Sports in China

Sports in China

Although China has long been associated with the martial arts, sports in China today refers to a small variety of competitive sports played in China, including mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. Traditional Chinese culture regards physical fitness as an important aspect, and, since the 20th century, a large number of sports activities, both Western and traditionally Chinese, are popular in China.

Prior to the 1990s, sport in China, as in some other countries, was completely government-funded. Some top athletes had quit at the height of their careers because they were uncertain about life post retirement. The situation began to change in 1994 when Chinese soccer became the first sport to take the professionalization road and in its wake similar reforms were carried out in basketball, volleyball, ping pong and weiqi. The process brought with it commercialization; sport associations became profit-making entities and a club system came into being; professional leagues formed, improving China's sports environment; and commercial management systems took shape. The professionalization of sports has encouraged the emergence of a sports management market and business-structured systems. Sports club operations now cover ticket sales, advertising, club transfers, commercial matches, television broadcasting and other commercial activities. Another aspect of the reform is that some Chinese athletes have joined foreign professional leagues. For instance, basketball star Yao Ming entered the NBA in the 2002 draft, and footballer Sun Jihai is currently in the Sheffield United F.C squad.


Dragon boat racing dates back about 2500 years ago and remains a traditional event held around China every year. There is evidence that a similar sport to Football was played in China around 1000 AD, leading some modern historians to suggest that Football in fact originates in China. From the Song Dynasty on Tai Chi Chuan and similar qigong martial arts activities became popular in China.

The influx of modern sports appeared in China since the beginning of the 20th Century. The People's Republic of China has emphasized on sports and the government funds and trains young talented players into professional players, especially in the mid-20th century. Ping pong is one of the biggest amateur recreational sports in China today, with an estimated 200 million players. Badminton is also well established and quite popular in China.

According to CCTV Sports Channel, the gold-medal women's volleyball game of the 2004 Olympics drew 30% of TV-owning households; China vs. Brazil in the 2002 World Cup drew 18% of TV-owning households. Basketball and soccer are also shown on TV.

Popular amateur sports include table tennis, badminton, martial arts and various forms of pool. China's professional sports are in its developmental stages.

Types of sports


Because of its relative simplicity, inexpensive equipment, and accessibility to venues, Badminton is a very established and popular sport in China. Famous Chinese badminton players include Lin Dan, Zhang Ning, Gao Ling, Huang Sui, and Xie Xingfang. It's a popular recreational sport and amateur leagues exist across the country.


Baseball in China first appeared in 1863 with the establishment of the Shanghai Baseball Club by American medical missionary Henry William Boone. [] [] . Organized baseball games were established with a game between the St. Johns University and the Shanghai MCA baseball club in 1905. However, in 1959 Mao Zedong disbanded all teams and outlawed baseball. [] After the Cultural Revolution ended, baseball activities restarted, and the China Baseball Association formed in 1974. [] In 2002, the China Baseball League was formed, and China participated in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. However, it is not a popular sport and it is often seen by Chinese as a mere American curiosity due to its slow pace. Defeats of the national team to Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea may help change the trend as Chinese become more aware of the game's internationalization.


Yao Ming has popularized basketball and the National Basketball Association has an inspired public relations effort to expand the sport but soccer has achieved greater public relations penetration with a greater TV spectatorship. However, there is evidence that trend is changing. Massive television audiences for basketball games during the 2008 Beijing Olympics ( especially the China-US match on the men's side) have led many to believe that basketball is not far from overthrowing table tennis and association football as the most played and watched sports in China, respectively. As basketball was only invented in 1898 however, it is a questionable assertion that China "is the third oldest country that plays basketball after USA and Canada." Since the arrival of Houston Rockets superstar Yao Ming in the NBA in 2002, the game has grown considerably in the world's most populated country. Some experts estimate as many as 300 million of China's 1.3 billion population now play basketball. The first professional team in China was a team that started in Shenyang and was sponsored by the Anshan Steel Company. The Chinese Basketball Association was established in 1995 and in 2004 it expanded to 12 teams. The fact that USA is starting to notice Chinese players after Yao Ming's success (compared to Wang Zhizhi and Mengke Bateer), and young CBA players such as Yi Jianlian entering the NBA are examples of this change in trend.

Unlike NBA, and very much like the European systems, Chinese basketball uses the system of promotion and relegation for its leagues.



China is now a chess superpower and proved so graphically at the 2006 37th Chess Olympiad in Turin when the men's team came second and the women's team third for easily the best result overall. The Chinese progress has been underpinned by large government support and testing competition in numerous tough events. Commensurate with its status, China currently has seven top hundred players, second only to . However, even today countries like and Israel still have an edge in experience over their Chinese counterparts.

Xiangqi is also considered a sport in China, with millions of players nationwide. There is a national Chinese chess league.


Cricket is a fast growing sport in China. It is already a well established sport in Hong Kong - a former British Colony. The Chinese cricket team is the team that represents the country of the People's Republic of China in international cricket. The Chinese Cricket Association became an International Cricket Council affiliate member in 2004. It should be noted that the Special administrative region of Hong Kong is a member of the ICC in their own right, becoming an ICC associate member in 1969. Hence, players from Hong Kong are not eligible to represent China in international competition.

Prior to the establishment of a recognized national side, the Shanghai Cricket Club, the largest club in the country, played games against many touring sides but they do not receive official recognition from the Chinese Cricket Association.

Since September 2005, the Chinese Cricket Association has conducted 8 coaching/ umpiring training course under the assistance from the Asian Cricket Council ("ACC"). The sports was now promoted in 9 cities in China namely Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Dalian, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Tianjin and Jinan. More than 150 schools were involved.

The Chinese Cricket Association has set itself other goals over the next 14 years. [] A list of these goals follows:

2009: Have 720 teams across the country in a well-organised structure

2015: Have 20,000 players and 2,000 coaches

2019: Qualify for the World Cup

2020: Gain Test status

Currently, China is preparing for their next international challenges at the 2009 ACC Trophy Challengers Division and the 2010 Asian Games where cricket will be played.


Although unheard of and unpopular, Curling has been an improving sport for China to play. The government were the ones to select some athletic individuals to play Curling for China. The Chinese teams both Men and Women have improved at the international level. At the 2008 Ford World Women's Championships, the Chinese Curling team consisting of Zhou Yan, Yin Liu, Bingyu Wang, and Yue QingShuang won a surprising silver medal finish. At the 2008 World Men's Curling Championship, the Chinese didn't have as much success, but they also did very well, finishing 4th. The government is also hoping to promote the sport thourgh Universities and Colleges. [ [ Young Curling Hopefuls Eye Sweeping Success - ] ]

Figure skating

China is currently one of the top nations in the pairs events of figure skating. However, China is weak in the other three disciplines (men's singles, ladies singles, and ice dance). At the 2008 World Figure Skating Championships, Canada took home the most medals, followed by France. Other nations that took home medals were Germany, Japan, China, Italy, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

Football (soccer)

Football has been one of the most well supported sports in China ever since it was introduced in the 1900s. There is, in fact, written evidence that a game similar to soccer was first played in China around 50 BC [ [ The History Of Soccer. How Soccer Was Invented ] ] , and China is recognized by FIFA as the founding nation of football. The current Chinese Football Association was founded in the People's Republic of China after 1949. Its headquarters is located in Beijing, and the current chairman is Xie Yalong. From 1994 to 2004, CFA established first professional football league, which was "Jia A". The Chinese Super League is the premier football league in China, which was changed from "jia A" in 2004, as the top of a league hierarchy that extends to four leagues. Jia in Chinese also means "First" or "Best". Since its foundation the Super League has been relatively unstable, and is largely controlled by corporate interests that change hands frequently..

At the international level, Chinese football has enjoyed little success despite the amount of support it receives from fans. Although the national team qualified for the 2002 World Cup, they failed to score a single goal and lost all three group matches. Conversely, The women's national team has finished second at both the World Championships and the Olympic Games. Despite the Chinese women team's success at international competitions, however, Women's soccer in China does not receive nearly as much attention as their counterparts in Canada and the United States, therefore China's good trend in Women's soccer may well come to an end in the near future. In 1990, China hosted the first Women's World Cup in Guangzhou, and in 2004, hosted AFC Asian Cup.

Football has always been one of the most popular amateur team sports for recreation in China, although in recent years its status has been rivaled by basketball. High schools often have football facilities, some of which are rented on weekends to local amateur teams to organize matches. It is also one of the most popular sports to watch on television, with large international tournaments such as the World Cup and the European Championships, as well as major European leagues receiving widespread coverage.


Golf tournaments in China include the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, TCL Classic in Sanya on Hainan island, the Volvo China Open and the BMW Asian Open, played in the PRC after 2004. The most successful Chinese golfer has been Zhang Lian-Wei. The Mission Hills Golf Club golf course at Guanlan in Shenzhen is said to be the world's largest.

At the amateur level, Golf is seen as the top recreational sport for businesspeople and officials. Because of their relatively high position in Chinese society, they are usually the only people with access to the sport of Golf on mainland China. At the 2007 National People's Congress, caving in to the popular acknowledgment that the building of new golf courses is not only a waste of public funds but an illegal use of space, Premier Wen Jiabao said in his Work Report to the Congress that contracts in building new golf courses should be highly discouraged.

Ice hockey

The Chinese national women's ice hockey team is controlled by the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, and highly ranked in world competition. Men's hockey, in comparison, is somewhat lacking. Semi-professional teams have sprung up in Shenyang and Harbin. China has one team in Asia League Ice Hockey, the China Sharks.

Motor racing

The Chinese Grand Prix is a Formula 1 event held at the Shanghai International Circuit. See 2004 Chinese Grand Prix, 2005 Chinese Grand Prix and 2006 Chinese Grand Prix.

Rugby Union

Rugby union is becoming a more popular sport in China, than it previously has been. However, it is still not overly popular. China became affiliated to the International Rugby Board in 1997 and is currently ranked 40th in the world, ahead of Madagascar and just behind Sweden. The national team failed to qualify for the 1999 Rugby World Cup and the 2007 Rugby World Cup. One segment of Chinese society where rugby is particularly popular is the military. Rugby is an official sport of the People's Liberation Army, with the PLA Sports Institute participating in the highly-competitive Hong Kong leagues. Notable Chinese rugby players include Zhang Zhiqiang ("Johnny Zhang"), who had a stint with the famous Leicester Tigers club in England, and promising young speedster Li Yang, who boasts a time of 10.6 seconds in the 100-meter sprint.


Although pool, or more specifically, billiards, has long been a popular street recreation sport in China, Snooker's popularity has increased over the last few years in China. It can partly be attributed to the ascension of young Chinese player Ding Junhui who has since broken into the international Top 10. More and more young Chinese players are breaking onto the professional circuit such as Liang Wenbo and Liu Chuang who both qualified for the last 32 of the World Snooker Championship 2008, with Liang going on to reach the quarter-finals where he faced a snooker legend in China, Ronnie O'Sullivan. Snooker is played by an estimated 50 million Chinese people, and there are now over 300 Snooker clubs in Beijing alone. Some believe that China should host more tournament events, and one day may even host the Snooker World Championship itself. []

Table tennis (Ping Pong)

"Ping Pang Qiu" (乒乓球) is the official name for the sport of table tennis in China. Apart from the national representative team, the table tennis community in China continues to produce many world-class players, and this depth of skill allows the country to continue dominating recent world titles after a short break during the 1990s. The overwhelming dominance of China in the sport has triggered a series of rules changes in the International Table Tennis Federation and as part of the Olympics. Wang Hao is currently one of the highest-ranked Chinese table tennis players, and the highest-ranked player in the world [] . Deng Yaping is regarded by many as one of the greatest table tennis player of all time. The sport played an important role in China's international relations; in April 1972, the US table tennis team were invited to visit China, an event later called "Ping Pong Diplomacy". Table tennis is the biggest amateur recreational sport in China today, with an estimated 300 million players.


Tennis is a growing recreational sport in China, although access to tennis courts can be limited in densely populated urban areas. Recently Chinese tennis players, especially women, have seen success internationally both at the amateur level and professionally. International tennis tournaments receive wide coverage on Chinese sporting channels.

National fitness

The "Physical Health Law of the People's Republic of China" was adopted in 1995. In the same year, the State Council promulgated the "Outline of Nationwide Physical Fitness Program", followed by a series of rules and regulations. A survey released by the State Physical Culture Administration indicates that at present 33.9% of the population between 7 and 70 exercise regularly and 60.7 percent of the urban population go to sports clubs to engage in fitness activities. It is expected that by the end of 2005, 37 percent of China's total population will participate in regular physical exercises, and that over 95 percent of students will meet the National Physical Exercise Standard. Aiming to improve the health and the overall physical condition of the general population, the Nationwide Physical Fitness Program, with an emphasis on young people and children, encourages everyone to engage in at least one sporting activity every day, learn at least two ways of keeping fit and have a health examination every year.

In this 15 year long program, the government aims to build a sport and health-building service system for the general public. There are about 620,000 gymnasiums and stadiums across China, most of them open to and widely used by the general public. Outdoor fitness centers have been installed in urban communities in public parks, squares, schoolyards, and other convenient locations. All communities and neighborhoods in Beijing are equipped with fitness facilities that meet the national standard. Building on what it already had, Tianjin has instituted large-scale expansion of its outdoor and indoor fitness facilities and stadiums. 2004 saw the completion of China's first large fitness arena with a floor area in excess of 10,000 sq m,etc.

Starting in 2001, the State Physical Culture Administration has set aside the proceeds of the sports lottery as pilot funds, in order to build "China Sports Lottery Nationwide Physical Fitness Centers" as pilot projects in 31 large and medium-sized cities throughout the country, including Dalian, Beijing and Changchun. Some of these centers have already been built. Meanwhile, some 196 million yuan of sports lottery proceeds were used to construct public sporting facilities in China's less-developed western areas and in the Three Gorges region of the Yangtze River, supporting 101 counties and towns.

With the increase in nationwide fitness activities, people's outlook on life has also changed. In many large and medium-sized cities, spending money in the pursuit of good health has become trendy. New types of sport, including rock climbing, horsemanship, bungee jumping, bowling, skateboarding, women's boxing, shuffleboard, taekwondo and golf are particularly popular among young people. At the end of 2003, work was started on China's first snow golf course in A'er Mountain, Inner Mongolia. This project, representing an investment of about 1 billion yuan, will be the sixth snow golf course in the world.

The Nationwide Physical Fitness Program has set targets that, by 2010, about 40 percent of China's population will participate in regular physical exercise, there will be a clear improvement in the national physique and a major increase in the number of fitness sites so as to satisfy people's needs for keeping fit.

Between 1990 and 2002 the average life expectancy of China's population increased by 3.25 years, reaching 71.8 years, approaching the level of moderately developed countries. The latest survey of the national health, which ended in October 2001, extended over three years and 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government, making it China's largest ever in terms of scale and population numbers. The survey showed an increase in the growth of children and teenagers in China's rural areas, every index showing an average rate of increase surpassing that of same age group children in the cities. But the survey also revealed some grounds for concern. Chinese people's physical faculties drop sharply after they turned 40.

In cities obesity poses a big threat to the health of children and teenagers, and overweight is also very common among adults. The health of women in rural areas is far from satisfactory. Based on the survey findings, relevant departments of the government continuously study methods of keeping fit, set new ways and standards for different age groups and strengthen instruction at community level.

Youth sports

Schools have professional physical educators and exercise facilities and students failing to reach the required physical standards are not allowed to go on to higher schools. Spring and autumn sports meets are annual events. The National Middle School Games and National University Games are held every four years. Promising teenagers are sent to amateur sports schools to receive specialized training.

There are also many youth sports clubs. In recent years, using sports lottery proceeds, the State Physical Culture Administration has established some 500 juvenile sports clubs a year. There were some 3,000 such clubs by the end of 2005.

Traditional sports

Traditional sports with distinct Chinese characteristics are also very popular, including martial arts, taijiquan or shadow boxing, qigong (a system of deep breathing exercises), xiangqi and weiqi.

Taijiquan is a kind of Chinese boxing, combining control of breath, mind and body. It emphasizes body movement following mind movements, tempering toughness with gentleness and graceful carriage. Qigong is a unique Chinese way of keeping fit. It aims at enhancing health, prolonging life, curing illness and improving physiological functions by concentrating the mind and regulating the breath. There are various entertaining and competitive sports activities in the minority-inhabited areas, for example, wrestling and horsemanship among Mongols, Uygurs and Kazaks; Tibetan yak racing; ethnic Korean "seesaw jumping"; crossbow archery among the Miao, and dragon-boat racing among the ethnic Dai ethnic minority.

Olympic Games

Before the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, Chinese athletes had participated in three Olympic Games but won nothing. Since 1949, China has participated in six summer and seven winter Olympics, winning 112 gold medals in summer Olympics. At the Los Angeles, Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics, China came fourth in the gold medals table, and second at the Athens Olympics.

In 1979 China resumed its membership on the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In 1981 He Zhenliang was elected an IOC member, marking a new period in relations between China and the Olympics and cooperation with the IOC. From then on, Chinese sports circles started to popularize and promote the Olympics.

In July 2001, Beijing finally succeeded in its bid to bring the 2008 Olympic Games. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), established at the end of 2001, set the themes for the 2008 Games as "Green Olympics", "High-tech Olympics" and "Humanistic Olympics". Since December 2003, 30 Olympic venues have begun to be built, following public bidding for their design and construction. Seven venues, including the National Stadium and the National Swimming Center have ushered in a new period of contemporary architecture for Beijing. The centerpiece of the 2008 Games will be the "the bird's nest" National Stadium. With a capacity of 91,000 spectators, the stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies as well as track-and-field events.

According to the budget released by BOCOG in September 2003, construction of the venues will cost about US$2 billion and the financing system framework has been basically determined. Beijing will have spent at least 180 billion yuan on infrastructure construction, much of the expenditure devoted to 142 large-scale projects including high speed transportation networks, environmental protection and creation of information technology systems. Another plan is to exploit the experience of preparing and hosting the 2008 Olympics to turn Beijing into an international sports center.

Competitive results

In 2004 Chinese athletes won a total of 106 gold medals in 27 sports events in Olympic Games, World Championships and World Cups, of which 53 were Olympic golds in 17 events. At the 28th Olympic Games, China made its best ever Olympic showing, with a tally of 63 medals, including 32 golds, 17 silvers and 14 bronzes, coming first in the medals table, achieving a major breakthrough in China's sporting history.

Back in March 1959, at the 25th World Table Tennis Championships held in Germany, the table-tennis player Rong Guotuan won the first world title in China's sporting history. It was followed by many more successes. By the end of 2004 Chinese athletes had altogether won 1,800 world championships and broken 1,119 world records. In the 16 years since 1989, Chinese athletes have won 1,446 world championships, accounting for 80.3 percent of the total; and broken 737 world records, making up 65.9 percent of the total. It was a period when China's competitive sports developed continuously and rapidly.

At the 2004 Olympics, China took home 63 medals, 36 of them (57.1 percent of the total) being won by young athletes; 10 of the gold medal winners were under 20 years old. This demonstrates the increasing maturity of China's young athletes and growing overall strength in competitive sports.

At this Olympics, Chinese athletes made outstanding achievements in tennis, canoeing and track and field. Hurdling star Liu Xiang became the first Chinese man to win gold in an Olympic track event, finishing first in the 110-meter hurdles and equaling the world record of 12.91 seconds. In canoeing Meng Guanliang and Yang Wenjun won the men's C2 500 final, China's first Olympic gold in aquatic sports. Sun Tiantian and Liu Ting won the women's tennis doubles final, China's first ever tennis gold.

The results in competitive sports were down to a training system which is constantly being perfected. It is based on youth amateur sports schools and basic-level clubs, with teams representing localities as the backbone, and the national team at the highest level. The training system ensures that China elite teams maintain a year-round squad of some 20,000 athletes.

The most popular sports in China, for people of all ages are as follows; Ping-Pong, basketball, volleyball, swimming, gymnastics,and shadow boxing.


On February 3, 2004, the State Council proclaimed the Anti-Doping Regulations, stipulating in detail for the first time regulations concerning the doping control, anti-doping obligations, doping examination and monitoring, legal liabilities, etc. The Regulations have been in force since March 1, 2004.

Picture Gallery


*Susan Brownell: "Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People's Republic", University of Chicago Press, 1995, ISBN 0226076474
*Dong Jinxia: "Women, Sport and Society in Modern China: Holding Up More Than Half the Sky", Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0714682144
*Guoqi Xu: "Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008", Harvard University Press, 2008, ISBN 0674028406
*Hong Fan: "Footbinding, Feminism and Freedom: The Liberation of Women's Bodies in Modern China" (Cass Series--Sport in the Global Society), Paperback Edition, Routledge 1997, ISBN 0714643343
*James Riordan, Robin Jones (ed.): "Sport and Physical Education in China", Routledge 1999, ISBN 0419220305

ee also

*China at the Olympics
*2008 Summer Olympics
*Sport in Hong Kong
*Culture of China


External links

* [ State General Administration of Sport] (Chinese)
* [ All-China Sports Federation] (Chinese)
* [ Chinese Olympic Committee]
* [ Beijing 2008 Olympic Games]
* [ Background Information about the 2008 Olympic Games]
* [ China Sports Today]
* [ China Sports Tour(English)

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