History of sport in China

With China becoming the top contender to be the next superpower, another factor that builds on its impressive image is the massive development of sports in the country, which can especially be observed in the last forty years. Though many modern sports feature and big recent sport events -like the Olympic Games- this does not mean that sport is a recent phenomenon for the Chinese people.

Olympic Games in Beijing (2008)

Old times and traditional sport

China is one of the oldest cultures in the world and its population has been practicing for centuries a form of sport, in one way or another. Indeed, sport has been popular in China since the beginning of civilization. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of certain health-building sports that were played in China about 4,000 years ago. Indeed, it is inevitable that with a very long history, the country has developed a multitude of traditional sports and pastimes. The vastness of China and its diversity of ethnic groups explain that many very different sports have emerged. They reflect their culture.

Almost all the traditional sports were derived from productive activity. The Mongolians, Tibetans and Kazaks inhabit vast natural grasslands and horsemanship is vital to their existence. Consequently their gift for riding and shooting has given rise to their forms of sport. The people who live in agricultural communities or who rely on hunting for their livelihood are good at climbing, wrestling, jumping, shooting and so on.

Traditional sports in Mongolia

Most of the traditional sport have been inspired and related to daily activities especially surviving ones. For example, in the vast plains of Mongolia, Mongolians practice riding activities, vital to their lives. These ones have resulted in various sports. In contrast, people living thanks to farming or hunting have allowed more skills transformed into sports such as rock climbing, wrestling, jumping, shooting… We can also mention Tibetan yak racing, crossbow archery among the Miao, and dragon-boat racing among the Dai ethnic minority.

As a consequence of the adaptation of daily life activities, hunting, archery and rowing were some of the earliest sports that were played by the people in China. Some evidence of the existence of a similar sport to football was even found. It was played in China around 1,000 A.D.


Ancient Chinese football

Because of the importance of dance and music in ancient times, most sports activities were accompanied by those. This created new forms of art, often staged during important events such as festivals. Among these include the « Bamboo Pole Dance » Li community.  The participants squat or kneel in pairs opposite each other and hold the end of a bamboo poles in each hand. The couples bring the poles together and apart in time with the rhythm of musical accompaniment. With the accompaniment of rhythm, graceful dancers jump, skip back and forth, squat and hop between the poles while singing and performing various mimes. They need to maintain a rhythm that is in time with the poles so as to avoid being trapped between them chinaculturetour-com

Bamboo Pole Dance

Moreover, China is traditionally famous for martial arts, taijiquan (shadow boxing), qigong (deep breathing exercises) and table tennis. Many of the traditional sports activities are not only good for health but also have high artistic value, and rich recreational and educational functions. It’s part of the cultural heritage of China. But, since the 20th century, China embraced modern sports.

Modern times and the increase of the importance of sport

The influx of modern sport appeared in China since the beginning of the 20th century. The country started to emphasize sport and the government funded and trained talented youngsters, especially beginning in the mid-20th century. With the openness of China to the world, sport took a new dimension. It became a patriotism question and reflected the power of the China. More specifically, it has served one purpose — to build national pride.

Athletes’ victories on the global stage made Chinese proud of the new China. To serve this one, many kids who were identified as potential elite athletes were enrolled into the government supported « sports schools. »


Sport school

The real change has happened in the 1990’. Some sports became entirely funded bythe government and turned into professional activities as football, basketball, volleyball, ping pong, and weiqi. Thanks to that, sports knew a huge development and professionalization led to commercialization. The success of basketball rocketed for instance.

Moreover, the « Physical Health Law of the People’s Republic of China » was adopted in 1995. At the same time, it was promulgated the « Outline of Nationwide Physical Fitness Program ». These documents aim to improve health and physical condition of Chinese population. The government intends to build a sport and health-building service system for the general public. People are encouraged to engage in at least one sport activity every day. Actually, the percentage of people the practicing an activity increased.


National Fitness Day

In 2016, the government issued a new plan to implement a new national fitness strategy with quite the same goals: increase the health and fitness of the Chinese people. But, this time, a new aim has emerged: the grow of the sports industry.

So, by 2020, a significant increase is expected in the number of people doing physical exercises, and the people’s physical quality should be steadily improved. The goal is that sports consumption reaches 1.5 trillion yuan. Globally, the national fitness program will become a driver for promoting the development of the sports industry. To do so, the government will invest in the construction of new public sports facilities and implement fitness and sports activities programs.

Thanks to the government’s support and involvement, the rise of interest of the population for sport increased and physical fitness is currently a great part of the Chinese culture. In recent times, the country has also been producing players of immense talent in the world of sport. Today, China is recognized as one of the best sport nation but its potential is not fully exploited.

Discovering Gansu and remote China (for National Holidays)

When you plan a trip in a remote area, you expect to find breath-taking empty landscapes and friendly globish-speaking locals to help you. National Holidays in China showed us that no matter how far to go, you will always find crowded places and communicating with locals will turn out to be a daily challenge. It also turned out to be the funny part of the trip. We experienced a thrilling adventure while finding our way, asking people to translate, using all means of communication (including mimics), missing trains or desperately trying to find a hotel for the night. It made me realize how helpful and patient Chinese people are and live tiny comforts of life – such as a hot shower – like a true miracle.

We were only six to leave Tsinghua for Gansu. Our Chinese classmates were going home and the rest stayed in Beijing for various reasons. We had an idea of the itinerary and spotted places to sleep, had booked the last train tickets for Xining in Qinghai, and that was it. It began the tough way with the 21 hour trip on “hard seats”. We did not really sleep, but we thought that we were lucky compared to those who just did not have a seat and were standing next to us.


In Xining, we visited the Kumbum Tibetan temple, one of the biggest bouddha temple of the region, 25km away from Xining. We mostly used buses and trains.

 In Zhangye area, we went to the Rainbow Mountains (Danxia), the troglodyte temple of Matisi, the Grand Canyon of China (Ping Shan Hu) and the Temple of Sakyamuni.

 In Jiayuguan, we walked on the Great Wall, one of the last Western part and the Fortress.

And finally, in Dunhuang, we penetrated the Mogao Caves and hiked the sand dunes around Crescent Lake in the Gobi desert. It was beautiful, though crowded. I noticed that Chinese people had a certain way to behave as tourists: they would take pictures of themselves in front the landscape or the monument, or a selfie, but aside from a few well-equipped photo amateurs, they would not take a photo of the landscape alone.

 Chinese people have been very patient and helpful with us. Many times, they showed us the way by walking with us, booked rooms for us on their phones or helped us find a hotel, translated for us or just smiled at us or asked to take pictures with us. Patience, kindness and smiles always worked well when communicating with them.

Some of us took two days to get back from Gansu by train, distances are longer in China! Getting back to Tsinghua felt like going home, and that is a weird thing to say considering that we have been there only for three weeks.

Funny facts:

  • Vincent and Joseph had taken their guitars, but when a Bouddhist monk asked Vincent to play in front of a public, he totally missed it.
  • Vincent and Joseph had bought sledges to ride the sand dunes at Crescent Lake, but it did not work at all.
  • We almost got stuck outside the guesthouse in Dunhuang because the owner had gone to bed. She opened up for us and did not get angry at us for waking her up.
  • We arrived at the wrong train station in Zhangye and had 20 minutes for make the connection with another faraway train station. Ultimately, we managed to change tickets in the last moment to take another train later.

First week in China

By Géraldine Rougier

Arriving in China for most of us was one of the first time we set foot in an Asian country. We were all very excited and full of questions, eager to discover new ways of life and new traditions.

After a 10-hour flight from Paris to Beijing, we were greeted by our Chinese classmates who were eagerly awaiting our arrival. An hour later, we finally arrived at Tsinghua University with just enough time to discover our rooms, or shared rooms for some of us and went to dinner at a canteen on campus, not too far from the dormitories. First real Chinese dinner! So many different dishes, new flavors, both spicy and sweet, there was something for everyone!

Campus of Tsinghua University

We spent the following days walking through the campus for all of the many administrative procedures. We figured out step by step that it was going to be long and complicated, especially as many of the university staff barely spoke English.  Our Chinese classmates were of great help and took charge of everything! Registration, new bank accounts, new SIM cards, new student cards… We were exhausted even before the beginning of the first week of classes!

The campus is a very enjoyable place to live. There are many green spaces and sports grounds spread all across the campus. While there are more than 46,000 students, we have found the campus to be very quiet and peaceful. Everyone rides a bike or an electric scooter. Thanks to Nathalie’s advice and help, all of us bought a bike off campus. She has been coming with the students every year for the past 4 years to help us get settled as she understands the process and can show us around.  And indeed we quickly discovered buying a bike was one of the important tasks to accomplish over the first days as our dormitory is 2 km from the School Of Environment (SOE)!

After this busy weekend, we started our first week of classes at the SOE. Speaking of that building, well it is…a bit surprising! It has a “U-shape” and it is impossible to access our classroom without going up to the third floor on the western side, take a bridge to the eastern side and then go back down to the first floor. This leaves us all a bit perplexed!


First class at Tsinghua University

Despite a significant work load, we have been able to go off campus many times: historic sites, restaurants, pubs, and malls. We walked along the Forbidden City and, as Nathalie would say, we landed in the Chinese “Champs Elysées”. A large street with many luxury stores. From there we entered a small tourist area full of gift shops and restaurants. Here’s the time to practice our negotiating and bartering skills, thanks to Professor Faure’s advice! We also walked through Tian’anmen Square and on Saturday before Nathalie left to go back to Paris she went with us to the Temple of Heaven. As soon as we entered through the gate, the sounds of the city faded away and were replaced by the sounds of the birds.

The Forbidden City

At this point, Beijing is not what I expected. I expected to see more Chinese architecture and more people. Other big Asiatic cities in the South look different from the images I’ve seen, here in Beijing we are surrounded by big buildings, all well-organized, the road traffic is calm and fluid, the subway is clean and efficient, and the streets are not nearly as crowded as I had imagined!

At the end of the week everyone had a good impression of Beijing, Tsinghua University, and our home for the next 3 months. We look forward to seeing what this city has to offer as we are convinced it is full of surprises!

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Photo album of the first days in Beijing

First days in France… before China!

By Kristen King

Bonjour Paris!

Any anxiety this American girl had stepping off the plane from New York was quickly relieved by the welcome I received. Shortly after touching down in Paris, I was met by a new classmate and his mother, who were also inviting me into their home. A quick kiss on the cheek that said “hello” and “welcome” and “nice to meet you” was all it took.


The next morning arrived too quickly, as it was still the middle of the night in New York, and soon we were on our way.  The destination was Fontainebleau and an introduction to our project, China, and the next 8 months.  The schedule for the week was full: introductions, the necessary history and best practices for negotiating in China, and (of course) ice breaking, team building activities where we all learned a bit more about ourselves and our fellow classmates.

The end of the week came with cooler weather, and everyone embraced the desire to be outdoors.  The forest surrounding the town of Fontainebleau, which includes the campus of MINES ParisTech, served as a great location for a hike.  This forest had dominated some of our early discussion and educational activities earlier in the week.  Though it is now nationalized, this land had once been owned by the King and was utilized as hunting grounds.  It is now protected land, serving as a representative of an important source of fuel over the last centuries.

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As our group took their first steps through the trees, I let my mind wander and reflect over the last few days. Earlier in the week our group had participated in the Graves Model, used to help identify personality traits that drive our actions and also how we interact with others.  I was amused as I observed who followed directly with our tour guide, who broke off into smaller groups, and who took to their own path, playing on the stones or tempting the trees to fight back. Guesses as to which group I fell into?  The fresh air and clear views were a serene way to say “Au revoir until January.”  And now, we say hello to Beijing.