The victory of the national women’s volleyball team in the World Cup in 1981 was arguably the most significant event in public culture after the death of Mao and before the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. It was China’s first world championship in an Olympic sport (table tennis was not then on the Olympic programme). The tournament took place in Japan and the final match pitted China against Japan, which had reigned over the volleyball world for two decades. When the live broadcast ended, people flooded the streets all over China, setting off firecrackers and weeping openly. Approximately 30,000 letters were mailed to the team, many of them written in blood.
Thousands of letters were written to editors of newspapers and magazines; a feature film was made by director Zhang Nuanxin (Seagull or Sha’ou); the CCTV (Chinese Central Television) commentator Song Shixiong became a national icon (see television celebrities); and an ongoing national debate began over why ‘the yin waxes and the yang wanes’, i.e. why Chinese women were seemingly superior to Chinese men. ‘Learn from womens volleyball’ was a guiding slogan at political-study sessions nationwide. Their presence in the national consciousness continued through a string of five world titles, including the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, until they were finally defeated at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. By the mid 1990s, professional leagues were established in men’s football (soccer) and basketball, and the flow of capital into mens sports has led to the eclipse of womens sports in public culture.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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