FAN Wei 樊维 and LU Zhouxiang 吕洲翔

Hospital workers in Beijing play a causal game of badminton during their lunch hour. Photo by Berkshire Publishing staff.

Badminton, like many other racket sports, has a long history. In the fifth century BCE, Chinese started to play a ball game called ti jian, 踢毽 which can be translated as “shuttle kick.” As the name suggests, the object of the game was for players to keep a shuttle from hitting the ground without using their hands. Regardless of whether ti jian had anything to do with badminton, it was the first sport to use a shuttle.

Centuries later, a ball game named “battledore and shuttlecock” was played in India, Siam (Thailand), and Japan. In that game people use a battledore (paddle) to hit the shuttlecock (a small feathered ball) back and forth. A net was introduced, and the game became a competitive sport called poona. By the 1860s some British army officers had learned the sport in India and took it back to England. Years later, the game was played among the upper class in England. In 1873, guests of the Duke of Beaufort played the game at his country place, Badminton House in Gloucestershire, and it thus became known as “the badminton game” among guests, who introduced it to other friends. In 1877 the Bath Badminton Club was established and developed the first official set of rules, which was similar to the modern rules for the game.

In 1899 the first all-England championship for men was held, and in 1900 came the pioneer tournament for women. However, these tournaments were regarded as “unofficial,” and it was not until 1904 that the first official all-England matches took place. Badminton’s popularity in Britain grew so fast that by 1920 there were nearly three hundred badminton clubs; the number had reached five hundred by 1930.

Badminton quickly spread from England to the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and made big strides in Europe. At the 1972 Olympics, badminton was staged as a demonstration sport event. In 1992 the game became an official Olympic sport at Barcelona, Spain, with singles and doubles competitions for men and women. After its appearance there, the game became more and more popular around the world.

In 1948 the first world-class tournament, the Thomas Cup (world men’s team championships), was held in Scotland. Malaysia won the title and became the first country to inscribe its name on the Thomas Cup. International tournaments include the Surdiman Cup, the Uber Cup, and the World Individual Championships. After all these years, badminton is neither so different from its Indian predecessor nor the game played by the European elite society in the mid-1800s except for the speed and technique of the sport.

Badminton Introduced in China

Badminton was introduced to China by the British in the late nineteenth century. In 1910 staff and students in YMCAs and schools in big cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Tianjing, and Chengdu started to play the game. In 1931 the first Chinese badminton team was established. In 1932 the first China Open was held in the city of Tianjin.

In 1945 the first badminton association in China, the Shanghai Badminton Association, was established. In the same year, this association organized the first Shanghai Championship Tournament.

During the 1950s badminton became more popular in big cities. In 1954 several overseas Chinese coaches from Indonesia came back to China and promoted the game in terms of tactics and training techniques. In 1963 and 1964, the Indonesia Badminton National Team visited China and competed with China’s national team. Competitions between the two national teams offered a chance for Chinese to study and learn advanced techniques from their opponents. When the Chinese team beat Denmark and Sweden in friendship matches in 1965 and 1964, it marked another turning point in the team’s growing mastery.

When China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) began, badminton teams were disbanded in each city and province. It was not until 1971 that the national badminton team was reorganized by the central government. In 1974 the first Youth Badminton National Championships took place in Kun Ming and twenty-one provincial badminton teams participated in the matches. These championships have been held each year since 1974 with the goal of discovering talented young athletes.

In 1982 China won the men’s team championship title at the Thomas Cup with a brilliant victory against Indonesia; the score was 5–4. In 1986 China won both the Thomas Cup and the Uber Cup in Djakarta, Indonesia. These two victories shocked the sports world. The following year, Chinese players won all the gold medals at the Fifth Individual World Badminton Champion in Beijing. By then China had become the only country that held all seven world titles (men’s and women’s team and five singles sets). This record was unprecedented.

However, when badminton became an official Olympic sport at Barcelona in 1992, none of the seven gold medals was won by China. In the 1990s Indonesia and Malaysia recaptured all the world titles from China.

The 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta saw Chinese badminton reach another milestone, when GE Fei 葛菲 and GU Jun 顾俊 took the gold for the women’s team and DONG Jong 董炯 was awarded the gold for men’s singles (see table 1). Two years later, in 1998, China recaptured the Uber Cup from its South Asian competitors at Hong Kong. Chinese also had won the Surdiman Cup in 1995 (Lausanne), 1997 (Glasgow), and 1999 (Copenhagen).

Table 1: China’s Olympic Medal Tally (1992–2004)

Year Host City Gold Silver Bronze
1992 Barcelona 0 (out of 4) 0 5
1996 Atlanta 2 (out of 4) 1 2
2000 Sydney 4 (out of 5) 1 3
2004 Athens 3 (out of 5) 1 1

Source: International Olympic Committee’s website.

Chinese athletes have dominated badminton for a decade, but the sport is developing strongly in Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Britain, and some Scandinavian countries.

Olympic Leaders

Five sets of medals will be awarded at the Beijing Olympics: men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.

According to information released by the Badminton World Federation (BWF), the positions of Chinese shuttlers in the world rankings remain unchallenged; it will be possible for this formidable team to win all five gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (see table 2).

Table 2: Badminton World Federation World Ranking (2007)

World Rank Nation Name Points
Men’s Singles
1 China Lin Dan 78,161
2 China Chen Jin 61,111
3 China Chen Yu 59,020
4 China Chen Hong 57,871
5 China Bao Chunlai 55,991
Women’s Singles
1 China Xie Xingfang 70,701
2 China Zhang Ning 69,821
3 China Zhu Lin 57,261
4 Germany Xu Huaiwen 54,910
5 China Lu Lan 53,821
Men’s Doubles
1 China Fu Haifeng & Cai Yun 71,631
2 Korea Jung Jae Sung & Lee Yong Dae 55,460
3 Indonesia Wijaya, Candra & Gunawan, Tony 55,430
Women’s Doubles
1 China Zhang Yawen & Wei Yili 70,221
2 China Gao Ling & Huang Sui 64,271
3 China Yang Wei & Zhang Jiewen 63,891
Mixed Doubles
1 China Xie Zhongbo & Zhang Yawen 59,701
2 Thailand Prapakamol, Sudket & Thoungthongkam,
3 Indonesia Widianto, Nova & Natsir, Lilyana 55,581

Source: Badminton World Federation website.

In men’s singles Chinese player LIN Dan 林丹 and Taufik Hidayat from Indonesia are the favorites for the gold medal. Lin Dan, “China’s Super Dan” 超级丹 (b. 1983), is China’s top seed in 2008. Since 2004 he has been ranked number one in the world. In 2006 Lin won against his teammate BAO Chunlai 鲍春来 in the finals of the World Badminton Championships held in Madrid, Spain. He also won the gold medal at the 2007 World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Taufik Hidayat (b. 1981) is a former world champion and the 2004 Olympic champion in the men’s singles. He is the only first-rung player who retains the -fifteen–point style of play in the revised twenty-one-point system. Hidayat is known for his relaxed, smooth playing style and is one of the best all-around players in the world. He is perhaps the world’s most spontaneously innovative badminton singles player today. To date, no competitors are strong enough to challenge the domination of China (see table 3).

Table 3: Favorite Gold Medal Competitors in 2008

Event Men Women
Singles Hidayat, Taufik (Indonesia)
Lin Dan (China)
Bao Chunlai (China)
Zhan Ning (China)
Xie Xingfang (China)
Doubles Fu Haifeng, Cai Yun (China) Gao Lin, Huan Hui (China)
Yang Wei, Zhang Jiewen (China)
Wei Yili, Zhang Yawen (China)
Mixed Doubles Xie Zhongbo, Zhang Yawen (China)
Widianto Nova, Natsir Lilyana (Indonesia)
Lee Kyung Won, Lee Hyo Jung (Thailand)

Leading Athletes and Coaches

ZHAO Jianhua 赵剑华 (b. 1965) is 1.83 meters tall and left-handed. He entered a sports school at the age of twelve and was selected for the Jiangsu badminton team (provincial level) at the age of thirteen. Jianhua joined the Chinese national team at the age of eighteen in 1983. One year later, he defeated Morten Frost and won the Scotland Open. This was the first time he was noticed on the international stage. In 1985 Jianhua defeated four world-class players within three months. This achievement shocked the badminton world, and soon he was recognized as one of the four “Heavenly Kings” (so named because they were the top four Chinese badminton players. In 1986 he recovered from a lung disease that had forced him to rest for one year. And he soon won the Malaysia Open, China Open, and Thailand Open. He won the 1987 Badminton World Cup, 1988 Thomas Cup, 1990 Thomas Cup, 1991 All-England World Championship, and 1991 World Badminton GP Finals Championship. In 1994 Jianhua retired from the national team and entered a management college in Singapore to study economics. Now he works as an image ambassador for a sports brand in China.

YANG Yang 杨阳 (b. 1963) is the only badminton player in the world who has won consecutive World Badminton Championships men’s singles titles. He played a major role in China’s early win of the coveted Thomas Cup and belonged to China’s golden generation of badminton players of the 1980s. As a member of that generation, Yang Yang played an important role in making China a world badminton superpower. Players of his generation set the foundation for current Chinese world-class badminton players.

ZHANG Ning 张宁 (b. 1975) won the gold medal for China in the women’s singles at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. She also won the 2003 World Badminton Championships (women’s singles) in Birmingham, England. By 2007 she was at the top of women’s world rankings and was targeting the gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games.

Lin Dan 林丹 (b. 1983), “China’s Super Dan,” is China’s top seed in 2008. Since 2004 he has been ranked number one in the world. In 2006 Lin won against his teammate Bao Chunlai in the finals of the World Badminton Championships held in Madrid, Spain. He also won the gold medal at the 2007 World Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

LI Lingwei 李玲蔚 (b. 1964), the “Badminton Queen” 羽毛球皇后 of China, was the champion at the 1983 and 1989 World Badminton Championships. She won the 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987 Badminton World Cup and the 1984, 1986, and 1988 Uber Cup. She dominated world badminton during the 1980s and was unquestionably the most outstanding female badminton player in China. Li Lingwei retired in 1989 and became a coach of the Chinese national badminton team in 1995.

TANG Xianhu 汤仙虎 (b. 1941) was born in Indonesia and lived there for many years. Xianhu came back to China in the late 1960s and brought advanced badminton techniques to China and developed his own style. In 1978 Tang Xianhu won the gold medal in the mixed doubles at the Bangkok Asian Games. Tang Xianhu is considered a pioneer of Chinese badminton. He is also the most successful badminton coach in China, and is today responsible for the national badminton team and in charge of the men’s mixed doubles team.

Source: Fan Wei, & Lu Zhouxiang. (2008). Badminton. In Fan Hong, Duncan Mackay & Karen Christensen (Eds.), China Gold, China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory, pp. 32–36. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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