The recently concluded “Village Super League” championships in Guizhou have showcased local food, unique performances, and amateur soccer players from all walks of life
The whistle blows, the players leave the pitch, and the silk dragons are hoisted high into the air. At each match of the recently concluded “Village Super League” or cunchao (村超) soccer tournament in Rongjiang county, Guizhou province, 50,000 onlookers gathered for the halftime spectacles as much as for sport.
Rongjiang’s Village Super League claims to have a history dating back to the 1940s, when Guangxi University evacuated its campus to the county during the war against the Japanese and introduced the sport locally. In the ’90s, villages began organizing their own teams and makeshift pitches in the fields, and competed against one another. This year, as live music festivals and other large-scale events finally went ahead again in China after the pandemic, the matches saw unprecedented interest from tourists and online spectators, who watched 20 village teams compete over a two-month period from May 13 to July 29.
As with many rural sports initiatives in China—such as the village basketball championships, affectionately known as “村BA,” which also went viral in Guizhou last year—cunchao has been played up by local authorities in this mountainous county in southwestern China as a vehicle for economic development, in this case by attracting tourists to the area. Halftime shows are meant to display the area’s ethnic diversity: “cheerleaders” of all ages, from young teens to aging grandfathers, put on music and dance displays representing the Miao, Dong, Shui, and Yao ethnic groups, while spectators chow down on delicacies like glutinous rice and taro cakes and lingzhi mushroom chicken. Players range in age from 15 to 50, all hailing from nearby villages with day jobs like butcher, firefighter, and engineer—and when there’s good food to eat, heritage to display, and profits to be made, everyone can feel like a winner.
Photographs by Zhang Jiayu (张佳羽) and Sergio Xu