“Baseball in China” By: Paul Schifilliti
The Peoples Republic of China is the world’s most populous country and recently has become the world’s largest economy. Since the economic reforms of 1978, this land of 1.35 billion people has obtained an exceptionally quick growing economy. This has opened bottomless possibilities in a myriad of markets, ranging from construction to agriculture, and everything in between. Among all of the emerging markets in China today, one that stands out to me personally is baseball.
After its creation in 1839, baseball slowly spread to the rest of the world, increasingly towards the beginning of the 20th century. This is even true when considering the communist nation of China, where today baseball is understood by few. In 1873, government officials of the Qing dynasty had sent 30 students to study in the United States, in attempt to gain knowledge on the western learning style. However, they would return with much more than merely our learning style, they would return with America’s past time. During their time at Yale, three of the Chinese students established Yale’s Chinese Baseball team. Upon their return home, they brought the game with them.
Again in 1895, baseball had made more congress at the Huiwen Academy of Classical Learning in Beijing. However, the first official game wasn’t held in China until 1907. Yes, baseball has been of existence in this foreign land for over 100 years, yet if you were to ask a random local citizen about the game today, chances are you would receive a puzzled stare.
What went wrong? There are many ways to go about answering such a vague question, but one must first take into consideration the ideals of Mao Zedong. Prior to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, baseball was a part of the national games. Although the game showed potential for progress, it had not yet caught the baseball fever as America had.
With the reforms of the country underway, Mao Zedong lead the communist nation. Beloved by most of China’s people, Zedong’s words were very powerful. When the subject of baseball was brought up, Zedong declared it was a symbol of the imperialist west, and should not be played in China. His feelings for basketball were much more sympathetic, explaining how it has become one of the more popular sports in China. The communist leader should not be held entirely responsible for the decline of baseball in China; it does not help that the game requires more land than other sports.
Back in those times, many Chinese considered the game as imperialistic, but times have changed. With an economy growing as fast as theirs, China is no stranger to innovation. Big business is constantly looking for the next big thing, but what if the next big thing has been here all along. Baseball represents a world of opportunity for China, as it has for Japan and South Korea.
Some Americans have claimed that the talent simply isn’t there when considering Chinese ball players. That’s like handing the average American athlete a willow cricket bat and expecting them to be a superstar.
The game needs time to develop in China before players of the country can be comparable to that of a nation that has consistently played the game for over 150 years and turned the sport into a multi-billion dollar industry. That was done in a nation of 300 million people; imagine the potential in a nation of a whopping 1.3 billion people. I know this may sound cliché, but the possibilities are endless.