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Sports of the 2015 Ethnic Games

Tibetan tug-o-war and Bamboo Racing feature in the 2015 Ethnic Games


Sports of the 2015 Ethnic Games

Tibetan tug-o-war and Bamboo Racing feature in the 2015 Ethnic Games


With all the fuss over the awarding of the 2022 Winter Olympics to China, it’s easy to overlook the fact that another set of games has been underway in the country since August 9.

The 10th Chinese Ethnic Games have been taking place in the Inner Mongolia city of Ordos (previously infamous for being a ghost city, but since then it has been gathering residents). For the first time, members of the Han ethnic majority have had a role to play.

Aimed at promoting cultural exchanges and conserving the traditional sports of China’s 55 ethnic minority groups, the quadrennial Games this year gathered more than 6,200 athletes from 31 provinces including the Taiwanese delegation. The games will continue until August 17.

As is almost always the case when ethnic minorities in China make headlines (well, the happy kinds of headlines at least), this year’s opening ceremony was very much about singing and dancing. The hosts, from Inner Mongolia, presented their performance which praised the achievements of mighty warlord Genghis Khan. After the 56 representatives from all the Chinese ethnic groups carried the torches, Zhang Xiaoping, a Mongolian boxing champion from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, lit up the 57th torch as the last torch bearer.

As the Vice-Chairman of the Organizing Committee Liu Yue said yesterday in speech, the festival serves as the country’s highest and largest national comprehensive sports event. The games are a platform for the ethnic minorities that make up less than 9 percent of the massive population of China, which is mostly populated by the Han ethnic group. This 10th Games was actually the first time the majority Han people joined certain events under certain conditions.

On August 9, the delegation from Tianjin, 36 students selected from a military school, performed their “Tianjin martial” performance, using full whips, flags, and swords. Chinese media gushed about the performance.

Also, yesterday August 13, the Hubei delegation performed its famous folk song, the Six Drinks of Tea (六口茶), the song of young men and women who demonstrate their desire for happiness via tea etiquette. The Xinjiang delegation performed Khotan Soul (于阗魂),which comes from the the culture of Khotan, on the famous Silk Road route.

Likewise, representative of each Guizhou, Beijing, Tibet and other regions showed their own regional performances.

But they wouldn’t be “games” if they didn’t have, well, competitive games.

The Tibetan sport of “Yajia” is also known as  ‘the Elephants neck’ because it is said to require players with necks as strong as those of elephants.  The rules are pretty simple. Just like in the usual tug of war, players stand opposite one another, facing away from their opponent. A silk rope is tied around their neck, and they crawl and stagger in opposite directions, until one crosses a line.

Since there are different levels of the tournament depending on players’ weight, everyone can enjoy the sport regardless of age, sex, and nationality; therefore, this sport has been done since the 6th Ethnic Games.

But in Tibet, it has, of course, much longer history. Tibetan people believe that the sport was invented during the heroic epic of King Gelsall who died in 1119, at the age of 81. It is also said the sport was brought to Tibet from India through religious exchanges between Buddhist monks. In either case, the Tibetans have enjoyed this sport for a long time, especially those who live in Northern area, for this was where King Gelsall resided.

Bamboo drifting is another interesting event. Competitors literally stand on a cane of bamboo and race each other. This unique sport is from Southwest China’s Guizhou province, and was originally practiced by the locals not as a sport, but a transportation system due to the region’s consistently flooded environment. Though players sometimes ride on a bamboo-looking long green stick for competition, it still is tough to keep balance on such a thin and unstable foothold.

The history of this as a national sporting event can be traced back to the first Ethnic Games at Tianjin in 1953. The first Games lasted 5 days with about 400 athletes participating from 13 different nationalities, and they competed in sports like weightlifting, boxing and wrestling. Though it took a while to hold the next one, the second Games at Hohhot in 1982 gathered all the 55 ethnic nationalities. And, since 1991, the Games have been a once-evert-four-year event, which different cities have hosted – with the previous event being hosted by Guiyang, in Guizhou, in 2011.


Here is another up-coming festival