SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

Was Bruce Lee Chinese, or American, or British, or What?

Paul Bowman
Dr Paul Bowman, Cardiff University

Date: 1 February 2016Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 1 February 2016Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Djam Lecture Theatre (DLT)

Type of Event: Seminar

Note: Internal event not open to external attendees.


This talk poses the question of Bruce Lee’s national identity. Of course, the facts of this matter are widely known: there is no mystery or controversy about the US passport that Bruce Lee held from the age of eighteen. However, one question that constantly recurs is that of his ethno-national ‘cultural identity’: who owns Bruce Lee? China? Bruce Lee is after all ethnically Chinese and his first language was Cantonese. But he was born in San Francisco, raised in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, and became a US citizen at eighteen.

This multiple, moving, migrant status is not unique to Bruce Lee, of course. But in all of the discourses about him there remain strong drives to ‘place’ him or ‘claim’ him – whether for a place (America, Hong Kong, China, or the world), or a people (Americans, ‘Chinese everywhere’, the colonised subaltern, this or that ethnic minority), or a ‘style’ (Wing Chun Kung Fu, ‘American Freestyle Karate’, even MMA), or an ideology (‘Western’, ‘Eastern’, ‘New Age’, ‘Postmodern’). This talk seeks to interrogate such appropriative impulses, and to examine them in terms offered by several approaches: Derridean deconstruction, Rey Chow’s (Benjaminian) take on ‘culture’, and a Rancièrean notion of ‘policing’. It does so in order to propose certain ways to think critically about acts of cultural ‘placing’.


Paul Bowman teaches media and cultural studies at Cardiff University. He is author of numerous books, including Martial Arts Studies (2015), Reading Rey Chow (2013), Beyond Bruce Lee (2013), Culture and the Media (2011), Theorizing Bruce Lee (2010), Deconstructing Popular Culture (2008) and Post-Marxism versus Cultural Studies (2007). He has also edited several books, including Rancière and Film (2012), The Rey Chow Reader (2010), Reading Rancière (2009) and The Truth of Žižek (2006). He has edited issues of journals such as Parallax, Social Semiotics, Postcolonial Studies, and Educational Philosophy & Theory, and is the founding editor of two online open access journals: JOMEC Journal (2012) and Martial Arts Studies (2015). He is currently Editor in Chief of Cardiff University Press, and is presently writing a book entitled Mythologies of Martial Arts.

Organiser: SOAS China Institute

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4823