THE NOTORIOUS KEI FONG CHAI, OR CLOTH-MAKING WORKERS
Since ancient times there has been a saying that “there is no first in scholarly affairs, and no second in martial affairs” (which means that no one in scholarly or martial affairs will say that his art is inferior to another). All martial art schools since thousands and hundreds of years ago have regarded their own schools as the true transmission, and other schools as “side gates and left doors” (which means not genuine).
Nevertheless, genuine disciples of famous schools regard that “there are mountains beyond mountains, and heavens beyond heavens” (which means that there are other genuine schools or more capable persons). But the majority of martial artists would say that today I shall teach you my fists, and fight amongst themselves without end.
During the New Year festive session, martial art schools would send out their lion dance teams to celebrate and gather “hoong-pau” (i.e. money contained in red envelopes). Various households and associations would hang up “green” (i.e. vegetables with “hoong-pau”) for the lions to collect.
One of the notorious lion dance groups came from “kei fong”, or cloth-making factories. There were two big cloth-making factories in Guangzhou (or Canton) at that time, one in the east and the other in the west of the city. These factory workers, many of whom practiced kungfu, “walked diagonally” (i.e. did not care for other people) in the streets, and the locals disdianly called them, usually behind their back, “kei fong chai”, or cloth-making workers.
That day a lion dance team from the big western cloth-making factory was collecting “hoong-pau” from the “green”, led by its leader, Chiew Thien, who put on a Laughing Buddha mask. The green with a lot of money was hung up about four stories high in the air. To reach the “green”, the lion had to climb up a formation of team members, known as Lohan formation.
But those at the bottom tier of the formation could not stand the strain. They fell down, thus the whole formation collapsed, including the lion.
At that time a hawker, Wu Chi San, was passing by selling his wares, which were New Year cakes made from glutinous rice. So Wu Chi San called out aloud, “Glutinous rice New Year cakes” to advertise his wares. But glutinous rice New Year cakes had a figurative connotation. It meant feeble legs.
Chiew Thien, the leader of the lion dance team, took off his Laughing Buddha mask and stared at Wu Chi San. “Forward!” he shouted. He and a group of lion dancers rushed forward to beat up the hawker. Wu Chi San lied bleeding and motionlessly on the street, with his wares scattered everywhere. No one dared to interfere.
A few days later while Wu Chi San was selling his wares, he noticed Chiew Thien and a few cloth-making workers. “The streets were narrow for those with grudges”, which meant that those with grudges met again.
“I thought you were dead,” said Chiew Thien, “Let me send you to see the Yama King.” Without another word, Chiew Thien and his gang went forward to beat up Wu Chi San.
“I was only calling out my wares. I didn’t mean to insult you,” Wu Chi San protested. But Chiew Thien and his gang did not care or listen.
Wu Chi San was moaning on the ground. “I was only calling out my waves,” he murmured feebly.
“You old dog, you pretend to be dead.” Chiew Thien stepped on Wu Chi San’s chest, and pressed hard. Wu Chi San died.
“Trouble. We kill him,” said one of the gang.
“No!” Chiew Thien replied emphatically. “He fells down on his own and dies.”
They then walked away as if nothing had happened. There were some on-lookers, but knowing the notoriety of “kei fong chai” or cloth-making workers, no one dared to interfere.
Wong Kiew Kit,
9th January 2018, Sungai Petani