Two thousand years ago, QU Yuan 屈原 (340–278 BCE), a famous Chinese poet, wrote, “The road toward the destination is very long. I will search heaven and earth to get there.” This quotation aptly describes the journey China undertook to bring the Olympic Games to Beijing. The history of China’s participation in the Olympic Games can be divided into three periods: the Qing dynasty 清 (before 1911), the Republic (1911–1949), and the People’s Republic (1949–present).
Long before the Olympic Movement spread to China, a few Western sports existed there. Some were military exercises imported from Europe and the United States, which were in accord with the Chinese martial spirit and could be used to support the traditional Chinese ideal of a unified regime known as the ‘‘Central Kingdom” Zhongguo 中国. This regime, the Qing Dynasty, had been deteriorating gradually in authority since the end of the eighteenth century, but still dominated the nation culturally as well as militarily. In addition, a number of Western sports that are now contested at the Olympics came to China in the nineteenth century, usually due to educators at missionary schools and universities, or under the auspices of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The British brought modern soccer to to Shanghai in 1856. Basketball, which originated in 1891 at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, arrived in China only four years later.