OLYMPICS AND CHINA: HISTORY, THE COMMUNIST PARTY, PROJECT 119, AND PERFORMANCE IN PAST OLYMPICS

OLYMPICS AND CHINA

rightWhen the first Olympics were held in 1886 the Empress Dowager asked what the Olympics were all about and was told they involved running and other athletic feats. She responded by suggesting that China send her court eunuches because they were skilled at running her court.

Many Olympic sports first came to China via missionaries. In the 19th and 20th century Protestant missionaries abroad emphasized the gospel of sport nearly as much as the Gospels themselves.

A single Chinese athlete---a sprinter named Liu Chang Chun---participated in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Liu carried in the Chinese flag by himself and competed in the 100 meter and 200 meter sprints, failing to medal in either event. It took Liu a month to get to Los Angeles by ship for the games. He had no money himself and was given $1,000 at the last minute by his university and a Chinese flag to carry by the Chinese government. Before leaving he had no idea where America was.

China sent a delegation of 69 athletes---including a wushu team that performed before Hitler---to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The team returned home without a single medal. An official report by the delegation read: “We were a far cry from many countries in the results and athletic abilities. We were ridiculed as having brought back nothing but a duck’s egg.”

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources on the Olympics in China: Chinese Olympic Committee en.olympic.cn ; China.org on China’s Olympic History china.org.cn ; Database on Olympic Athletes databaseolympics.com ; Success of Chinese Athletes pponline.co.uk ; Photos of Chinese Kids Training freshpics.blogspot.com ; Book: Olympic Dreams by Wu Guoqi hup.harvard.edu ; The Red Face, a Film About Olympic Training Epoch Times ; High Altitude Training chinasportstoday.com ; Book: Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008 by Xu Gouqi

Good Websites and Sources on Sports in China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Sports Today chinasportstoday.com ; China Daily Sports chinadaily.com.cn ; China Sports Review chinasportsreview.com ; China Sports Blog chinasports.wokpopcorn.com ; South China Morning Post Sports scmp.com ; Sports in Ancient China Chinese Olympic Committee ; Traditional Sports Travel China Guide

Links in this Website: OLYMPICS AND CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE OLYMPIC ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE OLYMPIC TRAINING Factsanddetails.com/China ; THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE ATHLETES AT THE 2008 OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; OPENING CEREMONY AND STARS AT THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC SPORTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC SWIMMING AND DIVING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC TRACK AND RUNNING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LIU XIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC GYMNASTICS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC BADMINTON, SHOOTING WEIGHTLIFTING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA---OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/China ;

Olympic Athletes Airbrushed from History

“China’s first Olympic hero may well have been a basketball player about half the size of Yao Ming “ who didn’t even play for China,” Robert Marquand wrote in the Christian Science Monitor. “He was a leading scorer for the British in the fabled 1924 Paris Games “ a globe-trotting amateur from Amoy [Xiamen in Fujian Province] whose life as athlete and artist reached wondrous heights before lapsing into unearned obscurity.” [Source: Christian Science Monitor, Robert Marquand, August 20, 2008]

“Chiu Teng Hiok, the remarkable son of a prominent Chinese pastor, was airbrushed out of history by the political winds of China. Chiu helped Britain win in basketball in a Paris field of 17 teams  the most in any nonmedal sport. In China, he played hoops in missionary schools and YMCAs. In Paris, he dribbled on a grass court at Colombes Stadium, hitting shots termed pretty by sportswriters of the day.” [Ibid]

“In 1924, the British team beat Italy by two points to win the finals in a young sport that got official status in the 1936 Berlin Games. Once back in England, Chiu the artist emerged as China’s first major modernist painter; in 1929, Queen Mary visited his solo exhibit at the Claridge Gallery in London. By age 30, Chiu had worked on four continents  a post-Impressionist painter without borders. But he never forgot the Paris Games; his art-show catalogs always referred to the Olympics.” [Ibid]

“Yet prior to the Beijing Olympics, the achievement of China’s native son received not even a footnote. Barely mentioned also are three Chinese tennis players invited to Paris, including national champion L. Wei, who came in 19th in men’s singles out of a field of 82, according to International Olympic Committee records that list them playing for China. There was also a Chinese competitor in the 1928 Amsterdam Games. [Ibid]

Why Chiu Teng Hiok is not Recognized as China’s First Olympic Athlete

“Today China is pushing a different first Olympian  sprinter Liu Changchun. Sprinter Liu defied the Japanese government in Manchuria that wanted to send him to the 1932 Los Angeles Games, and he escaped to play for China’s Nationalists instead. Western media have brought up Eric Liddell, born in China in 1902 to a family of Scottish missionaries. Liddell won the 400 meters for Britain in Paris, and helped inspire the 1982 film Chariots of Fire .” Liddell left England in 1925 to teach at the Anglo-Chinese college in Tienjin. [Source: Christian Science Monitor, Robert Marquand, August 20, 2008]

“Why China has not recognized Chiu?... Chiu was Chinese, not a member of the official British delegation. There’s no evidence Chiu changed his passport. The question of who is more Chinese, is always a difficult one in China, says China expert Orville Schell. But one thing that has been clear is that there has long been a bias, especially in the PRC, against any “Chinese” who seem to have “run under the skirts of foreigners.” That may explain Chiu’s curious erasure.” [Ibid]

Chiu Teng Hiok’s Life

“To be sure, Chiu was no model for socialist athletics. He came from a wealthy, reform-minded family on Gulangyu Island, a tiny rock-packed with mansions, just off Amoy...The port was a center of tea trade, and a front line in the venture of east meets west.” [Source: Christian Science Monitor, Robert Marquand, August 20, 2008]

“Chiu came from a family of firsts. Senior Chiu ministered the first all-Chinese Christian congregation, founded the first all-girls school in Fujian, and was president of the YMCA. He was acquainted with Sun Yat-sen, modern China’s founding father, and Chiang Kai-shek, later the Nationalist leader. For a time, Chiu was married to General Chiang’s niece  something doubtless noticed. At Harvard at age 17, he rebelled against studying archeology, moved to the Boston YMCA, played basketball, and studied painting at the Museum School. He then went to Paris to paint, something his father disapproved of, so he moved to London’s Central YMCA.” [Ibid]

“The YMCA had a serious basketball team. Chiu scored 22 of the team’s 48 points in the British Olympic finals. , according to Centymca, the YMCA bulletin at the time. The 1924 Paris Games are called the first modern Olympics. The axis powers of World War I were not invited to the 1920 Antwerp games.” [Ibid]

“Chiu would go on to paint landscapes in Scotland, Morocco, Indonesia, and Beijing. His family fled to Hong Kong. Chiu settled in New York and found a friend in American artist Georgia O’Keefe. But the war took a toll. He was badly beaten in New Hampshire during the Korean War by local goons who thought he was Korean. He died in 1972, forgotten.” [Ibid]

“In China, Chiu was unknown even in elite art circles; only in 2005 did his work get official notice. Oxford Asian art historian Michael Sullivan calls Chiu important as he was a very good painter his landscapes, whether of England or Morocco, Vermont or New Mexico are marked by a confident directness, a strong feeling for form and color.” [Ibid]

“In a sense, Chiu was an ambassador for a China that never emerged in his lifetime. He was progressive, an early globalist who saw past borders of all kinds. In 1928, called the most promising painter at the Royal Academy, he told the London bureau of this newspaper that artists must help mankind find the same truth and righteousness, by learning to appreciate the same beauty. As I go forward I realize in art there is neither East nor West, and that someday there must be the Art of the New World Civilization...He also had a good jump shot.” [Ibid]

Olympics Under the Communists in China

China sent a team to the 1952 Olympics but didn't take part again in the Olympics again until 1984, when it placed forth overall in the medal standings and won its first gold medal. China did not participate from 1956 to 1976 because of the International Olympic Committee’s recognition of Taiwan. It had prepared for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow but joined the United States-led boycott against the Soviet Union and didn't show up.

Mao withdrew China from the Olympics in 1958, over the refusal of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Taiwan, which called itself the Republic of China and was led by Chang Kai-shek, Mao’s longtime enemy. China denounced the IOC head Avery Brundage as “a tool of the imperialistic State Department of the United States.” But not too long after that the IOC ruled that Taiwan could no longer call itself the Republic of China because it did not represent the geological entity of China and had to march in the Opening Ceremonies as Taiwan.

The appearance of the Chinese team in 1984 took some of the sting out of the Soviet boycott. The slogan for the Chinese in 1984 was “Break out of Asia and advance on the world.” In preparation for those Games the government focused on sports such as shooting, diving, gymnastics that highlighted technique and coordination. Sports that required speed and strength were left to the Americans, Europeans and Africans.

China won a total of 18 gold medals in 1984. On winning China’s first ever gold medal, pistol shooter Xu Hai-Feng later told AP, “A lot of people asked me when I was awarded gold, why wasn’t I smiling? As an athlete it is my job and honor to do the best that I can. The oher explanation was I only began practicing shooting in 1982. By the time I won gold, it all happened so fast.”

Olympic Sports and the Chinese

left The Chinese are very good at diving, gymnastics, table tennis, shooting, weightlifting (where women especially have set many world records and dominated competitions), judo and badminton. They pick up medals here and there in swimming, track and field, fencing, rowing, wrestling and several other sports. These days, China is the dominant sports power in Asia. It usually wins more medals than any other country by a large margin at the Asian Games.

Shooting and weightlifting, especially women’s weightlifting, are sports Chinese have traditionally had little interest in and were not very good at until the Chinese sports bureaucracy singled them out as sports to develop in part because there wasn’t much competition and China had a good chances of getting medals in them.

China took notice of tae kwon do in 1995 when it noticed that there were few non-Koreans engaged in the sport. Five years later China won an Olympic gold medal in the sport in Sydney in 2000. In 2004, China won its first gold medal in canoeing only three years after devoting significant resources to the sport.

See Olympics Sports in China

Winter Olympics, See Winter Sports

Olympic Medals and China

20080308-Img214084755_sss.jpg

------- Gold Silver Bronze Total
1932-52 0----- 0---- 0----- 0
1956-80 Did Not Participate
1984--- 18---- 8---- 9----- 35
1988--- 5----- 11--- 12---- 28
1992--- 16---- 22--- 16---- 54
1996--- 16---- 22--- 12---- 50
2000--- 28---- 16--- 15---- 59
2004--- 32---- 17--- 14---- 63
2008--- 51---- 21--- 28---- 100

In 2004, Chinese athletes received a bonus of $29,100 for every gold medal they won. Silver medalist earned $18,000 and bronze medalists got $12,000. Gold medalist also reportedly received an additional $100,000 from local sponsors and rich overseas Chinese. The Chinese are obsessed with winning gold medals as a means of proving their status as an economic and political powerhouse. But as Xu Gouqi put it in his Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008, “A nation that obsesses over gold medals is not a self-assured nation.”

Other Large Sporting Events and China

In the 2006 Asian Games in Qatar, China won 16 of 20 gold medals on the first day of the competition, hit the 150 gold medal mark with a few days to go a won almost 300 medals overall. Its closet rival South Korea was more than 100 medals behind. China also dominates the Asian Winter Games

The biggest national sporting event in China is the National Games, a sort of Chinese Olympics that is held every four years and features 10,000 athletes representing 46 regional delegation competing in 357 events in 32 sports.

China won 150 gold medal at the Asian Games in Pusan, South Korea in 2002; 137 of the 337 gold medals at the Asian Games in Hiroshima in 1994; and a record of 183 gold medals when the Asian games were held in Beijing in 1990.

Project 119

Project 119 was the nickname given to a government program that aimed to increase China’s medal count by throwing around a lot of money and subjecting carefully-selected athletes to rigorous and carefully-conceived training. It was started in 2002, a few months after Beijing was awarded the Olympics, and was established in part on the acknowledgment that China won 21 of its 28 gold medals in Sydney in 2000 in table tennis, badminton, weightlifting, diving and gymnastics and was very weak in a lot of sports, and if was going to improve its medal count it was going to have to get more medals in sports it wasn’t traditionally strong in.

The name Project 119 is a reference to the additional number of gold medals China could possibly win by focusing on five sports---track and field, swimming, rowing, sailing, and canoeing and kayaking---that have a lot of medals and China has traditionally not done so well in. As of 2000 China had only won one medal in these sports. The 119 number is a little off. The actual number of medals given in the aforementioned five sports is 122, with 88 of them in track and field and swimming.

As part of the “gold-medal strategy” and a policy called “winning ride at the Olympics,” new training facilities were built, some of them costing millions of dollars, and the world’s top foreign coaches were hired with contacts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Among the coaches that were brought in were Soviet rowing coach Igor Grinko, Spanish water polo coach Juan Jane Giralt and Japanese synchronized swimming coach Masayo Imura. Athletes were also sent abroad. Four top sprint prospects were sent to the United States to work with 200- and 400-meter gold medalist Michael Johnson.

After 2001, the annual budget of the Sports Ministry jumped from $428 million to $714 million. Expenditures included things like a new $30 million campus for the 600 students at Qingdai City Sports School. One sports ministry official said, “With the Olympics in Beijing, we want to make sure we do very well. Otherwise the public will be very disappointed that we did not display proper national spirit.”

China devoted a lot of attention to developing women’s sports in part because it was reasoned there was less competition and a higher likelihood of winning medals in the women’s events. More money goes into women’s sports in China than in most countries.

1996 and 2000 Olympics and China

At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta China ranked third behind the United States and Russia in gold medals and forth in total medals. The leading medal winners were: 1) U.S. (87 medals, 36 gold), 2) Russia (53 medals, 23 gold), 3) Germany (52 medals, 14 gold), 4) China (49 medals, 16 gold), 5) Australia (37 medals, 9 gold), 6) France (35 medals, 15 gold) and 7) Italy (29 medals, 11 gold).

In 1996 the American television network NBC was forced to apologize to the Chinese after the Chinese complained about a comment made by announcer Bob Costas during the telecast of the Opening Ceremonies. Costas said, "Every economic power, including the United States, wants to tap into that huge market potential but of course there are problems with human rights, property rights disputes, the threat posed to Taiwan." He later added, the Chinese “are building into a power, but, amidst suspicions...especially concerning their track athletes and their female swimmers, possibly using performance enhancing drugs."

Wei Jizhong, the head of the Chinese delegation in Atlanta, filed a formal protest with the International Olympic committee concerning the treatment of Chinese athletes at Atlanta in 1996. He complained of racism, harassment and problems with the transportation. In regards to the food he said, "The quantity and quality are fine. It just tastes awful. They have Chinese chefs in the village, but they have been assigned to cook Western food, which is plainly absurd."

At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, China ranked third behind the United States and Russia in gold medals and in total medals. Chinese athletes won 28 gold medals, 16 silver medals, and 15 bronze medals for a total of 59 medals with Chinese women far outperformed their male counterparts.

2004 Olympics in Athens and China

China finished 2nd in the gold medal standings and 3rd in total medals at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Chinese athletes won 32 gold medals, 17 silver medals and 14 bronze medals for a total of 63 medals. In so doing China served notice that it was a world’s sports power as well as economic power. As impressive as the showing was it was largely seen as only prelude to what China was going to do when it hosts the games in Beijing in 2008.

A total 407 athletes (138 men and 269 women) participated in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, competing in 26 of 28 sports. The average age of the team was 23.2 with the oldest being a 43-year-old shooter. NBA center Yao Ming carried the Chinese flag during the Opening Ceremonies.

China won the first two gold medals of the Olympics (in shooting), four on opening day and reached its goal of 20 gold medals by the forth day. In the duration of the games Chinese athletes won nine medals in shooting, eight in weightlifting, nine in diving, six in table tennis, five in badminton and five in judo. The Chinese government called the performance “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Chinese athletes were told, “The motherland is proud of you and the people are proud of you.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2011

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