Reconstructing China's Indigenous Physical Culture
Ma Mingda

Synopsis: China has been a multi-ethnic country since antiquity, and the joint creative efforts of diverse ethnic groups have created the Chinese civilization, in the process giving rise to an indigenous physical culture. Chinese physical culture is a native tradition distinct from Western sports and physical traditions of other countries. It is a rich, multi-layered cultural system that has evolved through China’s long history and fully reflects its complex social history and multiculturalism. However, from the end of the nineteenth century as China went through the throes of modernization, its indigenous physical tradition too has been set on a difficult path. The transition from dynastic imperialism to modern nationalism was riddled with obstacles, and in the process China endured a prolonged period of foreign political intervention and internal turmoil. As a result, many problems encountered in the modernization of Chinese physical culture have not been satisfactory dealt with, with misguidance and mishandling of important issues often becoming the norm, and a prevalent trend of superficiality continued to seriously undermine the indigenous physical tradition. Even today the reconstruction of China’s physical culture into a new system based on modern, scientific principles has not been complete. Consequently, a substantial amount of theoretical research and reflection is required, great adjustments need to be made, and a resolute spirit of reform is needed, to render the theoretical and technical structures of China’s physical culture into a mature and complete system. The author believes this is the most significant task facing contemporary Chinese sports. At the same time, it presents an important opportunity to exhibit China’s indigenous physical culture to the global audience, which, if successfully undertaken, will be integral to China’s cultural renaissance. In conclusion, China needs to have its own indigenous sporting event, and it further needs to organize its native physical traditions into a viable system. Such an attempt will have profound implications, for not only will it assist in preserving and rescuing China’s indigenous physical culture, but will also constitute a significant step in promoting multiculturalism and breaking the Olympics’ hegemonic grip on global physical culture.

Key words: China’s indigenous physical culture; national arts; martial arts; archery; wrestling; dragon-boat


China has been a multi-ethnic country since antiquity, and the joint creative efforts of diverse ethnic groups helped create the Chinese civilization, giving rise to an indigenous physical culture. The indigenous physical tradition in China is a rich, multi-layered cultural system that has evolved through its long history, and is a veritable mine containing a wealth of cultural treasures. In ancient times, as a result of repeated conflicts and cultural intercourse among diverse ethnic groups, China’s indigenous physical culture was subjected to a concatenation of reconstruction and re- creation. In the process, several distinct developmental stages may be discerned. In respect of specific events in physical culture, some have retained a fairly consistent form and displayed a discernible developmental pattern through the millennia, whose fundamental structure was unaffected by the changes that had occurred; others were subject to fluctuations and trends to a much greater degree, and went through cycles of development and decline, with major changes in contents and formal expressions over diverse periods. Still others vanished altogether after enjoying a short period of popularity, so that we could only conjecture about their historical forms through textual records and archaeological data.

China’s most important educator, Confucius, advocated both literary and martial cultivations, and was himself proficient in the arts of charioting and archery, which he incorporated as two of the ‘six arts’ in his curriculum. [i] Further, the ritualized activities he promoted contained important aspects of physical education, including ritualized competitions which were in reality ancient prototypes of sports events. However, after the Han and Wei Dynasties physical activities were increasingly frowned upon by Confucian scholars, who regarded them as lowly and unfitting for gentlemanly conduct. Subsequent dynasties saw an intensification of this attitude, and after the Song and Yuan periods the majority of Confucian scholar-bureaucrats opposed all forms of physical competitions –– philosophers of the Li school in particular espoused the notion that ‘action should be replaced by stillness’ (yi dong bu ru yi jing 一動不如一靜), and regarded young men engaging in physical activities as a sign of deviancy. Social prejudices, combined with official intervention and prohibition, led to proscription of all kinds of physical competitions including dragon-boat racing, which was at one stage patronized by the Song court, and extended to all types of contact sports such as wrestling and grappling (爭跤 zhengjiao), bare-handed martial arts (手搏 shoubo), staff-fighting (打棒 dabang), and football (tiqiu 踢球). In time, espousal for civility and literary cultivation became dislocated and evolved into a cultural prejudice against all martial and physical activities. Lacking support from official authorities and local magnates, popular physical culture was relegated to a subsistence zone and appeared in public only as festive entertainment.

By comparison, physical culture was valued to a much greater degree in non-Han societies, where aspects of physical culture had evolved out of productive activities in herding, hunting, and fishing, and steadily developed as their skills and traditions were passed down the generations. In these societies, individuals were not restricted in their behavior with such severity by feudal conventions and ritual etiquette, while riding, archery, wrestling, and trials of strength were part and parcel of everyday life in production and war, and provided their chief mains of entertainment. In this way, the minority ethnic groups played a vital role in the development of China’s indigenous physical culture, particularly in periodic episodes when China was overrun and conquered by alien hosts. In each instance, dynamic clash of cultures and values gradually gave way to a ‘fusion between Chinese and the barbarians’ (華夷混一 hua yi huan yi), which injected vitality and diversity into China’s physical tradition, and in time became one of its defining characteristics. On the other hand, Han populations continued to hold an absolute numerical advantage over other ethnic groups in the social order, and anti-martial sentiments –– as represented by the popular phrase ‘applauding literary cultivation while belittling martial attainment’ (重文輕武 zhong wen qing wu) –– continued to affect the denouement of indigenous physical culture and hindered its technical and theoretical developments. Therefore, in spite of ancient China’s extraordinarily diverse physical culture, in the vast ocean of historical texts and literature there was a dearth of writings that deal meaningfully with the subject, with perhaps the exceptions of martial arts and archery. As a historian and a Chinese philologist, this phenomenon has deeply impressed upon my mind and is a constant cause of regret in moments of reflection.

Fortunately, after several millennia of uneven development and in the aftermath of Western sports’ forceful introduction into China, a number of ancient exercises manage to survive and occupy important positions in popular culture. Some of them are practiced for health reasons and entertainment value, while others have transcended local origins to become national pastimes. In particular, in remote areas where modern sports facilities are absent, traditional exercises provide a welcome means for body training and relaxation, and allow unnamed multitudes to enjoy the benefits of physical and mental exercise.

In many ways, China’s indigenous physical culture is an important medium through which its cultural values and humanist spirit are channeled, as for instance the spirit of humility (揖讓精神 xierang jinsheng), [ii] the stress on maintaining balance and harmony, and the dual goals of cultivating physical and mental wellbeing through exercise. Indeed, such traditional values continue to have significant, pragmatic relevance for today’s rapidly changing Chinese society, and significantly contribute to the undiminished vitality of China’s indigenous physical culture.

Over the last century China has undergone a painful process of modernization, and its indigenous physical culture has likewise been set on a twisted road laden with obstacles.

From the late Qing onwards, against the onset of Western imperialism and modern sports, a generation of Chinese pioneers endeavored to construct a national physical regime. It is true there were many setbacks along the way, but in the end, through untiring experimentations and after overcoming many failures, they managed to achieve concrete results. However, as the country was beleaguered by external invasion and internal turmoil, and experienced political upheaval over a protracted period, many problems encountered in Chinese physical culture’s modernizing process were not satisfactory dealt with. Misguidance and mishandling of important issues often became the norm and a prevalent trend of superficiality continued to seriously undermine the development of indigenous sports. An example of this was the creation of ‘competition wushu’, which was supported and monopolized by the official governing body. In significant ways, however, China took a positive approach in meeting the challenge and actively copied the model of Western competitive sports. Moreover, tremendous efforts were exerted to guide physical education in China toward international standards, incorporating many new elements that did not previously exist in China. But at the same time we have to admit that we never successfully found a middle ground between indigenous and Western physical cultures, giving insufficient thought to the proper relation between the two, and failed to find a way to fuse disparate cultural elements into an organic whole. Instead, a general trend of Westernization prevailed in society, and indigenous culture was often hastily brushed aside to make way for new foreign elements, with irreparable cultural losses. Serious research was lacking for the evaluation, dissemination, and creative development of indigenous physical culture, and the academic discipline specifically created for its study suffered many weaknesses, including superficiality, lack of interdisciplinary perspective, and an inadequate theoretical framework. Furthermore, longterm planning and a consistent policy were absent in the organization of events. In this way, several decades have passed without any significant reforms, and China’s indigenous physical culture has largely remained stagnant, a non-descript jumbled heap which is neither ancient nor modern, neither indigenous nor Western, which continues to play second fiddle to mainstream sports, and has failed to develop into a cohesive system.

All in all, even though China has achieved outstanding results on the stage of international sports under the current centralized system, its indigenous physical culture remains in a very unsatisfactory condition with a worrying prospect for the future. Even today we cannot present a complete image of China’s native physical culture to the world. On the other hand, that such an ancient civilization has nothing to show for our physical heritage, which remains obscure, seems to have largely eluded researchers’ attention. In this regard we lag behind Japan, and even Korea. Hitherto, none of the signature competitive events in China’s physical traditions, such as wrestling, archery, dragon-boat racing, martial arts, etc., has been included in the Olympics. In fact, some of them are not even included in the National Games. Indeed, given how little we value our indigenous physical tradition, it is unsurprising that others have given it such scant attention. There is not a single Chinese event in the Olympics to this day. Although this need not be our goal it necessarily remains a regret, particularly as our Eastern neighbors, Japan and Korea, have succeeded where we have failed. We can affect equanimity and continue to ignore the facts while our press keeps silent on the subject, but I personally feel this is far more distressing than the fact our national soccer team has failed to make an impact beyond Asia.

The fact the reconstruction of China’s indigenous physical culture remains incomplete to this day, and continues to subsist in a state of fragmentation and confusion, signifies it has not truly made the transition into modernity. Substantial theoretical research and reflection is required, great adjustments need to be made, and a resolute spirit of reform is needed, to mould its theoretical and technical structures into a mature and complete system. I believe this is the most urgent task facing contemporary Chinese sports, whose fulfillment will go some way to answering the call for diversity in global physical culture, and will represent a significant step forward in reviving China’s national heritage.

One – Traditional Structure of China’s Indigenous Physical Culture

The so-called ‘indigenous physical culture of China’ refers to the native physical and sports tradition in China which are clearly distinct from Western sports and the physical traditions of other countries. [iii] In the first half of the twentieth century (1911-1949) when Western sports were being introduced into China, some people referred to the original physical culture that existed in China as ‘indigenous physical education’ (tu tiyu 土體育).

China’s indigenous physical culture is often referred to as a ‘dense cultural system with a complex structure’ because it is the crystallized product of a long process of exchange between different societies and cultures. Of all these activities, the most significant were inter-ethnic cultural exchanges, but also included regional cultural exchanges within China as well as intercourse between China and foreign states. These exchanges took many forms and often occurred through military conflict. Over the course of several millennia, the fusion of cultures may be compared to diverse rivers and streams converging into a single confluence that finally enters the sea. In such a way, a multitude of cultural streams poured into the ocean that is the Chinese civilization. Therefore, even though Chinese culture –– and in particular its physical tradition –– may appear prima facie to be the product of a single society, upon closer examination it reveals its complex and multiple cultural origins, whose marks can readily be found in such classical physical events as polo, archery, and wrestling.

In many ways, inter-ethnic cultural exchange is a familiar notion whereas the idea of intercourse between China and foreign states is rather less so, as the latter is seldom mentioned by Chinese scholars. In fact, long before Western sports propagated into China, China’s indigenous physical culture already contained foreign elements, and bore evidence to an on-going process of cultural exchange and cross-fertilization. Despite the closed-door policy pursued over extended periods, the flow of information and material goods between China and the outside world was never completely cut off and persisted through diverse channels. Taking for example the native martial arts heritage, which is commonly regarded as guocui 國粹 (the ‘national arts’ of China)[1], its development was shaped by diverse cultural influences from the Indian sub-continent, Asia Minor, as well as Central Asia –– more specifically, Chinese martial arts were influenced by Buddhist and Islamic cultures. The Ming Dynasty witnessed large-scale popularization of the martial arts and a concomitant blossoming of different schools and styles. Indeed, it was during this period that martial arts made an incipient transition into a ‘sport’. During this period, both military and popular martial arts absorbed elements of Japanese swordsmanship, as well as sword techniques imported from Egypt. [iv] Later, Western sports’ transmission into China brought about a wave of exchanges between China and the West in physical culture, which appeared on the surface to be a one way commerce. In reality, however, incremental numbers of Chinese migrants brought their indigenous physical traditions to foreign countries, and in the process of setting up overseas Chinese communities they created a global platform to showcase China’s physical heritage. In time, martial arts, dragon-dance, lion-dance, dragon-boat racing, walking on stilts (踩高橋 caigaoqiao), etc., came to symbolize Chinese culture. Gradually, foreigners started to take part in these events and appreciated Chinese culture through direct participation. Conversely, Western sports were also transformed in the process of indigenization and spawned hybrid events that combined indigenous and Western elements. To give an example, my native province of Gansu is relatively remote and obscure, but old photographs show that around the year 1906, towards the end of the Qing Dynasty, the city of Liangzhou (today’s Wuwei city) in western Gansu already had a soccer team. Of course, this in itself does not signify that soccer was widespread. However, until the 1940s and 1950s I know that a type of small, compact ‘soccer ball’ made of sheep-wool called maodan 毛蛋 (literally ‘furry egg’) was played in local primary schools, and competitions in maodan were often held between different classes. Although the ball was a lot smaller than a standard soccer ball and the field was also smaller than a soccer pitch, the rules were basically the same as the English game, and the judge even used English terms. In the interior of China, sports events similar to maodan can still be found in many places. It is very difficult to ascertain how they came into being, but what is certain is that they were adapted from Western sports and ‘indigenized’ according to local conditions.

There are many extant events in China’s indigenous physical traditions, but they can basically be divided into two main categories: to the first category belong those which were jointly created by different ethnic and cultural groups in China, whereas the second category includes the remaining events which have a more localized identity. The former are national in nature and belong to the Chinese nation as a whole, while the latter are local and often limited in dissemination.

Over the millennia, in the process of exchange, conflict, and amalgamation among diverse ethnic groups, a number of major competitive events in physical culture gradually took shape in China, [v] which were created by the joint efforts of China’s multifarious societies and cultures, containing their wisdom and exhibiting their cultural features. In ancient China, political ties and diplomacy between different social and ethnic groups were often enforced and conducted through physical competition, particularly between the polities of agrarian Chinese and the nomads, which in the long run served to gravitate disparate cultures and societies closer together. In this connection, examples abound which illustrate the historical import of physical culture in mediating political diplomacy, particularly through the medium of archery rituals and contests.

Many ethnic and cultural groups that had participated in the creation of these competitive events had long ago vanished from history, lost in the crucible of Chinese civilization, while others continue to be represented in China’s multi-ethnic state to the present day, proudly preserving their cultural distinctiveness and an independent identity. Indeed, at different temporal junctures in the course of history, many of these events have disappeared. This is a very regrettable loss. However, those that have survived tend to be deeply rooted in China’s history and possess condensed cultural substance. It is not difficult to see from such events as wrestling, archery, and dragon-boat racing –– whether in respect of the selection of athletes, the training methods they used, the rules and regulations formulated for competitions, and their educational and entertainment values –– that long before Western sports were introduced into China, indigenous physical (sporting) activities had independently attained a very high level of development comparable and could easily be accepted in the world of international sports.

Of the surviving competitive events in China’s physical heritage, which ones belong to the category of being jointly created by its different ethnic and cultural groups? I believe there are four main activities as well as a number of smaller ones. By the four main activities I mean martial arts, archery, wrestling, and dragon-boat racing.

It needs to be pointed out here that China historically had a rich and varied tradition of ball games, which included cuju 蹴鞠  [2], polo 馬球, chuiwan 捶丸 [3], etc. Taking cuju as an example, it was a popular game with a solid social foundation in the Song period, and attained a relatively mature level of development. We could even glimpse aspects of how it was played from related literature. Unfortunately, it was banned in the early Ming Dynasty, and even though it was revived subsequently, it had by that time transformed into a minor pastime played only in the courtyard, until it disappeared from history altogether. If cuju –– that is to say, Chinese-style soccer –– still existed, it would represent the ‘fifth main activity’ in the schema of China’s indigenous physical culture. Additionally, the insignificant jianzi 毽子 (shuttlecock) is also played by people of all ages across the expanse of China, with a trend of growing popularity in recent years. Jianzi has a long history and a popular basis, it can be played solo or in a group, and has an innate competitiveness built into the game. It is therefore a pity that jianzi lacks proper social organization and continues to exist independently in the popular tradition.

There are other activities and events in indigenous physical culture which have a smaller radius of dissemination and a more limited audience-base. Even so, it should be pointed out that the majority of these events and activities are still owned in common by China’s diverse cultures and ethnic groups, and evolved out of a long history of cultural change. They include the equestrian sports, tug of war, weightlifting, pellet shooting 彈弓, gangzi (Chinese-style weight- lifting) 杆子, ice-skating (binxi) 冰嬉, swing (qiuqian) 鞦韆, and skipping. In 1982, the National Minority Games (shaoshu minzu yundonghui 少數民族運動會) was inaugurated, where a number of erstwhile little known competitive events made their appearance, which included extensions and recreations of traditional events, such as crossbow archery, qiuqian, jianzi, etc., as well as events culled from the traditions of other ethnic groups, such as qianghuapao 搶花炮 [4], zhenzhuqiu 珍珠球 [5], muqiu 木球 [6], etc. After developments over two decades and six meets of the National Minority Games, some of these competitive events gradually approach maturity and exist as an isolated event in the popular tradition. In addition, under the ‘National Physical Exercise Movement’ (全民健身活動 quanmin jianshen huodong), new methods of body training are continually being created throughout the country, as for example the rapidly developing Mulanquan 木蘭拳, Taiji ruoqiu 太極柔球[7], etc., which are fast becoming nationwide phenomena and are even beginning to spread overseas.

At this point, it is necessary to give further explanations on the ‘four main competitive events’ I mentioned earlier.

I will begin with archery. China has one of the oldest archery traditions in the world. Around 28,000 years BCE early inhabitants of China already knew how to manufacture and use bows and arrows, and through this acquisition had made the first momentous technological leap in remote prehistory. [vi] In historical times, archery became an activity of even greater socio-cultural import, whose significance far extended beyond a purely military role. Archery served multiple functions in ancient China, and beside its utility for war and hunting, archery was very early on incorporated as part of the official education and given a pedagogic function. Indeed, archery was the earliest form of exercise to partake of the nature of ‘sport’ in China. Different types and practices of archery rites and touhu 投壺 (tossing arrows into a vase) in the Western Zhou period, various methods of archery contest such as ‘boshe’ and ‘dushe’ popular from the Han and Wei Dynasties onwards, diverse competitive archery activities such as ‘willow shooting’ (sheliu 射柳) in the Song, Liao, Jin, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties, and various styles of archery competitions such as yuanshe 遠射, pingshe 平射, tongshe 筒射, zhunshe 准射, etc, all exhibited typical sports characteristics. In the Three Kingdoms period, the emperor of Wei, Cao Pei, ‘was fond of archery and riding in his youth, whose passion remained undiminished [to the end of his life], chasing wild beasts over tens of li, and frequently practiced at shooting targets from over a hundred paces, in order to maintain his health and keep up his spirits.’ [vii] It is worth remarking that the reference here to ‘maintain his health and keep up his spirits’ (日多體健 ,心每不厭 ri duo ti jian, xin mei bu yan) makes a claim about the value of archery for bodily and mental health, and shows in the clearest possible way that the ancient Chinese understood and recognized the value of physical exercise. Eventually, the health (‘sport’) element in archery practice extended to other forms of physical exercise. On this basis, I believe archery is the leading competitive event in the realm of China’s traditional ‘sports’, which for several thousand years walked at the forefront of China’s indigenous physical culture, and continued to extend the scope of its activity and influence until it finally formed an independent discipline –– ‘archery studies’ (shexue 射學).

In the history of Chinese archery, a division occurred early on between ‘barbarian methods’ (hushe 胡射) and ‘Chinese methods’ (hanshe 漢射); and after the appearance of the crossbow, a further distinction may be drawn between northern and southern styles (in respect of both equipment and techniques), which reflect inter-ethnic and inter-regional cultural differences. On the other hand, not only was a clear boundary impossible to draw between barbarian and Chinese techniques, the two maintained constant interaction and continued to influence each other throughout Chinese history, absorbing the best features from each other’s tradition until they finally merged into one. Beginning with King Zhao Wulin’s reform to ‘wear barbarian clothes and practice riding and archery’ in the Warring States Period, [viii] to developments after the Tang Dynasty when standards for horseback and foot-archery became increasingly refined in official martial examinations, activities in archery exchange between China and its ‘barbarian’ neighbors never ceased, until an ultimate model of ‘Chinese-style archery’ finally took shape in the Qing Dynasty, as represented by horseback and foot-archery practices in martial examinations of the Qing period. Therefore, Chinese-style archery has not only been a major component in China’s physical tradition since ancient times, it embodies the very process of cultural intercourse and fusion among China’s diverse ethnic groups, and that its practices –– in particular, the notion of ‘she bu zhu pi’ 射不主皮(archery practice whose aim is not to hit the target) and the tradition to she yi guan de 射以觀德 (observe virtue through archery practice) [ix] –– made manifest the archetypal humanist spirit in the Eastern physical (sporting) traditions.

It is regrettable that from 1959, after China accepted the international standards of archery practice and competition, competitive events in Chinese-style archery came to a complete halt. After several decades of desuetude China’s ancient tradition of ‘archery studies’ has basically discontinued, ‘archery rituals’ have disappeared, and the craft of making traditional bow and arrows and other supplementary equipment is all but lost. Today, it would be no mean task to recover this ancient system of physical culture and re-discover its traditional ritual formulas. [x]

Next, let us discuss Chinese-style wrestling.

Wrestling and barehanded combat is humans’ most primitive and universal urge to exercise, and represents our ancestors’ earliest and most important means to express vitality and fullness of life. Ancient exercises in wrestling and grappling existed in every society throughout the world and came in a variety of forms. In China, wrestling developed through a long and complex process, beginning with jiaoli 角力 in the pre-Qin period, to jiaodi 角觝 during the Qin and Han Dynasties, and gradually took shape as xiangpu 相撲 between Wei-Jin and Tang-Song Dynasties, whose form is preserved in the sumo tradition of Japan today. Then, after a new wave of cultural and demographic influx in the Song and Yuan Dynasties, a distinctive new style of wrestling known as zhengjiao 爭交 appeared. Finally, under Manchu rulers’ patronage and promotion in the Qing Dynasty, a team of professional wrestlers in the imperial service – the shanpu ying 善撲營 camp – created a complete system of wrestling which became the basis for Chinese-style wrestling. [xi] As most historical records about wrestling techniques tend to be crude and unclear, and because ancient writers were wont to employ fancy phrases of obscure meaning and often used different names for the same techniques, it is difficult to make sense of the primary sources, which often leaves the reader with the feeling he is gazing at a flower through the mist. However, in reality one needs only carefully examine the documents and compare textual records with surviving iconography and archaeological data, to gain a clearer view of the developmental pattern of Chinese wrestling. In my opinion, of all the different types of wrestling in the world, Chinese-style wrestling has the longest history and attained the most mature development. It is a product of cultural intercourse over an extended period, which manifests distinctive characteristics of the Chinese civilization, and is stylistically representative of East Asia’s physical culture.

Xiangpu of ancient China transmitted to Japan in the east and is preserved there today as a living national monument. Wrestling techniques of the Qing court also had a profound influence on China’s neighbours: it is a well-known fact that Japan’s judo, which has become an Olympics sport, owes its development to Chinese-style wrestling.

Third, let us turn our attention to dragon-boat racing.

In ancient times dragon-boat racing was called jingdu 競渡 (literally, ‘competition in crossing’) and was known under a host of different names. Various hypotheses have also been put forward for its genesis but these speculations need not concern us here. Dragon-boat racing is the longest living water sport with the widest scope of dissemination in China. Nowadays, dragon-boat racing has spread to different corners of the world, including Germany, and participation is no longer limited to Chinese competitors but include athletes from many countries. From the point of view of dragon-boat racing’s international influence and recognition, it is undoubtedly the most successful sport in all of China’s indigenous sports. And the esprit de corps expressed in a dragon-boat race, as well as the joy and festive atmosphere of the occasion, powerfully conveys China’s distinctive sporting spirit. For these reasons, dragon-boat racing has been embraced globally and is now one of the most visible symbols for Chinese national sports. Indeed, I believe China would have had a better chance of success if it had chosen to apply dragon-boat racing as an official Olympics event in place of ‘competition wushu (jingji wushu 竞技武术), and in certain ways the representative value of dragon-boat racing is greater. Unfortunately, this idea obviously did not occur to those in charge.

Finally we should consider the martial arts. As the most popular and widely practiced form of exercise in China, the reason I have chosen to talk about it last is because its present condition is disappointing in many ways.

Wushu has a huge support-base in China. For a long time it received the greatest attention from the government and has been a regular event in both the National Games and the Asian Games. Over the last few years, Chinese from all over the world had hoped with great anxiety and anticipation that wushu would be accepted into the holy Olympics sanctuary, to remedy Chinese sports’ regrettable absence from the biggest international stage of sports all these years. Unfortunately, the applications to enter wushu as a formal event and as an exhibition in the 2008 Beijing Olympics were both turned down by the International Olympics Committee, and thus the international wushu competition organized by the Chinese governing body during the summer games had no relation whatsoever with the actual Olympic Games. This represents a major setback for the international development of Chinese martial arts, for the last time they were exhibited on the greatest global stage was back in 1936 at the 11th Berlin Olympics.

As I have always maintained, martial arts are priceless gems in China’s physical cultural heritage, which were created through the sustained efforts of diverse ethnic groups over many centuries. [xii] However, with a little care we would discover that the current ‘competition wushu only came into being in the 1950s, when traditional forms of martial arts competition were rejected in a social environment dominated by extreme ‘left winged’ politics. At the time, the historical name of changquan was borrowed for its use, although in reality this new type of martial arts performance bears no relation whatever with the historical changquan, and is in fact a standardized form which integrated popular martial arts styles (principally huaquan). As for the so called ‘competition’, the outcome is determined through an adjudication process of set-performance, in lieu of traditional agonistic competition. This type of ‘competition’ is modeled on gymnastics, but without the same stringent guidelines for point-scoring based on rigorous scientific criteria. As a result, many problems exist in the adjudication process, which has elicited strong criticisms from an early stage in modern wushu’s development. Since antiquity Chinese martial arts have placed an equal demand on set-performance and combat training and emphasized the integral relationship between the two, stressing that one should xian zi wu, hou bi shi’ 先自舞 ,後比試 (first dance on his own, then engage in competitive matches), which included matches in both empty-handed and armed martial arts. Generally speaking, the competitor would first perform a routine set, and would progress to an agonistic match if he passed –– here too, different grades were given to set performance, but that was point scoring and not a competitive match, for the latter could only be resolved by victory or defeat. Throughout the course of Chinese history competitive martial arts matches never took the form of set-performance, for it was deemed too abstract and could not truly determine the difference in skills between practitioners. ‘Competition wushu’s’ monopoly over an extended period has inadvertently led to Chinese martial arts’ being bifurcated into two disjointed parts –– ‘competition wushu’ and ‘traditional martial arts’ –– and later spawned a third component of ‘sanda’ (which should not be confused with sanshou), which is an extension of competition wushu, but is utterly unrelated to the purely performance-based wushu. In the end, competition wushu and sanda went separate ways and engendered a second partition in Chinese martial arts. The contemporary situation of Chinese martial arts is extremely confusing, which is facing a shrinking market and an encroaching threat posed by mysticism. No ready solution is available to solve this quandary, and we can only put our faith in time, hoping that the governing body will introduce reforms that will address these issues at root levels.

In any case, archery, wrestling, dragon-boat racing, and martial arts are the four pillars of China’s indigenous physical culture, which have stood the test of time and retained a strong vitality. One of the most salient characteristics of these four activities is that they have long ago developed into complete systems, which combine performance aspects with competitive elements, exhibit rich and varied modes of expression, with mature theoretical and technical frameworks, and possess a rich literary tradition that has formed the basis for present-day research. Some of these activities are popular in China and overseas communities, and are receiving increasing attention from international scholars in sports science and other related disciplines. However, some of these events have been neglected or marginalized, while others have been set on the wrong path in the process of development and promotion. Nonetheless, looking at it in a long-term perspective, these physical activities have deep-rooted foundations and I believe in time they will again shine with true colors, and contribute to enriching the international sports scene.

Two – Reviewing Guoshu' Experiment

The Qing Dynasty was the last feudal Dynasty in China, and it was under Manchu rule that China’s indigenous physical culture reached its ultimate form. Most of the surviving native physical traditions in China, as well as the framework of traditional Chinese physical culture, were completed during the Qing period. In significant ways, therefore, the Qing Dynasty represents a key stage in the development of China’s indigenous physical culture when many of its aspects reached maturation and completion. Let us consider a few examples.

As mentioned above, Chinese-style wrestling has a long history with many guises and forms in diverse dynastic periods, which finally developed into a homogeneous system in the Qing Dynasty. The ‘shanpu ying’ (善撲營) camp was established in the Qing period as early as the emperor Kangxi’s reign, together with the ‘boke’ system and a series of important tournaments, which often took place under the emperor’s direct supervision . This system integrated the techniques and traditions of different ethnic and regional wrestling styles, including Mongolian-style wrestling, Manchu-style wrestling, as well as various wrestling styles practiced by the Han Chinese, and to create an ultimate form of Chinese-style wrestling.

Many different terms were used during the Qing period, such as liaojiao (撩脚), liaojiao (撂跤), guanjiao (掼跤), shuaijiao (摔脚), and shuaijiao (摔角), but the fundamental skills and competition rules were the same. More important, a distinctive wrestling culture developed under court patronage which embraced different aspects of wrestling, including costume, rituals, selection of athletes, techniques, teaching methods, equipment, and competition regulations. Wrestling matches and performance made up an integral part of important court celebrations, and served vital political functions in Qing rulers’ diplomatic relationship with various ethnic groups, particularly the northern peoples – such as the Mongols – who had a strong tradition in wrestling. The shanpu ying camp was composed of the best athletes from different cultural and ethnic groups, and likewise techniques in Chinese-style wrestling were multicultural in origin, as manifest in the synonymous name of jiaoban (跤绊). Towards the end of Qing, shanpu ying camp was disbanded, and over a hundred ‘boke’ wrestlers were scattered into society, which had a significant impact on popularizing wrestling. From that point on, wrestling descended from the imperial court to the popular domain, transmitting to southern parts of China during the Republic, and subsequently diffused to overseas communities. [xiii]

We should also consider the example of archery. Historically, archery has taken many different forms and styles –– from ritual, costume, personal adornments, related gifts, training methods, examination, competition, and performance, its contents have changed significantly over time. However, only in the Qing Dynasty did a united form of Chinese-style archery with distinctive competitive features finally emerge, which became an important part of court culture and a popular form of exercise among the upper social classes. This undoubtedly has to do with the fact the Manchus were ethnic minorities who originated from the northern hinterland, and that archery played a decisive role in their conquest of the Middle Kingdom. But an even more significant factor was the strict implementation of official martial examinations in the Qing period. As a result of the martial examinations, archery and weightlifting – including the wielding of a heavy sword (dadao 大刀), shi zhi zi, shi dun zi (石礩子、石礅子)[8] – became popular forms of physical exercise in urban centers in Qing-period China. For a while shepu (archery ground 射圃), gongjianfang (archery chamber 弓箭房), bashifang (trainers’ chamber 把勢房) and other arenas for martial practice were set up throughout the empire and many professional martial artists made their living from teaching these skills. All in all, Chinese-style archery has a long and complex history and, like Chinese-style wrestling, took a definitive form and acquired the characteristics of ‘sport’ in the Qing Dynasty.

Beside wrestling and archery, the same also holds true for martial arts and dragon-boat racing, as well as a host of other physical activities such as the equestrian sports, ice skating, swimming, and weightlifting, which underwent a fundamental transformation during the Qing period into ‘sports’. In Qing Dynasty, the most important representatives of China’s indigenous sports were the martial arts, archery, wrestling, and dragon-boat racing, which embodied the spirit of China’s physical culture. These events promoted traditional values through competition, espoused the precept to yangshen jianti (養神健體 improve mental and bodily health), promoted the idea of relaxation and pleasure through exercise, and extolled the ideal of harmony and humility, by stressing the importance of spirit rather than focusing on the results. In particular, the creation of Taijiquan led to a new model of martial arts competition that emphasizes aspects of leisure and health . This indeed represents a leap in martial arts development and a physical extension of Eastern Daoist philosophy.

When Western sports started to filter into China from the end of the Qing Dynasty, they first established a foothold in the coastal cities and later spread to the interior. Around the year 1900, competitive Western sports such as track and field, gymnastics, and ball games, were played in missionary schools throughout the country. Under their influence, many public and private schools gradually adopted Western sports in their curriculum. In this process, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), whose first branch in China was established in 1876 in Shanghai, played a particularly significant part in subsequent promotion and dissemination of Western sports. Its contributions included building the first modern stadium in China, and organizing some of the earliest sports tournaments in the country, such as in Tianjin and Shanghai in 1902; and even more noteworthy, YMCA was responsible for creating China’s first National Games, which was held under the old regime in Shanghai in 1910. Further, in a series of public promulgations on education policies in 1902 and 1903, namely, Imperial Decreed Charter for Schools (popularly known as the “1902 School Regime”) and Regulations Governing Higher Education, the Qing government laid down clear guidelines for the development of physical education at different levels, which signified physical education had already officially been incorporated into the domain of education. On the eve of the 1911 Revolution, many competitive events in Western sports had already entered China, and theories and ideas about Western physical culture and competition, particularly in respect of physical education and ‘physical education based on militarism’ were well known and widely disseminated in China. [xiv]

In the 1920s and 1930s when Western sports had come to successfully dominate mainstream physical culture in China, a number of pioneers, led by martial artists, attempted to counteract this trend by constructing their own system of physical education. This led to the so-called ‘battle between indigenous and Western sports’. [xv] Representatives of the ‘indigenous physical tradition’ undoubtedly included conservative elements who voiced narrow jingoistic views, but we should also acknowledge their dedicated commitment to espousing the cause of indigenous physical culture. Under Western sports’ dominance, indigenous traditions fell into increasing neglect and marginalization, and faced a very real threat of discontinuation. At this time, a number of farsighted pioneers proposed to reform indigenous sports based on the Western model, taking lessons from Japan’s experience in protecting and developing native sports, in order to select representative competitive events in China’s indigenous tradition and re-organize them into a complete system, which could be put on the same track as international modern sports. However, restricted by contemporary circumstances and the reformers’ own limitations, particularly their lack of theoretical training and knowledge, major obstacles stood in the way of development, leading to a series of miscalculations and mistakes, and the reform in indigenous physical culture stagnated for a time in the quagmire of nationalism. However, overall these explorations were meaningful exercises that remain valuable as case studies and points of reference. Personally, I believe that among the many different experimental models adopted in private and official initiatives, the ‘national arts’ (guoshu) project directed by Mr. Zhang Zhijiang achieved the most outstanding results and had the most far-reaching influence. [xvi] Today, we should review this historical precedent with due respect and try to learn from its experience.

The construction of Zhang Zhijiang’s guoshu system revolved around a central precept, that ‘practice and agonistic competitions should exist side by side, and technical knowledge should be acquired at the same time as rational understanding’ (lianda bingzhong, shuxue jianbei 練打並重,術學兼備). This provided a concrete guideline to developing a new system of indigenous sports and martial arts competition –– the so-called ‘guoshu’ system –– with martial arts at its core and surrounded by other sports competitions. Although constrained by contemporary circumstances, Zhang was wholeheartedly devoted to the project, and no effort was spared in constructing the ‘guoshu’ system. In the end he failed to attain the lofty goals set forth at the beginning, but we must admit that some measures of success were achieved –– the term ‘guoshu’ has been etched in people’s hearts, and his efforts left in indelible broad strokes an important chapter in the history of China’s indigenous physical culture. However, his most significant contribution was the creation of a preliminary system of indigenous sports with ‘national examinations’ (guokao 國考) in its center. The Central Guoshu Institute founded by Zhang Zhijiang was the first official organization in China to regulate and control indigenous sports. He brought in talents from around the nation and formed a team of experts in indigenous physical culture. With their support and based on the models of Western sports and reformed Japanese martial arts, he restructured the chaotic popular martial arts competitions into a framework of yi pin san bi (one performance and three matches), which included one set-performance (and point-scoring) and a series of three competitive matches in sanshou 散手 (barehanded combat), duanbing 短兵 (short weapon), and ­changbing 長兵 (long weapon). Under this new system, athletes could enter a single or multiple events . It is true that many flaws were still present in this system of martial arts competition –– known as the ‘guoshu examination’ (guoshu kaoshi 國術考試) –– as experience was lacking, and considerable problems existed in respect of regulation, safety facilities, and the standard of training. However, I am inclined to think that it was heading in the right general direction, as it was anchored in the ancient tradition to ‘first [engage in] solo dance [practice] and afterwards a competitive match’ (xian zi wu, hou bi shi 先自舞,後比試), and drew ideas from the successful experience of Western sports. If it had been supported by adequate funds, and was given sufficient time to develop and evolve, I strongly believe that the guoshu system would have been a success.

The ‘guoshu’ proposed by Zhang Zhijiang belongs to the same category as ‘national painting’ (guohua 國畫), ‘national medicine’ (guoyi 國醫), and ‘national music’ (guoyue 國樂), which emphasize their indigenousness and are conceptually distinct from ‘martial arts’ (wushu 武術) or ‘new martial arts’ (xin wushu 新武術). As stated above, the principal distinction between the national arts (guoshu 國術) and martial arts (wushu) lies in the fact the former is not a single sport, but a system of sports with agonistic competitions in bare-handed and weapon- fighting in its core. From technical classification to management principles, from theoretical structure to competition rules, it forms a preliminary, self-containing system. Even though certain flaws may be found within this system, and certain problems had appeared during implementation, we must acknowledge that under the conditions of the time, it was a structure that best represented Chinese sports and their principal expression in the Republican period.

It is a well known fact that the ‘guoshu examination’ was one of the main activities organized by the Central Guoshu Institute, and represented the most important form of competition in ‘guoshu’. Regulations for National Arts Examinations (guoshu kaoshi tiaoli 國術考試條例) and Detailed Rules (xize 細則) specified that examinations at the national, provincial, and county levels be divided into separate academic and technical examinations, and thereby upheld the Confucian tradition of placing equal emphasis on literary and martial cultivation. For our purpose, it is unnecessary to dilate further on the academic aspect. The technical examination, on the other hand, was in reality an open ‘guoshu’ competition and was divided into the preliminary and official stages. The official examination was further separated into preliminary, second, and final rounds. There were five weight categories in the preliminary test, and participants were matched up by draw to engage in examinations in four different subjects, comprising empty-handed combat, wrestling, and bayonet competition, and progressed by elimination into the second and final rounds, with three competitors remaining in the last phase of competition. For various reasons, the development of the guoshu examination was very uneven across the country and national level examinations (guokao) only occurred twice. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the guoshu examination made significant contributions to promoting indigenous physical culture.

The first ‘national examinations’ (guokao 國考) held in Nanjing in October in the seventeenth year of the Republic (1928) was experimental in many ways. Participants had to first go through a preliminary round of competition, which consisted of performance in routine sets in dao 刀 (single-edged sword), qiang 槍 (spear), jian 劍 (double-edged sword), gun 棍 (staff) and quan 拳 (boxing), and were allowed to engage in agonistic matches only after they had passed the first round. Agonistic events included sanshou, duanbing, changbing, and wrestling, etc. By the second ‘national examinations’ in Nanjing in the twenty-second year of the Republic (1933), the competitive procedure followed closely the guidelines set forth in the Regulations and Detailed Rules. Beside the two ‘national examinations’, many provincial cities also held local competitions, with adjustments in competitive events across regions, but fundamentally following the regulations of the Central Guoshu Institute.

The structural composition of ‘guoshu’ was varied and included many independent events in traditional martial arts that had survived in the popular domain. There were performances in a variety of empty handed and weapon styles, agonistic matches in unarmed and weapon combat, wrestling events –– which had enjoyed a complementary relation with the martial arts since antiquity –– as well as other competitive activities that are intimately related to traditional martial arts such as archery, pellet-shooting (dangong), jianzi, and weight-lifting. These events were integral parts of the Central Institute’s training and dissemination at different levels, and were incorporated into the ‘national arts’ activities at schools. At the sixth National Games in Shanghai in the twenty-fourth year of the Republic (1935), guoshu was included in the official competitions, and was represented by six individual events –– including sanshou, weapons, wrestling, archery, pellet-shooting, and tijian –– which were selected on the basis of practical considerations. Limited by the standard of the ‘guoshu’ at the time, the majority of athletes only entered a single or two competitive events, though a few athletes did enter multiple events, such as Yang Weibu from Qingdao who competed in wrestling, weightlifting, archery, and boxing, and Wang Zhi, a member of the Zhejiang team, who took part in boxing, weapons, wrestling, and archery competitions. It is also worth mentioning that a number of well known contemporary martial artists such as Tong Zhongyi, Wang Ziping, Jiang Rongjiao, and Wu Junshan were both martial arts and wrestling judges at the sixth National Games, as many accomplished martial artists at the time were also skilled in wrestling. The following year a team of Chinese martial artists attended the eleventh Olympics at Berlin in Germany, where they performed jianzi and feicha beside martial arts demonstrations.

About seven or eight years ago, I put forward the proposal to review guoshu, [xvii] which I hoped would persuade the governing body in China to discard old prejudices and convince them of the need to broaden their horizon, carefully consider the successes and failures that had occurred in the development of contemporary martial arts, and seriously consider whether there is anything worthy of study and emulation in the ‘guoshu’ experiment. Regretfully, I did not receive any response, neither affirmation nor refutation, as if nothing had happened. A few years later, those who had been in charge at the governing body silently departed from the scene and were taken over by new officials. For a time we eagerly awaited reforms and changes which many believed were sure to come. In the end, nothing changed. All efforts and attention were focused on getting wushu into the Olympics as an official competition event, or else they flew the banner of ‘traditional martial arts’ as a way of getting out of financial straits. Everything else is considered secondary and not given much thought to. I made a statement at the time, which I wish to recite below to conclude this section:

Traditional culture is an important medium through which to instill a sense of national pride. Among the diverse and variegated fields of traditional culture, physical culture has the greatest ability to convey national spirit and character, for it possesses to an extraordinary degree vitality and continuity, and regardless of the obstacles that come in its way it continues to pertinaciously develop and grow. [xviii] This is the case everywhere in the world. For this reason, the only way to truly inherit and develop traditional culture to is treat its history with respect, and to continue to learn from our predecessors’ experience. To blindly reject the past, and to follow the so called ‘political standards’ when making cultural evaluations –– such simplistic and crude ways of thinking had led to grievous mistakes being committed in my country, and caused irreparable losses in traditional culture and great suffering to my nation and its people. Indeed, the lessons learned in respect of martial arts heritage and development have been particularly heavy and grave, and are worthy of profound reflection.

Three – Reconstructing China’s Indigenous Games

Not long after the founding of the new China, in November 1953, ‘National Indigenous-style Games and Exhibition’ (quanguo minzu xingshi tiyu biaoyan ji jingsai dahui 全國民族形式體育表演及競賽大會) was held in Tianjin which had over 400 competitive events (including individual martial arts performance) and was attended by 396 athletes representing ten ethnic groups. In the same period similar games were held in many cities across the nation, and for a while ‘indigenous sports’ became a popular trend. In many ways, the indigenous sports movement was both innovative and meaningful, and laid a firm foundation for its development in the new China, where indigenous physical culture would be given the proper attention and position it deserved. A series of ideas put forward at the time, such as ‘to confer greater value on indigenous sports through scientific research and re-organization’, and ‘using indigenous sports as a path to national health’, [xix] addressed key issues in the development of indigenous physical culture and had significant value as policy directives.

Regrettably, competitions and tournaments for ‘indigenous-style sports’ (minzu shi tiyu) only had a transient existence and soon disappeared from the official scene. Even the idea of ‘indigenous-style sports’ became increasingly distant until it ceased to be mentioned altogether. The eagerly anticipated ‘scientific’ system of indigenous sports never developed to any significant degree, and in any case only applied to a limited number of competitive events. Soon after, official authorities spent three years ‘re-organizing’ popular martial arts, until in 1957 a brand new style of martial arts ‘competition’ –– ‘competition wushu’ –– based on a system of point scoring on set-performance, was installed as the official format for martial arts competition. Thereafter, a great deal of criticism was directed at agonistic competitions until they were completely abandoned. Without the restriction and guidance of competitive matches, set performance developed into a choreographic dance which placed ever greater emphasis on technical embellishments, and was distinguished by being ‘high, difficult, new, and pretty’. In reality, ‘competition wushu’ progressively lost its original spiritual characteristics and became dislocated from its cultural origin, until it transformed into a protean ‘Chinese-style gymnastics’, or perhaps one should say a form of ‘martial dance’. In the foregoing it has been stated that Chinese-style archery had vanished from the sports scene since 1959, and continued to be practiced only in isolated places in remote mountains and plains. A direct consequence of long period of neglect is that the traditional craft in making Chinese-style composite bows is almost completely lost. Today, a descendant of a traditional bowyer silently carries on this craft in Beijing, but we cannot say we have rediscovered our lost heritage, for what has been preserved is but fragments and we cannot realistically hope to reconstruct Chinese archery from mere ruins within a short period of time. According to a news report, a member of the national archery team did not even recognize an unstrung Chinese bow. Hearing thus I cannot help lament the fate of traditional archery! But perhaps the most pitiable of all is the situation of Chinese-style wrestling. Prior to the Cultural Revolution Chinese-style wrestling was a popular sport which boasted a host of excellent coaches and athletes, with well established national tournaments and inter-city competitions, and was in addition an official event in the National Games. Chinese-style wrestling was suddenly banned in the midst of the Cultural Revolution and thereafter fell into sharp decline. It was de-listed in the National Games and was practiced only by scattered groups in the popular domain. Only in recent years is there a revival of popular interest in Chinese-style wrestling, with a slight upturn in its fortunes.

Under the patronage and promotion of overseas Chinese communities, dragon-boat racing has been embraced by many nations with international competitions in different parts of the world. In certain countries, the enthusiasm for dragon-boat racing seems to have even eclipsed its popularity in China. Indeed, its unparalleled success offers important hints and fully demonstrates that the arena of international sports can accommodate Chinese sports; the key to success is rather to be found in proper organization and promotion.

In the post-reform period the Chinese government inaugurated the ‘National Traditional Games of Ethnic Minorities of People’s Republic of China’ (zhongguo shaoshu minzu chuantong tiyu yundonghui 中國少數民族傳統運動會) at Holhot in September 1982. The competitive events were selected from the ethnic minorities’ sporting traditions, and the majority of participants were athletes with minority background from various provinces and autonomous regions. The games were held thereafter once every four years and were designated as national-level sports events on par with the National Games, the University Students’ Games, and the National Games of Peasants. The games have been held seven times since the inaugural event in 1982. Later, the authorities recognized the 1953 Tianjin ‘National Indigenous-style Games and Exhibition’ as the first meet of the ‘National Traditional Games of Ethnic Minorities of People’s Republic of China’. According to this ordering, the latest and eighth meet was held in Guangzhou in 2007.

Unquestionably, the organization of the National Minority Games shows that the Chinese state is aware of the importance to protect and develop the heritage of indigenous physical culture. Correspondingly, the direct participation of the National Bureau of Ethnic Affairs in its organization, and the vast monetary and human resources invested in its development and promotion, have led to outstanding achievements and generated much interest in indigenous physical culture. This sporting event has served to bring about a closer unity among the nationalities, significantly contributed to building a harmonious social order, and fully demonstrated the party’s and the state’s commitment to preserving and promoting minority culture –– its political significance is clearly beyond doubt. However, I should point out that ‘minority physical culture’ (shaoshu minzu tiyu 少數民族體育) and ‘indigenous physical culture’ (minzu tiyu 民族體育) are two distinct concepts: there are fifty-five official ethnic ‘minority’ groups in China, representing nearly 8.4% of the entire population, and the ‘National Minority Games’ are organized for these ethnic groups, which is why all the participating athletes have to belong to the ethnic ‘minorities’. This type of event is clearly different in nature from the ‘indigenous-style sports games’ in 1953 and it is illogical to string them together. I personally attended the Minority Games on two occasions –– in Xinjiang in 1986 and in Ningxia in 2003 –– and discovered a certain confusion in media reports, which sometimes referred to the event as the Minority Games, but more often directly called it ‘People’s Games’ (minyun hui 民運會) or ‘Indigenous Sports’ (minzu yundong 民族運動). This inconsistency reflects a lack of conceptual clarity.

‘Indigenous physical culture’, ‘indigenous-style physical culture’ or ‘native physical culture’ refers to an embracing concept of Chinese physical tradition, with Han culture in the core but is owned in common by the fifty six official nationalities. As stated above, many phenomena in this domain have been jointly created by different ethnic groups, whereas others are specific to certain group(s) with localized dissemination. Moreover, whereas ‘indigenous physical culture’ is an encompassing concept that contains ‘minority physical culture’ (shaoshu minzu tiyu 少數民族體育), the latter has a rather more restricted meaning and can neither subsume nor replace ‘indigenous physical culture’. After the experiences of the past decades, and on the basis of a solid foundation laid by previous occasions of the ‘Minority Games’, I personally suggest we should revert its name to ‘Chinese-style Indigenous Sports Games’ (zhongguo shi minzu yundong hui) or ‘China’s Games in Traditional Indigenous Sports’ (zhongguo minzu chuantong yundonghui 中國民族傳統運動會). Further in-depth studies may be conducted to determine the component events of the games, but the fundamental principles are clear: the games must neither overlap with the Olympics nor be subsumed under similar games, and the individual sporting events must be indigenous to China.

In sum, we need to have our own ‘indigenous sports games’, in order to protect and rescue China’s physical culture from its present predicament. Such an event will also represent a significant step in advancing the cause of multiculturalism and breaking the Olympics’ hegemony on global physical culture. As a scholar I am wont to give expression to my ideas, which, though long considered and sincerely expressed, I fear may not necessarily be correct. Nonetheless, I hope the relevant authorities will seriously consider my words, for there is a great urgency to act with little time to lose. I hope we will seize the present opportunity to bring to life a complete system of ‘China’s indigenous physical culture’, long in the making, which is nothing less than our historical responsibility.

[1]Guocui literally means ‘the quintessence of Chinese culture’, however, in this context, it has the same meaning as the National Arts (guosh).

[2] Cuju was a style of football game popular mainly during the Song dynasty.

[3] Chuiwan was a popular ball game in ancient China during the Song, Jin, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties, Many scholars in China believe the modern golf game is derived from chui-wan.

[4] Qiang hua pao is a type of ball-game originating in the physical traditions of the Dong and Zhuang nationalities, and is one of the most representative competitive events in the Minority Games. It is also known as ‘Chinese-style rugby’ and its rules are based on the modern English game.

[5] Zheng zhu qiu, literally ‘pearl-game’, originated as a Manchu game and is also a representative event in the Minority Games.

[6] A type of ball game popular in Islamic communities in northwest China which has been incorporated into the Minority Games.

[7] A type of ball game inspired by Taijiquan.

[8] They are both types of stone-weight used for body conditioning.

[i] Confucius, lunyu (Analects), zi han dijiu, “Someone from Da xiang dan said, ‘Confucius is a great man, so learned in every respect that he cannot be praised in any particular. Confucius heard and said to his students, “In what area do I excel? Charioteering, or archery? I believe I am better in charioteering.” Also, Zheng, Xuan (Han), Annotations on Book of Rites, chapter 62, sheyi, ‘Confucius practiced archery in Jue xiang’s garden, and attracted so many spectators that they resembled a wall.’

[ii] liji zhu shu (Annotations on Book of Rites), chapter 62, sheyi, ‘Confucius once said that a gentleman has no quarrels with anyone, but if he is forced to compete how about an archery contest? Before the contest proper etiquette should be observed, and afterwards the contestants should have a drink together, such is the way of contest between gentlemen.’

[iii] Zhang, Zhijian (et el), tu tiyu yu yang tiyu (Indigenous sports and Western Sports), Taiwan International Research Association in Physical Education: zhongwai tiyu wenxian xunji (Selected Writings on Physical Education in China and Overseas), Taipei: 1969. See Cui Lequan, xifang jindai tiyu yinxiang xia de chuangtong tiyu (Traditional Sports under the Influence of Western Sports in Early Modern Times), in zhongguo jindai tiyu shihua (History of Sports in Early Modern China), Beijing: Zhong-hua Press, 1998, p. 49.

[iv] Ma, Mingda, lishi shang zhong ri chao jian dao wuyi jiaoliu kao’ (An Examination into the Historical Exchanges between China, Japan, and Korea in Classical Swordsmanship), mixi dao xiao kao (Preliminary Examination into mixi-dao), both in shuojian conggao (Manuscripts on Sword-discourse), Lanzhou: Lanzhou University Press, 2000.

[v] See Ma, Mingda, songdai de yujinyuan yanshe’ (Archery rites at the Banquet of Yujin Garden in the Song Dynasty), in xibei minzu yanjiu (Studies of Northwestern Nationalities), 2006 vol. 2, p. 13.

[vi] jiu shiqi shidai wanqi wenhua: Zhiyu Site in Suoxian county, in xin zhongguo de kaogu faxian he yanjiu (Archaeological Finds and Studies in New China), edited by the Institute of Archaeology, China’s Institute of Social Science, ‘In 1963… a stone arrow-head was discovered, which was made of a piece of long and very thin rectangular rock. It is very evenly shaped and has a sharp, tapering point. On the basis of past discoveries at Salawusuan River, Shuidonggou  sites, which yielded similar stone arrow-heads, we may deduce that the use of bows and arrows could be traced back to the late palaeolithic period.’ Beijing: Cultural Relics Publications, 1984, p. 20. In addition, according to Yanghong, zhongguo gu binqi luncong (Essays on Ancient Weapons in China), part eight, gong yu nu (Bows and Cross-bows), p. 190, carbon-dating techniques have dated Zhiyu Site to 28,945 years ago.

[vii] Chen, Shou, sanguo zhi: weishu (Annals of the Three Kingdoms: History of Wei), chapter 2, wendi ji dier (Records of Emperor Wendi, part two), Beijing: Zhonghua Press, 1963, p. 89.

[viii] See Yang, Kuan, zhanguo shi (History of the Warring States), chapter 8 part 3, ‘zhao wulin wang “hufu qishe”’ (King Zhao Wulin espoused “barbarian customs”’), Shanghai People’s Publications, 1980, p. 335.

[ix] shebu zhupi is an important principle in Confucian archery rites, which means that hitting the target is not the only or chief aim in archery rituals, see lunyu (Analects), baqiao. sheyi guande (observing virtue through archery practice) is an important tenet early Confucian philosophy, which means archery training and contests are avenues to observe a person’s virtues and moral education, see li-ji: she-yi (Book of Rites: Significance of Archery Practice) and other pre-Qin literature.

[x] Ma, Mingda, and Ma, Lianzhen, ‘zui xun shiluo de shexue’ (Searching for the Lost Archery Studies), in tiyu wenhua daokan (Journal of Sports Culture), 2004, vol. 6.

[xi] See, Zhou, Shibin (et el), shuaijiao  jifa yu shuaijiao shiliao (Wrestling Techniques and Wrestling History), Xuelin Publications, 2001.

[xii] See Ma, Mingda, Wuxue tanzheng (Examination of Truth in Martial Studies), 2 vols., Taipei: Lion Publications, 2003.

[xiii] Zhou, Shibin (et el), op. cit.

[xiv] See the standard textbook in higher education, tiyu shi (History of Sports), 2nd edition, Beijing: Higher Education Publications, 1997.

[xv] Zhang, Zhijian (et el), op. cit. See also Cui Le-quan, op. cit., p. 49.

[xvi] About Zhang, Zhijiang’s life, see Zhang, Rensu, zhang zhi jiang zhuanlue (A Short Biography of Zhang Zhijiang), Shanghai: Xuelin Publications, 1994.

[xvii] Ma, Mingda, yingai chongxin shenshi guoshu (The need to re-evaluate the national arts project), tiyu wenshi (The Cultural History of Sports), 1999, vol. 5.
[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] xin tiyu (New Sports) 1953, vol. 12, Discussion: ‘ba minzu xingshi tiyu yinxiang gen jiankang de renmin de daolu’ (To set Indigenous-style Sports on the Path of Improving People’s Health).


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