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Maria Yen
September 20, 1954
It was lost to Chinese students when the calisthenics-crazy Reds took over
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September 20, 1954

Freedom From Sports

It was lost to Chinese students when the calisthenics-crazy Reds took over

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The North Star Athletic Club was a somewhat larger association, but only a few of its scores of members were real athletes. Instead of sport, the real end of this group was to serve as concealment for underground political activities under the National Government. When large numbers of Communist and "progressive" elements deserted the campus and crossed the lines to the other side, during the last months before the Liberation, the North Star Club lost four out of every five members. This group died a natural death, therefore, which was only proper, for it had accomplished its purpose.

With the "Liberation" healthful physical exercise rapidly began to play a more important role in our lives. Our new leaders exhibited a concern for building healthy bodies by mass exercise never dreamed of by our school authorities in the old days of laissez-faire or rather of "may-yo fa-tse," or "well, it can't be helped." Perhaps the new emphasis upon physical conditioning was partially in compensation for our more restricted diet, and certainly the vast majority of students didn't appreciate it. But, undeniably, it was good for us young "mandarins" to sweat like ordinary people.

Before things really got organized systematically, the most popular new form of exercise was the drum dance, which is not to be confused with the yang-ko or "planting dance." The drum dance involved a double row of men and women students, clad in short garments, lined up on the Peita drill field. Drumsticks poised above red-painted drums hanging from our waists, we thumped away on the stretched parchment drumheads, took a stride, wheeled about-face and turned again in imitation of our physical training instructors. After a year's training, however, few of us could play a complete series of flourishes. Most students knew only the simplest, elementary theme: Thump, thump! Thump, thump, thump! "You there—about face!" Thumpety, thumpety, thump! "You—kick out your leg and land out on your foot!" Or, as an extra flourish, you kicked your leg high while you reached around down under your thigh and gave the bottom of the drum a hearty whack. It was scarcely swanlike, but it was energetic. One of our leaders commented to me with enthusiasm that it was "fine discipline for getting us to do things together. Rhythm, you know, is a group thing, a cement to bind us closer together." It was the only time I heard anybody waxing poetic about the drum dance.

Later on all Peking schools were officially called upon to institute a more systematic method of mass physical training with the announced goal of hardening the bodies of students and building up their strength to prepare them for active service for their government. This was our introduction to arm-waving group calisthenics performed at the shouted commands of a drill leader. The most unpopular fact about this innovation was the time appointed for our drill. We were called out in front of our dormitories at 7:00 every morning for a session before most of us were really awake, so that we went off to our first class feeling the dried perspiration sticky inside our clothes.

The stretching and arm-swinging, the push-ups, the hopping and bending and squatting at the call of our leaders were described as "new Soviet-style physical conditioning." While these contortions did superficially resemble the exercises conducted in other armies, we were told, Soviet scientists had added new "progressive movements" to the repertoire which were largely responsible for insuring that soldiers of the Red Army were in better physical trim than troops in more backward nations. This was not the best propaganda in the world for us; there were mumblings of "But we're not in the army yet."

For our younger brothers physical training was reorganized in the middle schools to make sure that graduates would be in better shape if they were called into the nation's expanding military forces. Baseball, which had been fairly popular after the war but still secondary to volleyball and soccer, was neglected for awhile by the new authorities as an American game. But it was soon revived when the authorities discovered in it certain "military values."


New stress was put on the baseball throw with a missile shaped like a crude grenade substituted for the old softball. Track and field now emphasized the steeplechase for endurance and the running broad jump and high jump for agility. New tests were introduced in rope-climbing and ladder-scaling, useful for any later military training. Such strenuous feats were reserved for the men, of course; girls joined in the drum dance and in the group calisthenics but were excused from the semimilitary types of activity.

As you can see, the new physical hardening program involved everybody and nobody liked it, except those stern individuals who prided themselves on the physical rigors they could endure. But it must have pleased one group of people at least. It must have given the instructors we had harassed for so many years infinite pleasure now to stand in front of us and watch the dignified young mandarins who had taken twenty seconds to stroll 100 meters a year ago flailing their arms desperately and bobbing up and down, red-faced and sweating, to the shouts of demanding drill leaders.

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