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Boxing In China: The Best Is Yet To Come
13:25, August 05, 2008

Not so long ago, it was hard to imagine that a Chinese boxer could win anything … until now. And the best is yet to come.

To better understand the present and future, however, we need to get a grip on history first.

The Boxing Evolution

China has a centuries-old boxing history, yet it's rather different from boxing today.

The history of Chinese boxing dates back to 3.7 thousand years ago when China was in the Late Shang Dynasty. It's one of the subjects for military training conducted by aristocrats. By the Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 220), boxing became the mandatory subject for soldiers.

Unlike boxing of the early-times in western countries which was a mixture of both the boxing and wrestling, boxing in China was apparently distinct from wrestling as early as 3.7 thousand years ago. The book, The Combat Arts of Two Hands, which was written exclusively for boxing, appeared around 2000 years ago. Unfortunately, this book wasn't handed down from generation to generation. Moreover, wearing boxing gloves and protections first came into being in China approximately 700 years ago. We can conclude from the above that China has a long boxing tradition.

Modern day boxing in China, which was initially called "western boxing", was first introduced in the late 1920s in the port city of Shanghai, along with a book, titled "The Technique Of Western Boxing", which was then translated into Chinese.

In the 30s, some sports academies put boxing classes in their major curriculum and fostered a number of Chinese boxing talents. At this stage, the sport of boxing was mainly carried out in the city's western rental area, where the majority of players were western sailors, soldiers and merchants, only a handful of Chinese took part.

Before the Anti-Japanese War, boxing became prevalent in some port cities of China when the middle schools and colleges founded by Christian and the Catholic Church listed boxing as one of the major subjects in their physical education classes. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, China assigned 69 participants, two of which participated in the boxing competitions, but they were all dumped in the qualifying matches.

By the start of the Japanese invasion, western professional boxers began to withdraw from China, and the number of local fighters grew. The professional bouts, at the time in China, are limited to four, six, eight and ten rounds, at maximum, which was for the championship fight. In the early 1940s, boxing agents began to show up. It was reported that one local fighter received a maximum premium of 4000 yuan (approximately 570 US dollars) for a single bout.

After the liberation war, various forms of boxing matches were held in such big cities as Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. Probably one of the grandest boxing pageants in Chinese history -- 20-city boxing championship with the total number of competitors of 142 was staged in Beijing in 1958. Judging from the case in this period, the number of athletes taking part in assorted boxing matches was growing, and the host region of boxing was becoming larger and larger. Although there were no international Chinese boxing champions up until the 60s, the national tournaments held in this period laid the foundation in China for future development of this sport.

In 1959, the first National Games, which was the biggest domestic sports event in China, was held, and the Committee once listed boxing in the National Games' lineup. However, due to the Great Leap Forward of this sport and its violent nature, a number of incidents concerning serious physical injuries of participant occurred. After several incidents, the committee felt that it was not the right time to develop boxing in such a large scale. Consequently, they temporally removed boxing from the National Games. In March of the same year, boxing was outlawed by the government as a result of several unannounced reasons.

As Hong Fan, a scholar who specializes in China's athletic history, puts it, "People believed that boxing was very brutal, very ruthless. So it was banned."

Two decades later, boxing was revived in China. In December 1979, the former undisputed heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali paid a visit to China at the invitation of Chinese government. Chairman Deng Xiaoping pointed out that boxing could also be the factor to push for the understanding and friendship between the Chinese and the Americans, when meeting with Muhammad Ali. Right after that, boxing began to regain its status and exhibition matches were carried out.

A Tale Of Two Decades

"Western boxing in China is now revived!"

Two decades ago when Menghua Li, the Director of National Sports Committee declared in a resonant voice filling up the sky, it turned a whole new chapter in the story of Chinese western boxing.

By the turn of the year 2006, China has depicted a tale of two decades since the rebirth of boxing, two decades of renaissance and reforms, two decades of smiles and tears, two decades of challenges and achievements.

The year 1986 and 1987 are two significant years for Chinese western boxing. In March 1986, boxing officially returned to validity. The next year in April, the China Boxing Association was officially founded. In May, the first national boxing championships were held and in June, the China Boxing Association was officially admitted into the International Amateur Boxing Association as the 159th member. From then on, China began to appear on the international boxing stage. The Chinese National Boxing Team had taken part in a number of international boxing events during this period of time including the Pyongyang International Invitational Boxing Tournament in August in which China reaped two bronze medals.

The first ray, golden 24k, shined in the darkness of Chinese western boxing after a three-year slump. Light heavyweight Chongguang Bai bagged the first gold medal for China at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games. It greatly elevated the morale of boxing professionals in China.

However, this perfect storm was followed by a grilling tranquility. China suffered a 16-year gold drought in Asian Games ring. In the meantime, boxing had undergone a stage of stillness in China for the first decade.

In the 1992 Olympic Games, competitors were delighted to face off against Chinese opponents. The best that their coaches hoped for was that each fighter might stay on his feet a bit longer than the one before him.

The reasons for this are both simple and complex. First and foremost, in the 90s, China was still on the road to glory lacking the fundamental support for the sport of boxing. Equally important is that China had never won a worthy medal in any prestigious international boxing tournament. Besides, Boxing was mainly carried out in the military and rural areas practiced by a very limited number of people, mostly by the poor. It lacked adequate participation and attention of a large fan base. Last but not least, there had been little support for boxing from government, media people and promoters for the first ten years since the revival of boxing in China.

But as it turned out, the stillness was temporary. Maybe it's the silence before the storm.

Amateur light flyweight Shiming Zou, the most popular boxing athlete in China, achieved a series of historic breakthroughs for Chinese western boxing, as he seized three medals in a row by 2006. Zou captured the silver medal for the 2003 World Amateur Boxing Championships, the bronze medal of 2004 Athens Olympic Games and a gold medal from the 2005 World Amateur Boxing Championships.

Admittedly, the talent pool of Chinese boxers was lacking, with Zou playing the solo and the others lagging far behind. The second best the Chinese achieved in the 2005 World Boxing Championships was two boxers entering the quarterfinal.

The talent-sparse predicament ended in Doha one year after when China bagged five boxing medals in the 2006 Asian Games.

In Doha, Zou broke a 16-year gold drought in Asia boxing by completely outshining Thailand's powerhouse Suban Pannon with an impressive 10-1 lead in first round before the referee stopped the contest in the second. Lightweight Qing Hu added another gold medal to China's drought-breaking haul when he used some powerful combinations to beat Mongolia's Munkh Erdene Uranchimeg 38-22. China finished with two gold and three bronze medals in the Doha 2006 Asian Games, which exceeded the mighty Manny Pacquiao's home country of the Philippines with one more bronze medal advantage. Bo Yang, Nati Ha and Jianting Zhang were the other three Chinese counterparts who captured the three bronzes, respectively in the 51kg, 69kg and 75kg division.

With boxing powerhouses such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in line, China still secured five medals from five separate weight classes, indicating that the ancient nation had integrally reached a whole new level in amateur boxing.

The breakthroughs in the two decades were not only achieved in amateur boxing, but in professional stage as well.

The first intercontinental professional boxing champion in Chinese history was born on May 17, 2005 when Congliang Xu with only three professional fights won the WBA Intercontinental Lightweight title by knocking out Thailand's veteran Pongsit Wiangwiset, who had made 13 title defenses in his illustrious professional career.

In April 2006, female fighter Xiyan Zhang became China's first ever world professional boxing champion by defeating Alicia Ashley for the WBC women's lightweight crown. The hard-hitting brawler Zhiyu Wu captured the second intercontinental title for China by stopping the defending champion New Zealand's Bruce Glozier in only 26 seconds in the WBC Intercontinental Cruiserweight title bout.

It showed that the Chinese could also compete with such Asian boxing powerhouses as Thailand, the Philippines and Korea on the international stage.

Two decades have passed, and China has produced two world champions and two intercontinental champions in the sport of boxing. The hidden Eastern Dragon is now revived and set to rumble into the Olympics!

Road To The Olympics

The sleeping Eastern Dragon is now awakening, with one breakthrough in boxing after another on its way to the Olympics.

In the 2004 Athens Olympics, there were five Chinese boxers qualified to compete in boxing. Shiming Zou was the only boxer to win a medal and end China's Olympic boxing medal drought by capturing one bronze. Apart from Zou was a boxer in the 81kg division who qualified for the quarterfinal.

In the 2005 World Boxing Championships, Shiming Zou was crowned the 48kg champion and grabbed the first world amateur boxing gold medal for China, with three other compatriots making it to the last eight.

Two years later, at the 2007 World Boxing Championships, nearly 600 boxers from more than a hundred countries went to Chicago, yet China stood out from the crowd by reaping one gold, four bronze and seven "Olympic tickets," with nine out of eleven participants cruising to the eighth-finals and seven to the quarterfinals.

As host nation for the 2008 Olympic Games, China is permitted to have six wildcard entries from the world championships. However, the Oriental Giant stood proudly in Chicago as it secured seven passes without a single free ride. This was the most among all the other Asian countries. Next in line is the longtime Asian boxing powerhouse, Thailand, with five. Russia concluded with the most - nine qualifiers while America ended up with six.

Despite the absence of Cuba, a dominating force in the world of amateur boxing, the competition in Chicago was by no means gentle. Both South Korea and Kyrgyzstan, the two Asian nations with a rich boxing tradition, failed to qualify a single fighter. Only 23 out of 80 Asian fighters qualified to participate in Beijing's upcoming Olympic Games.

Shiming Zou, the reigning champion, cruised to the final with ease and defended his belt with the amazing scores of 15-3, 30-13, 23-6, 22-8, 21-1 and 17-3. It's hard to believe that this is the final score Zou tallied in every fight on his road to the championship in Chicago, yet it's for real. In his six bouts, he outscored his opponents by 20 points in two fights and surpassed the other four with at least 12 in points. Moreover, he hardly lost a round in the entire tournament. That's devastating; that's crushing; that's overwhelming. His opponents spent most of their time slugging air. They were fighting a ghost.

While Shiming Zou is a surefire hot favorite in this year's Beijing Olympics, China appears to be ready to reach full blossom, as it reaped four bronze medals in four divisions in Chicago, that is, featherweight, middleweight, heavyweight and super heavyweight.

A total number of five puts China right behind the boxing titan Russia in the number of medals collected at the 14th World Boxing Championships.

For China, the 2007 World Boxing Championships is merely a rehearsal before the grand pageant. The Asian Giant is in place to make a big splash this year in Beijing!

By Zhenyu Li. He is the boxing writer for People's Daily online and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO). He can be reached at [email protected]

By People's Daily Online

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