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Health, Wealth, or Both?

“Those who are not good at relaxation will work inefficiently.”Vladimir Illyich Lenin.

Click Here for Mao's 1917 Article on Exercise in Chinese.
体育之研究 毛泽东 (一九一七年四月一日)

One of Mao’s earliest writings, published in 1917 at the age of 24, was “A Study of Physical Education.” From college days until his famous two mile swim across the Yangtze at the age of 72, Mao Ze Dong shared Ralph Waldo Emerson’s sentiments that “The first wealth is health,” and Mao would probably be nonplussed to see that wealthy Chinese now appear to be rapidly emulating Americans, of whom ½ are overweight and 1/3 are obese, and are now dying of “affluent diseases.”

Like Americans, Chinese are increasingly too busy to eat properly, exercise, and rest.

When I arrived in Xiamen in 1988, locals ate fresh foods bought daily at the markets. Today, Chinese’ fast lives are fueled by fast food, and home cooked meals are often little more than canned, dried and frozen foods popped in microwaves.

Exercise has deteriorated along with diet. While emancipation from heavy labor is a blessing, the increasing aversion to cycling or even walking is already taking a toll. In a few more years, Chinese may be like Americans, who drive a car even when their destination is simply a store 200 meters from home. No wonder a Xiamen friend who just returned from the U.S. exclaimed, “America doesn’t have pedestrians!”

Some Americans protest (a little proudly), “No time to walk! Time is money!” But those who don’t make time for exercise now will certainly make time for illness later.

This trend in Chinese’ health reminds me uncannily of Mao’s complaint in 1917 that, “The physical condition of the population deteriorates daily. This is an extremely disturbing phenomenon…” Mao warned that Chinese desperately needed to change their attitudes towards exercise, and fortunately for us today, unhealthy attitudes are under attack by a vanguard of fitness proponents that includes men like City Trend’s Zhang Ke (Ray).

Ray was a thin-as-a-rail 13-year-old until an older friend invited him to a gym. From that day on, Ray pumped iron while other kids played ball. He also studied all of the fitness literature he could lay his hands on, though materials were scarce in his Jiangsu hometown, and he virtually memorized every magazine he collected.

While in Fuzhou University, Ray worked part-time in a physical fitness center, where he met many Chinese and Western fitness experts. Ray was featured in magazines and on the Fujian sports channel, and became a consultant for China’s leading fitness website. After getting a degree in International Trade, Ray shocked friends and family alike by becoming a personal fitness trainer, but he says, “My college years were definitely not wasted. Theory and practice must be integrated, and university gave me the foundation for developing my own philosophy of fitness, nutrition, and training.”

Ray obviously views exercise as a mental as well as a physical activity. As my sons Shannon and Matthew strain, red-faced, at the bench press, he leans over them, his finger aimed at his temple, saying, “Think! Focus!”

A career in physical education may lack status but Ray says “A life of meaning is more important than status.” And Ray's convinced that the physical fitness field has a great future ahead of it once it becomes respectable in China, as it did in America after the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron.” Ray said, “Until ‘Pumping Iron,’ which made Schwarzenegger famous, Americans thought of weightlifting as just a bunch of over-muscled men hefting chunks of iron in a smelly gym. Chinese still think like that, but this must change…The important thing is that we fitness experts don’t impose our own goals upon our clients, but understand their needs first, and then help them change their lifestyle. Because it’s not a matter of just exercise, but of changing ones whole lifestyle.” He added, “Someday, Chinese will flock to gyms instead of karaokes!”

Mao too urged that Chinese develop a healthy lifestyle—as young as possible. He lamented that “in the educational system of our country, required courses are as thick as the hairs on a cow”… and because of the neglect of physical education, “Children become ill, or even die young, because of studying.”

Mao wrote that people disliked exercise because they lacked self-awareness and were unable to change deep-seated habits. He also noted,
“Students feel that exercise is shameful. According to my humble observation, this is really their major reason for disliking exercise. Flowing garments, a slow gait, a grave, calm gaze — these constitute a fine deportment, respected by society. Why should one suddenly extend an arm or expose a leg, stretch and bend down? Is this not strange?”

But unless we use those bodies, we lose them. Thus Herbert Spencer wrote in 1861, “The preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality.”

For the sake of China and the Chinese, let us hope that physical education pioneers like Zhang Ke are successful in inculcating that physical morality.

Dr. Bill Brown
Xiamen University MBA Center

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Last Updated October 2006

Mao's Article in Chinese

毛泽东 (一九一七年四月一日)

国力恭苶弱,武风不振,民族之体质日趋轻细,此甚可忧之现象也。提倡之者不得其本,久而无效,长是不改,弱且加甚。夫命中致远,外部之事,结果之事也;体力充实;内部之事,原因之事也。体不坚实,则见兵而畏之,何有于命中,何有于致远? 坚实在于锻炼,锻炼在于自觉。 今之提倡者非不设种种之方法,然而无效者,外力不足以动其心,不知何为体育之真义。体育果有如何之价值,效果云何,著手何处,皆茫乎如在雾中,其无效亦宜;欲图体育之有效,非动其主观,促其对于体育之自觉不可。苟自觉矣,则体育之条目可不言而自知,命中致远之效亦当不求而自至矣。不佞深感体育之要,伤提倡者之不得其当,知海内同志同此病而相怜者必多,不自惭赧,贡其愚见,以资商榷。所言并非皆已实行,尚多空言理想之处,不敢为欺。倘辱不遗,赐之教诲,所虚心百拜者也。

第一 释体育


第二 体育在吾人之位置

体育一道,配德育与智育,而德智皆寄于体,无体是无德智也。顾知之者或寡矣,或以为重在智识,或曰道德也。夫知识则诚可贵矣,人之所以异于动物者此耳。顾徒知识之何载乎?道德亦诚可贵矣,所以立群道平人己者此耳。 顾徒道德之何寓乎?体者,为知识之载而为道德之寓者也,其载知识也如车,其寓道德也如舍。体者,载知识之车而寓道德之舍也。
人独患无身耳,他复何患? 求所以善其身者,他事亦随之矣。善其身无过于体育,体育于吾人实占第一之位置,体强壮而后学问道德之进修勇而收效远,于吾人研究之中,宜视为重要之部。“学有本末,事有终始,知所先后,则近道矣。”此之谓也。

第三 前此体育之弊及吾人自处之道

然则为吾侪学者之计如之何? 学校之设备,教师之教训,乃外的客观的也,吾人盖尚有内的主观的。夫内断于心,百体从令,祸福无不自己求之者,我欲仁斯仁至,况于体育乎。苟自之不振,虽使外的客观的尽善尽美,亦犹之乎不能受益也。故讲体育必自自动始。

第四 体育之效

人者,动物也,则动尚矣。人者,有理性的动物也,则动必有道。然何贵乎此动邪?何贵乎此有道之动邪? 动以营生也,此浅言之也;动以卫国也,此大言之也,皆非本义。动也者,盖养乎吾生乐乎吾心而已。朱子主敬,陆子主静。静,静也;敬,非动也,亦静而己。老子曰“无动为大”,释氏务求寂静。静坐之法,为朱陆之徒者咸尊之。近有因是子者,言静坐法,自诩其法之神,而鄙运动者之自损其体。是或一道,然予未敢效之也。愚拙之见,天地盖惟有动而已。

第五 不好运动之原因


第六 运动之方法贵少


第七 运动应注意之项


第八 运动一得之商榷

1.握拳向前屈伸,左右参,三次 (左右参者,左动右息,右动左息,相参互也)。
3.握拳向前面下方屈伸,右左并,三次 (左右并者,并动不相参互)。
1.身向前后屈,三次(手握拳 下同)。
五、打击运动,不定势 (打击运动者,以拳遍击身体各处,使血液奔注,筋肉坚实,为此运动之主)。

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