The Amazing Healing Power of Kung-fu

Dr Fung Lai-chu Annis
Associate Professor, Department of
Applied Social Sciences

Dr Fung (middle) led the rst scien c study to evaluate the impact of Chinese mar al arts on children. On the right is Mr Toney Lee, the Co-inves gator.

As a trailblazer in research about proactive and reactive aggression among children and adolescents, Dr FUNG Lai-chu Annis, Associate Professor of the Department of Applied Social Sciences, has used her findings, along with evidence-based applications of intervention, in many workshops, practitioner manuals and even videos tailor-made for schools, government departments, and NGOs.

Up until Fung's pioneering Children and Adolescents at Risk Education Project (C.A.R.E.) in 2006, which was a 5-year project funded 11 million by Quality Education Fund of Education Bureau, almost all aggressive behaviour was often oversimplified as school bullying. This view formed the basis for most anti-bullying programmes. However, the C.A.R.E. project shed light on reactive and proactive aggression subtypes and pointed the way in developing targeted intervention, thus making remedial programmes more effective worldwide.

Fung's research has been driven by a mission to help reduce the incidence of serious crimes such as homicide and manslaughter, and to gain a better understanding of the psychopathy in children and adolescents. When being asked to share her passion and enthusiasm towards her research area, she calls it “a calling from God”. “As a Christian, I pray from time to time. God told me very clearly that he wants me to serve children and adolescents with aggressive behaviour by doing research on interventions for them and their families,” she says.

“My findings show that when children and adolescents who have aggressive behaviour tendency receive evidence-based intervention to reduce their bullying behaviour in their formative years, it can be a turning point for the rest of their lives,” she says. “Timely intervention is also effective in stopping the vicious cycle of child abuse and domestic violence. The impact can be profound.”

Over the years, Fung has played a principal role in a number of groundbreaking research projects, both local and interna onal. The work on C.A.R.E., which adopted cogni ve- behavioral therapy for children with reac ve and proac ve aggression, won an Interna onal Research Award in the Na onal An -bullying Summit in United States in 2013. Three other projects were supported by the General Research Fund (GRF) in 2013, 2014, and 2017 respec vely. One of these focused on teaching the ethics of Chinese mar al arts as a psycho-educa onal approach to reduce aggression among schoolchildren. Another project using a bio- neurological approach studied the daily consump on of Omega-3 supplements, which contain 300mg EPA and 300mg DHA, among risk-taking adolescents. By enhancing their brain func on and development, the results showed a signi cant e ect in allevia ng aggressive behaviour. Along the way, Fung has collaborated with colleagues at some notable local and overseas ins tu ons, including the University of Pennsylvania, City University in New York, and the University of Hong Kong.

God told me very clearly that he wants me to serve children and adolescents with aggressive behaviour by doing research on interventions for them and their families
Dr Annis Fung

The social impact of Fung's projects is far-reaching. The evidence-based intervention methods designed to tackle bullying and aggressive behavior have already been implemented by over 100 schools in Hong Kong, benefitting more than 57,000 students and nearly 6,000 teachers. Many schools also have integrated Fung's research findings into innovative extra-curricular activities to nip bullying problems in the bud.

For instance, the intervention scheme built around Chinese martial arts enhanced students' moral values, team cooperation, and their understanding about the meaning and significance of obedience. The approach helped proactive aggressors learn about empathy and made reactive aggressors feel more accepted within their groups, resulting in significant reduction in aggressive and bullying behaviour. This particular project was recognised with a Certificate of Merit in CLASS's Excellence in Knowledge Transfer Award.

“Another GRF project is recently carried out with the Hans Andersen Club, an NGO in Hong Kong. It involves primary 1 to 4 students of 16 local primary schools. We identify high-risk children and invite them to participate in fairytale-telling sessions. This helps to increase their empathy towards the characters in the stories and to develop appropriate social skills. By doing so, their aggressive behavioural index would decrease.” Fung says.

Apart from conducting research, Fung has regularly been invited by the Hong Kong Police Force, the Social Welfare Department, and the Education Bureau for delivering talks and trainings to frontline police officers, social workers, and psychologists. She shares her expertise in the assessment and classification of reactive and proactive aggressors and the tailored tactics for dealing with them.

Certain findings about the highly narcissistic tendencies of Hong Kong adolescents displaying proactive aggression also caught the attention of mainland Chinese researchers and public bodies working on reforms to the one-child policy. They consulted Fung on the potential impact of any changes in the policy on children's behaviour before the policy was ended in 2015.

As the programme leader of MSocSc Counselling in the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Fung is committed to integrate her research findings into her teaching. Recently, she is preparing for a new elective course named “Aggressive Behaviour and Homicide” for the upcoming year. Through integrating her research into this course, Fung aims to raise students' interest in conducting scientific research on this topic. “I pursue evidence-based teaching and integrate my research findings into the teaching materials to enrich each topic,” she says. “By sharing my own experience and the many real-life examples from my projects alongside the research findings, I can provide students with a better grasp of how to use theories as a basis for case analyses and implement them in practical situations.”