The Chinese commentator for whom soccer brought pain

“By nature,” writes Wu Yuehua in Southern Weekend (Nov 23), “Huang Jianxiang [above] is the product of the television era. He relied on the unmatched popularity of soccer in this country to rise to the top.”

Beijing | Roland Soong, author of the EastSouthWestNorth weblog, offers a fascinating account, with translations from Chinese sources, of the downfall of football commentator Huang Jianxiang (“The Media Story of the Soccer Commentator,” Nov 26). The handsome, self-assured media personality resigned from the China Central Television sports channel, CCTV-5, on Nov 16. His criticisms of China manager Bora Milutinovic in 2001 and overexuberance in dismissing Australia after a loss to Italy in the most recent World Cup (“It’s time for Australia to go home. … Goodbye!”) made him stand out in a culture that values humility.

More extraordinary, however, has been the reaction engendered by the 38-year-old Huang’s self-defense and fall. As rendered by Soong and other observers of the Chinese press, Huang provides a convenient mirror by which to judge the culture of mainland China at this 21st-century moment. Was he marginalized at CCTV, where reporting ultimately receives guidance from the propaganda ministry of the Communist Party of China? Was he uncentered and overextended, “excessively sensitive, excessively self-confident and excessively defensive,” in Soong’s translation of a recent profile in the popular Southern Weekend (Wu Yuehua and Shi Xin, “The Wild and Crazy Huang Jianxiang,” Nov 23)?

Huang attributes his bizarre commentary during the Italy-Australia match to exhaustion and perhaps to stress related to his divorce earlier this year. He concludes simply, “Soccer brought me pain.”

Huang strikes a combative pose in the Sanlian Life Week issue, earlier this year, that included seven articles on Huang and his “passionate commentary.”

At least in translation, Huang seems glib and capable of bracing assertions. In 2004, in an interview with Miao Wei and published in Sanlian Life Week earlier this year (see the partial translation of “Huang Jianxiang Isn’t Barkley” at the “China Machete” weblog, 10 July 06), Huang gives an account of the so-called China-Qatar incident. Huang “became ‘a rat scurrying across the road,’ ” according to another football journalist, for criticizing Milutinovic during a 2001 World Cup qualifier versus Qatar. Milutinovic would guide China to the 2002 World Cup finals. Huang was suspended for six months.

While admitting he could have been more careful, the broadcaster calls the game his “best-ever commentary” and offers it as a “learning tool” for those studying the broadcasting arts. And he is explicit concerning broadcasting as art as compared to journalism. He tells the interviewer, Miao, “You are a news reporter of the Party, but I’m like an artist. To be a sports commentator, you have to be half-mad.”

As to Chinese football, Huang, in the 2004 conversation, recalls predicting that China’s final group-stage match in 2002, versus Turkey, would be its last World Cup encounter for 50 years.

Our physical condition is better than that of Japan and Korea—we are taller, stronger and quicker than them. So why can’t we play better than them? It is in the bones—minds aren’t good enough and our spirit isn’t suitable for playing football. The football world can’t accept this. Looking at it from a social and cultural perspective, Chinese people don’t play football well because, unlike Japan and Korea, we don’t have a culture of unity—a selfless and collective spirit. Compared to South America and Africa, we don’t have a wild personality and a passionate freedom—we don’t have anything like this.

On the surface, it seems like we don’t have any individuals. But secretly, we don’t have any unity. We [aren't suited for] this kind of collective sport—for a Chinese person, 11 people in a team is too many! If there are only three to five people in a team, then it’s still possible to work together.

Notwithstanding his implicit dismissal of the success of Chinese women players, Huang shocks the interviewer with his forthrightness. Miao states that, perhaps in contrast to the firebrand U.S. basketball commentator and ex-player Charles Barkley, Huang “should be more tactful and optimistic.”

Superficially, Huang’s outbursts remind us of the overheated locutions of Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean before the 2004 primary season in America. Dean, too, suffered consequences. More relevant, though, the Huang situation (is it a situation?) helps reinforce the observations of EastSouthWestNorth author Soong regarding the many sides of Chinese culture often missed in mainstream English-language accounts. In a 2005 interview with the BBC World Service, Soong says he finds the disparities in representations of China disturbing and aims to present “a different kind of China, a more diversified and a more interesting one at that.”

Multiple media perspectives emerge from the Huang conundrum (is it a conundrum?). One learns, for example, from sites such as that China has generated an influential sphere of instant reaction and text-messaging. In a Danwei posting on Huang’s 2006 World Cup commentary (“Crazy CCTV Football Commentator; Fictional Foreign News?” Jun 27), comments—pro- and anti-Huang—flood in over three days, such that a moderator must close the forum and delete comments “that use descriptions of lecherous … acts to insult either Australians or Italians.” China Daily reports on the “netizens” who have resampled Huang’s narration to create signature ring tones (Xin Dingding, “Sports Host to Tackle Rumors,” Nov 20).

The China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong picks up on Huang’s own defense against the culture of e’gao, translated as “spoofing” and seemingly alluding to an unchecked mockery of celebrity figures. In its translation of an editorial from Southern Metropolis Daily (Nov 21), China Media Project notes the contrast between this freewheeling spirit of e’gao and the zhenggao, translated “rigid correctness,” at CCTV, with Huang allegedly sandwiched between the two (see “Resignation of Popular Sports Commentator Directs Audience Frustration to CCTV’s Political Culture“). The editorial mentions the World Cup controversy and Huang’s resignation to posit CCTV as

not only a “work unit” lying somewhere in between the administrative agency and the corporate enterprise, but … a unit lying between the propaganda agency and the media enterprise. This kind of work unit will naturally display a degree of division in the language it broadcasts, for example the strict and sober News Relay versus the Happy Dictionary game show so well liked by ordinary people, and … investigative programs with a strong sense of social responsibility. But compared with the media domain as a whole, CCTV has a definite air of self-righteous superiority.


One further must consider the always complicated relations between interviewer and subject. These relations seem especially volatile between Wu, co-author of the Southern Weekend article translated by Soong, and Huang. Soong includes several pages of exchange between the two on their blogs. Huang calls Wu, among other things, “a dog-fart reporter who does not know Michael Schumacher.” She acknowledges puzzlement at Huang’s proudful nature, speculating that gender difference plays a role. “[M]any men are like that—full of confidence as well as flaws. Meanwhile, the women can only smile. This is a man’s world and this is the mainstream in the world—self-confident, loud, seizing the high point in speech, dominating and commanding. This is the era of the strong.” She says that the “wild and crazy” in her article’s headline, referring to Huang, “was too kind.”

Huang, for his part, seems to be taking the media storm in stride, if one judges by the music playing on launch of his weblog: the Beatles’ “Let It Be.”

I am very calm right now. My life is very simple. My original home is no longer there. This morning, I took my daughter to kindergarten. Then I read books and got on the Internet. I went out to meet friends. I played soccer. I ate. I picked up my daughter in the afternoon. I played with her. After she went to sleep at night, I watched television. I had some social events. There were some outside activities, such as rehearsing for the comedy cross-talk. I watch soccer on weekends. I update my blog …

The real hero in all this seems to be Soong, 56, tapping away in relative isolation in Hong Kong, supporting his 87-year-old mother and, one hopes, appreciating the humor in addled journalists’ war of words. He tells the BBC interviewer, quietly, that he views his dedication to explaining Chinese culture for the English-speaking world as part of life, not special. “I regard life as a series of forking paths, and people basically make decisions at different points in time. This is where I find myself.”

The famed railway line beneath one of the Lansdowne Road stands. (Flanker_SP | Flickr™)

Republic of Ireland | Bidding farewell to Lansdowne Road
The stadium with a railway line running beneath will be retired Dec 3 as a ground for football. Derry City FC and Saint Patrick’s Athletic FC compete in the FAI Cup final, the last match on a ground first used for soccer in 1900. Ireland played its last rugby test at Lansdowne on Nov 26. Redevelopment of the stadium is scheduled for completion by 2009.

The Dublin stadium, called “the great high altar of rugby” by former Ireland international Tony O’Reilly, hosted its first rugby match in March 1878. The Republic of Ireland had staged international football matches there since the 1970s, although capacity crowds were never possible because of the terraces in the north and south stands. Spectators are required to have seats for competitive internationals.

Plans for a new facility call for a 50,000-capacity all-seater stadium. Rugby and soccer teams will play at the Gaelic Athletic Association’s Croke Park until the new Lansdowne Road’s completion. (Reuters, Nov 28)

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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  1. [...] the switch during commentator Huang Jianxiang’s notorious outburst at the 2006 World Cup (see 29 Nov 06): For Huang Jinxiang’s impassioned speech, our leader said that the producer should have [...]

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