Sports education and nationalism in China: The case of table tennis

Liting YE

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses


This thesis examines the relationship between sports education and nationalism through the in-depth examination of table tennis as a representative sport in China. The following two questions guided this research. First, how does sports education contribute to the nationalist sentiment of China? Second, are there any differences in the degree of nationalism among amateur athletes, professional athletes and coaches, the three important constituents in China’s sports education? The thesis considers the influence of the Whole Nation System and organizational mechanism of table tennis association or club. It discusses the impact sports education has on national identity and national pride. Using table tennis as a case study, through a combination of questionnaire surveys and in-depth interviews, the thesis investigates amateur athletes from university students, professional athletes from city, provincial and national teams, and coaches from amateur and professional teams in order to study how they contribute to the national sporting success. In the main, this thesis shows that high levels of nationalism occur among all table tennis players and coaches, and that the younger the players are when they begin table tennis training, the more patriotic they tend to be. This suggests that sports can promote nationalist sentiment by way of heightening the general understanding of table tennis. The three groups, however, have their respective roles under the Whole Nation System. First, amateur athletes are the main beneficiaries and their level of nationalism is the highest among the three groups. For the large part since the government has provided them with abundant resources and exchange opportunities to study table tennis, they are therefore inclined to be more positive. Second, professional athletes are largely innocent participants who have been profoundly influenced by the Whole Nation System. These athletes who started playing table tennis at an early age and participated in a number of match types would know more “inside stories”, and be more skeptical of the system. This results in a lower sense of nationalism toward table tennis. Third, coaches are intermediaries of the Whole Nation System, in charge of carrying out the national policies and instructors of amateur athletes and professional athletes. Although they are mostly ambivalent about which system is better, it is not easy to change this system. This research shows that although table tennis is a dominant sport in China, with China holding world domination, there are adverse effects of the Whole Nation System, which are also relevant to other national sports of China. This points to the imperatives of reforming the Whole Nation System especially toward introducing more transparency and accountability, and elements of professionalization. Rather than shifting to a totally different system, introducing sports clubs or associations would be a possible direction in the short term, before more competitive market-oriented elements could be incorporated in the longer-term future. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Education
Awarding Institution
  • The Education University of Hong Kong
  • HO, Wai Yip, Supervisor
  • HO, Ka Ki, Lawrence 何家騏, Supervisor
  • LI, Yu Wai, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • Nationalism
  • Sport
  • Sports education
  • Table tennis
  • The whole nation system
  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2020.


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