Uncovering China’s agenda for Ping-Pong

Table Tennis is not for the faint-hearted, it is a sport of endurance, stamina and utter focus.

Sports presents itself in all forms and sizes, as an individual of the Western World I was not always aware of the extent of ping-pong. In Australia, I associate ping-pong with the legendary game of Beer Pong and a casual muck around with friends. In China, Table Tennis is the countries biggest sport. China is ranked number 1 in the world and holds the three top seats in the Men’s and Women’s leagues. Of China’s population, it is estimated that there are around 10 million citizens who regularly play the game. During the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games, a solid 300 million people of China tuned in to watch the mega show-down between China’s Table Tennis athletes Ma Lin vs. Wang Hao.

Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno). As part of autoethnography, researchers are challenged to participate in their own self-evaluation, this stems from the concept of epiphanies. Epiphanies are remembered moments percieved to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life. Epiphanies require a level of self-awareness, they reveal the ways and ‘whys’ a person reacts to particular circumstances or situations.

My first step of investigation for my digital artifact was to sit down and watch a clip of the best rallies in table tennis history. My mind was blown by the skill and endurance these athletes have. My next aim was to sit and attempt to watch a full game to get the feel. My past is grounded in tennis, as a former Australian athlete I thought to myself, it really is in essence tennis but on a way smaller level. So I sat down and had a go, after 30 minutes past it was safe to say I was bored. Some people say its because Youtube provided me with an old and ordinary game, but I also think it’s because I had no clue what was going on…..

I researched the rules and training behind the sport and spread my wings to watch a variety of different games at various levels and tutorials. What I found interesting was that undoubtedly each tournament was filled with spectators; views on YouTube videos were consistently more than 400,000+. Interestingly an epiphany popped into my mind, “what makes sport so culturally valuable in society?” “Why do certain countries choose to invest in particular sports?” To narrow down my scope, I researched the history behind the emergence of table tennis in China, why it is a cultural value and to further my own understanding of the game in order to try and value it the same as the Chinese people do.

To validate my epiphanies against Ellis theory of autoethnography – Ethnography is, the study of a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders and outsiders better understand culture.

As previously stated in my other blog post, China was first introduced to Table Tennis by its former leader Mao Zedong. The sport swiftly became a cultural value of the country, the sport was ‘bizarrely‘ popular amongst the Communist Party of China’s military force during the 1930s. Not long after do we see China using Ping-Pong as a source of diplomacy, this is through the games introduction to the Olympic Games and also communication with other countries.

I found that a brief look into the its history in China and the values that extend past the social norm of sport generate yet another element for my digital artefact. In order to fulfil the criteria of autoethnography, my aim will be to reveal the history of ping-pong in China and explore its globalisation and diplomacy. It will not only allow me to understand the value the country holds for the sport, but also allow me to uncover the hidden agenda government’s hold for sport.

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A sport for every nation.

The world of sport is much larger than what society understand. Sport provides not only a source of health and fitness, rather sport has created unity in communities, it has broadened inter-cultural communication and brought into effect the realities of globalisation. Sport can be named as a ‘peacetime’ event, occasions such as the Olympic Games have bought peace amongst countries in the modern day. Government’s are utilising sport as a platform for global attention and political activity.

I have always had a profound interest in sports, as a former athlete and as a fan and spectator. I have been particularly interested in what sports are largely followed in selected countries, for example, in Australia, our biggest and most followed sports are NRL, AFL and Cricket. Across each sports, fans, coverage and the match itself differs.

For the upcoming research project, I endeavour to take a focus on China’s value of sport with a particular focus on Table Tennis, also known as Ping Pong.

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To get the ball rolling, I turned to trust Google to help me understand a little more about the sport. Little did I know that my views of Ping Pong have been completely wrong.

The game of table tennis actually began during the 1880s in England, as a lawn tennis player adapted their game to play indoors during the winter. It has had its humble beginnings grounded as a ‘parlour game‘, for anyone who had the access to a table, paddle and a ball. The name ‘Ping-Pong’ followed shortly after, it was coined by the English firm J. Jaques and Son at the end of the 1800s, and later trademarked in the US by Parker Brothers, the board game company. The game expanded and caught wind during 1901, the earliest dates of tournaments show that there were more than 300 participants. In 1922 the first Ping-Pong Association was formed and renamed The Table Tennis Association.

Mind-blown? Me too.

But when was ping-pong introduce into China?

China has been infatuated with table tennis since the 1950s, it was during this time Chairman Mao declared it as the national sport. The communist leader thought it was a logical decision, a sport that can be played at a cheap expense and was a sport that was not as popular in the West. Today, China holds the top three ranking in the Men and Women’s League as well as the top spot in the world!

Fun Facts:

  • China is ruthless in their national team selection
  • Chinese players train for a minimum of 7 hours a day
  • Players work with specialised practice partners, even sometimes two against one
  • Chinese teams have the most extensive and strategic analysis about competitors and are pioneers for new techniques

For this digital artefact, I want to immerse myself in the culture of Ping-Pong. I endeavour to watch, research and write about the ins and outs of the sport.

I am a self-proclaimed sports fanatic (sports journalist is the ultimate goal), but I have very limited knowledge to play with. With the help of autoethnography, my digital artefact will be a reflection of my understandings, conclusions, opinions and epiphanies concerning ping-pong and its stance throughout the Chinese Culture.

I have chosen to present my artefact in written form, a mixture of reviews, analysis, cultural understandings and a sports report. I believe this is an effective way to convey my findings, as well as allow my brain explosion to flow and explore a range of different avenues ping-pong influences and flows amongst.

First stop! Watching re-runs of the Table Tennis games during the 2018 Asian Games.

Let the games begin!

Is It Really Equality?

On the surface, Nike’s Equality campaign presents all the elements to successfully adhere to a social justice intervention. Its motto, activists and ambitions urge consumers to break the barrier and welcome equality of race, gender, religion, so on. Although, there has been speculation surrounding Nike’s choice of advertising and a question of what goes on behind the scenes at Headquarters. Through reflection and feedback received from peers, it has become evident that while Nike have created and advocated for change and equality, it seems that these motives have not always been successfully executed.

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As previously stated, ‘Equality’ is an initiative that serves as an equal opportunity for all. Although, since the campaign has hit the headlines it seems that their actions are far from closing the barrier.

Firstly, an article written by OKTC journalist Clay Travis is quite striking, “Nike is for equality: unless you make it shoes”. Travis brings to light the imbalance between common society and LeBron James. For obvious reasons, LeBron is one of the world’s greatest athletes and a KOL for the campaign. LeBron is one of the leading activists for Equality, Nike utilises a renowned athlete as such to help circulate awareness and bring coverage to the intervention.

LeBron has evolved as not only an athlete but also as a brand. From apparel to shoes, Travis explains that while the collaboration between Equality Ambassador James and Nike there are ethical and contradictory issues.

Nike-Air-Jordan-1-OG-High-Chicago.pngThe purpose of the campaign is expressing and providing the opportunity for equality; however, this is contradicted through production labour. Reports show for a pair of Air Jordan’s, Nike is set to pay a total of US $16.25 (roughly) – to break it down: $10.75 for materials, $2.43 for labour, overhead is $2.10 and the factory profit. In Australia, to purchase a pair of LeBron James shoes, you are estimated to spend $210+ on a pair alone. Comparing and contrasting the manufacturing costs to retail, it is evident there is a clear inequality here.

Through Nike’s Equality AD, taglines such as “opportunity should not discriminate” and “we can be equals everywhere” are repeated. The question stands, how is Nike able to continue advocating for Equality when the productions of their products are an example of inequality. It is interesting to reflect on Nike’s prior history; an issue they were previously entangled with was their ‘sweatshop’ image in the shoe industry.

img_6814-e1501517865348.jpgIn July of 2017, students and activists around the world came together to participate in a day of protest against Nike, organised by the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). Allegations against Nike have begun to rise once again as claims have emerged that workers at the Nike contract Factory in Hansae and Vietnam have suffered wage theft and verbal abuse. This follows long laboured hours in temperatures that were estimated to be over the legal limit of 90 degrees. As a result of this, it is evident that many American Universities have cut ties with the company to push for equal opportunity and fairer working conditions.

Nike confirmed that it would reduce the volume of orders to Hansae, and worked towards improving the working conditions at the factory alongside the Fair Labor Association.

Interestingly, it is evident that while a sporting conglomerate such as Nike push for equality throughout society, we can see that the initiative has not made a fair impression on the people. Nike must push to rectify these issues in order to create a neutral and clear view of its campaign and future objectives.


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