How did Jackie Chan become one of the most recognizable and beloved actors in the world? Find out in this exciting biography of this martial artist turned international film superstar.
When Kong-sang was a young boy in Hong Kong, he enjoyed practicing martial arts with his dad but hated going to school. He was eventually enrolled in the China Drama Academy, where he improved his martial arts skills and became a stuntman. That training led to a successful career as an actor. Kong-sang, now known as Jackie Chan, never gave up on his passion for screwball physical comedy. Luckily for Jackie, his determination paid off. His humor and dangerous stuntwork in films like Cannonball Run, Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon, and Karate Kid have made him an international star, and it doesn't look like he'll be leaving the big screen anytime soon.
About the Author
Jody Jensen Shaffer is an award-winning children's author who has written numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including The Way the Cookie Crumbled, Ninja Warriors, and What's Your Story, Frederick Douglass? She lives in Missouri with her husband and two children.
Read an Excerpt
Who Is Jackie Chan?
Seven-year-old Chan Kong-sang stared at his father. He could hardly believe it. They were going on a trip! His father had never taken him on a trip before. And especially not on a day when Kong-sang was supposed to be in school. He wasn’t good at school, and he didn’t like it. He got in trouble for being too active and not doing his work.
Kong-sang ran to his bedroom and put on his favorite outfit—a Western cowboy costume with a big hat and a plastic gun. It was his birthday gift from his parents. He waved to his mother and boarded the bus with his father.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“Somewhere special,” his father said.
They rode the bus down the mountain from his home on Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, to the city at the bottom. Kong-sang had never been to the city before. It was filled with unfamiliar sounds and smells. But he did recognize one thing: sweet buns! The flaky sweet rolls were the boy’s favorite. He begged his father to buy a bag of the steaming treats.
Delicious sweet buns in hand, Kong-sang and his father boarded a ferry, another new experience for the boy. They chugged across Victoria Harbour toward the bustling city of Kowloon. Kong-sang and his father pushed through the crowd, past cars, buildings, and signs advertising food and music. Then they turned onto a street lined with old apartment buildings. Kong-sang’s heart sank. There was nothing exciting here. Was their adventure over?
They stopped in front of a building with a sign that read China Drama Academy. “Here we are,” said his father. As the doors opened and Kong-sang saw inside, his heart raced. Boys and girls in black-and-white outfits kicked and jumped, somersaulted, and tumbled. Kong-sang was in heaven! It was a school to learn how to perform martial arts. And that was the kind of school an active boy like Kong-sang could love.
Chapter 1: Early Years
Chan Kong-sang was born on April 7, 1954, on Victoria Peak—the highest mountain in Hong Kong. His parents were called Charles and Lee-Lee. Kong-sang was a big baby. He weighed twelve pounds! Kong-sang was so big and heavy that his parents nicknamed him “Pao-pao.” It means cannonball in Chinese.
Kong-sang’s parents were very poor. His mother was a housekeeper. His father was a cook. The couple worked for the French ambassador to Hong Kong. The ambassador was a diplomat who was sent to represent France in the region. He lived with his family in a large house in Hong Kong. Kong-sang’s family lived in a tiny room with no windows at the back of the ambassador’s mansion.
As a four- or five-year-old, Kong-sang exercised every day. His father woke him early in the morning to work out. Kong-sang’s father came from Shandong Province, China, where martial arts were very popular. Martial arts are fighting traditions for self-defense and combat, but they are also used for health and fitness. In Shandong, the people especially liked a kind of martial arts called Northern style kung fu. It focused on spinning kicks and acrobatic movements.
Kong-sang and his father didn’t have a gym. So they used extra pieces of wood and recycled trash for equipment. They ran, lifted sandbags, and did push-ups. To Kong-sang’s father, learning the Northern style of kung fu was very important. It was the same thing as learning how to become a man.
When Kong-sang was six, his parents sent him to school at Nan Hua Elementary Academy. Kong-sang did not like it. He had trouble reading and understanding the teacher. He didn’t do his homework. He didn’t like staying indoors. And he was bored. Kong-sang became a class clown. He got in trouble with his teachers.
And sometimes he got into fights with other kids in his neighborhood.
When Kong-sang’s parents learned their son would have to repeat his first year, they took him out of school. Around this same time, Kong-sang’s father was offered a better job in Australia. He was going to be a cook at the US embassy there. But that would mean leaving his family and moving far away. Seven-year-old Kong-sang seemed too wild for his mother to handle by herself at home. His parents wondered if the China Drama Academy in nearby Kowloon, Hong Kong, might be a good place for their son.
The China Drama Academy was one of the Peking Opera schools. At the China Drama Academy, students learned discipline and martial arts so they could perform in the Chinese opera. The Chans decided to find out more about the academy.