The Chinese Super League

By William Hague

Written May 2016

2012 Chinese Super League Teams Source: Nike

2012 Chinese Super League Teams Source: Nike

Quick Links

Team Standings


Upcoming Matches

Related Pages

Chinese Super League Buys Old and Tired European Players

Why is the Chinese Super League Winning and the MLS Loosing?

Chinese Football Origins

China’s history with football is rumored to back as far as football has existed. It is one of the suspect countries where football was invented, in China’s case, around 5000 B.C.. The ritual game that is referred to in ancient times was called Tsu Chu and it is documented to have been played during the reign of Emperor Huang-Ti around 2500 B.C.. Tsu translates to “kicking a ball with one’s feet” and Chu translates to “A stuffed ball made of animal skin” (Brillinger 1140). There is other information from the Han Dynasty that include references to goal posts with nets and not allowing to use your hands.

While there is the ancient story of football in China, the one we know today was the game that was brought over by colonizers to first, Hong Kong, then to Shanghai and Beijing in the mid to late 1800s. When it got to China, it started mainly in high schools and universities within in the middle-class (Jinxia & Mangan 79). Development was slow at the beginning and the game went through many periods of flourishing and struggle before the Super League was developed.

Development of Chinese Football

The founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 marked a turning point for the development of Chinese football. On the day of its founding, the PRC invited the Shengyan Football Team to Beijing to play in celebration of the new regime. The message that the government wanted to broadcast was that modern sport was the right way to show the new modern China. After this moment, football in China developed swiftly (Jinxia & Mangan 79).

In 1951, the First National Football Championships of the New China took place in Tainjin. Cona organized the championship by having the 6 large admin areas from teams. The event was a huge success and after, 31 players were selected to form the National Football Team (Jinxia & Mangan 80). It was soon after the development of the national team that professional teams were established in every region of China.

The sport was becoming institutionalized, professionalized, and politicized in China. In 1953, after China went through a war-torn chaos, sport development became part of its strategy for reconstruction. The goal was for football to be the element of Chinese society that will drive the country out of hard times and push it back into global relevance, socially and politically. Football was then organized, centralized, and financed by the state. By the end of 1952, football had been completely organized with a hierarchical power structure in the formation of the National Sports Commission. The organization was in charge of all policy of sport (Jinxia & Mangan 80).

Source: Jinxia & Mangan 81

Source: Jinxia & Mangan 81

To grow the sport and its influence, the Chinese sport organization established close contacts with other socialist countries and played against, USSR, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria. It was very important for the government to have football reach outside the country so that the sport could become a catalyst for international relations.  The most important relationship China had was not in the countries listed above but rather Hungary. Hungary had a very talented team and one that China wanted to emulate. In the mid-1950s, Hungary’s team and coaches were brought to China by the government to teach its players new techniques. Conversely, China sent 25 players to train in Hungary for a year and a half. This was all done with the intention of improving the skills of Chinese players so that they could be able to compete with the best countries so that it could progress politically on the global level. All of this importance that the government put on soccer was all for a political gain at the end of the day (Jinxia & Mangan 81).

The next big change that allowed for massive growth within China was a change in league organization. In 1956, the national league system opened up to having 2 divisions within it. This was a huge stepping stone for Chinese football development as the number of teams in 1958 was 154, 17 times increase from 1951. The quality of play increased dramatically as skills and techniques were able to spread among more players. It also allowed more access to the league as the number of spots on the roster doubled. The results of that change produced, in 1958, 65 international matches, winning 30, drawing 16 and loosing 19 (Jinxia & Mangan 82).

Setbacks & Revivals of Chinese Football (Source: Jinxia & Mangan and Gong & Kim)

  1. Early 1960s: Post-Great Leap Forward
    • Economic setbacks, famine, damaged foreign relations.
    • Football league came to an end
    • Teams and players deteriorated
  2. 1964: government called for football to be popular again among male teenagers
    • Called by the Central Communist League, Educational Ministry, and the National Sports Commission
  3. 1966: Cultural Revolution
    • Struggles for power within the communist party and ideological criticisms of Chinese culture.
    • 10 year-long revolution
    • Between 1966 and 1969 sport suffered: athletes, coaches, and administrators were purified, persecuted and tortured
    • Training stopped and sports schools closed. International sports contacts ended and facilities were destroyed
  4. Early 1970s: Playing Resumed
    • Joined the 1980 Olympic Games
  5. 1981: First National Women’s Football Tournament took place
  6. 1992: Beginnings of commercialism of football teams
    • Capitalism was embraced and cash poured in the sport
    • Salaries and sponsorships grew
  7. Late 1992: Football clubs accept international players and coaches
  8. 2002-present: Organizational reform on the topic of building new teams
  9. 2004: Creation of the Chinese Super League

Creation of Chinese Super League

The Chinese Super League was founded in 2004. Its season runs Feb-March to Nov-December. In 2008 there were 16 teams and most of them are located in the southeastern part of the country. The league has always struggled to remain competitive among their counterparts in Europe but they have combatted that by paying large sums of money for those European players to play in China. Currently the fan base is impressive with an average of more than 22,000 fans per game last season. The league is also signing lucrative television deals, the most recent being a $1.3 billion television deal over 5 years with China Media Capital, a state-backed investment firm (Carlisle). The Chinese Super League is still being heavily financed by the Chinese government and they are investing mostly in the future of the league. This is seen through its investment in youth development and in cracking down on some of the internal corruption that has been present.

The Future

The way the Chinese Super League is going to compete with the talent from other regions of the world is by stealing it. China doesn’t have the history or game-knowledge to produce top talent like the european nations can. They will have to steal the talent through an almost bottomless budget and attract talent and the football knowledge to the country.

How to cite this page: “The Chinese Super League”, Written by William Hague (2016). Soccer Politics Pages, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on (date)). 


Brillinger, David R. “An Analysis of Chinese Super League Partial Results.” Science in China, Series A: Mathematics 52.6 (2009): 1139-56. Web.

CARLISLE, JEFF. “What Does the Chinese Super League’s Ambition Mean for MLS?” ESPN, 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 01 May 2016. <>.

Gong, Bo, et al. “FANS’ ATTENTION TO, INVOLVEMENT IN, AND SATISFACTION WITH PROFESSIONAL SOCCER IN CHINA.” Social Behavior and Personality43.10 (2015): 1667-82. ProQuest. Web. 1 May 2016.

Jinxia, Dong, and J. A. Mangan. “Football In The New China: Political Statement, Entrepreneurial Enticement And Patriotic Passion.” Soccer & Society 2.3 (2001): 79. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 1 May 2016.