And Finally

A land of superlatives

Guinness capitalises on Chinese fetish for breaking world records

A land of superlatives

The 2,009 needle record

One could argue that just by dint of being born, every Chinese person participates in breaking a world record – that of the country with the greatest number of people.

Just as well, as China seems to have been gripped with a new-found passion for breaking records.

The world’s largest lute ensemble, the most dental checks in 24 hours, the largest number of acupuncture needles administered to the face, the longest time spent in an ice bath – these are just a handful of the records set over the past year.

In case you’re wondering there were 2,012 people in that lute ensemble. However, WiC’s favourite record was for parallel parking a car in the tightest spot. Han Yue managed to park his Mini Cooper into a spot that had a combined space of just 15cm between his bumpers and those of the other cars. He achieved this feat via a handbrake skid.

Such is the enthusiasm for record-breaking – China saw a 50% increase in the number of requests for adjudications this year – that Guinness World Records, the reference book published annually, is launching a Chinese language website and opening a Beijing office.

“The Chinese are no different to anyone else, we are all fascinated by superlatives,” Rowan Simons, the president of Guinness World Records for Greater China, told WiC. Simons says Chinese requests for Guinness to provide live adjudication (for which a fee is charged) have also quadrupled over the last 10 years.

And though China currently comes seventh in the total number of records held, Simons reckons it won’t be long before it is challenging the US for the most titles to its name.

“The two places are more similar than you might think. People in both places see value in holding a record,” Simons suggests.

Yet despite the apparently universal desire to be seen as the best or the biggest – or even the smallest or smelliest – China’s record-breaking instincts do differ from those of other nations.

For instance, more than 60% of record attempts are organised by local governments keen to raise the profile of their towns or counties. And, not surprisingly, the mass participation events are a favourite. Take, for example, Huludao City’s record – set last month – for the longest parade of girls wearing bikinis (1,085 participated, with much of the swimwear made in local factories). Of course, many record-breaking attempts also play to more traditional Chinese skills such as kung-fu or noodle making.

In some cases Guinness has had to refuse applications for not being international enough.

And just because China has traditionally excelled at a sport or activity doesn’t mean that it necessarily holds the world record. Take the record for the greatest number of people participating in a ping pong rally – that’s actually held by the English Ping Pong Association.

For the record-breaker categories that Guinness won’t accept, alternative homegrown organisations can be approached for adjudication.

Chinness (a China-and-Guinness combination, naturally) is one of them. Set up by Zhang Dayong, the website has seen a 30% increase in applications every year since it got going in 2009.

Guinness is less impressed by its competitor’s progress and brought a lawsuit against Zhang last year. But he says there is no conflict with the British company: “They record international records, we record Chinese ones.”

Increasingly, though, it is international recognition that interests Chinese record-breakers. After Guinness opens its China office and launches its local website next year, it is expecting a deluge of new applications. To cope with demand it will be hiring five new Chinese-speaking judges. When asked what skills these people will need, Simons has only one requirement. “They need to be strong,” he says. “People take record-breaking very seriously. Sometimes the pressure to declare a record broken is huge.”

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