Back when “Life” magazine was still being called “The Show-Book of the World” an interesting figure appeared amongst its page. The 66 year old Chinese man had been photographed pulling off a smooth move on the ice, while wearing one of the coolest beards in ice skating history. The photograph is simple, yet is still one that stirs the soul for the beauty of the sport.
At this time, the prospectus for the publication was “To see life, to see the world… to see strange things – machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon… to see things thousands of miles away.” It was not long afterwards that the editors shortened the magazine’s name to what we now know as simply “Life”.
In the winter of 1946, in the after days of the war that shook the whole world, one of the magazines photographers captured an image of a Chinese man skating on a plate of ice. The photo of Mr. Wu Tang-shem shows his leg and torso perfectly perpendicular to the ice below. Adding even more intrigue to the photo is the awesome beard that the old man is maintaining. We don’t know what types of grooming tips for beards he was getting, or if he even had access to beard balm or beard oil or even an old school boar brush, but the lack of any is certainly not evident on his face.
The brief text that described the scene read:
Once a week during the winter a slight, bearded, 66-year-old Chinese gentleman named Wu Tang-shen solemnly pads his way down to the ice pond in the Forbidden City section of [Beijing], changes his sandals for a pair of 20th-century skates and spends a quiet Chinese afternoon cutting complicated figures on the ice. There a short while ago LIFE photographer Jack Wilkes discovered and photographed Mr. Wu while he executed his pirouettes, crosscuts, beaks and spread eagles with the ease of an accomplished figure skater of the old school.
At the age of 16 Mr. Wu cut these capers for the Empress of China and was rewarded with a pension of five taels of silvers ($4) per month for life. But the Manchu dynasty [now commonly referred to as the Qing Dynasty] unfortunately died before Mr. Wu, and now Mr. Wu works for a living as a merchant. His skating still retains its former grace, and the figures he cuts are those of Western skaters. There is no figure 8 in Chinese.
It is nice to know that even in the shadow of war, and in a culture that for all intent and purpose was well underprivileged, the fine art of figure skating was practiced with zeal.