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Well-off Chinese Farmers Find Delight in Sports

Shaohui, a poor village in China's Fujian Province on the west coast of Taiwan Straits 30 years ago, now boasts four light basketball courts and four outdoor body-building areas as the average annual income of some 3,600 villagers reaches 9,000 yuan (about US$1,300).

The 50-year-old villager Hong Woyi told Xinhua on Tuesday that the on-going National Farmers' Games in Quanzhou reminds him the importance of doing exercises.

"As the life becomes better and better, I get more weights due to lack of field working. Suffering from hypertension and glycemia, I even think I am not a real farmer," Hong said.

Now, Hong practices Taiji, a special form of the Chinese martial arts, every morning and then does exercises in an outdoor body-building area near a lighting basketball court.

Thirty years ago, the scene was totally different. The villagers struggled day and night in their lean field, hoping to make ends meet.

"At that time, there were no sports facilities in the whole village, and the field work was in a sense the only 'sport' for us. We were even nicknamed 'mud legs' because of the long-time field work," said Hong, who is now wearing a pair of decent leather shoes and working in an air-conditioned office.

Hong said, "The village has two basketball teams -- a workers team and a juniors team. Both teams regularly take part in friendly tournaments with teams from neighboring villages. And the trophy and award are all sponsored by village factories."

The Shaohui Village is near Jinjiang, an affiliated town to Quanzhou City. Quanzhou, which is hosting the largest-ever Chinese National Farmers' Games, has become a sports equipment production base in China.

Shaohui is just an epitome of the farmers' life and the development of sports in China's rural areas. According to the Jinjiang Sports and Culture Administration, there are more than 800 lighting basketball courts scattering over 300 villages around the town and the outdoor body-building areas exist in every single village. The Jinjiang Farmers' Sports Association was also established last year to guide grass-roots sports development.

Yang Chunyan, a dragon-boating athlete in the Farmers' Games said, "In recent years, all kinds of private enterprises sprang up in Chinese rural areas. Many of my fellow villagers have already worked in these enterprises, and some even hunt jobs in cities. We do not need to work in the field all the time, but we still need exercise to keep fit."

In the cycling events of the ongoing Farmers' Games, most audience went to watch the game by motorbike. Although China is called the "Bike Kingdom" because of its enormous bike output and possession rate, many farmers now consider bike riding as a recreation, other than popular means of transportation any more.

According to Wang Fulai, the secretary general of Chinese National Farmers' Sports Association, every China's province, autonomous region or municipality has its own Farmers' Sports Association now. More than 20,000 towns in China have established sports organizations, which is leading to a systematic network.

"After the sixth National Games of Farmers, we will send some athletes to compete and perform in grass-roots areas. And we believe the Chinese farmers' interests and enthusiasm for sports will be further increased by this move," said a determined Wang.

(Xinhua News Agency October 29, 2008)

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