Although Polo in China has a very long tradition dating back to the Tang dynasty, its modern development is rather exclusive, with a small circle of a total of only under 100 active players.
Over the past 15 years, it became quite a vivid and determined polo place with international medium and high goal tournaments in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, impressive modern polo-clubs and some Chinese players also joining tournaments worldwide, especially in Thailand and Europe.
In the recent past, however, polo in China suffered substantially under pandemic restrictions. Compared to previous years, the imposed health and visa restrictions were further increased, effectively banning international travels, and limiting the player pool to domestic players. But even those domestic players were hardly able to play. Various lockdowns in numerous Chinese cities and severe national travel restrictions for humans and horses prevented regular polo activities all over the year. Inbound travels from international players or reliable planning for tournaments and sponsoring were once again not possible. The already comparatively small number of Chinese polo players was extremely challenged by those external circumstances.
The driving engine behind polo in China came from a few experienced players who – before Covid started in 2020 – had travelled as active players through various polo destinations worldwide. Among those established polo promoters are Shilai Liu (China’s best polo player & successful business entrepreneur), Zongming (Windson) Rao (founder & owner of the clothing company Fast Fish) and Yanyang Li (editor of China’s leading horse magazine and organisator of international equestrian events). Currently the only foreigners who play in China are two Argentinian players, Cesar Hugo Palacior (hcp +3) in Tianjin and Rodrigo Bauzada (hcp +4) in Shanghai, which arrived at the very end of the season due to visa and
Only in autumn, some action became more feasible & visible. The three traditional polo clubs, Tang Polo Club (Tang PC) in Anping, Nine Dragons Hill Polo Club (NDH) in Shanghai and Metropolitan Polo Club (MPC) in Tianjin somehow managed to keep their horses trained in midst of all Covid restrictions and organized small club tournaments in rather turbulent circumstances. In all three locations, some players just started to play again after a long pandemic break, so the level of the games was adjusted accordingly. The low goal tournaments were focused, with only two teams competing against each other. In Shanghai, the two teams of the “Fast Fish Gold Cup” tournament consisted of Muqiao Chen, Ye Yang, Wawa, Jeff Su (Team NDH) and Windson Rao, Jack Ji, Sasha Feng, Biao Wang (Team Fast Fish). In Anping, the two teams that met in the “China Open Cup” involved Biao Wang, Rodrigo Bauzada, Windson Rao, Yanyang Li (Team Fast Fish) and Shilai Liu, Nan Liu, Ketu Chao, Yin Bao (Team Tang PC). In Tianjin, the two teams of the “Metropolitan Polo Open 2022” tournament were made up of Cesar Hugo Palacior, Yuan Jian Liu, Fatin Li, Rogers Wang (Team MPC) and Ya Lie Chen, Xin Li, Michael Xu, Jin Qiang Hui/ Sasha Feng (Silk Team). Everybody was so relieved to play, finally back on horses and enjoying some ambitious fights after such a long “silent season”. After the games, opulent dinner parties followed. The atmosphere among riders and visitors was very joyful and enthusiastic.
Polo in China faced challenging times during pandemic, and Chinese players demonstrated strong resilience. Hopefully in 2023, they can again restart from the spot where since 2020 external circumstances had limited them. They are very ambitious and eager to learn the skills and strategy behind the game. And above all, they are good horse riders. But of course, it would be essential to involve some international players. It’s encouraging to observe strong mutual efforts to keep the polo sport & spirit going.
Text by Cinderella von Dungern. Photography Tang PC, NDH PC, MPC PC, JJ International, private