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November 27, 2023

30 Amazing Vintage Photos of a Young Bruce Lee From Between the Late 1950s and Early 1960s

Through his film roles, Bruce Lee is seen as a symbol of national pride and Asian defiance against colonialism and white oppression. Lee’s characters and his own life experiences mirror that of a man who is caught up in the dislocating limbo between two worlds – one of the East and one of the West. Whether he is a Chinese country boy lost in a big Western city in The Way of The Dragon or the more worldly and modern Chinese man in Enter The Dragon, Lee establishes himself in a niche which has never been explored before in the cinematic world – that of an Asian man trying to assert a racial presence in a white-dominated society.

Bruce Lee’s early years were largely influenced by the Japanese’s occupation of Hong Kong; his mother recalled stories of the young Bruce raising his fist to the Japanese zeroes flying overhead. Likewise, anti-colonial sentiments against the British were equally as strong. As a student, Bruce was frequently involved in fights with British pupils from the nearby King George V school.

In his biography of Lee, author Bruce Thomas describes the 1950s Hong Kong of Bruce’s childhood as “a place suffering from high unemployment, a depressed economy, over crowding, homelessness and from people simply taking advantage of each other.” In such conditions, Bruce was a young delinquent whose pride did not allow him to take things lying down. This passion for the underdog and for the disadvantaged would carry on into his adult life and would affect his later choices, both in films and in his personal life.

One outlet was the Kung Fu lessons he took with the famous master, Yip Man. Yip Man was – at the time – almost the epitome of traditional Chinese martial arts. He did not wear western clothing, did not pose for publicity photographs and felt strongly that only the Chinese should be taught the art of Wing Chun. It is therefore evident of how much Lee’s childhood in Hong Kong was steeped in anti- colonial nationalism as well as powerful, albeit conflicting, ideas about Chinese traditions. When he moved to the United States in his early twenties, such ideas were only deepened after he started working at a Chinese restaurant and saw how Westerners treated Asians.

Below is a selection of 30 amazing vintage photographs of a young Bruce Lee from between the late 1950s and early 1960s:


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