Paddle Back in Time

Table tennis made its first impression as a “parlour game” in that it was open to anyone who was able to access a table, paddle and ball. The name “Ping-Pong” was first coined by the English firm J. Jaques and Son at the end of the 1800s, and later trademarked in the US by gaming company the Parker Brothers.

Ping-Pong has long been a revered game in China, and at the beginning of its emergence it was one of the only sports nationwide. Today, China sits at the top of the leaderboard across nearly every table tennis category and since the sport was introduced into the Summer Games in 1988, Chinese players have won 28 out of the 32 gold medals. It is estimated that China’s win percentage is 57.7 of the players, and of this they have managed to achieve 87.5% of gold medals.

 

But why is China so good at the game?

 

Table tennis took China by storm in 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was in power. At the time, officials felt the sport was able to connect the People’s Republic to the rest of the world. CCP’s leaders such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai were playing the sport and, as a result, it quickly became the national sport of the country.

 

In 1959, the country made its first major breakthrough in the sport; Rong Gutuan won the men’s singles title in the World Table Tennis Championships in Germany. Gutuan’s win saw national pride skyrocket, and propaganda took the victory to another level as it occurred during the 10thanniversary of the People’s Republic founding.

Since then, table tennis has always been China’s most prominent sport. It not only was used as a political tool, it also suited the Chinese lifestyle, an easily stored and does not take up a large amount of room. Today speaking to the younger society, it seems that the sport itself is not as popular as it once was. This is as a result of the gradual western influence that has slowly crept up on the culture of sport and has directed its attention to many more sport.

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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.

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!