In China, schools don’t compete against each other in athletic competitions. They do compete in language, debate and other scholarly competitions, but there is no NCAA equivalent in the Orient. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t play sports.
Instead, each college or high school or middle school or primary school for that matter, no matter how large or small, will hold an annual school-wide sports meeting. At Anhui University, the annual sports meet is like a campus Olympic Games with department competing against department, and it kicked off Thursday morning with a full-fledged opening ceremony.
I decided to stay here, instead of traveling over the days of competition like many of the foreign teachers, so I could get glimpses of the events and try to save a little money for my big travel plans in June. Anyway, I’m a sucker for pageantry and love large-scale productions. It’s always been a dream to attend or help with the opening ceremonies for the actual Olympics.
The ceremony began with a parade around the track with each department’s team and, unlike the Olympics, a contingent of cheerleaders leading the way. Each team had its own style. One group goose-stepped like it was in a military march while the Art Department team was led by stilt walkers in minority group costumes and the athletes wore the classic Chinese black suit with white shirt (all other teams had matching track suits and I don’t mean traditional outfit when I say suit but a normal suit more befitting a businessman, if you’ve been to China you understand what I mean).
After the teams were presented in this procession and gathered on the field, there was a flag ceremony with the national anthem. There were a few speeches from dignitaries and a pledge from the student volunteer officials that they would be fair and accurate.
Then came the performance involving at least a thousand students who have been practicing for about six weeks for this moment. There were traditional dances with fabric and fans, the fans being particularly cool to watch. There was also a group of students doing a nun chuck routine and a few hundred girls with mini drums on their waists.
My favorite section was the dragon and lion dance. It was also the favorite of many of my students I was watching with. The lions are just fun to watch and I’ve never seen Chinese dragons used to create words. Throughout the performance, the lions sat on the track in front of the field acting like big dogs watching the show.
Did you know? There are two people in the Chinese lion costumes. The back person is almost always bent over and acts as support for the front when they do their acrobatic moves. The front person controls the eyes and mouth that can open and shut and the back person can make the tail wiggle. When sitting, the rear end can’t really see a thing and is most likely lying down or bent in half. This is probably the world’s first version of Muppets.
The most out-of-place section was a Latin dance segment with tons of couples dancing on the field. I asked some of my students if Chinese people really like Latin music and dancing. They said they didn’t get it either.
The performance came to an abrupt, very anti-climactic end. There was no big finale or anything of the like. It just ended. And, surprisingly, there were no fireworks at all. Seems very un-Chinese without fireworks.
Soon after that the sporting events began. I left, but my students stayed to watch, being freshmen they’re required to. Maybe I’ll go and check out some of the competitions over the next couple of days. It may be interesting to see students with no muscle or athletic skill or talent do the long jump or run 800 meters just because their department needed someone to compete in the event.
This is the biggest school event of the year. Maybe someday China will have intercollegiate sports, but that would bring competition and rivalry, which doesn’t fall in line with a “harmonious” society, so it will probably remain the same as it is. Even if they do get an NCAA thing going, I hope they don’t do away with the sports meeting.
I enjoyed watching the ceremony and got a little teary eyed and my heart swollen in happiness or pride or something for some reason I don’t know. I just love big events like this when people come together for a common purpose that is good. This just made my desire to attend the real Olympic Opening Ceremonies even stronger. By the way, there’s less than 100 days until the London Games! Until then, this will have to do.