Eastern province building on its reputation as a sporting hub with huge investment in facilities for local communities
Students take aim during archery training at Xiasha Middle School in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. The school is renowned for producing top talent in the Olympic sport. （SHI FUTIAN/CHINA DAILY)
Sport is king in Zhejiang.
For decades, the eastern coastal province has been renowned for producing superstars like swimmer Sun Yang, while the capital city Hangzhou is cementing its reputation as a world-class host as it prepares to stage the 2022 Asian Games.
But Zhejiang is about more than just gold medals and the glory. Massive investment in grassroots facilities as part of the National Fitness Program has mobilized its population on a scale that is virtually unrivaled elsewhere in the country.
Hangzhou Xiasha Middle School, a hotbed of archery, is a shining example of this policy. Since 2012, it has spent over 560,000 yuan ($81,000) on upgrading a training venue and equipment, resulting in a steady stream of eagle-eyed arrow enthusiasts.
"It's no certainty, but if there's a chance I want to become a professional archer," said student Xu Ting. "I started my training three years ago and the school provides us with free equipment and expert coaches.
"I can easily balance schoolwork and training. The sport also teaches us life lessons, such as confidence, persistence and self-discipline. Now, I'm already a second-level athlete."
China's athletes are measured by a five-level evaluation system, so that's pretty impressive for a ninth-grader.
Xu's rapid progress is not unusual at the high-achieving institution. Over the years, Xiasha has become a conveyor belt of talent for city, provincial and national-level archery teams.
"We hope our efforts are helping to grow the sport of archery in Hangzhou," said school principal Jiang Zhiming.
"Each year, we organize three public competitions that are open to local residents, from third-graders to 80-year-olds.
"Among the 1,500 students in our school, over 300 choose archery as an optional course. The cream of the crop will be recommended to join the Hangzhou archery team.
"There are a total of 12 optional sports courses for our students to choose from, including basketball, soccer and athletics.
"We aim to provide students with more opportunities to take up sport, because we believe health is more important than academic performance."
Figures from Zhejiang Sports Bureau back up that philosophy.
The province has built 226 national and international sports schools as well as 566 junior sports clubs. About 40 percent of residents exercise regularly, with an average of 2.19 square meters of sports facilities available to them - significantly higher than the national average of 1.66.
"The principle objective of our work is to improve the lives and health of our people," said Zheng Yao, director of the Zhejiang Sports Bureau.
"Our effort has been paying off and we've attracted more people to the fitness campaign. We are constantly pushing the development of the sports industry, which has already greatly contributed to the growth of our local economy."