Rural basketball matches ignite people’s passion for life in SW China’s Guizhou province

Rural basketball matches ignite people’s passion for life in SW China’s Guizhou province


Image Source: The Publicity Department of the Party Committee in Taijiang County

“Have you ever seen the scene in Los Angeles at 4 a.m.,” the American basketball superstar Kobe’s words showing his love for basketball, encouraging many young people to pursue their sports dreams. On the other side of the globe, the villagers in Taipan Village of southwest China’s Guizhou province, can proudly say, “have you ever seen the basketball match at 4 a.m.?”

Taipan Village, located deep inside the large mountains to the southeast of Guizhou, has a population of less than 1,200, but two-thirds play basketball as a hobby. On the Internet, the 4 a.m. basketball match was nicknamed “VBA (village basketball association).” As a significant celebration of the “First Harvest of the Year” of Miao nationality held on June 6 of the lunar calendar each year, VBA can be dated back to 1936, 10 years earlier than NBA.

Though compared with NBA, VBA has no professional players, referees, or cheer teams, nor any large venue, local villagers have no less enthusiasm towards basketball than those players in NBA.

Cen Jiangnong, Chairman of the Basketball Association of Taipan Village, told the reporter that it is normal here for the competition to last till the following day.” A maximum of 120 teams once signed up for the competition, but it has to be finished within a few days; so in the past, it was normal to play till 5 a.m., and the longest match lasted till 7 a.m., from sunset to sunrise.”

Nearby villagers, both old and young, would arrive at the court early during the match. Some even drove over a hundred kilometers to see their home team’s match. According to Wu Xiaolong, one of the event organizers, many elderly fans aged over 80 would come to the court four or five hours in advance, and to avoid losing their seats, they’d take turns with their spouses to go to the toilet. “We, the event staffers, participate in every event process. One year after the match ended, I was almost 4 kilograms lighter!”

Thus, every year you will see basketball players going all out to run, pass, and shoot. And the open court is filled with audience members who even stand on the hillside or rooftops outside the court. An excellent scoring would win cheers from tens of thousands of audience members.

Fantastic scene at the VBA site

Since it’s the “village basketball association”, the prizes of the matches are with local features: 650 kilograms of cattle, Rongjiang sheep, Congjiang pork, etc. During half time, there’s an interactive shooting match with mass participation where the winner may get cooled watermelon, pig’s feet, rice or other fresh produce. In the long queue, every one in four kids with a height over 1 meter can run away with a watermelon.

Nowadays, VBA went viral on the internet, with total views on different streaming platforms reaching 100 million cumulatively. Even Yao Ming, President of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), said, “I’d very much like to go on site, but I’m not sure if I can get a ticket.” Stephon Marbury, retired NBA star, said that “I look forward to experiencing the passion about basketball at the scene of the ‘Village Rucker Park’; it is the street basketball that I love!”

VBA became widely known and attracted many visitors to come here. During the match held in 2022, the village welcomed 400,000 visitors, with the comprehensive tourism income reaching RMB 21.54 million. The villagers in Taipan Village are getting rich, and migrant young people outside the village want to return and start a business.

According to Chen Zhen, Secretary of the Taijiang County Committee, they are developing leisure and event tourism based on VBA to keep improving its businesses in cultural tourism, produce quality and featured agricultural products, and build into a model place of rural rejuvenation driven by sports industry.

This year, the popular VBA was included for the first time in the government work report of Guizhou. The report mentioned that VBA had become the new highlight of mass culture. The scene of cultural rejuvenation demonstrated by VBA is not only the actual depiction of the spiritual and cultural life pursued by the public after being lifted out of poverty but also a vivid interpretation of cultural rejuvenation in ethnic villages.

Besides basketball, dragon dancing is a traditional cultural sports program in Taijiang. The “Dragon Dancing with Sparks” is a splendid scene among Miao nationality. The locals use the spark tube made of bamboo, and other materials with the filling of homemade gunpowder to blow out fireworks onto the colorful dancing dragon. In 2021, the “Dragon Dancing with Sparks” custom of the Miao nationality was listed in the National Intangible Cultural Heritages.

During the Lantern Festival in 2023, dragon dancing teams from different Miao villages of Taijiang gathered with 100 dragons to perform amid the lively gongs and drums. The villagers gathered around the dragon dancing teams and used the spark tube to blow out fireworks toward the dragon dancing team. Dragon dancers with their tops off danced against the sparks, which amazed both domestic and foreign media as “the fight between dragon and fire” and the “carnival of the brave.” Wu Xiaolong laughed and said, “we will share our experiences in holding VBA in other places to make more and more people feel the joy of sports and share the ‘fortune’ together.”