Of course, there’s no such thing as a truly apolitical Olympics, and this year’s Games are no exception. In the run-up to the event, some have questioned the country’s winter sport bona fides, but modern winter sports have been popular in China’s north — where their rise was inseparable from the same ideological equation of sporting prowess and national power that has long defined the Olympics — for over a century.
China’s first ice rinks appeared in the foreign concessions of Tianjin and what is now Beijing around the turn of the 20th century. At first, they were exclusively used by Westerners for their skating and ice hockey clubs. By the 1920s, however, Western-style ice skating was in vogue across North China. In particular, it had become an important part of winter physical education classes in the region’s schools.