What comes to mind when you hear the terms “ping pong” or “table tennis”? I’m sure ‘China’ is towards the top of that list. China has formed such strong links with table tennis that even non-fans are aware that China controls with an iron hand.
But how come this is the case? Why has China risen to the top and remained there for decades? Why are the Chinese so good at Ping Pong? There is no one explanation for China’s supremacy. Instead, China’s ping pong prowess is the result of a confluence of circumstances.
China Ping Pong/Table Tennis History – Early Adoption
The designation of ping pong as the country’s national sport in the early 1950s was what actually propelled Chinese ping pong forward.
Ping pong was chosen by Mao Zedong because it was both inexpensive and practical. The equipment was very inexpensive and easily replaceable. It also did not need large courts, as many other sports do, and could be played both indoors and outdoors. Furthermore, there is a low barrier to admission for table tennis. At the novice level, it is one of the least physically demanding sports. This means that people of all ages might participate with little danger of damage.
As a result, it was a simple sport to implement on a national scale, with a little initial investment. The ideal sport for China is to break out and show its strength at the world level. Ping pong has formed an integral part of the country’s culture since its inception. Ping pong is omnipresent, virtually everyone knows how to play, and the national squad is wildly popular.
Depth of Talent in Chinese Ping Pong
One of the most important reasons for China’s supremacy is its massive population numbers. With a population of over 1.4 billion (2021) and a game that is easily accessible to the majority of the population, it is no surprise that China is not short of talent. In comparison, the United States, which dominates basketball, is hampered by the sport’s constraints. To compete at a high level, players must be physically fit and tall. Table tennis has no such constraints. The population of the United States is relatively small in contrast to that of China. This explains why China was able to dominate ping pong so easily after it was widely embraced. That somehow explains why the Chinese are so good at ping pong.
China basically made the sport mandatory in order to assure that it was played on a national basis. Table tennis became part of the national curriculum, which meant that it was taught in every school in China. As a result, its exposure is maximised, and individuals begin playing table tennis at a young age.
Indeed, scouting for potential in youngsters begins as early as the age of five. Those that show promise are placed in specialised schools where their skill can grow. If they continue to demonstrate enough talent, they may be allowed to opt out of school throughout their adolescence, allowing them to focus entirely on growing their table tennis/ping pong ability.
Unrivalled Training Program
China not only has the largest talent pool, but it also has a cutting-edge training programme. This begins with mastering the fundamentals. Coaches will keep training basic by repeating the same workouts until strokes reach their requirements. This is a more time-consuming method of training, but it produces excellent form. It’s almost robotic, as if the exact action is pre-programmed into the players’ minds with only a small margin for mistake.
Take, for example, Ma Long. His game is flawless in every way. His strokes are all in perfect form: he plays like a machine.
This is in contrast to more conventional training approaches, which include a range of activities to simulate match conditions. While neither is technically superior, China concentrates on perfecting the fundamentals. Standard training, on the other hand, emphasises matching IQ and inventiveness. China’s coaching staff is likewise regarded as superior to the rivals. Because there are so many great players, many who retire or are unable to reach the professional level turn to teaching as a way to pursue their ping pong love. This means that outstanding coaches are widely available throughout China, providing the younger players early access to the coaching they require.
Another major area in which they thrive is attention to detail in Chinese table tennis instruction. As previously said, China has an abundance of players that aren’t quite ready for the first squad. As a result, these players imitate the styles of others that cause China problems. Their primary aim is to fine-tune their game in order to better prepare the first team for certain players. These are referred to as blue partners. The most well-known example is Hao Shuai, a player who emulated Timo Boll’s style in order to prepare the Chinese squad. Timo Boll was the world number one at the moment, with players like Wang Hao, Ma Long, and Zhang Jike breathing down his neck. The presence of Hao Shuai definitely helped these players prepare for competitions against Boll.
Cutthroat Selection for National Team
Although China’s supremacy in ping pong is well-known, it is deceptively lower than it should be.
Competition entry limits prevent any one country from entering more than a handful of players. Take, for example, the Olympics. In 2008, a new regulation was implemented that restricted each country to two participants in singles competitions. This guarantees that only the best Chinese players enter, leaving highly talented players who fall short of the mark licking their wounds. These players are so gifted that if given the chance, they would have a good chance of winning medals.
This is frequently demonstrated when lower-ranking Chinese players are given chances to participate. They frequently outperform. Most of the time, I’ve never heard of these guys, and yet they’re defeating the top seeds from other countries. China is literally bursting at the seams with talent.
There is no question in my view that lowering entrance barriers would make defeating China nearly difficult. China is able to be brutal in their selection for the national team since they know they have an abundance of quality players. Weak connections are not permitted. Take a peek at their best performers’ accomplishments. The training comprises of 7-hour sessions held up to 7 days a week. This, along with a fairly boring form of training that includes a lot of multiball, makes for an extremely tough routine to follow.
Players may be able to commit to such intense training because of the tremendous work ethic instilled in Chinese culture. That, plus the awareness that if they fail, they will be replaced by another Chinese ping pong player on the never-ending conveyor belt.
This is not to suggest that there hasn’t been opposition in the past owing to China’s stringent policies. In 2017, Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin, and Ma Long boycotted the China Open in protest over a coaching restructuring. They did this in an attempt to keep long-time coach Liu Guoliang from resigning. Following the event, each player was fined $20,000 each.
Another example of stringent regulations for Chinese table tennis players is the prohibition on dating. Romantic engagements, perhaps, would divert their attention away from their studies. If they couldn’t follow this strict regulation, they were kicked from the squad. Wang Hao, the former world number one, got in trouble for dating, and it wasn’t until he was 25 that he was legally permitted to have a girlfriend. Years ago, a Chinese official declared, “Dating is not prohibited by law or regulation.” However, as professional athletes, they only have a few years to prepare and compete. They can’t spend too much money on dating.”
Fortunately, this problem has been resolved for more than a decade, and nothing similar has occurred afterwards, implying that dating regulations have gotten more permissive.
Lack of Competition
While China has completely committed to ping pong, designating it its national sport, other nations have shown less affection for the sport when compared to other sports. In truth, table tennis is the national sport of only one country: China.
This has the implication that there are considerably fewer resources, financing, and incentives to pursue it as a profession. In the United States, for example, it is largely self-funded, with little government assistance. Instead, players must practise on their own timetable and pay for their own ping pong travel.
This perfectly feeds into the influx of Chinese gamers. Neither of the top-ranked US players was born in the country (India and China). When Chinese players realise they won’t be able to make it on the national team, they look for other opportunities. As previously said, these players are extremely skilled. As a result, they have little problem finding spots in other national squads. In reality, 44 players of Chinese descent competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Table tennis in China is unstoppable! Now, that’s the final answer to why the Chinese are so good at ping pong.
Making ping pong a national sport is the primary cause for China’s supremacy. The country united around the idea and grew fond of the game.
Since then, ping pong has been an integral element of Chinese culture. Even with new diversions like social media, I don’t anticipate Chinese sentiments about ping pong altering much in the near future. I hope you got the answer to “Why are the Chinese so good at ping pong?”
While you are at it, also check out the history of ping pong here.