A recent article in the Washington Post ( 24 July 2008) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/24/AR2008072402162.html?wpisrc=newsletter has enough merits about what it informs about Chinese society that I will likely use it as a reading in the A. P. Human Geography courses I teach.
No matter Mr. Xu's claim that soccer is China's "beloved sport," today it is actually basketball that has captured the attention of Chinese youth, not soccer; the latter is simply more globally mediated, and thus critical to how the Chinese self-evaluate. His article delves into the collective psyche of Chinese people, who (along with the Japanese--is this a Confucian cognitive trait?) are quite preoccupied with their place at "the world's table," as he puts it.
Chinese are deeply reflexive about who they are, where they fit in the world, and how they are perceived internationally. They believe they rightfully should occupy a prominent place as equals at that table. Yet, they have self-doubts. Mr. Xu, as apparently the Chinese nation generally, uses the plight of their national soccer team as barometer of their country's--and their own--success and worth. They use international soccer as a heuristic metric of their international stature.
A key passage is where he says there is a basic paradox within their collective psyche: superficially feeling ebulliently confident about the future, especially about the unprecedented strides of the Chinese economy, but more deeply unsettled about their identity (he even brings up feminization of Chinese society and male frustration).
History as taught in China makes its citizens well aware of past injustices by European, American, and Japanese colonial powers. With this history in mind, Chinese strive to overcome that past--the past that they feel is most pertinent to them today as a nation. For example, they see American foreign policy vis-a-vis China as operating to hold China back from their rightful, prominent place at the global table.
If, as I contend, it is not too late for an individual to "have" a happy childhood in the present (i.e., change one's attitude towards one's past), then perhaps it is never too late for a people to have--create--a more felicitous history. This is not to say a person or nation should ignore actual history or to whitewash it; it is to say that our attitude towards that history is critical. National (and personal) historiography should never be allowed to become deterministic. Humans must maintain control of the essential nature of who they are, whether as individuals or nations.
I recommend that Chinese not measure their national worth in terms of soccer or any other sport. They have 5,000 years of magnificent civilization for which the world can marvel. This should inform their self-evaluation.
Note: I will travel again to China and Japan in October 2008 for two weeks. Places on the itinerary: Beijing, Shanghai, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka.