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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

China in the Olympics

People are curious to know when China first took part in the Olympics.

Some say it was at the very first Olympic Games in 1896, or during the latter part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when the country was ruled by dowager Cixi (1835-1906).



Upon receiving an invitation from the International Olympic Committee, nobody at her court knew what was meant by "Olympics." When she was eventually told that it was a sports meet including running events, she burst out laughing and said, "Well, we may send some of our eunuchs who are running the court so well. They are good runners."

Perhaps this might be a mere idle tale about the unpopular dowager. It remains a riddle whether the Qing court received a letter of invitation from the IOC at all.

In order to find an answer to this problem, Mr. Lu Enchun, a coach of the Chinese gymnastics team, once went to the Imperial Palace in Beijing to look into the Qing archives. But he was completely at sea among the piles of documents.

Similar effort was made by some China Olympic Committee officials from a different angle in 1995 when they visited the international Olympic Museum in Lausanne. The only answer they got from the keeper was that not every country was invited to the first Olympics.

According to a relevant document available, it's more probable than not that China was NOT invited to the first Olympic Games. That's a book entitled "Li Hongzhang's Missions to Europe and America." Li was Prime Minister of the Qing government and paid a visit to Europe in 1896. He was informed by the French Foreign Minister that the first Olympics were to be held in Europe, and it was hoped that Li would be able to come to France again. But nothing was mentioned about China being invited to the Olympic Games.



So when was China invited for the first time to the Olympics? According to historical records, Chinese diplomat Wang Zhengting was elected into the IOC in 1922. It was then that the sports organization in China was formally recognized by the IOC. And it is stipulated in the Olympic Charter that only an organization recognized by the IOC may enter competitors in the Olympic Games. It was not until 1932 when the 10th Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles that China was invited for the first time to send athletes for competition.

Four years before this, however, when the 9th Olympics were scheduled to be held in Amsterdam in 1928, China had been invited to send an observer to attend the opening ceremony through a diplomat named Song Ruhai. In addition, an overseas Chinese He Haohua registered in a cycling race on behalf of his motherland. Unfortunately, he was injured and hospitalized. Anyhow, he was the first Chinese Olympian.

In his Chinese History of Sports over the Past Century, Prof. Wu Wenzhong confirms that China was first represented by Song Ruhai at the Olympic Games in 1928- entirely in the capacity of an observer. About this Song has written in his book, " The World Games".

In spite of the presence of a Chinese official and a voluntary competitor at the 9th Olympics, no delegation worthy of the name had ever been sent by China to the Olympics until 1932. Even then, the Chinese government had no real intention to take part in the 10th Olympic Games. It happened that the Japanese invaders had occupied northeastern China and concocted the bogus Manchukuo. A plot was afoot to send a promising athlete, Liu Changchun, to the 1932 Olympics in the name of the puppet regime in order to make it accepted as a fait accompli. But the patriotic-minded athlete made a statement in the newspaper "L' Impartial", refusing to represent the so-called Manchuguo at the Olympics.



Meanwhile, the well-known patriotic General Zhang Xueliang exposed the Japanese aggressors' scheme and declared that he would sponsor Liu Changchun to the Olympics representing China. He announced at a graduation ceremony of Northeastern University that Liu and his coach Song Junfu would participate in the 10th Olympic Games on behalf of China.





General Zhang, who passed away in Honolulu, USA on October 15, 2001, has been held in high esteem by the Chinese people not only as a great patriot, but also as the supporter of the first group of Chinese to take part in the Olympics. Although eliminated in the preliminary heats in the 100m and 200m sprints clocking 11.1 and 22.1 respectively, Liu has pioneered the way for China's participation in the Olympics - a way full of twists and turns at the time and henceforward.

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