My field site is the Vango Fencing facility located within the Beijing National Olympic Sports Center. It is one of four different facilities the organization has in China and the only one located in Beijing according to its website: http://www.vangosports.com/en/index.asp. Originally I had wanted to study the relationship between sports culture and university students, but the Tsinghua fencing team didn’t appear to be training over the summer when I arrived. This large modern facility, with its location near various other facilities used for the 2008 Beijing games appeared to be an excellent place then to examine sports culture in China, and the relationship the Chinese have with international and western sports. Picking fencing as the sport in question seemed an excellent way to emphasize that, as well as giving me the ability for personal comparison to my experience in the United States with fencing.
The first impression I received upon arriving at the club was how big it was. The small waiting room in the front leads to a multistory complex of training rooms and fencing strips. The picture that tops this post shows just one of at least three large rooms devoted to fencing strips. The adults and younger children use different training areas, which when combined with separate areas for supplementary training and conditioning leads me to believe that there are even more rooms then the various ones I saw during my brief tour of the place.
In the midst of all this high-tech equipment and sprawling facilities one thing stood out in contrast to it. As you enter the facility the wall is painted with the Chinese characters 提劍風雷動.
I found out this could be translated as “Raise the sword and wind and thunder moves.” The first thing that was interesting about this was that it was written in traditional characters, not simplified. In contrast with the modern international appearance the club seems to be striving to cultivate, the use of the old style characters seems to clearly be trying to invoke a sense of the past, and a clearly Chinese one at that. In a way it seemed to be a method of appropriating the sport and its own traditions into a Chinese context. The organization’s goals according to its website are “aimed at training and reserving fencing talents and promoting the development of fencing sport and dissemination of fencing culture.” So perhaps this is a way of making the sport more accessible to those who might be unfamiliar with it. Furthermore it seems to invoke a sense of strength and power, perhaps a way to motivate fencers and maybe even direct how they should guide their style of fencing.
The dichotomy of old and new this sentence provides also seems appropriate for the sport itself. Fencing if a sport with lots of expensive high tech equipment, but one with a history going back hundreds of years, and culture that in many ways reflects pride and respect for that past. Adopting and appropriating new things, while maintaining connections to the old can perhaps be seen then as something that fencing itself, and China’s adoption of the sport have in common.