Fit for all

Beijing has new sports plan

Muscle w

Get a load of this: Zhang Fengyi inspires fitness fad via six-pack

The South Korean reality show 2 Days & 1 Night began the second season of its Chinese adaptation this week. The programme tries to highlight places of interest by taking celebrities on trips to the wilderness. But rather than focusing on China’s wildlife or heritage, viewer attention has been fixated on cast member Zhang Fengyi, whose six-pack wowed audiences when it first appeared this week.

Best known for his role as a Three Kingdom Period warlord Cao Cao in John Woo’s Red Cliff, the 58 year-old spent a fair share of the show half-naked. One scene even showed Zhang swimming in a manner reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s famous dip in a Siberian lake. Zhang’s tough guy images soon did the rounds on social media and the series could not have been better timed, with local governments doing their best to respond to Beijing’s call for a “fitness for all people” campaign nationwide.

That’s not to say that such exercise regimes are a new policy initiative. As early as 1951, Mao Zedong established the so-called People’s Radio Calisthenics, a 40-minute workout to train Chinese for the fight against the capitalist West. (Many students still have to perform a version of the routine each morning.) A national exercise campaign was also launched in preparation for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, with many cities organising energetic “square dances” for thousands of local citizens.

Things look a little different this time as the State Council has just elevated sport to one of China’s “national strategies”, and also recategorised it as an important force for economic growth. In a sweeping policy document announced last month, the Chinese cabinet said it plans to grow the sports industry to Rmb5 trillion ($800 billion) by 2025, when it should account for at least 1% of the economy, up from 0.6% in 2012.

This move is part of a bigger plan to boost employment and domestic consumption, the Global Times noted. Local governments are being encouraged to spend more on sports activities and are even required to break out the expenditure amounts in their annual budgets.

But instead of relying solely on state funding, the new goal is to encourage private and even foreign investment with the promise that red tape will be cut. For instance, the administrative approvals needed to host commercial sport competitions will be phased out. Private firms will be invited to set up professional sports leagues. Business taxes will be cut to 15% for companies identified as high-tech sports firms.“There are great opportunities for foreign investors, particularly in areas such as sporting events, overseas sports tourism and venue management, where their strengths are clear,” an official of the General Administration of Sport told the China Daily.

Poor policy coordination has long been blamed for the lack of sports venues in China, while public space for sporting activity has often been handed over for real estate development (see WiC253 for recent examples).

But Xinhua says the new policy pronouncements mark the first time that several central ministries have worked together to improve the situation. Urban planners now have to ensure that any newly-built residential community that’s home to more than 3,000 people offers six ping-pong tables and at least 900 square metres of outdoor workout space, for instance. The government will also build “15-minute fitness areas” in communities across the country.

The Guangzhou Daily has noted that local governments have tried to show willing on the fitness front by staging sporting events like marathons. However, the newspaper also warned that the trend won’t be sustainable unless keeping fit becomes a more integral part of Chinese culture, and not just a response to government prodding about getting more exercise or spending more on tennis rackets and running shoes.

Inevitably comparisons are being drawn with the United States, where interest in sport is thought to run much deeper, as proven by its popularity on television.

“In order to understand the Americans one needs to understand American sports first. Take out the professional leagues and American TV programmes would drop by one third,” the newspaper said. “We are not there yet.”

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.