that I take twenty. I told him that I didn’t know when I would be able to pay him back.

He said to spend the money first, then figure it out.

We chatted for a bit and he suddenly suggested that I don’t return to Chengdu, that I stayed there for a while.

“Stay here and do what?” I asked.

“Don’t you like kung-fu? There is a guy named Master Zhao in this town who has excellent kung-fu skills.

He was born a cripple, but his kung-fu is still very good, especially his soft-style.

He can put on a pair of new shoes and walk a mile in the snow and there won’t be a speck of mud on them.

He once had a disciple that learned kung-fu pretty well but misused what he had learned.

One night the disciple crept over a wall into a family’s house and raped a woman, so Master Zhao had to kill him.

And after that he hasn’t taken on any more students.

It’s a shame that someone with such good skills won’t pass them on to anyone.

But with my recommendation I think he would take you on as a student. If you train with him for three years, you will be a master yourself.”

I told him that I would go back to my lodging and think about it.

Early the next morning, Li Zongwu met us at our lodge and continued with the idea of me training with Master Zhao.

He said that he would even pay for those three years of study for me.

But I had decided that three years was too long.

I went back to Chengdu.

Not long after, I heard news of Li Zonwu’s passing.

He died of natural causes. I was quite sad.

I thought of him lending me the money and his offering to pay for my kung-fu studies, this father of Thick Black Theory didn’t seem to be very Thick and Black at all.

He actually seemed quite sincere.

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