[Marxism] Polo arrives in China
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 5 07:09:00 MST 2006
(Contained within this fascinating article about
the emergence of a Polo Club in China is the
revelation that the head of a state-owned firm is
a member. So facile distinctions between private
and public in China obviously make no sense.)
The Guardian (London) - Final Edition
September 12, 2006 Tuesday
Chinese chukkas: one man's mission to attract new
elite to the sport of kings: Polo, the sporting
symbol of privilege, arrives as Beijing tycoon
taps into rising wealth and leisure time
BYLINE: Jonathan Watts, Beijing
A couple of hours' gallop from the Great Wall at
Badaling is a spectacle not seen in this part of
communist China for many a decade, if ever.
On a verdant field surrounded by mist-shrouded
mountains, a team of horsemen elegantly decked
out in helmets, breeches and boots, and armed
with wooden mallets are practising that most
socially exclusive of colonial sports: polo.
The sight of the riders swinging hard, turning
sharply and charging their mounts after the ball
is more familiar in an English country club, an
emir's stables or the grounds of a wealthy landowner in Argentina or Australia.
But a Beijing businessman is determined it should
become just as common for a new generation of
Chinese rich, who now have the financial clout,
the leisure time and the confidence to take on
the world's elite at their own game.
Xia Yang, an architect and property entrepreneur,
is the founder of the Beijing Sunny Times Polo
Club, which he describes as the only
establishment of its type in mainland China.
Although the 39-year-old never heard of polo
while he was growing up during the cultural
revolution, his long-time love of horses and his
recent business success have made him an evangelist for "the sport of kings".
Since 2004, he has taken up polo with a passion,
ploughing 12m yuan (£800,000) into a stable, a
clubhouse and 26 thoroughbred horses. To make up
for inexperience, he has flown in Singapore's
national team coach to train his team. This
month, they will play a side from Australia in
the first game of the year, only their second match to date.
"Our priority is not to win or lose, but to let
people overseas know about polo here and to raise
the sport's profile in China," he said. "The
Chinese economy is developing very fast. Many
people now have the financial means to play polo.
They just don't know about it."
China's economic progress is evident in changing
sporting tastes. Twenty-five years of
double-digit growth have created a middle class
bigger than the population of Britain, and a
considerable number of very rich. The Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences says there are 10,000
people worth more than 80m yuan. And they like to
play. Ten years ago, China had only 20 golf
courses. Today, there are more than 200 clubs,
including the exclusive Pine Valley golf resort
not far from Mr Xia's polo club. In the winter,
the nearby mountains host tens of thousands of
skiers. The number of pistes has risen from zero
to more than 200 in a decade. More than 5 million
people could take to the slopes this year. It is
a similar story in other sports associated with
wealth. Since 2003, Shanghai has opened China's
first F1 racing circuit and started work on a marina.
Polo is far less well known. Mr Xia's club, which
is built on his own land, has only 20 members,
but he says it includes the head of the state oil
firm, Sinopec, and the head of the company which
built the trains on the new Tibet railway. But he
insists he is not being elitist.
"Polo is not about money, it is about being a
gentleman," he said. "I hope that through polo I
can meet influential people in other countries.
China has many resources and many business
opportunities. And I have a lot of friends."
Like many of China's entrepreneurs, Mr Xia has a
remarkable rags-to-riches story. When he left
college in 1990, his work unit paid him 72 yuan a
month. He lived in a 30 sq metre flat and rode to
work on a bicycle. Today, he does not want to
divulge his income, but he owns the club, runs
several businesses and drives a BMW 7 series car.
"The way I have prospered is a reflection of
China's economic history," he said. "It has all
happened in the past decade. It was as if a huge
energy that had built up over previous years was suddenly unleashed."
Although the clubhouse is a large building with
four-poster beds and giant fireplaces decorated
with swords, it is apparent that a larger part of
Mr Xia's fortune has been spent on the horses -
all thoroughbreds reared in China from Arabian,
English or Russian stock. The stables are part of
the house. "I designed it that way so that I
could go and see my horses in my pyjamas."
Mr Xia and his friends wanted to start a
horse-racing club, but the government blocked
plans for fear of encouraging gambling. He then
tried showjumping, but considered it dull.
Although it was popular in the colonial era, polo
originated in China, Mr Xia claimed. Even after
the communists took over in 1949, he said, the
game was included in national sports tournaments
until at least 1959. Its demise was hastened by the cultural revolution.
Most of the club's players are former jockeys and
stable boys, and are paid about 1,000 yuan a
month. Many hail from Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and
other parts of China famous for horsemanship.
Although they have bunks inside the stables, Tie
Fu, a Mongolian player, sleeps in a tent next to
the paddock because he wants to be near to the
horses. "It is a real man's sport. It has the
elegance of golf and the intensity of football," said the 21-year-old.
If a national team is ever formed, Mr Xia is
likely to pick it. Last year, the government
granted him a senior post in the Chinese
Equestrian Association. He hopes to take a team to Britain, Germany or the US.
"My dream is that Chinese polo can go out into
the world," he said. "I really hope that one day
I will have the opportunity to play against
Prince Charles and the Sultan of Brunei."
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