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Identity and sport in contemporary China: collectivism vs. individualization

Tsang, Ling Tung (2021) Identity and sport in contemporary China: collectivism vs. individualization. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004346


China’s economy and its sporting industry have grown substantially following the success of its open-door economic reform and the ensuing globalization and transnational flow of cultures since the early 2000s. Further coupled with their many recent achievements in international competitions, Chinese athletes are increasingly being recognized in the global sporting arena. Yet, the subject of Chinese sportspeople’s identities is still under theorized in the literature, in which only Western epistemological understandings—especially the long-held stereotypical views stemming from the axis of the “Eastern collectivists vs. Western individualists” binary—are utilized to frame the common discourses in describing Chinese athletes. To address such a stereotype and fill this research gap, this thesis examines how Chinese sportsmen, through their direct reflections of embodied behaviours and actions revealed in their daily lived domains, understand their identities and the related processes of their identification in line with discourses associated with the traditional cultural ideal of Confucianism and contemporary cultural notions of post-structuralism and late-modernism. Drawing on semi-structured interviews (n=40) that were conducted with male Chinese badminton players from provincial professional and university teams in North, Central and South China, along with observations of their team training sessions, this study seeks to elucidate how the athletes identify with collectivism and individualization in their day-to-day circumstances of their everyday lives and also in the context of race and masculinity, which are so significantly interlinked with sports. Contrary to studies which position Chinese individuals’ identities as predominantly collective in nature, I put forward the argument that Chinese sportsmen—and perhaps even applicable to Chinese people in China in general—are also individualists; they possess and perform their dual forms of identities, which operate along the binary axis of collectivism and individualization, in their daily lives.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Ling Tung Tsang
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Ali, Suki and Thompson, Charis

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