Superstition not welcome on football pitches and in rural villages – China’s latest society and culture news

Society & Culture

A summary of the top news in Chinese society and culture for September 26, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

“Why would the Chinese Football Association still care about its image after so many match-fixing scandals?”

“So I assume it would be fine if they invite some Muslim clerics to perform rituals on the pitch, since anti-Islam rhetoric is completely banned on social media.”

These two comments (in Chinese) are typical of Chinese internet user reactions to the news that Henan Jianye 河南建业, a Chinese soccer club playing in the Super League, was slammed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) for organizing a religious ceremony by Taoist priests who conducted an on-pitch ritual.

On September 22, two days prior to Jianye’s Sunday match against Shandong Luneng 山东鲁能, 15 Taoist priests made an appearance at the team’s home stadium. Dressed in black robes, they stood in front of a simple altar covered with yellow cloth, set with symbolic objects, including sacred lamps, plates of fruit, and incense burners. Flags erected around the altar read, “Jianye will win according to the will of the gods.” Jianye won the match 2–1, marking its first home-field win in more than three months.

Although the club denied its endorsement of the ceremony, saying that the team’s avid fans organized the ritual, the practice was widely criticized by football professionals and the CFA. “Football fields are not places for religious worship. Hosting such activities on public sports fields is neither appropriate nor conforming to the image of professional football,” the governing body of Chinese football said in a statement (in Chinese) on September 25. “Instead of seeking help from gods outside the pitch, the team should gain victories through self-endeavor.” In response, Jianye released an announcement (in Chinese), emphasizing its hardline stance on introducing religious activities into football fields. “We stand firmly against any forms of superstition,” the club said.

Religion has been in the news a lot recently:

  • The Chinese government has waged a nationwide crackdown targeting various religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims. The focus is specifically on rural areas, where underground Catholic churches are forced to close and villagers who submit tips on cults or illegal religious practices will be rewarded (in Chinese).
  • On the other hand, many Chinese people have taken to the internet to complain about favorable treatment of Muslim minorities. In an attempt to tone down Islamophobic rhetoric, China recently banned derogatory terms such as green religion (绿教 lǜjiào) on Chinese social media.