10 years of child abuse: Jackie Chan’s China Drama Academy apprenticeship contract

10 years of child abuse: Jackie Chan’s China Drama Academy apprenticeship contract

17. May 2020 Off By Thorsten Boose

When Jackie Chan and his father arrived at Master Yu Jim-Yuen’s school in Hong Kong for the first time in 1961, young Jackie could hardly believe his eyes. Children his age were allowed to have fun all day long – the bully Jackie Chan wanted that, too. By contract, the then 7-year-old was placed in the care of Master Yu Jim-Yuen for ten years. A mistake?

The China Drama Academy

In 1961, Jackie Chan attended the China Drama Academy, a strict school under the direction of master Yu Jim-Yuen who taught his students the traditional art of Peking Opera including acrobatics, singing, dance, drama and martial arts. Jackie’s schoolmates back then included Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Cory Yuen Kwai and others who had steep film careers afterwards.

The art of Peking Opera has traditionally been performed on a stage in front of hundreds of people for generations. But already at the beginning of the 1960s there was a decline in social interest in it. This was due to the more and more elaborately produced films as well as the distribution of television.

Nonetheless, there was still the old type of school. And it was tough because according to the Hong Kong laws of the time a teacher was allowed to treat his or her students so strictly that it was even allowed to use physical violence. In the event of death, the school was not even allowed to be sued by the parents.

You don’t believe it? Then let’s take a look at the school’s official student acceptance document.

Jackie Chan’s first artist contract

In an online video, the young Chinese An Baihui (安 佰 卉) gives a tour of the Jackie Chan Film Gallery, Chan’s own museum, which is located in Shanghai. You can find the exact address at the end of this article.

From minute 5:35 onwards, An Baihui stands in front of a historical document that is behind glass: Jackie Chan’s contract at the China Drama Academy from 1961. The reporter explains the following:

“No matter what happened in school at the time, whether you got sick or injured or even died, you couldn’t legally hold the school responsible for it. God then wanted it that way and as a student you just weren’t up to the challenges.”

Unbelievable, isn’t it? That was in 1961. At that time, due to the strict upbringing and a minimum of care with regard to the living and food situation of the children and adolescents there were frequent escape attempts by the pupils who were taught separately from each other. The exercise was from 5 a.m. until late in the evening with only a few breaks and just enough food to keep the body from going slack.

If a student was caught fleeing or returned voluntarily, he was punished disproportionately and severely, for example with bamboo blows on the bare bottom or on the knuckles. Quite a few must have passed out from pain. The film “Painted Faces” (1988) shows, without Jackie Chan’s participation, the circumstances of the time – unimaginable today.

The rules of the China Drama Academy

It is strictly forbidden for tourists to take photos in the Jackie Chan Film Gallery. For this reason I am using a zoom of the screenshot of the approved tour with An Baihui.

It is noticeable that Jackie Chan looks much older than seven years in the photo; he must have been around twelve when the photo was taken. Well, that’s because this document behind glass is not the original. The contract shown is an original from 1961, but issued in blank form. The photo of a twelve-year-old chan who was one of the top actors in the Seven Little Fortunes, the elite troupe of the China Drama Academy, in 1966 is just more telling.

An Baihui (安 佰 卉) presents Jackie Chan's training contract for the China Drama Academy at the Jackie Chan Film Gallery, Shanghai
Jackie Chan's training contract for the China Drama Academy at the Jackie Chan Film Gallery, Shanghai

The following rules were taken from the Chinese document. They do not necessarily have to be reproduced in the specified original order.

  • The date field shows “19 … to …” and was filled in when the contract was concluded.
  • The monthly cost was HKD 100 for tuition, HKD 50 for food, HKD 20 for accommodation and other costs of HKD 10.
  • For the time being, the school paid the parents’ costs.
  • If a student runs away or quits school, the money paid in advance must be refunded.
  • There is no discount and no right to appeal against repayment.
  • The school specifies the curriculum and the associated area of application outside of the school. Students are therefore borrowed for a fee for films, operas and other shows. The parents have no right to participation and remuneration.
  • If the China Drama Academy sees high potential in a student and sends him on tour, the parents are not allowed to object. If parents interfere with the tour life, a fine is to be expected.
  • If the school’s image is damaged, the parents are liable for it.
  • Parents must adhere to visiting rules. It is up to the school whether parents can visit their child or take them with them for a short while.
  • If a student behaves in a naughty manner, the school must punish them. However, the school is only allowed to do this if the parents voluntarily consent. Voluntary parental consent is enforced by the school.
  • The school decides which roles to play in shows based on the ability of the students. Here, too, parents have no say.
  • In the event of illness, accident or even death of a student, the parents do not receive any compensation.
  • In the event of a war, the school may return the students to their parents at any time without any further consequences.
  • If a student is or becomes too weak during the training and can no longer participate in lessons, the parents must present a medical certificate. Only when the school approves this certificate, the student may be released from lessons or even leave the school. In this case, the parents must assume all costs incurred up to now.

When little Jackie Chan romped around the academy, he wasn’t aware of what to expect. He thought he’d spend his life with like-minded people. When his father asked how long he wanted to stay, Jackie said, “Forever.”

A training contract at the China Drama Academy was available in various versions. The maximum length was ten full years. That’s what Jackie wanted, and so, according to the academy’s rules, his parents and master Yu Jim-Yuen signed the contract.

In those ten years, Jackie Chan went through, as he describes, hell on earth, surrendered to his parents and the powers of his master. But in all that time he didn’t even run away from school.

He graduated in 1971. His father Charles flew in from Canberra, Australia, where he had worked for years, and proudly picked up his son in a car. Jackie had survived ten years of ordeal and shouted “I’m free!” with happiness on the drive to his new apartment.

Jackie Chan Film Gallery address:

88, Yunling East Road, Putuo District, Shanghai, China