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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Diplomacy

Sport and politics often collide, and leaders have increased their efforts to harness the role of sport in furthering their national interests. But sporting competitions have been taking place between nation states in conflict for millennia.”

Commonly throughout history we have seen sport used as a diplomatic tool to bring countries together. Probably the most prolific example of this is the Olympic Games, where a ‘truce’ was put into play to ensure that all participants, spectators and officials were able to travel and participate safely. Over the years, we have seen sports diplomacy win in many cases, but also lose.

After researching the history of table tennis, it was interesting to find that this particular sport was used in the means of diplomacy between two countries, China and the United States of America.

The clip below provides a brief overview.

 

Another clip for further information!

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/magazine-25836922/how-ping-pong-diplomacy-brought-nixon-to-china

China felt that by opening and inviting the US, they would break the hostility between neighbours and initiate a possible shift in alliances.

Nixon, the real winner “will be the friendship between the people of the United States and the people of the People’s Republic of China”. 

Since then, we can see that there has been a regular US presidential trip to China. It is interesting to evaluate, how Sports and in particular table tennis has the ability to unite and create a common ground for unfamiliar and at times feuding countries.

Game Over.

Ping-Pong has reached far beyond my expectations.

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It is a sport characterised by Asian culture, and is a reflection of a disciplined society. While now in the 21stcentury it may no longer stand as China’s leading sport, it is still one that is deeply linked to its history.

After my viewing of the 2018 Asia Games Men’s finals, I believe that my eyes have truly been opened when understanding this sport. Table tennis is far more than receiving and hitting the ball back to your opponent. Table tennis requires a consistent focus, discipline and technique in order to achieve your victory outcome. It has further led me to reflect that Table Tennis as a whole is a strong reflection of the Chinese culture. Understanding its first integrations into the society, and its political influence has allowed me to understand the social value of the sport.

Through the method of autoethnography, and supported data collection I have been able to understand the Chinese value of table tennis. Through my own experiences as a former athlete, and general understanding of society and sport I believe this has allowed me to appreciate and broaden my own inter-cultural understanding.

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!

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.


Bibliography

Cyber Culture & Sport

Technology as a whole has progressively evolved. It has changed the way we do, think, operate and communicate. Modern technology has made it “possible for the discovery of many functional and utility devices such as wearable technology. With the introduction of these technologies, it has made our daily lives easier, faster and more efficient.

However, there is more than meets the eye when examining the effects and influence technology has on society. Have you ever wondered and questions how technology fits so well with humans, how this integration enhances the extension and capabilities of human existence?

Cybernetics is one of your answers and Norbert Wiener is your man.  Cybernetics takes as a domain for the design or discovery and application of principles of regulation and communications. Cybernetics is defined as “the science of communication and automatic control systems in both machines and living things”. Cybernetics is an important concept when understanding the relationship between man and machine; it connects control with communication, and understanding the connection between the goal, the information and the outcome. Wieners theory originated from the Greek word Kubernetes, which directly translates to ‘steersmanship’, which funnily enough helps you to understand that cybernetics is essentially the study of systems.

The 21stcentury has now become a cyber world and Wiener has been the crux of inspiration for following his footsteps. Geeta Dayaldraws on Brian Eno’s understanding of cybernetics in the 1975 classic, stating that cybernetics is defining the creative process “cybernetic systems were used to model practically every phenomenon, with varying degrees of success”. Some suggest that Wiener resembles a prophet of an uncertain future, writing about the human perils faced by handing over power to machines.

Essentially with the influence of technology and the cyber realm, we can be seen as an ongoing scientific experiment, understanding how man/animal and machine work coherently on a daily basis.

But here’s an easier way to understand cybernetics!

Essentially, cybernetics reaches us on any end of the universe. It is a concept that only will continue to evolve as technology progresses.

It is interesting to examine exactly what areas cybernetics can change!

Sport is an interesting example, it is one industry that over the years has progressively changed and evolved as a result of the incorporation of technology and cybernetics. Since the 60s we can see the sporting industry rise, “it has carved out for itself a niche with its roots so deep that I cannot fathom the sports industry showing any sign of decline any time soon – or later”. The sports industry can be said to be home to one of the largest masses of fans the world has ever seen, Owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings says, “fans will paint their face purple, fans will evangelize… every other CEO in every business is dying to be in our position – they’re dying to have fans”.

The introduction of technology into the world of sports has created opportunities, it has given fans a larger playing field for interaction with athletes, and it has helped enhance athletes, technology has changed the way referees score and the way athletes train and lastly it has helped differ those who are pushing to exceed in illegal ways.

We have seen the incorporation of video and touch technology, player tracking devices have optimised individual statistics and feedback, EXO skeletons and bionic arms have given athletes another opportunity and made them ‘able’ and sports clothing has added another dimension to athletic ability. Cybernetics gives us these results, in other words, the specific system’s actions cause a change in the environment where it is present, with the changes reflected back to the system as feedback. As the changes are fed back to the system, it changes according to its programming.

The following portfolio will explore the influence and involvement of cybernetics and technology in sport. It will investigate a range of areas in the sporting industry and ultimately make an evaluation on the adjustments and so-called ‘improvements’ technology has made in the industry. Its aim is to broaden the understanding of how areas such as social media and fantasy sports enable fans and extend the sporting community and how the use of wearable technology is revolutionising the way we operate and improve performance.