What Is Bruce Lee’s Ethnicity? Martial Artists’ Ancestry Is Surprising

Bruce Lee is of the most legendary figures in the long and storied history of martial arts. The founder of the Jeet Kune Do style also gained fame as a beloved actor in China and Hollywood.

Lee’s physical ability and charisma made his martial arts films extremely popular, and many are still considered among the greatest martial arts films of all-time. Lee was an American citizen by birth and also spent time in Hong Kong as he grew up.

This mix of cultural settings helped to make the iconic cultural figure and the man he was in life and in death. Lee is a fascinating historical figure, so who was the martial arts master, and how did his surprising ancestry impact his life? 

Who is Bruce Lee? 

Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee | Bettmann/Getty Images

Celebrated for his mastery of martial arts, Lee was considered one of the greatest fighters of all-time. Lee was also an extremely popular movie star in America, China, and the entire world. Iconic films that Lee starred in include Fist of Fury, The Game of Death, and the posthumously released Enter the Dragon.

Released only six days after Lee’s death, Enter the Dragon is considered one of the classics of martial art film genre. To this day, Lee is a significant figure in popular culture.

In Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, actor Mike Moh played the legendary Lee. In the film, Lee arrogantly brags about his fighting skill, and desire to fight the legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali.

Lee had great respect for Ali and wished to someday fight against him. Lee is also beaten in a fight in the movie by stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The possibly inaccurate portrayal was not appreciated by those closest to him.

In the real world, Lee was a friend of Sharon Tate, Steve McQueen, and other major Hollywood celebs of the time, and also was responsible for training them in martial arts. He was also known as a respectful man, who would never use his extraordinary skill for anything but defense or fair competition.

Lee spent most of his life in China and California and had an interesting mix of ancestry in his family. 

Lee’s interesting ancestry

Lee Jun Fan was born in San Francisco, California, and was given the American nickname Bruce. Lee’s parents were Grace Ho and Lee Hoi Chuen.

Hoi Chuen was a popular Chinese actor, known for his comedic films. The couple had five children total, with Bruce being the fourth.

The Lees had European traces in their bloodline, on Lee’s mother’s side of the family. According to Vice, many believed that Grace Ho’s father was purely German, but according to documents used for the family’s immigration, there is no record of any German ancestry in the family.

Instead, these official documents reveal that Lee’s family was actually English. This mixed heritage was very impactful in Lee’s life, and influenced him to be the kind and accepting man that he was in life. 

How Lee’s ancestry impacted his life  

Following his experiences, Lee was a champion for people of people accepting and celebrating their ancestry. The blend of racial backgrounds that Lee’s parents and family had made Lee experience a variety of customs and traditions.

While Lee and his family celebrated their racial bloodlines, the rest of the world was less respectful and understanding. Due to Lee’s European ancestry, he was not allowed to become a member of prestigious and strict kung-fu academies in China.

Lee did not let this rejection hold him back, as he continued to study and master Wing Chun form of kung-fu that he was denied entry into due to his mixed bloodline. Lee passed his teachings and mastery to his children and the world.

Lee died in Hong Kong in 1973 at the age of 32. In a continuing legacy, Lee’s son Brandon was a rising film star, before his untimely death. In a strange and tragic coincidence, both Bruce and Brandon died just before the release of a film they were starring in.

Brandon perished after an accidental shooting while on the set of the film The Crow. Both Bruce and Brandon Lee were robbed of an even longer career in the fields of martial arts and film, but their familial legacy will live on.