Amid the exquisite charm of the Olympics Opening Ceremony, it would have been just plain wrong to suggest that the gigantic scroll which unfurled to depict scenes from 5,000 years of history had written on it "No 86: Sweet and sour chicken". If you were to ask what the Chinese ever did for us, it would be a lot more than prawn crackers; in fact, according to the BBC's coverage, they invented everything. And as 'Ancient Chinese Sports' (The History Channel, Wednesday) showed, you can put football, golf, polo, archery, bowling and even keepie-uppie on the list.
The invention of football was as bittersweet as the modern game has become. The world governing body, Fifa, acknowledge that the game originated in Linzi, where the Yellow Emperor had a rebel beheaded and told his men to kick the skull around. No wonder they were called dynasties.
At first the game, known as 'cuju', was violent, but then it was adopted by women, who would dress lavishly and employ lithe, dance-like movements to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible. Indeed, one 17-year-old girl is said to have beaten an entire team of soldiers.
These, then, were the original WAGs, but without the need for menfolk.Yet what was truly the "beautiful game" suffereda terrible setback under a 10th-century emperor who loved small feet. He made girls have their feet bound so they couldn't grow longer than 10cm, and they couldn't play any more.
As the ladies stayed in, the men soon took on the trappings of celebrity. Lin San Fu, described as the Beckham of his day, hung around outside the Chinese prime minister's mansion until a ball bounced over the wall. He returned it, showing off his skills to the footie-mad politician, and was immediately rewarded with a post in the cabinet.
It is to be hoped that the same will not happen here with Beckham, Rooney and Co. Then the Chinese really would take over the world.
Surely it's time for China to lay its feud with Tibet to rest. In AD709, a delegation of Tibetans came to the court of the Tang dynasty to take home a princess for an arranged marriage. The nomads were challenged to play a game of polo, which they duly won, much to the fury of Emperor Li Long Ji.
It is perhaps ironic, given the torch relay protests, that the Chinese for sport, "tu", means "education of the body" and emphasises moral training as much as physical prowess. Since the time of Confucius, self-development was always valued more highly than competitiveness. China, it is claimed, has long suffered because of this. Incredibly, it took them until 1984 to win their first Olympic gold medal, in shooting of all things. They have a lot of catching up to do in sport as much as in society. Over the next fortnight they will do so very quickly, but not so fast that there isn't still time to take prisoners.Reuse content