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Games of Farmers, Games of Joy

Two months after China topped the medal tally in the 2008 Olympic Games, a more joy-oriented multi-sport Games will be held among the country's millions of farmers.

As the only regular sports gala for farmers in the world, the sixth edition of the Chinese National Farmers' Games will lift its curtain on Sunday.

Quanzhou, an old-line seaport in Fujian Province and known as the Eastern terminus of the Maritime Silk Road, will open its arms for about 3,500 countrymen athletes hailing from 32 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, including Taiwan. Hong Kong and Macao will also send delegations to observe the quadrennial farmers' get-together.

Unlike most athletic games that highlight the limits of physical strength and competitiveness, the National Games of Farmers emphasizes more on recreation and less on the results.

The First edition of the Games was held in 1988 in Beijing, in order to enrich off-hour life in rural areas and raise the level of farmers' health and sports techniques. Seven sports, namely basketball, table tennis, Chinese-style wrestling, athletics, cycling, shooting and football were included.

The Second Natioanl Farmers Games was held in Xiaogan, a city of Hubei Province in central part of China. Xiangqi (Chinese chess) and Taiji, also known as shadowboxing, were added into the Games, while football was omitted and shooting was replaced by militiaman triathlon (shooting, grenade throwing and 5-kilometer cross country racing). More than 2,200 athletes took part in the competition and the Games also provided huge business opportunities for the host city.

The organizers of the quadrennial tournament always try to remove redundant rivalship from the games and introduce more field-working adapted or entertaining sports to frustrate the attempts to hire professional athletes for medals. Traditional track events were changed into interesting races like tyre-pushing and food-carrying and field events were also modified, such as seedling hurling and tug-of-war.

Moreover, the organizers also sought to introduce Chinese traditional sports into the Games. As one of the most modern cities in China, Shanghai witnessed the debut of Dragon dance in the Third Farmers' Games. The age-old performance, which is believed to bring luck and prosperity, not only became focus of Chinese media but also attracted curious eyes from abroad. Foreign media also sent batches of journalists to Shanghai to cover the Games in 1996.

In the fourth Games held in Mianyang in Sichuan Province, dragon boating, kite flying and shuttlecocks, which are all routinely played in the countryside, were added. And four years later, another popular sport angling also found its place in the fifth edition held in Yichun of Jiangxi Province.

The sixth edition in Quanzhou has also welcomed a new sport, which is Yangko dance. The Yangko dance is a traditional folk dance commonly performed in north China's provinces. Yangko dancers usually wear bright and colourful costumes, and their movements are vigorous and quick.

In the countryside, Yangko teams are organized for big days such as traditional festivals, wedding celebrations or birthday parties. And in recent years, many elderly people in Northeast China have been engaged in Yangko for enjoyment as well as to keep fit all year round.

After two decades of development, the National Farmers' Games now includes 15 sports and over 180 events, and has turned into one of the major sports events in China.

As more and more Chinese farmers became well-off and paid more and more attention to their physical and mental health. Field work is no longer the sole occupation for them. With such enthusiasm keeping on, the Chinese farmers will spend more time and find more joy in sports.

(Xinhua News Agency October 26, 2008)

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