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Reviewed by:
  • Sport and Nationalism in China by Lu Zhouxiang, and Fan Hong
  • Keiko Ikeda
Zhouxiang, Lu, and Fan Hong. Sport and Nationalism in China. New York: Routledge, 2014. Pp. x+ 248. Notes, illustrations, essay on sources, index. 12.95 pb., $125.00 cb.

This collection of essays attempts to show that sport functions as a powerful cultural force serving the constructions of national identity and national unity through the date of nation building in China, exploring the last 150 years of Chinese history (1–2). The book consists of chronologically divided essays and diversified topics. Chapter 1, “From Celestial Empire to Nation State: Sport and the Origins of Chinese Nationalism (1840–1911)” includes “the Qing Dynasty’s Self Strengthening Movement during 1864 and 1895” (9–12). This movement was a result of the Opium Wars, in which, “reform nationalism,” the terminology [End Page 465] defined by Peter Alter in his study Nationalism (1994, 23), “emerged in the existing state that proved inferior in certain economic, technical and military respects when confronted by Western powers” (10). In this situation,

[t]he Self-Strengthening Movement symbolized the rise of an embryonic nationalism that focused on strengthening the Chinese nation to fight against the Western powers by this embryonic nationalism, [and] Western sport and physical education were regarded as part of “advanced western technology,” and served as a tool for the government to enhance China’s military power.


The following chapters—“Sport Nationalism and the Building of the Modern Chinese Nation State (1912–1949)” and “The Spirit of the Nation: Wushu and Chinese Nationalism in the Republic of China (1912–1949)”—illustrate how sports successfully transformed a culture-bound empire into a modern nation state and played a role in establishing the Republic of China (1912–49) and later forming Communist China (1949–present). One of the reasons for the rise of Chinese nationalism was the arrival of Western colonial powers in the mid-nineteenth century, which resulted in the formation of the Republic of China in 1912.

There were some impressive points in considering the characteristics of emerging nationalism in China. Western arrivals challenged and changed the traditional philosophical concept of the territory known as ancient China. Ancient China did not have the meaning of the word “country,” but the meaning of the territory ruled by “the son of heaven,” which connoted a concept bigger than “country,” so-called Tianxia, was defined as culturalism (4). In addition, the promotion of militarized physical education was thought to be a part of the campaign to achieve national salvation, and it was asserted in a journal in 1919 that, “while Europeans advocate humanism, their humanism is merely for strong nations, not for weak nations. If we abolish military drills in schools, we are giving up our defensive power and binding our own body” (29).

The second half of the book concerns nationalism and sport after 1949 until the present, in chapters such as “Nationalism and Sport in the Mao Era (1949–1976)” and “Nationalism, the Olympic Strategy and China’s Gold Medal Fever (1980s–Present).” In particular, the readers are urged to avoid a simplistic analysis that the Chinese political use of sports or strong links with nationalism results from its backwardness in sporting democracy in comparison with developed countries. Consider the following explanations: “China’s defensive nationalism was rooted in the feeling of national humiliation brought about by a series of defeats at the hands of imperialist and colonial powers through various means in the late 19th and early 20th centuries” and “to them it seems that China is always ready either to fly asunder or to be torn apart” (91). This “defensive nationalism” arose during the period of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, which “gave rise to a nativist anti-Western xenophobia that served to further consolidate defensive nationalism” (99). According to Chapter 5, “by 1993, world politics had been reshaped following the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War” (105). Moreover,

throughout the 1990s and 2000s, China’s new nationalism which sought the revival of the Chinese civilization and the continued rise of China, strengthened China’s determination to catch up with developed countries...


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pp. 465-467
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