Aug 20, 2015 Uncategorized Comments Off on Baseball scores a home run for the children of Liancheng (China Daily)
Scorching sun and the telltale clink of bat and ball marked another day of baseball training for 15-year-old student Jiang Zhigui.
Like most Chinese youngsters, the middle school student is new to baseball. But the sport has a special meaning for Jiang, whose family works in local factories producing balls, bats and other baseball accessories to players worldwide.
In Liancheng county, a Hakka mountain county in eastern Fujian province, where Jiang lives, baseball is both an economic pillar and a favorite sport.
The county has more than 10 baseball teams, and every school teaches baseball. Two school teams, including Jiang’s, compete in Taiwan every August, whipping up even more excitement among the local children.
“I love baseball, so I don’t get tired,” Jiang said after a particularly rigorous training session ahead of an upcoming game.
Popular in the United States and Japan, baseball remains largely niche on the Chinese mainland, even in its developed coastal cities, due to the game’s complicated rules and a lack of facilities.
Liancheng’s encounter with the game began in 2006, when Taiwan businessman Ben Liaw decided to set up a factory in the county’s Miaoqian town.
His success later attracted other Taiwanese investors who set up factories producing baseballs and bats, turning the town into the world’s largest producer of the game’s paraphernalia.
Baseball in Taiwan is like table tennis on the mainland. In an effort to spread their passion for the sport, Liaw and a group of Taiwanese merchants began promoting the sport in Liancheng in 2011.
With the support of the local government, the campaign started on school campuses. The businessmen donated the equipment and invited Taiwanese coaches to train local sports teachers.
Yang Lihua, principal of the junior high school of Miaoqian town, said baseball contributed to school education by emphasizing team spirit, perseverance and manners, but it means more to the local children.
More than 2,000 local residents play baseball, according to Huang Yizhang, president of the Liancheng baseball association. “Our goal is to have all 42 primary and secondary schools set up baseball teams by 2017,” Huang said.
Baseball also brings Liancheng nearer to Taiwan. So far, two school baseball teams from Taiwan have visited Liancheng, and the county has hired several Taiwanese baseball players as coaches.
Last year, the county baseball association employed Lee Shih-hsiang, 24, a Taiwanese graduate from Jimei University in the port city of Xiamen of Fujian, as head coach for all baseball teams in the county.
Lee finds the county’s spirit for baseball similar to that of his home Chiayi, which has a long tradition of playing the game.
“Children here concentrate more, exercise harder, and some of them are quite talented,” said Lee, who was coaching two school teams in Xiamen prior to his move. “My best reward is to see them shine on the baseball field.”
(China Daily 08/20/2015 page18)