A Beautiful Game: International Perspectives on Women's Football

By Jean Williams | Go to book overview

2
The Iron Roses
Women’s Football in PR China1

Football was played in China more than 3,000 years ago, according to annals inscribed
on bones and tortoise shells. At that time the game often took the form of dance and
was played at rituals praying for rainfall. Women were already on the scene in the Han
Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). A relief in the Qimu Temple, built in AD 123 at the foot of
Mt Songshan in Henan Province, vividly portrays a maiden in a graceful long skirt and
with her hair coiled high on the head kicking a ball. During the Tang Dynasty (618–907)
women’s football was confined to the imperial palace as a pastime for the lonesome
court maids and concubines. Then it spread among the populace in the Song Dynasty
(960–1279) when matches were often held with great solemnities. On a festive occasion
a women’s squad composed of 153 members, all attired in four-colour costume with
a brocade band around the waist, had a three day contest, playing embroidered balls to
the accompaniment of a musical band.2

Just look at these tomboys—darting all over the field, with boundless energy and cour-
age! Now Shaanxi’s Hou Yaqin broke though on the left wing and centred the ball to
Sun Cuihuan, who received it and drove threateningly towards the goal… Vice President
Wan Li was voicing a widespread view when he said, ‘I see a bright future in women’s
football for the Chinese women have lofty aspirations.’3

In 1991 the Chinese Football Association (CFA) hosted the First Women’s World Championship for the M&Ms Cup. The carnival atmosphere in Guangzhou, Foshan, Punyu, Zhongshan and Jiangmen was created by the enthusiastic crowds, which totalled 510,000 overall with 63,000 at the final game, and the celebratory media coverage. However, what one commentator called ‘Pigtails Soccer in China’ has a longer history which predates modern sport.4 The official line created by the thenFIFA president, Dr Joao Havelange, was that Norway first suggested an international tournament at the 1986 Congress in Mexico, which led to the establishment of a women’s championship. His message concluded, ‘The first big step has been taken, thanks to the efficient Chinese organization and to the twelve teams taking part, winners and losers alike, whose fairness, skill and efforts made this World Championship an unforgettable event.5 The tournament was indeed a departure for the international federation, but the establishment of an event for women appears to have been a longer process, as is suggested in the Introduction and in the chapter on England.

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