A taekwondo team from Shenzhen, China, finds itself in hot water after performing a zombie-themed routine at an international taekwondo competition in South Korea. The controversial routine has led to the Chinese Taekwondo Association (CTA) imposing penalties on the Shenzhen-based X-Taekwondo Gym, citing cultural insensitivity and negative promotion.
The routine, dubbed the “zombie taekwondo dance,” unfolded during the World Taekwondo Hanmadang in Seongnam, South Korea. This global event, held from July 21 to 24, attracted participants and spectators from 57 nations, underlining its significance in the taekwondo community.
In the performance footage shared online, members of X-Taekwondo Gym donned black robes resembling the attire of Qing Dynasty court officials. Paired with faux braided hats, the participants blended taekwondo techniques with dance moves inspired by “jiang shi,” or jumping zombies, popularized by Hong Kong horror films. The routine provoked mixed reactions as the performers mimicked these creatures with outstretched arms and hopping motions.
The CTA expressed strong disapproval, asserting that the performance perpetuated negative cultural stereotypes and demeaned Chinese traditions. Despite clinching the top prize for the senior aerobic category, the routine incurred backlash from both authorities and online critics.
Notably, the use of Qing Dynasty imagery sparked concerns about reinforcing harmful stereotypes. The Qing Dynasty zombies inadvertently echoed the damaging Dr. Fu Manchu trope present in Western media. Dr. Fu Manchu was a Chinese criminal mastermind character perpetuated through novels and short stories, contributing to the stereotyping of Chinese people.
While the routine faced criticism within China, it garnered praise from international viewers. Commenters lauded the team for their innovative approach, integrating traditional Chinese culture into a modern sport, showcasing the creative spirit of the younger generation.
However, the controversy has had severe repercussions for X-Taekwondo Gym and its coach, Mr. Liu Hao. The CTA revoked the gym’s official membership, prohibiting it from hosting national taekwondo events. Additionally, Mr. Liu Hao lost his coaching qualifications and received a ban from CTA-sponsored competitions and training programs.
The Guangdong Taekwondo Association and Shenzhen Taekwondo Association were also implicated. Their qualifications have been suspended for three years pending an inspection. To prevent future incidents, the CTA announced its intention to thoroughly evaluate taekwondo studios across the nation.