China’s Sports Schools Destroy Lives and Fail to Deliver Gold

News Analysis Beijing regards sports as an avenue to assert dominance over the world, a goal it is determined to achieve through central planning, state funding, and a willingness to sacrifice its own citizens. “Be Positive, Work Hard, Climb the High Mountain, Win Glory for the Country,” reads a sign at the Shanghai Sports School. For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), sports are not about self-improvement or healthy competition. Sports are one more arena where the Party can claim the nation’s global supremacy. To this end, the athletes are disposable tools of the state. In the entire history of China’s participation in the Summer Olympics (through 2020), it has won a total of 634 medals, including 262 gold, 199 silver, and 173 bronze; whereas the United States has won a total of 2,635 medals, including 1,061 gold, 836 silver, and 738 bronze. In 15 of the 28 Summer Games the United States competed in, it has won the most medals of any nation. The only time China has won the overall medal count was in 2008, when it hosted the Games. All countries feel pride when their athletes win medals, but the CCP takes this to an extreme, making winning the Olympics a government priority. Accordingly, it mobilizes the resources of the entire nation, including industrial policy. China has a state strategy tied to sports funding and training, which focuses on a few disciplines in which its athletes have produced the most medals: gymnastics, diving, shooting, table tennis, and badminton. As an example of the lengths the CCP will go to, China is the only country in the world with a state-funded ping-pong college, the China Table Tennis College. China’s Den Yaping in action against South Korean Kim Hyon Hui during the women’s team event at the World Table Tennis Championships in Manchester on 29 April, 1997. (Bob Collier/AFP via Getty Images) In 2002, the General Administration of Sport of China (GASC) put forth the Olympic Glory-winning Program Guidelines 2001-2010, which called for China to score in the top three medal-winning countries in the 2008 Olympics. This program included Project 119, which aimed at improving China’s performance in sports it has historically done poorly in, such as swimming and rowing. In 2021, China’s sports administration received $1 billion in funding from the CCP. To put this number in perspective, Australia, which generally does well in the Summer Olympics, awarded $124 million of government monies to the Australian Sports Commission. The U.S. government, by contrast, allocated zero dollars to Olympic training, as American athletes are supported by private funding and sponsorships, not by the government. The difference in how the United States and China approach the Olympics is an allegory for how they approach everything, from education and the economy to industrialization and urbanization. In the United States, the government provides a framework of rules and laws, which ensure property rights, freedom, and safety, while allowing citizens a wide latitude of independence. The economy, industrialization, urbanization, and sports organizations develop naturally. Athletic federations are private and self-regulated in America, whereas in China, these institutions are state-run, state-controlled, and state-funded. Not only does the U.S. government have no specific Olympic strategy, but about 42 percent of the U.S. population are obese. U.S. federal law does not require physical education in schools. And yet, the United States has won more Olympic medals than any nation in history. The U.S. sports education system is very different from China’s. The United States makes sports available to all children, on a voluntary basis. And those who have special talent, and want to follow an Olympic dream, are free to do so. By contrast, China pushes a small number of elite athletes, grinding them down, until only a few survive the gruelling training. The Chinese Sports School System The message, “Learn From Our Comrades and Create a New and Glorious Olympics,” was posted on the self-criticism board at Weifang City Sports School. In China, high schools and universities generally do not have sports teams or offer training. Based on the Soviet model, top athletes are created in designated sports schools and universities. Scouts travel around the country, looking for children who appear to have aptitude in sports. Selected children are subjected to various physical tests, including measuring their feet, arms, and legs, as well as DNA testing, to determine which sport they would perform best at. If the parents agree, children as young as four years old are recruited into boarding schools, where they train on a rigorous schedule. Those who excel are moved to the professional/national teams, where they receive a government salary, a goal which fewer than 3 percent will achieve. The long-term objective of these athletes is to obtain one of the limited spots on the Chinese Olympic team. China’s Fan Yi

China’s Sports Schools Destroy Lives and Fail to Deliver Gold

News Analysis

Beijing regards sports as an avenue to assert dominance over the world, a goal it is determined to achieve through central planning, state funding, and a willingness to sacrifice its own citizens.

“Be Positive, Work Hard, Climb the High Mountain, Win Glory for the Country,” reads a sign at the Shanghai Sports School. For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), sports are not about self-improvement or healthy competition. Sports are one more arena where the Party can claim the nation’s global supremacy. To this end, the athletes are disposable tools of the state.

In the entire history of China’s participation in the Summer Olympics (through 2020), it has won a total of 634 medals, including 262 gold, 199 silver, and 173 bronze; whereas the United States has won a total of 2,635 medals, including 1,061 gold, 836 silver, and 738 bronze. In 15 of the 28 Summer Games the United States competed in, it has won the most medals of any nation. The only time China has won the overall medal count was in 2008, when it hosted the Games.

All countries feel pride when their athletes win medals, but the CCP takes this to an extreme, making winning the Olympics a government priority. Accordingly, it mobilizes the resources of the entire nation, including industrial policy. China has a state strategy tied to sports funding and training, which focuses on a few disciplines in which its athletes have produced the most medals: gymnastics, diving, shooting, table tennis, and badminton.

As an example of the lengths the CCP will go to, China is the only country in the world with a state-funded ping-pong college, the China Table Tennis College.

Epoch Times Photo
China’s Den Yaping in action against South Korean Kim Hyon Hui during the women’s team event at the World Table Tennis Championships in Manchester on 29 April, 1997. (Bob Collier/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2002, the General Administration of Sport of China (GASC) put forth the Olympic Glory-winning Program Guidelines 2001-2010, which called for China to score in the top three medal-winning countries in the 2008 Olympics. This program included Project 119, which aimed at improving China’s performance in sports it has historically done poorly in, such as swimming and rowing.

In 2021, China’s sports administration received $1 billion in funding from the CCP. To put this number in perspective, Australia, which generally does well in the Summer Olympics, awarded $124 million of government monies to the Australian Sports Commission. The U.S. government, by contrast, allocated zero dollars to Olympic training, as American athletes are supported by private funding and sponsorships, not by the government.

The difference in how the United States and China approach the Olympics is an allegory for how they approach everything, from education and the economy to industrialization and urbanization. In the United States, the government provides a framework of rules and laws, which ensure property rights, freedom, and safety, while allowing citizens a wide latitude of independence. The economy, industrialization, urbanization, and sports organizations develop naturally. Athletic federations are private and self-regulated in America, whereas in China, these institutions are state-run, state-controlled, and state-funded.

Not only does the U.S. government have no specific Olympic strategy, but about 42 percent of the U.S. population are obese. U.S. federal law does not require physical education in schools. And yet, the United States has won more Olympic medals than any nation in history.

The U.S. sports education system is very different from China’s. The United States makes sports available to all children, on a voluntary basis. And those who have special talent, and want to follow an Olympic dream, are free to do so. By contrast, China pushes a small number of elite athletes, grinding them down, until only a few survive the gruelling training.

The Chinese Sports School System

The message, “Learn From Our Comrades and Create a New and Glorious Olympics,” was posted on the self-criticism board at Weifang City Sports School.

In China, high schools and universities generally do not have sports teams or offer training. Based on the Soviet model, top athletes are created in designated sports schools and universities. Scouts travel around the country, looking for children who appear to have aptitude in sports.

Selected children are subjected to various physical tests, including measuring their feet, arms, and legs, as well as DNA testing, to determine which sport they would perform best at. If the parents agree, children as young as four years old are recruited into boarding schools, where they train on a rigorous schedule. Those who excel are moved to the professional/national teams, where they receive a government salary, a goal which fewer than 3 percent will achieve. The long-term objective of these athletes is to obtain one of the limited spots on the Chinese Olympic team.

Epoch Times Photo
China’s Fan Yilin competes in the qualifying for the women’s Beam event of the Artistic Gymnastics at the Olympic Arena during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 7, 2016. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Li Xiaoshuang Gymnastics School is a well-known, state-run sports academy in Wuhan, where the staff work for China’s General Administration of Sports. The school has been featured in numerous documentaries and reports in the West, which focused on the isolation, extreme training, and abuse of Chinese children growing up in the sports system. But this is only one of thousands of sports schools in China.

A primary weakness in the Chinese system is that children have to leave normal education in order to participate in sports and have a chance at the Olympics. Sports schools claim to have academic lessons, but the academic level is extremely low.

As China becomes richer, parents are demanding higher quality education for their children. Consequently, fewer parents are willing to subject their children to the rigors of a sports school, particularly at the expense of academics.

In 1990, there were 3,687 sports schools in China. By 2016, this number had dropped to 2,183. The latest figures for the number of children in sports schools are unavailable, but in 2005, there were 400,000.

Each year, about 100,000 students graduate from sports schools and only 2,700 are accepted into the professional/national teams, according to 2014 data. Less than 5,000 athletes per year are accepted into sports universities. For the rest of China’s sports school graduates, their athletic careers will be over. Unqualified to attend an academic university, they will have to find a way to earn a living.

The US Has a Larger Pool of Athletes

America’s Olympic and professional athletes come from the system of scholastic and collegiate sports teams, where they attend regular classes, the same as non-athletes, and then train for sports before and after lectures.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), a private organization that oversees high school sports, nearly 8 million high school students, roughly 15 percent, participate in scholastic sports teams. The NFHS administers 16 sports for boys and girls in 18,500 high schools.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which is responsible for university sports teams, reports that more than 460,000 students compete in collegiate athletics. The NCAA sanctions 20 sports at universities.

Epoch Times Photo
Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (1) brings the ball up court against Baylor Bears guard Matthew Mayer (24) in the second half at United Supermarkets Arena, Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas, on Feb 16, 2022. (Michael C. Johnson/USA Today Sports)

The number of U.S. high school and college students training and competing in sports is dramatically higher than the number playing on scholastic and collegiate teams. Olympic sports such as figure skating, boxing, karate, taekwondo, and horseback riding are not offered as school sports, so parents arrange for private training in outside sports leagues. Athletes not counted in the scholastic and collegiate totals also include the more than 3 million American children playing Little League baseball and softball, as well as the 700,000 who play in the 35 sports offered by the American Athletic Union (AAU).

All combined, the United States has well over 12 million high school and college-age athletes from which to draw the Olympic team. For example, USA Swimming, a private organization, administers 3,000 swim teams. In total, the United States has over 327,000 amateur competitive swimmers. These athletes undergo years of selections to eventually compete for one of less than 60 positions on the U.S. Olympic swim team.

Life After the Medals

The vast majority of Chinese athletes have no job skills, and many have only a fifth-grade reading level. The lucky ones may get jobs as coaches. Most will be laborers, sellers, or security guards.

Former Olympic diving coach Yu Fen said that “athletes are unprepared to leave the sports system that has raised them,” according to a New York Times report.

Yang Wenjun, a Chinese gold medalist in flatwater canoeing, grew up in a sports school. He told the Times how he regretted missing out on a proper education: “As a child, I didn’t learn anything but sport, and now what do I do? I can’t do anything else.”

Epoch Times Photo
Gold medalist Hongchan Quan of Team China poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 10m platform final on day thirteen of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug. 5, 2021. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

According to China Sports Daily, 80 percent of China’s 300,000 retired athletes are plagued by unemployment, disability, or poverty.

Unlike China, U.S. collegiate athletes attend universities and major in any subject they wish, with business, finance, and economics among the most common majors. Additionally, student athletes in the United States have essentially the same graduation rate as non-athletes, which is about 69 percent.

China has fewer than 10 sports universities with limited spaces: Beijing Sports Academy has about 14,000 students, Wuhan Sports University has 10,000, Xi’an Physical Education University has 9,000, Shanghai University of Sport has 7,000, Nanjing Sport Institute has 7,000, Tianjin University of Sport has 6,000, Guangzhou Sports University has less than 6,000, and Capital Institute of Physical Education has 5,000.

These figures are for the total number of students, including non-athletes, academic students, graduate students, and adult learners. This means that intake of athletes in any given year is a small fraction of this number, an estimate of less than 5,000.

Even the small percentage of athletes who make it to the sports university will only have a sports-related major, with limited marketability.

Roughly 6,000 Chinese athletes retire from competition each year, with China’s Physical Education and Sport Committee estimating that there are a total of 300,000 retired athletes.

In the 2008 Olympics, the only time that China won the overall medal count, the Chinese Olympic team consisted of 639 athletes. Earning less than a gold is considered unpatriotic by Chinese netizens, and athletes who win bronze are generally cut out of government accolades. This means that in the preceding four years, leading up to the Olympics, 23,930 athletes wound up with nothing. All of the athletes forwent their education, suffering through a lifetime of training, so that the CCP could win 48 gold medals and 22 silver.

Many Chinese students at sports schools do not even complete their education because of injuries—they are the worst off. They lack job training and education, and may also be carrying the additional burden of a physical disability.

Discarded athletes—damaged and impoverished and relegated to occupying the lowest rungs of society—are the true collateral damage of the CCP’s central planning system, which uses up and spits out Chinese citizens. And with all of this, America is still leading China in Olympic gold.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Follow

Antonio Graceffo, Ph.D., has spent more than 20 years in Asia. He is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport and holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University. Graceffo works as an economics professor and China economic analyst, writing for various international media. Some of his books on China include "Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion" and "A Short Course on the Chinese Economy."