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  • National Games and National Identity in China: A History by Li Liu, Hong Fan
  • Chia-Ju Yen
Liu, Li, and Hong Fan. National Games and National Identity in China: A History. New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. xii+123. Illustrations, bibliography, appendix, index. $70, hb. $19.95, eb.

Li Liu and Hong Fan have conducted extensive research and use a chronological approach to the National Games (NG) and their relationship to national identity and nationalism in China. Liu and Fan spent much effort on China sport and related social and political topics. However, this is the first English book to discuss the dynamic interrelationship among NG ideals, Chinese politics, and nationalism during the process of Chinese nation-building from the 1910s to the 1980s, from the late Qing Dynasty to the Republic of China, and, finally, to the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—three different political systems. First, the origin and development of the NG in the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China, 1910–48, is examined; second, the governance of sport and the NG in the People’s of Republic China (PRC), 1949–79; third, the NG and China’s Olympic strategy in the post-1980s. The former two periods were greatly influenced by politics, and the latter was deeply affected by the Olympic Games.

During the late Qing Dynasty, China was invaded by Western countries and Japan. The “sick man of East Asia” was a stereotype portraying the humiliated Chinese at that time. Western imperialism brought both harm and benefits to China because the infiltrators introduced Western modern thoughts and sports to China. Sport activities in missionary schools also helped introduce Western sports to Chinese society. The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) played an important role in organizing Western physical education and sports events in the republican era.

In the early years of the PRC, Chinese sports policy took the Soviet Union model and emphasized mass sport and the military to build healthy citizens for national defense. Although Western modern sports are important features in the NG, Chinese martial arts also occupy a fixed position in megaevents. Another special phenomenon is that slogans or mottos were widely used to remind or disseminate political policies to athletes, audiences, and the whole nation. After the civil war in 1949, China was split into two parts: the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China or Taiwan. Although the countries have different political situations and ideas with regard to sovereignty, on opening ceremony, they do have the same goal. Thus, elite athletes are treated like strong soldiers, and the sport venue is somewhat like a battlefield.

However, sport was not always in tune with politics in China. The Cultural Revolution, a proletariat revolution between 1966 and 1976, destroyed the existing sport systems and values dramatically. This ended under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, who brought economic and political progress to China in the post-1980s era. After the so-called Ping-Pong Diplomacy of the 1970s, China stepped onto the international stage. Sport turned out to be a bridge to the world and proved extremely valuable to Chinese diplomacy. Since the 1980s, China has returned to the International Olympic Committee and subsequently to other international sports federations, marking the beginning of China’s global communication and interaction in sport. [End Page 382]

Liu and Fan’s book includes eleven images: photos, posters, emblems, commemorative stamps, and even a satiric comic strip. Most of the pictures originated in official publications, with posters demonstrating the propaganda of the NG. However, Appendix 1 contains an error regarding the hosting cities of NG in 1914 and 1924 (117).

The authors reference many Western scholars, especially Alan Bairner’s and Susan Brownell’s previous works on Chinese sport and the Olympics, along with even more material from Chinese researchers to enrich this book. Liu and Fan quote many Western scholars’ thoughts to describe sports or megaevents and explain how they interact with national identity or nationalism. Nationalism is crucial to protect and enhance national identity and national consciousness. For example, the authors quote Bairner: “Sport can be said to play a vital role in the construction and reproduction of...


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pp. 382-383
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