See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

The Complicated Morality of a Mixed Martial Arts Fight Club for Impoverished Chinese Boys

An adolescent was forced to sign a document ending his training at a fight club and sent back home. Screen capture from Beijing News video.

A video of underprivileged adolescent mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters duking it out in a ring, with a large crowd cheering them on, recently went viral on the Chinese web, triggering widespread debate about the morality of recruiting vulnerable children to take part in a violent sport.

In response, government officials — seemingly to save face — yanked some of the children from the club without prior warning, leaving the boys in tears and Chinese netizens worrying about the young ones’ futures.

The original report, entitled “MMA orphans: If you don’t fight, then you can go back home and eat potatoes,” was produced by online media outlet Pear Video. It shows a number of boys between the ages of 12 and 14 fighting. Some of their faces are bloodied.

They belong to EnBo Fight Club in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, founded by a man named En Bo, who used to serve in the Chinese Armed Police Force and won two championships in a district army fighting match.

The video reports that EnBo Fight Club takes in about 400 children of the Yi people, an ethnic minority from Liang Shan Autonomous Prefecture. Rates of drug abuse, HIV and poverty are high in the region. Most of the EnBo children have lost either one or both of their parents, and would have to work hard labor at home.

In the club, they eat foods that might not otherwise be available to them, like beef and eggs. One of the employees from EnBo mentions that the children earn some money from their commercial fights; the money is managed by the club and is given to the children when they need it.

One of the children says that even though the training is hard sometimes, life in the club is much better than back in his hometown. His ultimate dream is to win the UFC (Unlimited Fighting Championship), which comes with a gold belt.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, EnBo Fight Club came under fire after the video report went viral. Chinese netizens furiously debated the ethics of an MMA fighting club for vulnerable boys:

十几岁就这样强训练的格斗以后身体会吃不消吧

Starting such intense fight training when they are only adolescents will probably cause permanent damage to their bodies in the future.

这也是一条很好的出路,比起在大山里长大在出社会好多了!

This is also a good way out to a brighter future, much better than growing up deep in the mountains and then trying to go to the city.

让小孩训练了参加地下格斗比赛,边上一帮人下注或者欢呼叫做正确的人生道路么?我的天。

Letting the kids be trained to participate in underground combat and to entertain the gamblers, this is the right path? My god!

为什么从小打乒乓、练体操、打篮球就不会被冠以没出路之名,练格斗就成了没梦想、只会打架斗殴、未来的社会隐患?

How comes starting young in ping pong, gymnastics, or basketball aren’t considered bad for your future, but training to be a fighter is believed to lead to no future, that it can only teach physical fighting and become a hidden danger for society?

‘Is the government’s face more important than the kids?’

Following the attention, on August 17 local authorities from Liang Shan county in Sichuan province stepped in. They pulled some of the children from the club, took them back home, encouraged them to focus on their studies, and promised 748 yuan per month (112 US dollars) as a monthly stipend for those living in extreme poverty.

But club founder En Bo wasn't hosting and training the children without the government's knowledge. He says some government officials from Liang Shan contacted him and sent him the first batch of students. Later more arrangements of the same nature were made.

Some of the criticism centered on the children being deprived of the opportunity to receive China's nine-year compulsory education. En Bo explained to Beijing News that he tried to enroll the boys in schools in Chengdu, but was asked to pay 30,000-50,000 yuan (about 4,500-7,500 US dollars) per child for fixing their local residential permits. Eventually, he decided to start his own night school in the club by hiring four part-time tutors to teach Chinese and math.

During the interview, the fight club founder choked up when talking about the children having to leave. Below is the full video report of their last day in the club:

Beijing News interviewed a number of the boys, who were in tears when they learned it would be their last day. The video showed children being forcibly dragged away from the club, triggering another heated online debate, but this time, public morality and local government authorities were the subject of scrutiny:

这是我今年看到的最心酸的视频!以“善”的名义集体作恶的结局!

This is the saddest video I’ve seen this year! An outcome of collective vice in the name of “kindness”!

你父母吸毒、赌博,要么死了要么人间蒸发,你在老家大山里饱一顿饿一顿。突然有一天,大城市一流运动俱乐部收留了你,不收培训费,还供你吃穿,老板送耐克鞋给你,让世界冠军给你当教练,你在这里有了师傅,有了朋友,有了自信……突然,一切又结束了,你得重新回山里去。——换我可能会自杀

[Imagine] your parents are drug addicts, gamblers or have vanished. In the mountains, you are always starving. One day, a top-level sports club in the city takes you in without asking you for a training fee. It gives you food and Nike sport shoes, provides you with the world's top trainers. You have teachers and friends and have developed a sense of confidence… suddenly, everything ends and you have to return to the mountains. If I were in that situation, I might kill myself.

敬佩恩波,伟大的梦想制造者。

Admire En Bo, a great dream creator.

政府脸面有孩子们重要吗

Is the government’s face more important than the kids?

你们把孩子强制带走时,问过孩子的想法吗?你们只不过是把自己的欲望加到孩子身上,还认为理所就当。

When you forcefully took the kids away, did you consider what they think? You are just putting your own desire above the kids, and believe that it’s the right thing to do.

恩波要利用这次机会更好地给自己做个宣传,对的路一定要走下去!格斗运动也是一项特别好的运动项目!加油!

En Bo should use this opportunity to advertise the fight club, if it’s the right road you should keep going! MMA is a very good sport!

Discussions will surely continue, and we can only wish the children all the best in their future.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site