China has clinched 42 out of 89 gold medals at the Asian Games and holds a total of 47 Olympic medals in badminton, across all three colors. Despite Indonesia’s fervent passion for badminton and the enduring popularity of ping pong, badminton occupies a distinctive and significant role in China’s social and sporting milieu. As Hangzhou hosts the shuttle week during the Asian Games, China is poised to showcase its profound love for, and dominance in, badminton. Referred to as Yumáoqiú locally, China asserts that badminton’s origins trace back to ancient times, with its earliest iteration embedded in Chinese culture. Historical records suggest that a game known as ti jian, similar to “shuttle kick,” was played as early as the fifth century BC, signifying the sport’s ancient roots. The modern version of badminton is believed to have traversed from Poona to the British countryside and then found its way to China in the early 20th century. It was introduced to students and teachers in major cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou, and Chengdu at YMCAs and schools. Tianjin reportedly hosted China’s inaugural Open badminton tournament in the early 1930s, and Shanghai witnessed the nascent stages of the sport’s formal association.
In the 1950s, Chinese coaches with roots in Indonesia brought back techniques and tactics, resulting in regular matches between Indonesian and Chinese teams. Despite disruptions caused by China’s Cultural Revolution from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, leading to the disbanding of provincial teams, badminton experienced a strong resurgence with extensive state support. The sport permeated all societal levels, played in back alleys during festivals, and talent scouting for young champions commenced in 1974 through junior tournaments.
Presently, China boasts seven specialist badminton boarding schools exclusively dedicated to the sport. The nation actively produces scientific papers on various aspects of badminton, hosts a season-long league for professional teams, and places great value on international success. The forthcoming clash between India’s Men’s badminton team and China for the gold at the Asian Games is anticipated to draw fervent support, with the chants of ‘Jia You’ expected to reverberate through the arenas.
China lags behind Indonesia in Thomas Cup counts with a score of 14-10, but their debut in 1982 marked a significant entry, winning the championship. In 1987, they secured all five individual and two team titles. Zhao Jian Hua emerged as the original southpaw superstar in the 1980s, paving the way for the superstardom of Lin Dan. Despite having little knowledge of badminton at 13, Zhao was defeating top global players by the age of 19 with his dynamic playing style. Han Jian, known as ‘sticky-candy,’ played steadier, cooler marathon games and achieved considerable success. Yang Yang was another hero from the 1980s who found early success, collectively known as the ‘Heavenly Kings’ – badminton luminaries who propelled the game forward.
Although it was surprising when China didn’t secure a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics, they still garnered five medals. However, since 1996, China has consistently dominated, reaching its peak in 2004, 2008, and 2012, especially with the legendary Lin Dan. Li Lingwei and Zhang Ning were early women stars, and Olympic champion Chen Yufei, hailing from Hangzhou, is working to uphold China’s dominance in women’s singles since 2015. China won the women’s doubles from 1996 to 2012, starting with Ge Fei and Gu Jun, for five editions. The coaching legacy passed from the legendary Tang Xianhu to Li Yongbo, who guided several players. However, nothing quite matches the frenzy that Super Dan brought to badminton in China. The Hangzhou Games, like every Games since Lin Dan’s retirement, lack a home shuttle star of the same caliber. Winning the men’s singles or men’s doubles at the Hangzhou Games would undoubtedly catapult the Chinese players to instant stardom. The recent string of losses at major Games, post-Lin Dan and Fu Haifeng – Cai Yun in doubles, has left the Chinese badminton community somewhat disgruntled. The bitterness heightened when Taiwan’s Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin won the men’s doubles gold at the Tokyo Games, defeating Chinese players Liu Yuchen and Li Junhui, leading to a contentious Saturday.