China has traditionally excelled in sports like badminton and table tennis at the international level. But one look at recent Olympic history will prove that they are really good at most of the sport disciplines that they try their hand at. This article talks about the popular sports in China.
With China fast 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, especially in the last three to four decades. Given below are some of the sports that are popular in China today.
The Most Popular Sports in China
- Table Tennis
Though many modern sports feature in the list above, it does not mean that sports is a recent phenomenon for the Chinese. Sports has been popular in China ever since the beginning of civilization. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of certain health-building sports that were played in China about 4,000 years ago. Hunting, archery, and rowing, were some of the earliest sports that were played by the people in this region. There is even evidence of a sport similar to football being played in China around 1,000 A.D.
However, this Asian giant embraced modern sports only as recently as the 20th century. Through its government’s support and system, and the interest of the people in general, the country has been producing players of immense talent in the world of sports, in recent times.
Due to their simplistic nature, racket sports have heavily dominated China. Table tennis, a game that originated in England, is now one of the most popular sports in China. It is also referred to as ping pong. In this game, two teams of one or two players each, hit a small hollow ball across a wooden table that is divided by a net.
Table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988. Since then, the Chinese have won 20 of the 28 gold medals on offer. Champions like Wáng Hào (men’s category) and Zhang Yining (among the women) enjoy celebrity status in their homeland. A well-developed infrastructure for the development of this sport right from the youth stages has enabled China to produce quality players on a consistent basis.
- Zhang Jike
- Deng Yaping
- Wáng Hào
- Ma Lin
- Zhang Yining
- Wang Nan
- 47 medals in total at the Olympics
- Gold: 24, Silver: 15, Bronze: 8
- Ranked number 1 in the Olympics
- 36 World Championship Titles
This is another racket sport that is played on a hard court divided by a net. It can be played in both, singles and doubles mode, with each player using a racket to hit a shuttlecock. Since the inception of the World Badminton Championships in 1977, China has dominated the event, winning 53 golds, with Indonesia in second position with 18 golds.
In fact, the dominance of this Asian giant in badminton is so much, that it has sparked fears that the sport may soon become ‘boring’. Like table tennis, this sport also originated in England. However, it is an established sport in China, and is taken up by Chinese children quite early in life. No wonder the country has produced a string of world-class players like the ones mentioned below.
- Lin Dan
- Chen Jin
- Zhang Ning
- Wang Yihan
- Fu Haifeng
- Wang Xin
- 38 medals in total at the Olympics
- Gold: 16, Silver: 8, Bronze: 14
- 53 World Championship Titles
After USA and Canada, China is the oldest country that started playing basketball. Basketball arrived in this country in the 1890s, and was declared a national pastime in 1935. However, basketball became popular only in the 1990s, when globalization and the Internet allowed the Chinese population to come in greater contact with the sport being played elsewhere around the world.
The first professional team was established in Shenyang, and was sponsored by the Anshan Steel Company. The Chinese Basketball Association, which is the most prominent league for men’s professional basketball in China, was formed in 1995. The popularity of the sport touched new heights after Yao Ming joined the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a player for the Houston Rockets in 2002.
The massive viewership for the screening of the basketball games during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games gave rise to the debate that basketball may soon replace table tennis as the most played game in China.
- Yao Ming
- Sun Yue
- Mengke Bateer
- Yi Jianlian
- 18 medals in total at the FIBA Asia Championship for Men
- Gold: 15, Silver: 1, Bronze: 2
The game of soccer, or football, is another very popular sport in this vast country. Here, it is governed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA). Domestic matches are played under the banner of the Chinese Super League (CSL), with 16 teams taking part.
European football is followed by a large number of Chinese people, and there is massive fan following for the teams in the English, German, and Italian leagues. Currently, the ranking of the national team of the People’s Republic of China, as far as FIFA is concerned, is 86.
The Chinese national football team is yet to have any significant impact in FIFA World Cups. The only time the Chinese have qualified for the grand event was in 2002, but failed to impress, as they went on to lose three straight matches in the first round, thereby getting eliminated.
- Hao Haidong
- Li Weifeng
- Twice runners-up in the AFC Asian Cup (1984, 2004)
With large government support, China is slowly developing into a major chess power of the world. In the 37th Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy, China emerged as the nation with the best overall performance, when its men’s team won the second position and the women came third.
In 1974, a meeting was held in Kuala Lumpur with the aim of raising the standards of Asian chess players. It was in recognition of the potential of chess in the country, that it was decided that chess would be first promoted in China under the ‘Big Dragon Project’.
- Hou Yifan
- Li Chao
- Wang Hao
- Hou Yifan was the world’s youngest ever female grandmaster (14yrs., 6mts.), and also the youngest player (at 16 years of age) to win the Women’s World Chess Championship (2010-12).
- As per the May, 2012 FIDE rankings, Li Chao and Wang Haofeature in the top 50 chess players in the world.
The fact that winning six of the eight gold medals on offer at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was considered an upset for the Chinese national diving team, just goes to show China’s dominance in this sport in recent decades.
China has an abundance of diving academies that promote professional diving development among the youth. Such is the proficient nature of their training, that Chinese divers are often referred to as machines, because of their immaculate dives.
- Guo Jingjing
- Xiong Ni
- Gao Min
- Fu Mingxia
- 59 medals in total at the Summer Olympics
- Gold: 33, Silver: 17, Bronze: 9
- Second only to USA, which has 135 medals
Although a plethora of controversies surround the degree to which the willingness to learn the trade of gymnastics is pushed in China, it cannot be disputed that China is one of the prime hubs of the world for gymnastics.
Though some of the stories of children being abused and forced to undergo gymnast training may be true, it is also voluntarily taken up by a majority of kids, in the hope of emulating the success of many generations of great Chinese gymnasts.
- He Kexin
- Yao Jinnan
- Deng Linlin
- Huang Qiushuang
- 68 medals in total at the Summer Olympics
- Gold: 29, Silver: 20, Bronze: 19
Though this article lists the most popular sports in China, it should be noted that the development as well as popularity of other sports is on the rise too. Sports like weightlifting, baseball, shooting, squash, swimming, etc., are finding more and more fans, thereby equipping China with an even greater future in sporting events around the world.