By Dr. Cinderella von Dungern
September 13th, 2021
In ancient China, polo originated 2,000 years ago in the East Han Dynasty (207BC-AD25) when the traditional name for the game was “jiju” and peaked in the Tang Dynasty, who ruled China from 618-907 AD. Polo became the game of choice for the Chinese elite and was viewed as a form of entertainment rather than a competitive sport. Tang emperors used polo even as a tool of diplomacy.
In modern China, polo enjoyed a remarkable renaissance in the past two decades. Many clubs have opened, among them Tang Polo Club (founded 2010 by Shilai Liu, recently relocated from Beijing to Anping/Hebei), Beijing’s Sunny Times club (founded by Xia Yang), Shanghai’s Nine Dragons Club (2008) and Tianjin’s Metropolitan Polo Club (originally backed by Goldin Group, but since around two years operating on their own) with quite an active international participation, interaction and publicity. Many clubs have hosted 16-goal international tournaments with intense media coverage on their impressive grounds, and each club has imported more than 100 ponies from Australia, Argentina and Europe. Chinese players went to polo events worldwide and the sport was undergoing a resurgence in the upper classes of China. Although there are less than 100 amateurs, China seems to develop to an interesting new destination for Polo with much attention from international polo fans.
However, due to COVID restrictions, it has been a very silent polo period over the past 20 months. Since the pandemic started, the polo sport in China has been severely affected in various dimensions. Due to travel and visa restrictions, no foreign polo professionals, trainers or grooms can enter the country since more than one and a half years now. Domestic and international travel and transportation for Chinese polo players and horses are also highly limited due to national lockdowns, long isolated medical quarantine programs and many other restrictive government prevention rules that follow a zero-case policy. In addition to that, logistics for international horse transportation is challenging if not impossible. This is by far the most demanding part, as a good and high-quality polo pony is the basis for every player, especially if the player is just starting to learn or if experienced and wants to improve his/her skills. The horses that have been imported to China in the past 20 years are in excellent condition but of course are reaching their age limits. But importing new horses is extremely difficult since international cargo for horses to China is not easily available in times of Corona. Even if new horses were able to arrive in China, it would require professional international trainers and at least a few medium-goal tournaments in the country to keep the horse’s level high. A constant exposure to high quality chukkas and games would benefit both, horses and players. It seems that those restrictions for global commuting and visa permissions led to a temporary stand-still of the once exciting and very dynamic international polo scene in China.
Against this backdrop, it is encouraging to see that currently three active clubs (Tang Polo Club, Tianjin Metropolitan Polo Club and Nine Dragons Club Shanghai) have continued to host some internal low-goal tournaments and club chukkas and are constantly developing the national scene. Of course, quite a few Chinese players could play higher handicap games and every active Chinese player is longing to get back to international playgrounds and exposure soon, but if there is no other choice, pushing the domestic market is a valuable investment in the longer term. Early September 2021, a special private tournament was organized by JJ International company, hosted by Tang Polo Club at the club’s fields in Anping (three hours from Beijing), to launch the company founding with the vision of promoting polo sport allover China. With an impressive cultural side program and many distinguished visitors from Beijing and the Chinese equestrian society, polo was introduced to the audience in a refreshing way.
Due to strict COVID-limitations the selected numbers of players and games had to be rather exclusive. Eight players competed on two days in two teams (each game with four chukkas). Among the players were three very experienced Chinese polo players: Yanyang Li (hcp 0), chief editor of of the Chinese publication “Horsemanship Magazine”, Yin Bao (hcp 2), manager of Tang Polo Club and Shilai Liu (hcp 2). Shilai Liu is the top polo player in China. Among many other passions and business activities, he is founder and owner of the Tang Polo Club and China’s first member of the International Polo Association. He has played in Argentina, Australia, the US, Europe, and Thailand and is one of the main promoters to establish a legacy for polo in China.
The game was competitive but very fair. Horses and players were in perfect shape, and despite being classified as a low-goal tournament, the level of polo was high and tight. Both teams were rather equally balanced and ambitious, hence the game became very speedy and sportive. The team of Tang Polo Club finally won the tournament with a 12:10 score (6:6 the first day) and received the award from the organizer Justin Jiang, founder of JJ International.
TANG POLO CLUB
Jiping (James) Liu (-2)
Ketu Chao (1)
Yanyang Li (0)
Shilai Liu (2)
La A Gu (-1)
Dr. Cinderella von Dungern (-1)
Justin Jiang (0)
Yin Bao (2)
Images: ©JJ International