Since 2008, when China hosted the Olympics, athletic passion has become almost a patriotic duty. But the most visible forms of exercise are fairly timeless; head to any public space in the morning and you’ll see citizens going through all sorts of martial-arts routines, playing ping pong and street badminton, even ballroom dancing. Sadly though, facilities for organized sport are fairly limited.

The Chinese are good at “small ball” games such as squash and badminton, and, of course, table tennis, at which they are world champions, but admit room for improvement in the “big ball” games, such as football. Nevertheless, Chinese men follow foreign football avidly, with games from the European leagues shown on CCTV5. There’s also a national obsession among students for basketball, which predates the rise to international fame of NBA star Yao Ming, who plied his trade for the Houston Rockets.

If China has an indigenous “sport”, however, it’s the martial arts – not surprising, perhaps, in a country whose history is littered with long periods of civil conflict. Today, there are hundreds of Chinese martial-arts styles, often taught for exercise rather than for fighting.

As for outdoor activities, hiking for its own sake is slowly catching on, though tourists have plenty of opportunities for step-aerobic-type exercise up long, steep staircases ascending China’s many holy mountains. Snow sports have become popular in Dongbei, which has several ski resorts, while the wilds of Yunnan and Sichuan, along with Qinghai and Tibet, are drawing increasing numbers of adventurous young city-born Chinese – always dressed in the latest outdoor gear – to mountaineering and four-wheel-drive expeditions.

Essentials

Everything you need to know before you set off.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

An expert's guide: where to stay in Shanghai

An expert's guide: where to stay in Shanghai

Shanghai has to be a contender for the buzziest city in Asia, a thriving business hub that's brashly modern yet wears its history on its sleeve. Dense with glit…

23 Oct 2017 • Simon Lewis insert_drive_file Article
The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook