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
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. »
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.