Ding Jun­hui: Prodigy to Master

China Pictorial (English) - - People - Text by Ru Yuan

On Septem­ber 26, 2016, 29-year-old Ding Jun­hui won the Snooker Shang­hai Masters for the sec­ond time by beat­ing Mark Selby 10-6. Pre­vi­ously win­ning the event in 2013, Ding be­came the first-ever player to take the Shang­hai Masters twice.

The ti­tle was Ding’s first in 30 months and 12th of his pro­fes­sional ca­reer. The vic­tory also brought him even with Aus­tralian Neil Robert­son in to­tal tour­na­ment wins. Only five play­ers in the his­tory of the sport have won more.

Snooker Prodigy

At the 2005 China Open, a young Chi­nese boy sur­prised the snooker world by beat­ing leg­endary seven-time world cham­pion Stephen Hendry in the fi­nal. Be­cause of the 18-year-old rookie Ding Jun­hui, an es­ti­mated 120 mil­lion Chi­nese peo­ple, as many as the com­bined pop­u­la­tion of the U.K. and France, watched the game on TV. The teenager con­tin­ued to shake up the sport later that year by de­feat­ing Steve Davis to win the U.K. Cham­pi­onship and be­come the first player from out­side the U.K. to win the tour­na­ment. In many ways, Ding was an overnight sen­sa­tion for the Chi­nese pub­lic.

For a long time, me­dia out­lets from both China and be­yond used “prodigy” to de­scribe Ding. Born in Yix­ing, a small city in Jiangsu Prov­ince, in 1987, Ding’s un­usual snooker gift was dis­cov­ered by his bil­liards-ob­sessed fa­ther when the boy was only eight. Some me­dia out­lets re­counted a story of his fa­ther leav­ing a game with friends to use the re­stroom, and his son run­ning the ta­ble be­fore he re­turned.

Soon, no one in his home­town could even com­pete with Ding. Re­al­iz­ing that their child would ben­e­fit greatly from sys­tem­atic bil­liards train­ing, Ding’s par­ents took the boy to Dong­guan, Guang­dong Prov­ince, where China’s na­tional snooker team trains. To pay for Ding’s train­ing in Guang­dong, the fam­ily even­tu­ally sold their home in Yix­ing. “They didn’t tell me they were sell­ing the house at the time, so I didn’t feel the pres­sure,” Ding re­vealed. “But play­ing with the out­stand­ing play­ers in Guang­dong helped me greatly. My skills pro­gressed rapidly.”

At 13, Ding won his first award by fin­ish­ing third in an Asian In­vi­ta­tional Tour­na­ment. In 2002, he amazed the snooker world by win­ning both the Asian un­der-21 and se­nior ti­tles and the World Un­der-21 Cham­pi­onship in Latvia. By the age of 15, Ding had been al­ready un­beat­able in China, win­ning var­i­ous na­tional and re­gional snooker youth cham­pi­onships and mak­ing waves on the Asian cir­cuit.

Be­fore Ding’s ma­jor vic­to­ries at the China Open and U.K. Cham­pi­onship in 2005, plenty of in­sid­ers had al­ready no­ticed the emerg­ing star.

Ma­ture Pro

Af­ter his rapid im­prove­ment and out­stand­ing per­for­mance, Ding turned pro­fes­sional in 2003. The same year, the 16-year-old set off for Welling­bor­ough, U.K.

Un­der­stand­ably, Ding had a hard time at first. He slept in a small bed­room in a mod­est flat and prac­ticed seven or eight hours a day thanks to a lack of friends and fam­ily. “I was scared,” he re­called. “No­body came to the U.K. with me. I was so far from home, and I didn’t speak English.” Ding en­dured long stretches of lone­li­ness and ben­e­fited greatly from the more sys­tem­atic train­ing in the U.K., which led di­rectly to his first ma­jor pro­fes­sional suc­cesses in 2005.

How­ever, as his progress con­tin­ued, Ding felt pres­sure pil­ing up. “In China, peo­ple don’t just ‘want’ me to win, they ‘be­lieve’ I will,” he con­tin­ued. “But I am just hu­man. The pres­sure be­comes huge.” Pro­fes­sional play­ers have ups and downs, and they need the abil­ity to climb up from low points. But for a long time, ques­tions sur­round­ing Ding’s abil­ity to con­trol his tem­per and emo­tions re­mained. For a while, in­sid­ers even sug­gested that com­pared to his per­fect me­chan­ics, Ding’s psy­cho­log­i­cal short­com­ings would rel­e­gate him below top tier.

Sev­eral sit­u­a­tions con­trib­uted to this the­ory. In 2007, when Ding was de­feated by Ron­nie O’sul­li­van in the Masters fi­nal, he was in tears be­fore the match was over. From 2007 to 2010, he failed to get past the sec­ond round of the World Cham­pi­onship

in Sh­effield. “I even broke my cue,” Ding ad­mit­ted, “and I com­plained about the ta­ble when I lost.”

Luck­ily, Ding and his team be­gan to place more at­ten­tion on the prob­lem in re­cent years. “I be­lieve Ding’s poor con­trol of his tem­per is caused by a sense of in­se­cu­rity,” re­marked Ren Hao­jiang, a snooker pro­moter and close friend of Ding. “Trav­el­ing around to play since a young age has dam­aged his sense of se­cu­rity. For a young kid, losses re­sult in lost con­fi­dence. But as time goes on, Ding has be­come a more ma­ture and tougher player.”

In the modern sports world, in­di­vid­ual play­ers are sel­dom able to dom­i­nate for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of time. How­ever, iconic fig­ures are al­ways help­ful in pro­mot­ing marginal­ized sports to new au­di­ences. Af­ter years of ef­fort and hard work, not to men­tion men­tal ma­tu­rity, Ding is well po­si­tioned to serve as such a role.

Rise of Chi­nese Play­ers

Through­out his ca­reer, Ding has al­ways been watched closely in his home coun­try, where more peo­ple play pool than in the rest of the world com­bined. With Ding’s rise on the in­ter­na­tional stage, many be­lieve that China may see more “qual­ity” par­tic­i­pa­tion in the snooker world.

China is cer­tainly a huge mar­ket for the game. An es­ti­mated 50 mil­lion peo­ple in the coun­try play, and snooker clubs have mush­roomed in re­cent years. Shang­hai alone had about 1,500 snooker clubs in 2015, soar­ing from 200 in 2008. With snooker’s in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity in the coun­try, many ma­jor tour­na­ments are now broad­cast live in China, with an av­er­age au­di­ence of 79 mil­lion. Ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions fea­tur­ing Ding eas­ily at­tract more than 100 mil­lion view­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the Chi­nese Bil­liards and Snooker As­so­ci­a­tion (CBSA), many young tal­ented play­ers could soon join Ding on the world stage. CBSA be­lieves that al­though Ding was a lone wolf when he caused the first wave of de­vel­op­ment more than a decade ago, the sec­ond wave is rep­re­sented by mil­len­ni­als such as Xiao Guodong, Liang Wenbo and Cao Yu­peng, and the third is led by teenagers such as Yuan Si­jun and Zhou Yue­long.

With the huge num­ber of highly skilled Chi­nese play­ers emerg­ing, even World Snooker Chair­man Barry Hearn once re­marked dur­ing an in­ter­view that soon half of the world’s top 16 play­ers could be Chi­nese.

While Ding’s rise a decade ago suc­cess­fully changed the im­age of snooker in China, which was once con­sid­ered for dropouts and the un­em­ployed, the coun­try is now eye­ing something big­ger for the game.

Nes­tled in the north­west­ern part of Hei­longjiang Prov­ince in north­east­ern China, the Greater Khin­gan Range is an im­por­tant state-owned nat­u­ral for­est re­gion that serves as a biological pro­tec­tive screen for north­east­ern and north­ern China. Since 1964, the Greater Khin­gan Range has pro­vided much of the tim­ber that sup­ported the coun­try’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, which led to a dra­matic drop in its for­est re­sources.

To re­store the en­vi­ron­ment, com­mer­cial log­ging was banned in the Greater Khin­gan Range on April 1, 2014, which re­sulted in 30,000 wood­cut­ters los­ing their jobs. In a move aimed to en­able the peo­ple in­hab­it­ing the area to con­tinue mak­ing a liv­ing, ad­min­is­tra­tors of the Greater Khin­gan Range are work­ing to trans­form its eco­nomic struc­ture while pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment.

Source of In­come un­der Tree

“The Greater Khin­gan Range cov­ers 83,000 square kilo­me­ters, about 10,000 of which grows wild blue­berry,” beams Tian Fuhe, head of Amuer Blue­berry Plan­ta­tion. “Its out­put ac­counts for 90 per­cent of the na­tion’s to­tal and Amuer ac­counts for as much as 25.4 per­cent.”

The Greater Khin­gan Range fea­tures conif­er­ous forests grow­ing in acidic soil and a wide dif­fer­ence in day and night tem­per­a­tures, con­di­tions agree­able for blue­ber­ries. “The sun rises at 3 a.m. and sets at 9 p.m. The fact that this re­source is caused by the cli­mate gives us a sort of mo­nop­oly. Our blue­berry is uniquely de­li­cious.”

Lo­cated in the north­ern part of the Greater Khin­gan Range, the Amuer Forestry Bureau is con­sid­ered the “home of wild blue­ber­ries in China.” Dur­ing har­vest sea­son, lo­cals wake up at 3 a.m. and take mo­tor­cy­cles up the moun­tain to col­lect blue­ber­ries. Pick­ing wild blue­ber­ries be­comes more dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous as avail­able plants are harder to find, ac­cord­ing to Tian Fuhe. Be­cause of this, the Amuer Forestry Bureau founded the Amuer Blue­berry Plan­ta­tion seven years ago to breed blue­berry seedlings and train tech­ni­cians. To­day, the plan­ta­tion cov­ers 10.1 hectares and grows 1.2 mil­lion seedlings. All the blue­berry fields un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the bureau now cover 40 hectares. Along with plan­ta­tions, the bureau also suc­ceeded in at­tract­ing in­vest­ment to build the Arc­tic Ice Blue­berry Chateau and a Blue­berry Town, which at­tract many tourists each year.

Ac­tu­ally, Amuer is not the only place in the area de­vel­op­ing the blue­berry in­dus­try, which has widely be­come a pri­mary source of in­come in the Greater Khin­gan Range. Over 160 blue­berry prod­ucts have been de­vel­oped, rang­ing from blue­berry juice, wine and dried fruit to health­care prod­ucts. Lin­gonberry Bo­real Biotech Co., Ltd. has in­vented more than 30 prod­ucts from ex­tracts of blue­ber­ries and flora in the frigid zone. In March 2015, the com­pany went pub­lic.

To­day, the Greater Khin­gan Range’s re­serve for wild blue­ber­ries has ex­panded to 7,450 hectares and its area of cul­ti­vated blue­ber­ries has reached 130 hectares. The pro­duc­tion value of the blue­berry in­dus­try mea­sured 480 mil­lion yuan last year, mak­ing it the main source of in­come for lo­cals. Mean­while, oth­ers plant mush­rooms such as black fun­gus and Hem­lock var­nish shelf in places that have been logged, which has also in­creased in­comes.

Sus­tain­able Tourism

Known as “China’s north pole,” the Greater Khin­gan Range is the north­ern­most tip of China, where Rus­sia can be reached by cross­ing a river. On the north­ern slope of the Greater Khin­gan Range, Beiji (lit­er­ally, “North Pole”) Vil­lage is the coun­try’s north­ern­most vil­lage and has the best spots to see the north­ern lights. Many visit the vil­lage seek­ing China’s north­ern­most ameni­ties and struc­tures and its snowy and icy scenery in win­ter.

At the entrance of the vil­lage is a fam­ily ho­tel owned by a lo­cal cou­ple who used to be farm­ers. In 2007, they ren­o­vated their house into a fam­ily ho­tel. In or­der to ac­com­mo­date more tourists, they later ex­panded the house so they could of­fer six rooms in­stead of four. The busi­ness earns tens of thou­sands yuan a year and has be­come the main source of in­come for the fam­ily.

“Vil­lagers used to sub­sist on farm­ing and forestry,” ex­plains Li Xuem­ing, head of Beiji Town­ship. “Their av­er­age in­come was less than 10,000 yuan a year. Thanks to the de­vel­op­ment of tourism, over 140 of the 680 house­holds in the vil­lage op­er­ate fam­ily ho­tels and the per capita in­come in the vil­lage in­creased to 21,000 yuan last year.” In peak sea­son, they wel­come as many as 3,000 tourists a day.

The Greater Khin­gan Range has rich tourism re­sources in­clud­ing forests, snow and ice scenery, stone forests, wet­lands and pre­his­toric cliff paint­ings. Since 2014 when com­mer­cial log­ging stopped, the re­gion has sprouted ecological tourism, which has been given top pri­or­ity among the six pri­mary in­dus­tries amidst the re­gion’s trans­for­ma­tion.

“We have beau­ti­ful land­scapes as well as snow and ice,” notes Jia Yumei, sec­re­tary of the Party Com­mit­tee of the Greater Khin­gan Range Re­gion. “Tourism, es­pe­cially win­ter tourism, is key to our brand.”

Hailed as one of the Top 20 Most At­trac­tive Places in China, the Greater Khin­gan Range has be­come a new tourist hub in north­ern China. In 2015, the re­gion re­ceived 4 mil­lion tourist trips and earned more than 4 bil­lion yuan in tourism rev­enues. From Jan­uary to Au­gust of 2016, the fig­ure reached 3.548 mil­lion and 3.43 bil­lion, up by 19.5 per­cent and 22 per­cent year on year re­spec­tively.

“As a tourist at­trac­tion, the Greater Khin­gan Range is highly de­pen­dent on na­ture, so we have to fol­low en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly guide­lines,” Jia em­pha­sizes. “We have to care­fully plan ev­ery de­vel­op­ment, strengthen en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing and pro­tec­tion and im­prove ecological ca­pac­ity.”

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