The sixth Chinese National Farmers' Games, the world's only regular sports festival for farmers, witnessed the huge change of Chinese farmer's ways of life in a seven-day journey as it closed in Quanzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, on Saturday evening.
"When I was young, I have no time to do any sports, because at that time, we were poor and needed to work in the fields every day to make the ends meet. But now, things changed," said 72-year-old Song Zhaodi, who took her grandson to watch the Chinese style wrestling at the Qiaoxiang Gymnasium.
The just-concluding Farmers' Games, which made its debut in 1988, saw about 3,500 athletes from China's 32 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, including Taiwan. Hong Kong and Macao also sent delegations to observe the quadrennial get-together.
The athletes entered the games through internet. The government of Luquan, Hebei Province, put an advertisement on local TV to select players and even opened an official website for farmers to sign up.
"My son signed me up in that website and it's lucky for me to be here," said Xin Jinyi from Luquan, who competed in the 60-meter seedling-planting race. "It is really a spectacular display to see farmers from all over China to plant seedlings."
"Our server almost blew up for there were so many people trying to sign up," said Wang Xiangkun, general secretary of Hebei delegation. "Some farmers even directly found our address and came to our office. They want to be in the farmers' games."
Some farmers even spent money to travel a long away to cheer for the athletes. After the first dragon-boat gold went to the host Fujian delegation, the cheering squad was as happy as the champion.
"More than 100 villagers came to cheer up for our Dragon-boat team. We paid all the cost by ourselves," the leader of the cheering squad told press. "We have followed the dragon-boat to Guangdong, Sichuan and Jiangxi provinces. We saw them taking part in the matches and it was good chances for us to travel around. We are rich now and do not have to worry about the basic life any more."
Life changed a lot that some sports designed for the Farmers' Games seemed to be out-of-date now. In the cycling events, all the bikes used are the ordinary ones people ride in past daily life. But cyclists are now not familiar with its type while most audience went to watch the game by motorbikes and cars.
"We ride motorbikes in hometown," said one athlete. "Motorbikes, instead of bicycles, are now the first choice for transportation because of the well-paved roads within the villages and our better income."
In the seedling-planting race, some athletes even could not put the plastic seedling into the holes on the ground.
"That's not because we are fake farmers. The truth is that we use all kinds of machines to do farming," said Zhang Ping from the Shandong delegation. "Nowadays, it is not necessary for farmers to plant with their own hands. Machines do most of the jobs. I used to grow plants with my hands but now I almost forgot those skills."
Cao Pileng from Qiancai Village of Quanzhou, drove his car to watch the men's basketball matches everyday.
"Not because all the matches are free to watch, but for I like playing basketball," said Li. After the reform and opening-up, Li's family grew sea plants and became rich. He began to play basketball and often went to watch the matches of Fujian Xunxin, one team of the Chinese Basketball Association League. He still considered himself as a farmer but he also admitted that his life was almost as same as those peoples' in city.
Fan Liwei represented Sichuan Province in the shuttlecocks event. However she now lives in city and owns a sport-equipment shop. Fan left the rural areas years ago to hunt jobs in city. While she has her own business in city, most of her families are still living in the countryside.
Millions of Chinese farmers poured into cities to earn their living there in recent years and it's now quite hard to tell those people from city residents. With such trend going on, the world's only regular farmers' games will probably become history in future.
(Xinhua News Agency November 2, 2008)