With the display of a very occidental man that started a succession of extraordinary events that were going to lead to a considerable rehabilitation of Chinese martial arts and consecrate Huo Yuan-jia as a national hero. That is after one of his power exhibitions held in Shanghai in 1919 that “Oupin” (Chinese transcription of “O'Brian”) challenged the Chinese public and whoever that would dare coming on the ring fighting him.
This provocation appeared as very insulting for a fistful of young Chinese nationalists that instantly formed a committee aiming to choose a champion able to take up the challenge. The name of Huo Yuan-jia, was suggested, he was then approached and he accepted. Master Huo went to Shanghai with one of his disciples Liu Chang-Sheng, where the numerous modalities for the fight were discussed. Immediately a problem appeared: master Huo knowing nothing about the notions of an occidental friendly fight, it was necessary to explain him about the usage of gloves, the presence of a referee, the ban of blows beneath the belt. Master Huo was then worried about the consequences if he had to kill O'Brian during the fight.
The problems were though finally solved, and a date was elected (4) and the event started to be organized with the construction of a vast platform in one of the Shanghai parks. When the day of the match arrived, O'Brian didn't turn up. Some pretended that he was too much disdainful for the Chinese people to come, other, more numerous, claimed that informed about the determination of Huo Yuan-jia, he was scared and secretly escaped from Shanghai. Chinese honor was safe, but the many spectators came to assist to the event were left without a promising match. Noisy and tumultuous, the crowd asked for a friendly match open to all, which was accepted. A first challenger, named Chao, that was a true giant, came. He didn't fight Huo though but his disciple, Liu Chang-shang, in accordance to the custom. As a street fighting specialist, Liu defeated easily his opponent. Then arrived Chang from Ho Mei who was himself a fighting instructor. Once again Liu fought the challenger in the name of his master. This time the confrontation was much more top-quality and impressive. Opponents were equally strong, and the fight had to be stopped declaring them tied.
The event was such a success that it was decided to continue the following day. So the day after, more than 1000 people turned up in front of the platform, the news of the tournament having spread all around the town. This time Chang challenged directly Master Huo, who accepted. That was a terrible fight, but Master Huo ended up winning it. After that no more challengers came. The show was not over yet though since Master Huo and his disciple performed numerous fighting exhibitions and Taos (or ‘katas'; forms executing mimed fights) in front of an enthusiastic crowd. To finish, Master Huo made a little speech to the crowd where he discoursed for a long time and with passion about martial arts before answering questions.
Even if the fight “Occidental boxer” Vs “Chine martial artist” didn't take place, the memorable exhibitions of Master Huo and his disciples had considerable repercussions. Master Huo became a national hero having rehabilitated worth and reputation of Chinese martial arts. Numerous Chinese people found then self confidence and esteem that had been seriously corroded by the tragic events of the revolt of the Boxers rebellion.