Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Life quality of Hong Kong in the 50s and the 60s of course cannot be mentioned in the same breath as today's, but despite how poor people were most were happy and at peace with it as they were rich at heart. Wanting to live a little better, they would not mind being an minimal income or unpaid but fed apprentice. They were willing to fight on step by step without any complaint.

Timely Apprenticeship System

At the time Yu Jim Yuen's apprentices, eight out of ten were children from poor families. Jackie Chan in his autobiography I AM JACKIE CHAN wrote, "Hong Kong in the 50s was full of suffering and setback. My parents were among the lowest society segment, poverty stricken refugees." The son of the French consulate's cook and housekeeper was like that, you could imagine the condition of the rest.

Life goes on. Parents in order to making a living could only leave their children at home, with the elder ones responsible for watching the younger ones. Today this perhaps involves child abuse, but back then it was more than common. If they were the only child, they either followed their parents around everywhere like Jackie Chan; or as seen in the William Holden and Jennifer Jones 1955 film that was shot on location in Hong Kong, LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, their mothers carried them on their backs while they worked.

Thus, when Yu Jim Yuen founded the China Drama Academy, although the original intent was to carry forward the quintessence of Chinese culture, its apprenticeship system that covered food, room, board, education and discipline met the requirements of the times and resolved the troubles of disciplining mischievous boys and girls.

Regret Lack of Motivation

Yuen Wah recalled, "At the time we got one day off weekly from studying with the master. I could go home and see my parents. Yet every time I came home, my parents would get a headache when they saw me. They always said, 'Hurry up and go back to your Master's, don't mess around here'. My Master seemed to welcome mischievous children like me. He said if you weren't mischievous you wouldn't learn anything, thus Master would take in even more mischievous children."

Aside from a group of "hyper-active" children, Master Yu back then also took in many children who were unmotivated in school. Yuen Biao said, "I was very rebellious about school, when I was very little even if I was locked in a dark room I still was unwilling to go to school. Pa saw that I liked watching movies than studying, and he also liked Beijing Opera, so he brought me to the Master. I got to skip school! I couldn't be happier, but later when I started training I knew what regret was!" (2)

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