Sleep­less in Bei­jing

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

On Sun­day evening , when my fam­ily and I ar­rived for a din­ner with my in-laws at a Bei­jing restau­rant, I was sur­prised to see sit­ting at the head of the ta­ble my wife’s fa­ther who, proudly wear­ing a soc­cer shirt, chat­ted en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about the soc­cer World Cup with my brother-in-law.

I was afraid the old man, who is still re­cov­er­ing from an oper­a­tion for cancer last year, had been stay­ing up to watch the games like young soc­cer fa­nat­ics. The time dif­fer­ence of 11 hours be­tween Bei­jing and Brasilia has forced lo­cal fans to watch the games at un­earthly hours, with the ma­jor­ity of games in the tour­na­ment start­ing be­tween mid­night and 6 am Bei­jing time.

But I didn’t ask him be­cause men­tion­ing that I for­bid stay­ing up late in my own house, even for the World Cup, was not a par­tic­u­larly cool thing to ad­mit. Dur­ing the din­ner, when I checked WeChat on my cell phone, I saw a col­league had posted a pic­ture of her 7-yearold son slouched on a couch, with the proud procla­ma­tion: “My son watch­ing his first World Cup game, he’s be­com­ing a man!”

As the tour­na­ment takes hold of an army of Chi­nese fans, ar­guably the world’s largest, each match is watched by mil­lions of Chi­nese. Only days af­ter the World Cup started, the In­ter­net is al­ready abuzz with re­ports of many stu­dents skip­ping im­por­tant tests, hus­bands ig­nor­ing wives and ex­cited en­thu­si­asts dy­ing from dis­eases ex­ac­er­bated by watch­ing too many games.

There are many the­o­ries about the Chi­nese love for the World Cup men’s soc­cer. While Chi­nese fans tra­di­tion­ally tended to root for home teams at in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions due to na­tional pride, their in­ter­ests have tran­scended na­tional borders and ide­olo­gies thanks to the glob­al­iza­tion of sports and so­phis­ti­cated me­dia tech­nolo­gies.

Many spec­ta­tors now view tele­vised sports as en­ter­tain­ment sim­i­lar to watch­ing movies or tele­vi­sion dra­mas. But an un­scripted sports event like a soc­cer game can be far more thrilling, with in­tense con­flicts, sus­pense and un­ex­pected out­comes.

It’s not un­com­mon to hear ed­u­cated Chi­nese women openly ad­mir­ing well-known in­ter­na­tional soc­cer play­ers for their looks and mas­culin­ity, as if they were Hol­ly­wood heart­throbs.

How­ever, at a deeper level, Chi­nese soc­cer, plagued by bribes and cor­rup­tion, may have also driven droves of lo­cal fans to the World Cup and other in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments. China qual­i­fied for its one and only World Cup fi­nals in 2002, and then failed to score a sin­gle goal in three games.

The Chi­nese play­ers and their man­agers have squan­dered the sup­port of their fans and pub­lic money, and there is no light at the end of the tun­nel. Some on­line com­men­ta­tors have made droll com­ments, liken­ing the Chi­nese ob­ses­sion with for­eign soc­cer to seek­ing “vi­car­i­ous en­joy­ment”.

In my workplace, man­age­ment­meet­ings can­noweasily go astray as col­leagues bring up the topic of the­World Cup matches they have watched. But for the past four years I’ve never heard them dis­cussing the Chi­nese Su­per League, which is of­ten viewed as a na­tional joke.

I’m no soc­cer fa­natic, and I will not stay up late, even on July 13 for the World Cup fi­nal. But af­ter try­ing to an­a­lyze the psy­che of a typ­i­cal Chi­nese fan, I’ve be­come more un­der­stand­ing of their enthusiasm for the tour­na­ment, which, as cer­tain cyn­ics have pointed out, ap­pears to have no con­nec­tion what­so­ever with Chi­nese soc­cer.

As for my ag­ing fa­ther-in­lawwho was born and bred in a north­ern Chi­nese city known as the “cap­i­tal of Chi­nese soc­cer”, how many more World Cup games will he have the chance to watch? Con­tact the writer at dr.baip­ing@gmail.com

PANG LI / CHINA DAILY

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