China is not just an economic powerhouse, this country is one of the world’s strongest competitors for sports. The worth of the sports industry in China increases each year, reaching around 2.7 trillion yuan (around 427.384 billion USD) in 2020.
The government greatly supports sports in China to grow citizens’ interest in improving physical activities to become a strong nation in this aspect. In fact, Chinese people are enthusiastic about numerous activities and exercises.
This article will give you a closer look at the most popular sports in China, together with a Chinese vocabulary list for other kinds of sports.
The most popular sports in China
1. Running (跑步 Pǎobù)
Running (跑步 Pǎobù) is regarded as the most popular and the most important sport for Chinese people. The explosive popularity of running in China can be seen from Statista’s impressive numbers:
- Approximately 7.13 million people participated in major running sports events held in China in 2019.
- There were 1,828 major running sports events held in China in 2019.
- 44 percent of Chinese sports players choose running as their main activities.
Running is also a lifestyle for the middle class and elderly. Every evening, you can easily find many people running, jogging, or walking in parks or streets. Chinese people prefer to run or walk in groups while listening to some energetic music to keep the tempo. And even serious air pollution cannot keep sports fans from outdoor exercises!
2. Table tennis (乒乓球 Pīngpāng qiú)
Table tennis (乒乓球 Pīngpāng qiú), also known as Ping Pong, is probably the most prominent sport in China. In the early 1950s, President Mao Zedong declared table tennis a national sport, spreading its popularity throughout the country and making Chinese athletes the strongest in the world within a short period of time.
Table tennis is an inclusively important sport for a socialist country like China. No matter what your age, gender, wealth, or even your level of fitness are, table tennis is for the masses. There are also ping pong tables in almost every school in China so that the children can practice this game from a young age.
3. Badminton (羽毛球 Yǔmáoqiú)
This is one of the favorite sports in China due to its convenience. Badminton doesn’t require complicated equipment or space. You can find Chinese people playing badminton in parks, both in the cities and villages, in the morning, afternoon or evening, or even during lunch breaks.
China is by far the best country in the world at badminton, and their dominance on the international level is unprecedented. Lin Dan (1983 – ), the most famous Chinese Badminton Player, has won the Olympic Champion prize two times and the World’s Champion prize five times, making him one of the greatest sports idols in all of China and famous throughout Asia. He is also recognized among the 100 most famous athletes globally by ESPN.
4. Swimming (游泳的 Yóuyǒng de)
In recent years, swimming has become more popular in China, not just among older generations, and the problem of overcrowding has emerged. For example, you can see many Chinese people gathering at public swimming pools to cool off and escape the summer heat. There is even a famous Chinese slang expression for going swimming – “boiling dumplings” because crowded public pools offer so little room that most people can only stand on the spot.
Apart from swimming, Chinese people enjoy diving, but only for visual entertainment. Chinese people are enthralled by the diving duo’s Shi Tingmao and Wang Han amazing performance in various key international matches.
5. Basketball (篮球 Lánqiú)
Basketball can be considered a part of Chinese culture – you can see basketball courts everywhere. China is also the largest international market for the NBA, with the biggest number of people involved. According to the Chinese Basketball Association, an estimated 300 million Chinese citizens play basketball — roughly equivalent to the entire population of the United States.
Yao Ming is the first Chinese basketball player who had a significant impact in the NBA. He is also the first Chinese athlete superstar in the world. The American media praised him as the NBA’s savior. Yao Ming received the title of China’s most influential athlete ever in 2006.
Basketball is one of the most-watched sports in China. During the 2017 NBA Finals, more than 190 million Chinese watched the games on their mobile devices. However, Chinese people don’t just watch games, they also love playing ball. Basketball is specifically popular among young people in urban areas. In high schools, basketball players are thought to be cooler or more hip than soccer players.
6. Yoga (瑜伽 Yújiā)
The yoga market is growing fast and has become more profitable in China. According to Yoga International, it is estimated that 10 million Chinese practice yoga regularly compared to around 16 million Americans. Yoga studios have sprung up all over China in less than a decade. They’re located across city sidewalks, and you can even find yoga studios in the suburbs.
However, since this activity focuses on mindfulness and awareness, women have higher participation rates than men. You can either burn fat or relax while doing yoga exercises. Basically, yoga is the perfect combination of the gym and the monastery.
7. Volleyball (排球 Páiqiú)
Volleyball is among the most popular sports in China. In particular, the Chinese women’s volleyball team has had a long history of success. They have won ten championship titles in the three major international competitions of volleyball, including five World Cups (1981, 1985, 2003, 2015, 2019), two World Championships (1982, 1986), and three Olympic titles (1984, 2004, 2016). The China volleyball team even dominated five consecutive world titles in the 1980s.
8. Bicycling (骑自行车 Qí zìxíngchē)
Cycling is a traditionally popular method of transport in China and a great way to explore many areas, where traveling by foot is difficult but easily coverable on two wheels.
China was named the “Kingdom of Bicycles” as the whole country owned about 500 million bicycles by 1987. It was estimated that there was one bicycle for every two people of the total population. Bicycles are a popular form of transportation and can be found everywhere in the country. However, with the economy’s development, an increasing number of people have been choosing public transportation or a private car.
9. Square dancing (广场舞 Guǎngchǎng wǔ)
Square dancing isn’t a competitive sport. In fact, it’s a popular form of exercise in China. The name “square dancing” is named after where it takes place – in a city square or plaza. If you ever visit China, you can easily find mostly middle-aged and older women dancing to choreographed routines in public parks all over the country. In spring, summer, or autumn weather, the dancing even goes late into the night.
Dancing in public areas became a low-cost method of exercise and entertainment for many women who lost their jobs at state-owned enterprises in the 1990s.
10. Martial arts (武术 Wǔshù)
Martial arts are a combination of several forms of combat used in self-defense that originated in China (and other countries like Greece and India) over thousands of years. This type of sport is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and is divided into multiple fighting styles, such as kung fu, kuoshu, or wushu.
Kung fu, or “gongfu,” originated from the Zhou Dynasty (1,111–255 BC) and remains the most well-known martial arts form in China. Kung fu is similar to karate or taekwondo but includes various movements that are imitations of animals’ fighting styles like the snake and the mystical dragon. Combined with spirituality, kung fu is a form of exercise and unarmed mode of personal combat. Thanks to martial arts movie icons like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, kung fu is widely spread in the mainstream.
You may also like: Top 10 Most Famous Traditional Chinese Games and Outdoor Activities.
Chinese vocabulary list for sports
There are also many other sports in China – we’ve listed them in this chart. Let’s take a look and note them down to expand your Chinese vocabulary.
|现代五项||xiàn dài wǔ xiànɡ||Modern pentathlon|
|铁人三项||tiě rén sān xiànɡ||Triathlon|
|跆拳道||tái quán dào||Taekwondo|
|乒乓球||pīnɡ pānɡ qiú||Table tennis|
|足球||zú qiú||American football|
|高尔夫||ɡāo ěr fū||Golf|
|皮划艇||pí huá tǐnɡ||Canoeing|
|自行车||zì xínɡ chē||Cycling|
|花样游泳||huā yànɡ yóu yǒnɡ||Synchronized Swimming|
|曲棍球||qū ɡùn qiú||Hockey|
Which one of these sports is your favorite? Share with us in the comment below!
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