16 August 2004

Grandfather of Chinese Baseball, Liang Fuchu

Shanghai's--and Old China's--glory days of baseball came in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Those days still are linked with memories of Liang Fuchu and the Shanghai Pandas. Remembered a generation later as the "grandfather of Chinese baseball," Liang had gone to Japan in the 1920s as a student and returned as a businessperson. He learned baseball in Japan and formed a powerful team nicknamed the Pandas when he came back to China.

Liang Fuchu's ties to baseball spanned half a century. In the 1950s, shortly after the founding of the People's Republic, Liang was brought in to teach the game to a group of Chinese sailors in the port city of Qingdao. His popularity there led him to the attention of Marshal He [Long, head of Physical Culture and Sports Commission], who decreed during the 1950s that certain units of the People's Liberation Army should be taught baseball. In 1953, Marshall He sent Liang Fuchu to coach army teams in Shandong and Sichuan Provinces.

Liang Fuchu passed his love of baseball on to his sons--three of whom were coaching the game in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou in the 1980s. Liang's fourth son was an umpire in Guangzhou.

One of the last happy moments for baseball in China in the first half of the twentieth century came in 1934, during the heyday of Liang Fuchu and the Shanghai Pandas, when Babe Ruth and a team of U.S. All-Stars stopped in Shanghai after their final prewar tour of Japan. Ruth predictably provided the greatest thrills, hitting three home runs in a game against a team of U.S. Marines. But another bit of baseball history came out of the trip. It involved a Shanghai native named Li Bao-jun, who was catcher, manager, and coach of a local team. Li volunteered to serve as tour guide and escort for some of the U.S. All-Stars, taking them to lunch at the famous Sun Ya restaurant and walking them along the city's world-renowned waterfront, the Bund.

To show their appreciation, the players gave Li two autographed baseballs. Fifty-five years later, one of those balls ended up in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Li had hidden and protected it through the 1937 bombing of Shanghai, the Japanese occupation, the war between the Communists and Nationalists, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. He donated it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989....

Communist revolutionaries played baseball throughout the 1930s and 1940s ... In the past baseball was known as junqiu, or "army ball." ... For more than a decade after the founding of the People's Republic in October 1949, baseball was played across China. Both baseball and softball were included in the first postrevolution National Games held in 1956. The winning baseball team, from Shanghai, was coached by Liang Fuchu. Three years later, baseball was popular enough to attract more than thirty provincial, military, and city teams to the first New China Baseball Tournament.
It only fell from grace during the 1960s, like so many other traditions.

SOURCE: Taking in a Game: A History of Baseball in Asia, by Joseph A. Reaves (U. Nebraska Press, 2002), pp. 42-44

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