Francesco Scaringella, martial arts practitioner
Fueled by a profound love for Chinese martial arts, Francesco Scaringella embarked on a journey to delve into the realms of Chinese language and culture.
His passion for martial arts began when he was a child, exposed to Japanese martial arts like karate and judo, as well as the influence of video games and movies featuring Chinese martial arts. Years later, Scaringella decided to take up kung fu and found a well-known school near his hometown, where he could immerse himself in the ancient teachings of Shaolin martial arts.
"I liked it so much that I started practicing it. And now I'm also teaching at a school as a jiaolian (instructor)," the 32-year-old PhD student at the University of Milan told China Daily. "While you practice, you also learn about cultural aspects, connecting with China, so I grew an interest in it and decided to learn the Chinese language."
Another motivation to learn Chinese was his desire to communicate directly with his kung fu masters and native Chinese speakers.
Scaringella's pursuit of Chinese martial arts is not a unique phenomenon in northern Italy, particularly Milan, where a long-standing community of Chinese immigrants resides. The historical connections between the Italian and Chinese people have laid the foundation for the establishment of Chinese cultural schools, making it easier for individuals like Scaringella to pursue one of the oldest styles of kung fu.
"The more I practice, the more I wanted to learn about the culture and ways of the Shaolin and Chinese culture," Scaringella said.
Scaringella visited China for the first time in 2011 and has since returned seven times. During one of his visits to China, he stayed in a modest martial arts school near the Shaolin Monastery in Dengfeng city, Henan province. The school provided basic accommodation with limited amenities.
"It was a poor school, and I stayed there for three months," Scaringella recounted. "The food was just rice and some vegetables… but I really enjoyed it and learned so much."
On China's efforts in promoting its culture, Scaringella praised the country's cultural initiatives. "China is doing a really good job of sharing its culture. The average Italian is now familiar with various aspects of Chinese culture, ranging from food to movies and actors," he said.
The Confucius Institute at the University of Milan said it has offered Mandarin courses to 33,119 students from its opening in 2009 to 2022, while more than 150,000 people took part in the wide range of cultural activities organized by the institute.
Since 2009, hundreds of students have traveled to China with the institute, to study courses ranging from one month to two years at its partner school Liaoning Normal University. Scaringella was among those that benefited from this program, having been awarded a full-year scholarship to study in China beginning in September.
Scaringella said China's growing global influence, both politically and economically, has sparked people's interest in the country. He believes efforts elevating cultural exchange have contributed to a greater understanding and appreciation of China's rich history.