Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mao Basketball, Not Baseball, in China

In response to a post with a quote of the MLB vice president saying Confucious would have liked baseball, reader "Pete" commented:
Baseball is certainly popular in other Asian countries, including Taiwan. Assuming this Wikipedia article is correct, there have been 11 players born in Taiwan that have played Major League Baseball.

The advantage that basketball has over baseball is that you can play basketball with two people, one ball and one hoop. Or you can go shoot by yourself. To play a reasonable game of baseball, you need more equipment, more people, and a bigger patch of ground. And it's pretty much impossible to practice by yourself.

If baseball is going to grow in China (or Australia, or the Netherlands, or Italy, or inner-city Chicago), it's going to need organizational and facilities support from the government and MLB's (or NPB's) outreach organization.
Although mentioning Confucius may be a good for marketing purposes, I believe more contemporary issues, such as those raised by Pete, are more likely to have a impact on whether baseball significntly grows in China. For example, Helen Gao's article in The Atlantic suggests basketball's current dominance in China has far less to do with whether an influential philosopher would have liked it 2500 years ago than the preferences of a 20th century leader who also has a book filled with his quotations:
During the Cultural Revolution, Mao [Zedong] declared war against almost all Western bourgeois affections, from classical music to novels [to baseball], but he never wavered in support of basketball. Deprived of all forms of cultural enrichment and lacking the most basic athletic equipment, children and young adults roamed around their neighborhoods, setting up boards and hoops in alleys and courtyards and pouring their energy into the simple game of shooting the hoops. "At that time, China had basically only two sports: basketball and ping pong," my father, a teenager during the height of the Cultural Revolution and a devout basketball fan told me. "If you were young and loved sports, you only got these two to choose from."
See Gao's piece for more about basketball's history in China and the roles political support and other factors have played in its growth. Of course, Confucius may have liked it too.

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