Check out the latest article by Ben Judkins about a Junk that was sailed to New York and then London in 1851.
The most exciting thing about it is that a group of 20 Southern Chinese sailors, hired to sail the boat, just happened to have enough martial arts and opera training to put on shows in New York and then in London for 2 years. That is strong evidence for two things:
One, that martial arts and opera training were wide spread at least among sailors. Actually opera might not be the right word here but they had some kind of theatrical performance training, most likely amateur.
Two, they conceptualized martial arts as a performing art that could easily be incorporated into a larger performance.
There is a lot of other fascinating stuff in there too, a ground breaking law suit, a visit by Charles Dickens, and Westerners playing Chinese opera instruments. There is also some suggestion that the religious rituals they performed for themselves were accessible as performance. Now I want to know more.