Global Times: Story of Village Super League top scorer's pursuit of sports dream portrays a more vibrant countryside

27 December 2023

As the year ends, Dong Yongheng busies himself with the year's final to-do list.

Media line up to interview him, eager to hear a rundown of the last year from the Village Super League top scorer; after being hired as a soccer consultant for local primary and secondary schools, he has assumed the role of instructor, teaching students about soccer in a weekly class; his family's rice starch roll diner is booming, and equally demands his attention... At the beginning of the year, Dong didn't imagine such an eventful life.

Back to the end of July, on a sultry night, the open-air sports stadium in Rongjiang county, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture of Guizhou was transformed into a spectacular carnival site. Crowds surged, drums roared, and locals dressed in splendid ethnic attire, singing and dancing. Tens of thousands of spectators arrived, eagerly anticipating the birth of the first Village Super League champion.

As the leader of the "Loyalty" team, Dong and his teammates - friends with whom he has played street soccer for years - emerged under the pitch floodlights. For two months prior, they had been striving toward this very goal.

An opening goal, an equalizer, a comeback, a buzzer-beater... no winner emerged from the 90-minute match. In the penalty shootout round, the "Loyalty" team narrowly lost.

After failing to lift the championship trophy with his teammates, Dong felt a sense of regret. "The ball is round," he consoled himself with the famous words of Sepp Herberger, the former West Germany national team coach who created the "Miracle of Bern."

Soon after, however, he was happily lifting the tournament's top scorer prize - several Rongjiang small fragrant chickens - and was overcome by the joy of soccer.
That match became the most memorable moment of 2023 for him.

Dong recalled that at the beginning of the Village Super League competition, only team cheerleaders would be present at the stadium, but as the competition's popularity grew through social media and celebrity visits, the fame of the Village Super League also increased. "One afternoon, as I drove past a bridge near the stadium, I found the whole place filled with spectators."

"I realized that our Village Super League had really shot to fame, which was unbelievable," he told the Global Times.

Dong started playing soccer during the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. Never having received professional soccer training, he has always been a street soccer kid. At the beginning of the Village Super League competition, he just wanted to participate as part of a fitness kick.

As the event gained more attention, he began to build team stamina by reviewing past game footage, and studying opponents' weaknesses. "As a soccer enthusiast, I can show my skills and keep fit; and for Rongjiang, we have really made a name for ourselves," he said.

After a year of "craziness," Dong feels his life has become more fulfilling. "Before, life might have been just about daily necessities, but through the Village Super League, I began to pursue my passion. My life has become more colorful," he said.

Dong still runs his rice starch roll diner. He is personally overseeing everything from the rice wrapping to the filling and the cooking of the establishment's offerings.

"Making rice starch rolls is a very tedious task, similar to challenges in soccer, but once you get through them, you will be pleasantly surprised," he said.

Dong's carefully made rice noodles have received high praise from customers and he was even crowned the "Rice Starch Roll King" of Rongjiang in 2022. Becoming a top scorer in the Village Super League made his shop even more popular, selling out every day by 10 am.

"I am the best soccer player among those who wrap rice starch rolls, and the best at wrapping rice starch rolls among soccer players," he laughed.

When asked about his dream in soccer, Dong said: "I want inspire young people to persist and not give up in the face of difficulties with my personal experience. If I have the chance, I want to compete with my idol Messi."

And his goal for the New Year is clear - to win the Village Super League championship alongside his teammates.

A colorful fest

The Village Super League, or "Cun Chao," was created by the locals and primarily features village players in Rongjiang. Since its inception in May, it has rapidly gained popularity online, attracting numerous soccer tourists. It has brought joy to the villagers and spectators, and boosted the local economy, allowing the world to recognize the colorful culture of Rongjiang and Guizhou, and showcasing the happiness of Chinese rural life.

Match venues are regularly packed, with tens of thousands of spectators per game, sometimes exceeding 50,000 fans at peak times. The event has enjoyed sustained online popularity, with over a hundred related topics on Douyin alone, garnering over 5 billion views.

Notable figures, including Chinese soccer commentator Han Qiaosheng, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, and British football legend Michael Owen, have all praised the event on their social media accounts, showing its immense influence and widespread appeal.

A Yahoo Finance article stated that the Village Super League is a passion that transcends sports. The simple times are history; villagers no longer worry about affording food or clothing. They have more confidence in their lives and strive for better things. The Village Super League showcases the vitality of rural life and people's hopes for the future.

Similarly, An Asia International News article mentioned that this rural soccer event has awakened a sleepy Chinese county amid a tourism boom. The surge in tourists has been a boon for Rongjiang's economy, with visitors flocking to rural areas, purchasing local delicacies, staying in villagers' homes for a fee, and engaging with local ethnic minorities to learn about their respective cultures.

The success of the Village Super League goes beyond the soccer field. During the event, the area around the field becomes a stage for cultural display, allowing spectators to enjoy not only exciting soccer matches but also local ethnic minority cultures. Vibrant ethnic costumes, melodious music, and enthusiastic dances all showcase the area's rich cultural heritage. Moreover, local specialties have found a great platform for display and sale during the event.

The Village Super League has helped locals create new income sources, bolstering the local economy and promoting rural tourism and cultural industries. During the 2023 Dragon Boat Festival in June alone, Rongjiang, a small county with a population of just 385,000, welcomed 358,900 visitors, a 345.84 percent increase compared to 2022, generating a total tourism revenue of 444 million yuan ($62.2 million).

The success of the Village Super League reflects the stability and development of the nation. In November 2020, Rongjiang county, as one of the last nine counties to be removed from the poverty list in Guizhou, marked a significant milestone. The unprecedented poverty alleviation campaign has helped Guizhou shed its old label and leap forward by centuries. According to the Xinhua News Agency, since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, Guizhou has lifted 9.23 million people out of poverty at a rate of over 1 million people annually, the highest number in China.

The report to the 20th CPC National Congress also highlights the comprehensive promotion of rural revitalization, calling for coordinated rural infrastructure and public service layout to build livable and business-friendly beautiful villages. In recent years, culture, sports, and technology have continuously empowered rural revitalization, increasing people's happiness and creating a more vibrant rural atmosphere in China.

Dong feels deeply about the changes in his hometown. "When I was in college, it took over 8 hours to travel from Rongjiang to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou. Now, with highways and high-speed rail, it only takes a little over an hour."

"It is only because the country is prosperous and the hometown has shaken off poverty that we have enough time to participate in such competitions and have such enthusiasm and unity. The success of the Village Super League is the result of everyone's joint efforts," he said.

According to Dong, the new season of the Village Super League will kick off in January 2024 and last until about May, "to avoid clashing with major sports events like the European Championship held in the summer." Rongjiang will also host an invitation tournament in the second half of the year. He heard that teams from countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will also come to compete.

The Premier League of England has already taken action. In late November, a delegation from the Premier League, led by senior international advisor Graham Robinson, conducted a cooperation survey in Rongjiang county. They subsequently signed a strategic cooperation memorandum with the Village Super League management center to aid the sustainable and healthy development of Chinese soccer. In mid-December, the first training session organized by the Premier League commenced in Rongjiang, where 44 soccer players, referees, and coaches from the Village Super League learned about training techniques and coaching philosophies.

Showing vitality to world

The Village Super League is just one of many examples that showcase the vitality of rural China.

This spring, a young model from the rural area of South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region took Paris Fashion Week by storm.

Lu Xianren, born in 1999 in Hengxian county, Guangxi, stood out with his meticulously tailored black suit, pristine white trousers, and unique hairstyle.

Unlike traditional models, Lu's journey began on a country road in Guangxi. In 2019, he left his job in Guangdong and returned to Guangxi with dreams of making short videos. His fashion creations, made entirely by hand using materials from woven bags to old lampshades, leaves, and branches, revealed his unique fashion sense.

In the vast fields, Lu Xianren showcased the "mod" of China's countryside to the world. In a recent interview, he said that as a new face on the international runway circuit, he represents a new force, a driving power, and new opportunities.

The growing popularity of short video content creators has thrust the likes of Lu Xianren to the fore, introducing a vibrant and colorful rural world that is not only rich but also culturally diverse to the international stage.

In recent years, with the acceleration of rural revitalization, a new generation of young people's innovative ideas has flocked to the countryside, injecting fresh energy and vitality into rural development. Their new ideas and technologies have further boosted the momentum of rural revitalization.

The Global Times learned from the China Agricultural University that the school established its first "science and technology backyard" in Quzhou county, North China's Hebei Province, in 2009, and the project has expanded nationwide, seeing the establishment of 139 courtyards across 91 counties in 24 provinces. These have not only solved practical agricultural problems but also cultivated a group of idealistic and capable agricultural science and technology talents.

In Xihuai village, Tongzhou district, in the suburbs of Beijing, a new variety of ice cream-flavored radish was introduced through the "science and technology backyard," enhancing the market competitiveness of local agricultural products. Students also teach farmers how to use online platforms to sell products, opening up new channels of income.

In Gusheng village, Dali of Southwest China's Yunnan Province, the focus was on the environmental protection of Erhai Lake and green agriculture. Students worked daily with villagers to test water quality and explore sustainable development models.

Hao Jiaxuan, a graduate student from the China Agricultural University stationed in Gusheng village, shared with the Global Times that initially, it was not easy to join the villagers' tables. However, through continuous communication, they became friends.
Hao and his team have provided the locals with healthier and more environmentally friendly dietary suggestions related to Erhai Lake. The "science and technology backyard" there also organized various training programs according to the actual needs of the villagers, including water saving, hydration and nutrition knowledge popularization, and waste management.

The influence of the "science and technology backyard" has crossed national borders and extended to international cooperation projects. A student from Burkina Faso who studied at the Sino-African Science and Technology Courtyard in Quzhou county, Hebei Province, for example, learned the entire process of growing grains, from seed selection to plowing and fertilizing. After returning home, he applied these techniques, doubling millet yields.

In recent years, more and more young people have been pouring into underdeveloped areas of China, venturing into rural communities, becoming a new force in the process of rural revitalization. Their arrival not only injects vitality into rural areas previously plagued by the issue of workforce flight, but also helps young people to "remember their hometowns." Those who choose to work and develop in rural areas grow in their roles, finding a sense of belonging and achievement.

Indeed, every innovative step on this vibrant land is a testament to the rhythm of the Chinese path to Modernization. This is not just a story of rural revitalization but also about a nation keeping pace with the times, drawing its grand blueprint in the process of national inheritance. This land reflects the soul of modern China - a magnificent panorama of a nation forging ahead in pursuit of its dreams through down-to-earth work.