Chinese Soccer–An Allegory Of China’s Status In The World

Chinese soccer/football team.

The World Cup is here.  I’ve just watched the Germans thoroughly trounce a hapless Australian squad with four thunderous goals.  The Germans play soccer like they wage war–technically sound, organized, efficient, and strategically decisive.  Given equal numbers, nay, superior numbers even–the Aussies had a man sent off on a red card mid-way through the second half, the Germans will embarrass you like France 1940.

No, they won’t play with the flair and “samba” of a Brazil or a Spain; they’re more likely to roll over you like a Tiger tank.  But the Germans are an ambitious lot.  They often bite off more than they can chew.  (You’d think losing one multi-front war against a bevy of allied nations would have been enough.)  So no, they won’t win it all this year either; some other country that treats soccer more like a party and less like business will, you watch.  Welcome to soccer as an allegory for Life 101.

But back to the point.  This is all reminiscent of an article in the Washington Post on July 27, 2008 by Xu Guoqi on the futility of the Chinese national soccer team.  As has been commented upon by others, many Chinese detractors see China as the oppressive monster juggernaut in Asia, an economic and totalitarian powerhouse, and a threat to freedom and democracy-loving people everywhere.  Without addressing the correctness of these characterizations, it’s curious that many of these people cannot see China the way the Chinese see China–as an adolescent country just now emerging into the world, racked by self-doubt, a history of under-achievement, and being dominated by other more powerful nations.  This is where Xu’s article hits home with the allegory.  Despite the growth, the economics, and the superb performances during the Olympics, China is a nation in love with soccer, and full of angst over its inability to compete in a sport in which the likes of Slovenia, Serbia, and even North Korea competes.  No, the Chinese win wars when they should lose them for the same reasons the Germans lose wars when they should win them–on the pitch, after all, it can only be eleven against eleven, no flood of American material or Chinese bodies to tip the balance.

Likewise, the Chinese approach to academics has often been criticized as unimaginative, rote, capable of producing students good at memorization, but poor at original problem solving.  The traditional communist approach to sport, perhaps, is also susceptible to similar criticism.  The sports dormitories will churn out technically flawless automatons, but none who are capable of the flair, artistry, and originality found only in those who truly love and pursue their respective sports with heart and passion.  Perhaps there is an explanation for why the Chinese have never really excelled at team, ball-centric pursuits?  Could it be the same explanation as why the Chinese are unlikely to build a car with the quality of a Mercedes, though they’ll boast that you can buy two lesser Chinese-made vehicles at a lower price?

In the international sphere, the Chinese will always be plagued by these issues of confidence.  Questions will always be asked when it’s perceived that China is being slighted by the West.  The need to put up an iron front against such slights is driven mostly by the self-perceived notion of actual weakness.  Perhaps it will take the coming of the day when the Chinese men’s national soccer team win the World Cup for such crises of confidence to be overcome, so that China can “chill” a little in international politics.  In that case, perhaps that day will never come.  Nevertheless, rest assured that most Chinese are fully aware of the nation’s possible weaknesses in both sports and political ideology.  That’s why they think it’s so absurd when the rest of the world tries to paint China as the fearsome powerhouse who has it all.


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  1. Jones

    I like allegories. I also like this article. It reminds me of the idea my mother and father painted of China prior to me going there (both were actually very different) and how different (mostly for the better) I realize it was when I got there, for both the Chinese and my parents’ (and others in the West) beliefs.

  2. So… they have a bad football team, so what? Given what I have seen with over-influence of sport in the academic and political scenes in the U.S. – having a low profile in international sports may be a blessing in disguise.

    As for the allegories… please – the mind’s eye ALWAYS casts the harshest gaze, no matter how perfect the effort or result.

    • King Tubby

      Mastthew. Not just a bad football, probably the worst team in the world, but I will post my points tomorrow.

  3. Goodness

    Athletic competitions are all overrated. Ya got to play to your strengths. How about:

    World Cup of Algebra!
    World Cup of subway car pole dancing!
    World Cup of waiting 6 hours for a bucket of chicken!

    Who’s with me?

    • King Tubby

      Goodness. This is a global audience. Rich, poor and the dispossessed. Football is the only game in town every four years.
      Don’t be silly, okay.

  4. It’s worth noting that there are plenty of sports out there where technical perfection counts for a lot more, and the factory-produced automatons are certainly cleaning up in diving and gymnastics and the like.

    • King Tubby

      Gymnastics/ice skating/figure swimming is a variant of kiddie porn. I’m dead serious.
      If you want some eroticism in your sporting events, watch the Italian womens beach volley ball team.

  5. King Tubby

    Bin Wang. Only three replies. Don’t feel dissed. This is a timely op piece. You are thinking along the lines of my CS post a day or so ago.

    The Germans dusted off one of their old WW11 Blitzkreig manuals and applied it to the Australians. There ain’t much sympathy for the Oz football team or their Dutch coach here. Back to this tomorrow.

    Again, good piece. KT

    • Bin Wang

      LOL, thanks KT, I’m feelin’ OK.

      When I was a kid I used to always think … a nation of 1.6 billion, and we let Japan kick us around in war? So similarly, a nation of 1.6 billion, and we can make the World Cup when these other tiny nations do?

      I honestly think there may be a question of confidence, perhaps even quality and philosophy here. You can manufacture a lot of things, divers, gymnasts, etc., but perhaps not quality football. The other theory, of course, is that the communists, in fact, over-emphasize the women whereas Western nations traditionally allow women sports to play second fiddle to men sports. This is usually the explanation for why the Chinese women are far more successful in international sports than Chinese men.

      Another article explained that China is going through a cycle of yin and not yang. Others blame the failures on corruption in Chinese soccer. Regardless of how one feels about all of this, one thing is clear, people have thought about this, and people care.

  6. King Tubby

    After rereading this piece, I have to agree with the concluding remarks.

    However, and this is a small niggle, the yin and yang theory and the reference about ball-centric pursuits is a bit of a worry. Sexual innuendos????

    Here are a couple of good reads taken from counterpunch.

    How football plays out in Mexico, a failing state:

    How FIFA has become a supra-national state in itself….involved in dispossession of the marginal classes, feel good ancillary projects which are all form and no substance, plus a massive corporate pigout (no surprise here).

    The South African background:

    Highly credible performance by North Korea and good luck to them. Would have liked them to have be matched against Australia….they would have turned the kangaroos into kimchee.

    There is still hope for Chinese football, but under these non-controversial conditions. Chinese fans should enviscerate its football bureacracy, put the existing team to work on some road/rail project of national significance, and then begin again from ground zero.

    • King Tubby

      North Korea and Brazil. More I think about it, North Korea has a killer team, given ranking and exposure to World Cup.

      Psychotic state, players earning a pittance. Look how they held off the darlings Brazil.

      Lessons for Chinese football….your guess is as good as mine.

      • Jones

        Still had to outsource their fanbase to China, though.

      • Bin Wang

        I’m sure you’ve read about the 3 players for N. Korea who play in the J-League and could have opted to play for Japan. I wonder what made them decide to play for N. Korea. I think it’s too simple to simply say, well, they could start for N. Korea whereas for Japan they would be on the bench or not even have made the team. For example, that striker, what’s his name, number 9, Sae?, is definitely good enough to make Japan’s starting 11. Yet he’s choosen to play for N. Korea. I’d love to hear his story.

        • King Tubby

          I think they choose to play for NK simply because they have an emotional attachment to their homeland. No convoluted reason. Anyway, I chuffed with their performance. ….my mantra for the week. Fond memories of my 2 years in the ROK. North and South face-off militarily, but when it comes to outsiders they are blood brothers and sisters.

      • Goodness

        King Tubby, it speaks volumes about how good Brazil is that they feel somewhat let down by a mere 1 goal margin of victory. It also says a lot about how bad the Norks are that they take real solace in the fact that they actually managed a goal. Yawn.

        • King Tubby

          Goodness. Your comment lacks perspective. Even in spite of the Portugal drubbing.
          Just got the death straw in the groupings.
          Another group would have seen the North accrue more points.
          Anyway as I noted elsewhere, they could take out any team China had to offer and do it without even fielding their goal keeper.

          You’ve heard the God cried joke I suppose.


    There is no connection between sports and the “strength” of a nation. We are talking cold war here where where the winners were political pawns in the power game of ideology. However i feel it is the US and MANY other countries who are stuck in the past not China who to this day are most likely confused as to what the world thinks of their football (soccer) and them (stero-typing). I certainly would not like to be judged on how my team played and whether they were well behaved or not.

  8. King Tubby

    Its how ya do on the field on the day. Check this drivel in Newsweek (ditto Huff Po).

    • Jones

      “What happens when an oppressive regime is dragged into the world’s gaze?”
      The dress alike and clap boards. That’s what.

      To complete the evilness that is North Korea, that diplomat’s name is “Sin”. Not unlike Satan’s evil’s own diplomat to the world, which is also sin. It all makes sense now.

      • King Tubby

        Jones. Total garbage/hogswash ie pig swill….a common US commodity. It is what a team can do on the day at the appointed hour, no excuses.

        Before a whole bunch of people who paid (by who…who cares) a lot of money for the spectacle.

        Politics/govt does not amount to a pinch of horse pukky at that moment.

        You have seen Saturday Night Lights far too often. BB Thornton.

        Hey, I don’t intend to migrate to the psychotic state, but these are facts of the global sporting life.

        On the day at the appointed hour.

        I very no like you no more.

        • Jones

          If you knew my “religious status” you’d realize that it was very much a joke. Relax. You’re getting as humorless as North Korea itself.

  9. tenna

    Lol great, a bunch of people in Anglo-world (Non-England) finally get into soccer.

    Is like when Finnish people finally discover good food and appriciate wine.

    The things America couldn’t forced upon the rest of the world, their version of football and the f**** stupid Customary Units.

    China could really improved is chance by 2 suggested option.

    1) Investing more money into domestics league and get more foreign player

    2) Skip that glorious nationlistic Chinese Übermensch crap and take in ethnic people, African, Brazilian, Italian, Argentian. Black, Yellow, Brown or whatever colour it is. As long as they can play.

    Italy and Spain make is easy for many from Latin America, turn out quite well during history.

    Comparing a national European team *Western, the sucessful one to an East Asian one. Totally different dynamic.

    Oh well, consider how much netizens rage over interracial issues.

    “When I was a kid I used to always think … a nation of 1.6 bil­lion, and we let Japan kick us around in war? So sim­i­larly, a nation of 1.6 bil­lion, and we can make the World Cup when these other tiny nations do?”

    China losted the Opium War

    Qing China was like 40 times bigger in totalt land area, UK was like a provnice.

    UK was located in other side of planet Earth, far far far away land.

    Qing China at that had almost 400 milion citizens. Victorian England at that time had no more then 20 million back then.

    And so on….

    • Bin Wang

      LOL, by ripping on the Finns, you reveal yourself to obviously be a Swede. :-)

      Other than that, I couldn’t understand anything else you said …

  10. Sojourner

    An insightful article.

    • Bin Wang


      FYI — Even the People’s Daily have come to terms with the futility that is Chinese men’s soccer, although the friendly win over France does surprise me. The French must have started their 9th-stringers.

      • King Tubby

        Basically, China needs to adopt a negative reward system as practiced in Columbia if it is ever to improve. Bad decisions by managers and really rotten performances on the field should bring their just reward after the game.

        You take the lead in the back of the head.

        A much better incentive system than hookers and red envelopes.

        • cm202bc

          That policy does seem to work well for the NK’s doesn’t it.

        • Diego

          Ok, a little late with my comment, anyway.
          1st I will let slip the comment of Colombia because many just dont understand that it was the deed of a crazy and drunk fan not a State policy. Besides Andrés Escobar was one of the most beloved players in the country. I will just think that was your way of “being fun”.
          2nd Please, please, please it is ColOmbia not ColUmbia, even in English the name is still with an O not an U. Thank you.
          3rd if this “policy” that you talk about is so effective why Colombia´s last run in the world cup was in the 98?
          4rd A big help for China´s team would be to face constantly strong opponents. In the case of Colombia it has to survive in the CONMEBOL, that has 10 member associations, 2 of them are Brazil and Argentina, and 2 others are Uruguay and Paraguay (just check how they did this year) and there are only 4.5 spots to get in the world cup for the entire association. Maybe the defeats will be many at the beginning but in the end you will learn how to fight with your heart… or dissapear trying.

  11. lolz

    I don’t get the whole soccer craze but then if more people watch soccer in China, then it’s only a matter of time before corporate sponsorships enable better player to be discovered, and thus rising the overall caliber of the Chinese league.

    I think it was Goldman Sachs which did a recent study on soccer and found that highest paid athletes in the world belong to #1 the Yankees at something like 6.5M average, then #2 and #3 spots to go the two teams in Spain. Apparently soccer players on these two teams make an average of around 6M each.

    If Chinese market can generate the of revenue needed for a sports team to allow each player to be paid millions of dollars, there is no doubt that team China will become more competitive. More funding would allow the hiring top players in the current generation, but also enable good programs to groom for future talents (something japan and skorean have been doing for the last two decades). The problem is that corporate sponsorship is still a new idea in China, and the government doesn’t want to spend too much money on soccer.

    • King Tubby

      Lolz. Don’t quite agree with your points. I think you can divide the world up into countries where ***football*** is built into the fabric of society, and those where it is just developing a fan base eg Oz, NZ and even China.

      In the former, corporations have no qualms about putting up big pesos for the right to sponsor.

      In the latter, I think they are extremely hesitant to sponsor unproven or potentially loser national teams such as Australia for eg, where football has to compete with three other well-established codes, plus cricket.

      Now NZ has done a pretty good job and will no doubt have serious sponsorship next time round.

      BTW. Throwing money at a ****team sport**** does not guarantee results…..if it were so simple, the PRC could be in the next round, instead of around the bottom of the 180 or so countries in the world today.

      The North Koreans seemed to have the inexplicable something which makes for a good team, and the ability to make a FIFA group, and their team sponsor the KJI family/military corporation has the absolute monopoly on negative charisma wherever you are in the world today.

      PS. I feel really sorry for all those posters here who follow basketball. The only reason it is so successful in China is lack of urban space for large sports fields, plus mammoth marketting.

      Finally, on a geo-political note, if China wants to really bond with Pakistan, I suggest that it work on its cricketing skills. And it gets no real respect in Oceania till its fields its own All Reds Union Team….the thought just beggars the imagination.

      • lolz

        A few things:

        Throwing money at team sports will not generate immediate results. However it will certainly improve the odds for the most parts. Without money on the other hand, talented athletes will not be motivated to do sports, talented coaches will look for jobs elsewhere, and thus you will never ever get a strong team in anything. Of course, you will always have the North Koreas of the world because people there are motivated differently.

        As for the popularity of NBA in China, my cousin who works for Shanghai TV told me that in order to gain market share, NBA basically gave away the rights to broadcast for free. That’s why you get the minor TV stations across China all broadcasting NBA matches; it’s cheaper than producing original content, and are likely to generate more viewership.

    • Jones

      Start a college sports league for it (and other sports). I think that would help. It would give them pre-professional experience. In fact, I don’t even like professional league anything (except hockey, but barely) because they don’t even try as hard as college players do. Those college players don’t get paid nearly as much as their professional counterparts do (free tuition and sometimes a few perks)…it’s just that they want to get to where they do make that $6.5 million a year.

      Or, if anything, it’ll give those college kids something to watch/cheer for. Build up a little school pride. Poor guys could use that sort of thing in their lives.

      • Bin Wang

        You’re not wrong, but the whole school sports thing is distinctively American. They have clubs in Europe, but the whole cheerleader, Quarterback, sis-boom-bah bit couldn’t happen anywhere else … and probably shouldn’t. But I agree with your point, more clubs.

        Here’s something interesting from a friend’s facebook post:

        Hey, if the far American right is against it, I am ALL for it!

        • Jones

          Yeah, I know it’s pretty much just an American thing, but I think it works. Actually part of the reason is to help the poor kids break up the monotony that school there must be with a little element of entertainment. It would do them some good. It also might help when I try to explain why I have so much stuff bearing my university’s name and mascot, and also American schools have mascots in the first place. It’s harder than it sounds.

          Faux News and whatnot are just dying for something to call a liberal conspiracy. With their oil industry they love so much under attack, they’re getting desperate. If they had some other more recent development taking place during all the CNN oil-spill-orgy-palooza they’d jump on it. For now, though, they can only make an incredibly ignorant, embarrassing, long-shot attempt at building up hate and xenophobia. I mean, shit, aren’t they at least happy with the US team for beating Algeria? They’re brown!

          I’m all for it too. I love international sport and competition. I wish there were more sports that would gain popularity not just here, but in all the other countries.