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!

Akira

Usually I wouldn’t openly express my profound interest in all things cyber, dystopian and futuristic. But it seems BCM320 is making me do just that.

Our screening of Akira, made my geeky senses tingle and I became intrigued.

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Akira is a Japanese anime movie set in 1988, which explores the Japanese government dropping an atomic bomb on Tokyo after ESP experiments on children go ‘awry‘. The film illustrates the repercussions of the bomb almost 31 years after it destroyed the city. The movie is all things dystopian and cyberpunk, and shows strong similarities to your favourite movies and shows like Blade Runner and Stranger Things. It’s crazy to evaluate the similarities between the successes despite being decades apart. But it seems the themes of dystopia and cyberpunk will continue to reign as current and adaptable themes for futuristic movies.

We were given the challenge to channel our thoughts and understanding of the film in an autoethnographic account. ‘Autoethnography’ is “an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience“. Autoenthography is a combination of autobiography and ethnography, fundamentally autobiographies are often written based on epiphanies of the researcher. Such epiphanies are “remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life“.

Autoethnography all the researcher to analyse their content from an outsider and cultural perspective. “Scholars began recognising that different kinds of people possess different assumptions about the world…Auto-ethnography, on the other hand, expands and opens up a wider lens on the world…

Attempting to live tweet while focus on the movie and research the film’s themes proved difficult, and this is exhibited by the minimal tweets I was able to curate. My cultural understanding of anime has never been broad, or my preference. However, I have always had an interest in post-apocalyptic film and the analysis of the repercussions of war and corruption.

During the viewing I noticed constant references and similarities to Blade Runner, and began thinking about the correlation between the movies and their overarching themes. Akira, like Blade Runner incorporate the themes of globalisation, technology and capitalism. It is these themes that we can see transcend over time, to portray a dystopian society which reflects war and destruction. This was evident throughout Akria, understanding these themes helped me to gather the cultural understanding of how Japanese people have dealt with the repercussions of atomic bombs.

The post-apcolyptic destruction reflects the ruins and fear of the Japanese people. What once was and what now stands, are the effects of military and political corruption which are common themes in Japanese film and literature. Being set in 2019, as the repercussions of WWIII caused me to constantly question, I questioned how filmmakers have the capacity to create films that reflect times that we have not yet experienced or predicted. It caused me to question, whether these themes of political corruption, war, globalisation and technology will continue to be labelled as ‘time-less’. And it lastly caused me to question the Japanese culture and its preconceived predictions for the future, and their immersion with western culture.

So I attempted to draw a conclusion.

Akira is a futuristic reflection of the repercussions of Atomic Bombings present and future. As a result of a Western influence and Japan’s technologically advanced society, they predict that military and political corruption will lead to ultimate destruction. Cross-cultural understanding and autoethnography allowed me to understand that Japanese culture largely influences post-apocalyptic and dystopian films. The value of Japanese anime and film culture is preserved and treasured amongst the film industry. Anime is ‘time-less’.

Gojira 1954

Live tweeting is a difficult skill set, one that is only mastered over the course of the semester. However, lucky for me BCM325 prepared me for the big league.

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Unfortunately, I was unable to attend our first seminar back. Jet lag with a side of exhaustion from the first days back at work can really wear down a girl’s immune system. But the show goes on, and lucky for me the internet makes life a lot easier.

My first viewing experience of the semester was not pleasant and resulted in my tweets being forcefully taken down due to utter embarrassment.


Godzilla is a world renown movie, however, I must be living under a rock to have never seen any of the films.

I didn’t know what to expect with Gojira, a black and white film created in 1954 is not an everyday preference. Personally, I enjoy binge watching Harry Potter, any sortShodaiGoji_0.jpg of RomCom or action movie. To educate myself I read an article by the Atlantic to understand why Gojira is a popular film.

Christopher Orr, writes that having watched the American remakes as well as the Japanese original you are able to distinguish the cultural differences. “The Japanese original is far darker and more seamless, a topical fantasy of uncommon power. It may not be a great film, but it is an important one, a surprisingly sombre meditation on means and ends, on when exactly the price of peace becomes too costly to pay“.

 

It was brought to my attention that many Japanese kaiju movies are created as a metaphor  for the nuclear horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Gojira is, as Orr explains, “a theme of visceral immediacy” which becomes increasingly evident throughout the film. It added, in my opinion, more value to the film. Rather than reflecting a myth or legend, the tragedy that struck Japan was channelled in order to create a ‘timeless’ film.

I found that viewing this film in black and white with the accompaniment of subtitles exhibited the overall metaphor of destruction and dispart of the film. Generally, the effect of black and white can cause the viewer to reminisce, it enhanced the feeling of fear and apocalyptic ruins. Director Honda explains, “I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla“, and I felt that this was further reinforced through the black and white effect of the film.

Having understood the general gist of the remade Godzilla, it was interesting to watch the original and parallel it to the remake(s). America’s Godzilla – King of Monsters, was made to look through the American eye. Producers edited the original Gojira to include the US perspective told by a new protagonist Mr Martin. The protagonist reports on the events of Gojira in Japan without translating the original dialogue. This was an element I thought exhibited how cultural understands heavily influence perceptions and in this case production.

Researchers say that elements of the original film, that were not included in the America remake deter away from the impact of nuclear destruction in Japan. Rather it created an awareness for ‘global nuclear threat’, and comparing these diverse additions of Gorjia we can understand how the nuclear war and the arms race in the 50s have been diversely perceived all around the world.

This cautioned me to rethink my viewing habits. As a Harry Potter enthusiast, with an interest in dystopia, cyborgs and all things comedy. Am I being conditioned through the American lens? My initial understanding of Godzilla as a whole was through Austin Power’s reference to Godzilla in Gold Member. But as you can tell, I have been living under a rock…..

Next time someone tells me to watch the original before the remake, I will listen.