Young Chinese people in the new era are confident, aspirational and responsible. With a global vision, they stand at the forefront of the times, ready to fully commit to a more global outlook. Chinese people accept and quickly respond to the world's trending schools of thought. Some members of China's Generation Z have started to practice the tenets of their "global citizen" identity and use their thought processes and actions to influence the society. The Global Times has therefore launched a series of introductory stories to China's Gen Zers who are interested in different global topics such as environmental protection, equality, and employment issues, and invites them to share their stories, sentiments, and ideas on social media platforms.
As the match point arrived, the stadium with nearly 6000 seats sat in silence. When the last ball landed, accompanied by a tsunami of cheers from the crowd, celebrating with fist pumps, shouts, and embraces, raising the Five-Star Red Flags to show their sincere gratitude to the audience and the country they beloved.
Similar scenes unfolded six times during the table tennis competition at the 19th Asian Games held in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province. Generation Zers Sun Yingsha, Fan Zhendong and Wang Chuqin, the absolute mainstays of the Chinese table tennis team, presented a lot of world-class pinnacle competitions with players from different countries and regions in a firm and confident manner.
Compared with the older generation, this group of world champions, who are blowing up a storm of youth, are more confident in expressing their love for table tennis, their desire to enjoy the game regardless of winners and losers, as well as their courage in communicating with the outside world to build up a more positive and united force, adding a more contemporary and vibrant expression to this sport, which is considered the national game by the Chinese people.
Enjoy the game
"When the last ball landed, the first thing I recognized about my performance was that it was very good," Sun, who was born in 2000, the current world No. 1 in women's singles, said while answering a question from the Global Times during a post-match interview on October 1, 2023.
And in a subsequent interview with the Global Times, Sun said she has gained a lot from the Hangzhou Asian Games. "Compared with the Asian Games in Jakarta five years ago, I have taken on more responsibility, but compared with the pressure, I am also more motivated, and am satisfied with my play."
In Jakarta in 2018, the enduring impression left by Sun to the public was a cute little girl with a round face and eyes. There is no Tokyo Olympic gold medal, Houston and Durban mixed doubles champions. At that time, Sun represented the national table tennis team in the women's team and mixed doubles events.
Five years later, Sun took the oath as a representative of the participating athletes at the opening ceremony of the Hangzhou Games, and competed in women's singles, doubles, team and mixed doubles, winning gold medals in three of them.
"I feel very proud to be sworn in as an athlete representative at a major international competition hosted by my country. To be able to fight on home soil, there were also many fans who came to cheer me on, I told myself to focus on every game on the field, and I hope I can really enjoy the feeling that the game brings to me. I didn't think too much about the result," Sun said.
But for Sun, the Asian Games in Hangzhou is not without regrets. Earlier, in a shock result, women's doubles world No. 1s Sun and Wang Manyu lost 1-3 to Japanese duo Miwa Harimoto and Miu Hirano.
Sun admitted that after the defeat, both her coach and her partner gave her a lot of encouragement so that she could adjust quickly be ready to face the next match. But she also told the Global Times that such a defeat is precious and needs to be fully faced, and that she will take stock of the loss after the game.
Fan, the world's number one men's singles table tennis player, also tasted defeat at the Asian Games. In the table tennis men's singles final on October 2nd, Fan lost 3-4 to his teammate Wang and won the silver medal. After the match, Fan told the Global Times that he was still very happy with his performance in his third Asian Games he attended.
"Being able to participate in the Asian Games in China and be a torchbearer is a great honor for me. It is a recognition of my past achievements. I also really wanted to win the final singles match and defend my title, but both of us played very well in the final. I feel a little regret for my lost, but not enough to be disappointed," he said.
Fan, who is 26 years old this year, made his debut in the Asian Games in 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. Starting his career at a young age and gaining fame early, Fan admitted that he felt "not very young" anymore. However, he still hopes to focus on the competition and give his all in every match, using his superb skills and competitive state to bring more positive energy to his teammates and fans who love him.
23-year-old Wang, who took home four championships in the table tennis men's team, singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, becoming the first person in the history of table tennis at the Asian Games, first to expressed his gratitude to the country for its cultivation in an interview with the Global Times.
Wang noted that China's nationwide system allows athletes to train in a world-class environment. "At the same time, the Chinese table tennis team is a strong team, with a lot of world champions, allowing us - the younger generation - to constantly progress and improve in a fine tradition."
"When you wear the national flag on your uniform, you represent Team China. The honor of this collective is passed down through generations through unremitting efforts, and we will do our best to defend it," Wang said.
However, Wang also noted that in competitive sports, no one can maintain their peak state forever and there can never be eternal victory. "This is also the charm of competitive sports."
In the men's and women's team finals of the Hangzhou Asian Games, the Chinese team defeated their opponents 3-0. The coaches of the Chinese table tennis team told media that although they ultimately won the matches, the process was not easy and the women's doubles event failing to reach the top four made the whole team realize that the competition in the world of table tennis is becoming increasingly fierce.
"Winning championships in table tennis may seem easy for the Chinese team, but in fact, every member of our team has put in unimaginable efforts in various aspects throughout this process. For us, it has always been about striving for first place, not just maintaining it," Fan said.
In the current world of table tennis, the level of athletes from various countries and regions is getting closer, Fan pointed out. "Every competition and major event requires us to give our all to achieve good results."
But for Fan and Wang, this kind of competition is positive and necessary. "We are also looking forward to these challenges, which are in fact mutual promotion that can further improve and develop the Chinese table tennis team," Fan said.
More open and international
"Play the fiercest ball on the court, and be the most sincere and lovely teenager in life." This is a popular comment of this group of all-powerful table tennis made by their young Chinese fans.
And it's not just the fans who are attracted to them.
On the first match day for the table tennis at the Hangzhou Asian Games on September 22, when Fan was warming up on the sidelines, a foreign coach took the initiative to shake hands with him. The handshake between them conveyed the friendship and respect built on this sport.
After the women's team first round match, Team Macao player Seak Hui-li specifically took a photo with Sun with her racket, which also received a friendly response from her idol.
After the women's team semi-finals, Korean athlete Jeon Jihee happily revealed in an interview that she exchanged pins with Sun.
Despite the tight schedule of the competition, Sun still lived up to her title as the "pin exchange master" with her actions.
"If I meet someone have pins I like or find cute, I will think about exchanging with them. We are all friends," Sun told the Global Times.
With the promotion of this more open and international Gen Zers, the slogan of the Chinese Table Tennis Association, "Chinese table tennis is shared with the world," has become a reality.
Sun, Fan and Wang told the Global Times that they love table tennis and hope to connect with more like-minded people through the sport. As idol for many despite their young age, they hope that more young people, like them, focus on what they love, can always go forward, ultimately realize the dreams.