Says It’s All Right After All
Back around the mid-20th century, China and golf got off on the wrong foot. Revolutionary leader Mao Zedong (Tse-Tung in my day) connected the game to the worst characteristics of western behavior, the very things he was trying to cast out of his own society. He referred to the game as a “sport for millionaires,” and “too bourgeois.”
The word “bourgeois” has been tossed around for centuries to define “us and them” for a segment of the population that struggles. In the Middle Ages, it was generally a wall between city folk and country folk. For Zedong’s China, the Webster characterization of the term was more applicable – a society “too concerned about possessions and respectable behavior.” Well, maybe he’s got us there. Webster goes on to say that those who lean toward the bourgeois are “dominated by commercial and industrial interests.” The western view, unlike Zedong’s, doesn’t view the middle class as the culprits, but the rich elites practicing what some feel is a social gluttony that incites a rigid system of class hierarchy. If China wants to connect the game and industry of golf in such a way, there are always ways to make such an image stick.
Modern China, however, after an on and off again tango with this intriguing game called golf, has finally decided (after closing courses and forbidding government employees to play) that perhaps it is not such an expansive threat as they might have once thought. The most recent government statement strips away some of Zedong’s complaints, and admits that golf is what we thought it was all along – an almost irresistible experience of repeatedly hitting a sophisticated rock with a sophisticated stick. China has fallen prey to the similarly irresistible allure of competition, in which one hits that rock better than anyone else in the world – or at least they try to.
The nation of China was not wrong to have concerns about the game, which the government is calling a sport. The rainfall in China is disparate from region to region, and courses have opened that cannot be sustained by natural cycles of weather. By the same token, it really is a rich man’s game in China, one which should offer cautions for government employees who earn modest incomes for an activity that can cost $150 US per round. This, in a country where many are living on almost nothing. Some have described this new temptation to include golf in national recreation as “green opium.”
On the other hand, China must realize that it has made a jack-rabbit start in catching up to the international field. Shanshan Feng winning the first national tournament ever organized had to be a thrill from top to bottom of the authority ladder. The country can boast the youngest participant in the Masters at Augusta in Guan Tianlang.They’ve done this before. In the Cultural Revolution, they made dance and music films by turning gymnasts into ballerinas almost overnight. It’s an incredible culture for picking up a new game.
Now, select elementary schools in China are adding the fine points of golf to the curriculum. In Shanghai, a school affiliated with East China Normal University, the Experimental School of Foreign Languages., is making a real stab at the future of golf stardom. The government has decided that golf cultivates a good sense for business, in the venue where so much of it secretly transpires. Likewise, it hopes to hone an international knowledge of etiquette, and a smoother, more gracious way of being in worldwide interactions. That’s a good plan. The golf course is one of the places we learned such things in the west.
So far, the only condition is that government employees who decide to play must pay their own way. That’s all right with me. We learned that early on as well. If China can keep the idea of “bourgeois” away from golf as a naturally compelling activity, it can scarcely help but put itself into the thick of the championship level – in a relatively short while.