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  • Gordon Dumoulin

In the light of China's Winter Olympics, Ice Skating in Beijing 100 years ago...

In the light of Beijing’s Winter Olympics, China winter sports in different times…


Ice skating in Beijing 100 years ago;

stages of anti-imperialist demur against the ‘colonizers’

and

liberation to modernity for women.

China’s first modern ice rinks appeared in the foreign concessions of Tianjin and what is now Beijing around the turn of the 20th century. At first, they were exclusively used by Westerners for their skating and ice hockey clubs. By the 1920s, however, Western-style ice skating was in vogue across North China. In particular, it had become an important part of winter physical education classes in the region’s schools.



In the 1920s, Zhang Jingsheng, who taught philosophy at Peking University, launched the Peking University Grand Tour Group Ice Skating Club for the purposes of promoting physical cultivation, national rejuvenation and a rise up to compete against the foreigners ‘colonizing’ the popular Beihai skating spot in Beijing. With ice skating could Chinese preserve the “dignity of the country and the face of its people,” as Zhang put it.

During that same decade, “International Masquerade Ice Skating Competitions” became popular in the North of China with skaters of both sexes and all nationalities were welcome to take part. Wen Shiquan, a former functionary in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) court and later the boss of a teahouse in Beihai, helped organize the first competition outside his storefront. Seemingly an international embracement but certainly not to be overly romanticized. The events were all heavily colored by Western imperialism with clear racism notions in the masquerade characters.





Ice-rinks also became a stage for China’s emerging “new woman” to demonstrate her modernity. The term “new woman” was born out of the clashes between Chinese and Western cultures during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It was, in essence, a canvas onto which reformers, most of them men, could project their imaginations of China’s future. “New woman” modernity was less of a choice than an obligation for most women. It came with heavy responsibilities, conveying a positive, liberating image outwards and nurture the traditional motherhood of China inwards.





It was precisely in this context that the rising trend of ice skating found favor with “modern women” as a healthy, “Western”-approved sport in which both sexes could take part on an equal basis.


For Chinese women of the 1920s, the feeling of gliding on the ice must have resembled the feeling of heading full speed toward a revolution. In a sense, their experiences weren’t all that different from those of the “new men” of the time: Both sexes perceived a widening chasm between China’s old and new societies, between China and the world, between “weak” and “strong.”

To some, skating was truly liberatory. Xiao Shufang, niece of famous musician Xiao Youmei, would later become better known as a painter, but throughout the 1920’s and 30s she was a famous ice-skater at rinks across Beiping, as Beijing was then known. Ice skating was a loved theme in her paintings.






Sources by Sixth Tone :


1. Skating Toward a Revolution


2. When Beijing’s Skating Rinks Were Battlefields


#beijing #winterolympics #chinesehistory

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