REN Hai 任海

In 1911, when the news reached Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the president of the International Olympic Committee, that the YMCAs of the Philippines, China, and Japan had established the Far Eastern Olympic Association to host games that were to be an imitation of the modern Olympic Games, he was reputedly pleased. He demanded, however, that the Far Eastern Olympic Association should not use the term Olympiad because that term should be used to refer only to the modern Olympic Games, which had begun under Coubertin’s leadership in 1896. Accordingly, the name of the fledging association was changed to the “Far Eastern Games Federation,” and the name of the games changed to the “Far Eastern Championship Games” in 1915.

In 1913 the first such games took place in Manila, Philippines. The purpose of the games, according to the directors of the YMCAs, was to promote athletic ability among the Asian youth and to unite the Asian countries through sport. The Far Eastern Championship Games were staged ten times from 1913 to 1934, before being terminated by political conflicts resulting from the rise of militarism in Japan.

After World War II, the Asian Games Federation (AGF) was established in 1949 in New Delhi, India, to unite Asian countries through sports in the “New Era.” Collectively, the events would be called the Asian Games. The First Asian Games were staged in New Delhi, India, 4–11 March 1951, with only eleven nations sending athletes and only six events (all Western in origin): Japan was the major contender. Since then, Western sports have dominated the program, although attempts have been made to add indigenous Asian sports including martial arts and the Indian pursuit sport of kabbadi. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), which had been established in 1949 under MAO Zedong 毛泽东, while the Nationalists fled to Taiwan and set up their government in exile, sent no sports team but did send a group of nine observers.

Asian Ties

The strengthening of intra-Asian ties, like the development of the European Union, is a natural evolution for China and its neighbor nations, given ties of geography and culture. Asian organizations tend to be inclusive, with some trade and political associations including Latin American countries, Australia, New Zealand and India, and sometimes giving extra-regional observer status to countries such as Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Iran. The Asian Games, too, draw participants from across the full span of the continent.

The federation decided to follow the Olympics pattern and hold the games every four years. Taiwan and Hong Kong participated in the Second Asian Games, hosted in Manila, Philippines, 1–9 May 1954, and finished sixth and twelfth, respectively, in the medal tally (see table 1). At this point, the Communist People’s Republic of China stopped its participation in the Asian Games to avoid the controversy arising from the “two Chinas” situation — both Communists and Nationalists claiming that they were the legitimate government of China.

At the Third Asian Games, hosted in Tokyo, 24 May–1 June 1958, 173 athletes from Taiwan competed and won six gold medals, finishing fourth. This was the best ranking for Taiwan in the Asian Games. CHUAN-KWANG Yang 杨传广, a decathlete, won a gold medal in the second and third Asiads, thereby earning the nickname “Asian Iron Man” 亚洲铁人. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, he broke an Olympic record and won China’s first Olympic silver medal. Hong Kong participated in the Third Asian Games as well (see table 2).

The Fourth Asian Games were hosted in Jakarta, Indonesia, 24 August–4 September 1962. The Indonesian government refused the entry of the delegation from Taiwan, so only athletes from Hong Kong participated. They won one bronze metal (see table 3).

The Fifth and Sixth Asian Games were staged in Bangkok, Thailand, 9–20 December 1966, and 24 August–4 September 1970. Taiwan and Hong Kong sent teams to both games but performed poorly. Taiwan’s ranking dropped to eighth and then twelfth among the participants (see tables 4 and 5).

China’s participation changed dramatically in the Seventh Asian Games in Teheran, Iran, 1–16 September 1974. About a year before the games, the council of the Asian Games Federation had voted to accept the People’s Republic of China as a member and to withdraw recognition of Taiwan. The PRC sent its first team to the Asian Games: 269 athletes competed in fourteen sports and won 106 medals, finishing third after Japan and Iran in the medal tally (see table 6). Chinese athletes performed well in shooting, diving, gymnastics, and badminton.

At the Eighth Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand, 9–20 December 1978, China participated in fifteen of the nineteen sports and raised its ranking to second behind Japan (see table 7).

Table 1: China’s Participation in Second Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
6 Taiwan 2 4 6 12
12 Hong Kong 1 1

Table 2: China’s Participation in Third Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
4 Taiwan 6 9 10 25
16 Hong Kong 1 1

Table 3: China’s Participation in Fourth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
12 Hong Kong 1 1

Table 4: China’s Participation in Fifth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
8 Taiwan 5 9 10 24
16 Hong Kong 1 1

Table 5: China’s Participation in Sixth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
12 Taiwan 1 5 12 18

Table 6: China’s Participation in Seventh Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
3 China 33 45 28 106

Table 7: China’s Participation in Eighth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
2 China 51 55 45 151
17 Hong Kong 2 3 5

The Ninth Asian Games, in New Delhi, India, 19 November-4 December 1982, were the last Asiad to be held under the authority of the AGF. China sent its largest team—444 athletes—since its return to the Games. Although China and Japan won the same number of medals, China won sixty-one to Japan’s fifty-seven gold medals, taking first place in the medal tally (see table 8). The young Chinese high jumper ZHU Jianhua 朱建华 cleared the bar at 2.33 meters, not only breaking the Asian record but also setting the best record in the year.

At the Tenth Asian Games, in Seoul, South Korea, 20 September–5 December 1986, China participated in twenty of the twenty-five sports (see table 9). The Chinese gymnast LI Ning 李宁 won four gold and two silver medals. Later he became president of the Li Ning Company, a well-known sportswear company in China. At this Asiad, China, Japan, and South Korea were triumphant, winning 90 percent of the competitions.

The Tenth Asian Games was the first organized by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), which succeeded the Asian Games Federation in 1981. The General Assembly of the OCA adopted the International Olympic Committee’s way of dealing with China’s participation in the Olympics. As a result, Taiwan returned to the Asian Games with the name “Chinese Taipei” 中国台北. An agreement between the Chinese Olympic Committee and the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee in 1989 paved the way for athletes of Taiwan to take part in the next Asiad, hosted in Beijing.

The Eleventh Asian Games were the first hosted in Beijing, 22 September–7 October 1990. They were also the first international multisport megaevent staged in China. These games improved China’s international relations and national integration. These games were also the first participated in by athletes from China’s mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. For this reason the OCA declared this Asiad one of the best in history. Ninety-eight Asian records were broken—a record number! Preparing for the games, Beijing built twenty stadiums and gymnasiums and renovated thirteen others. As the host country, China demonstrated its pride and strength by winning nearly 60 percent of the gold medals (183), securing its standing as the Asian superpower in sports (see table 10). It was at this Asiad that DENG Yaping 邓亚萍, who later dominated world tournaments in table tennis, attracted attention by winning three gold medals and one silver medal.

Table 8: China’s Participation in Ninth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 China 61 51 41 153
20 Hong Kong 1 1

Table 9: China’s Participation in Tenth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 China 94 82 46 222
10 Hong Kong 1 1 3 5

Table 10: China’s Participation in Eleventh Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 China 183 107 51 341
16 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 10 21 31
17 Hong Kong 2 5 7
23 Macao 1 1

Table 11: China’s Participation in Twelth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 China 125 83 58 266
16 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 7 12 24 43
21 Hong Kong 5 7 12
26 Macao 1 1 2

Table 12: China’s Participation in Thirteenth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 China 129 78 67 274
6 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 19 17 41 77
13 Hong Kong 5 6 6 17
29 Macao 1 1

At the Twelfth Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan, 2–16 October 1994, five former republics of the Soviet Union in central Asia competed for the first time, bringing the number of participating national Olympic committees to forty-two. Although China won only 125 gold medals, in contrast to 183 at the previous Asiad, China remained in first place in the medal tally (see table 11). The outstanding athlete in this Asiad was Chinese gymnast MO Huilan 莫慧兰. She won five gold medals and one silver medal. The International Federation of Gymnastics later named a movement she originated in her routine after her.

Politics and the Asian Games

The Asian Games are a major Olympic “tune-up” festival — a chance for world-class athletes to prepare for the Olympics — and like the Olympics they have been affected by political conflicts. Israel has often been excluded because of its ties to the West; Taiwan suffered the same fate in 1962. Mainland Chinese athletes did not compete until 1974, and Iraq was barred in 1990. The Games have been used by political leaders to enhance their own and their nation’s power in Asia and beyond. In 1962, President Sukarno of Indonesia used the Jakarta Games to assert Indonesian leadership in the third world, and angering both rival India and the International Olympic Committee. Similarly, for the 1982 Games, India spent nearly $1 billion to construct new sports facilities, and South Korea’s hosting of the 1988 Games helped to make it a legitimate power in several sports. At the same time, Korea was criticized for its repression of student protestors during the Games.

At the Thirteenth Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand, 6–20 December 1998, China kept its top ranking in the medal tally with 129 gold medals (see table 12). The largest Games to date, with 9,469 athletes and officials from over forty-one nations, the Bangkok Games were free of major political problems in the spirit of its motto: Friendship Beyond Frontiers.

This Asiad marked the first that Hong Kong participated in after its unification with China in 1997. Hong Kong athletes won five gold medals. The sailor LAI-SHAN Lee 李丽珊 of Hong Kong, a gold medalist at the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996, won her first Asiad gold medal at these games.

The Fourteenth Asian Games were hosted in Pusan, South Korea, 2–16 September 2002. They were the first Asian Games participated in by all members of the OCA. China won 150 gold medals (see table 13), and the Chinese weightlifters and shooters did especially well. Six weightlifters broke world records, and the Chinese women’s shooting team broke a world record that had stood for thirteen years.

Guangzhou—Trading Center through the Centuries

Guangzhou, the trading hub of the Pearl River Delta and the main point of entry to China from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, is the home of the biannual Chinese Export Commodities Fair, more commonly known as the Canton Trade Fair, which was founded in 1957. As far back as the eleventh century, foreign traders lived in Guangzhou, trading ivory and spices for silk and tea. In recent years, Guangzhou has played a pivotal role in China’s modernization effort, attracting foreign capital and investment.

The Canton Trade Fair has grown from the attendance of 1,223 businesspeople from 19 countries in 1957 to over 80,000 businesspeople from 180 countries in 2005, while trade volume has soared from US$17.54 million in 1957 to over $30 billion.

The Fifteenth Asian Games were hosted in Doha, Qatar, 1–15 December 2006. These games were the last major event similar to the Olympics before China hosts the Olympics in 2008. Therefore, China used these Asian Games to prepare its athletes for the 2008 Olympics. More than 60 percent of the Chinese athletes were new faces. Even though they were less experienced in the international arena, they performed well and kept China in first place in the medal tally for the seventh straight Asiad. Of the five world records broken in these games, four were broken by Chinese women weightlifters. CHEN Yanqing 陈艳青, a twenty-seven-year-old woman gold medalist at the Athens Olympics in 2004, broke three world records at Doha. Hong Kong sent the largest delegation in its history with 320 athletes. Their performances were quite good (see table 14).

Table 13: China’s Participation in Fourteenth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 China 150 84 74 308
6 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 10 17 25 52
16 Hong Kong 4 6 11 21
29 Macao 2 2 4

Table 14: China’s Participation in Fifteenth Asian Games

Rank Participant Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 China 165 88 63 316
10 Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) 9 10 27 46
15 Hong Kong 6 12 10 28
30 Macao 1 6 7

The Sixteenth Asian Games will be staged in Guangzhou (Canton), a southern city on the Pearl River Delta, in November 2010. Guangzhou is China’s third-largest city, a major hub for international commerce, and the location of the second Asiad China has hosted since 1990. The city regards the preparation for the Asian Games as an opportunity to accelerate the city’s development and enhance its prestige.

Source: Ren Hai. (2008). Asian Games. In Fan Hong, Duncan Mackay & Karen Christensen (Eds.), China Gold, China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory, pp. 14–18. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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