Culture Question:

What is the difference between Chinese football culture and Western football culture?

(posted: May 5, 2011)

The first thing to realize is that there is no monolithic 'Western football culture'. There are many cultures within the larger catch-all of Western Culture and each of these cultures brings its own cultural flavor to its football culture. As Rogue Parrish outlines in The Culture of Football and Soccer, in the Netherlands "male fans wear orange milkmaid outfits, contact lenses and wigs to World Cup contests" while fans from Norway will be dressed in "head-to-toe Viking regalia".

While there are these cultural variations, the biggest difference between football cultures in Europe and China is probably the size of the hardcore fan base. In many parts of Europe (and South America and Africa, but NOT in North America) huge numbers of people in the general population treat football as "a matter of life and death" (Parrish). Football teams in these places can become symbols of their countries' identities.

This hasn't really happened in China, though football goes back a long way in China. FIFA has said that "the very earliest form of the game for which there is scientific evidence was an exercise from a military manual dating back to the second and third centuries BC in China." Despite this historical legacy, China does not have organized youth football leagues. The focus of football skills development in China has been on the elite level of players only, with no amateur system to nurture players on their way to becoming professionals. This strategy has not worked for developing a Chinese football team that can take on the world. China's national team has had a rocky go of it and doesn't always make it into the World Cup, resulting in Chinese fans often lending their support to a foreign team during World Cup play.

A similar thing happens in Canada and the U.S., which generally don't share football (or soccer as it is known in North America) fever with the rest of the world. The majority of North American sports fans are just not interested in watching soccer (football). (I have a write-up about why that is here.) Most of the hardcore football fans in these two Western countries are 1st or 2nd generation immigrants from countries with strong football traditions. As a result, Canada and the U.S. probably see more foreign flags than national flags flying within their borders during the World Cup season.

The interest in soccer (football) in North America is growing though. There is even a professional first-division league with 16 American and 2 Canadian teams. And where fans have sprung up, what we see is that "American fans model themselves on the rest of the world [with, for example,] Barra Brava, the fan group allied to D.C. United, lighting sparklers during home games, jumping on the bleachers of RFK Stadium and noise making on snare drums, whistles, cowbells, bagpipes and an English hunting horn." (Parrish)

Noise-making seems to be a common theme in football cultures around the world, including in China. The relatively small set of hardcore fans of the Chinese team Beijing Guo An "sing chant and cheer almost non stop throughout the game." (Carney) You can see some of this Chinese fan excitement on this site.


  1. Carney, Peter. “Football in China”, July 8, 2010. (, 5-May-2011.

  2. FIFA. “The History of Football - the Origins”, 1994-2011. ( historygame1.html), 5-May-2011.

  3. Parrish, Rogue. “The Culture of Football and Soccer”, January 13, 2011. (, 5-May-2011.

  4. Ricardson, Egan. “Bamboo Goalposts by Rowan Simons”, May 23, 2010. (, 5-May-2011.

  5. Simon. "Why Chinese Youth Don't Play Football (And How To Fix This)”, June 24, 2010. (, 5-May-2011.

  6. Wikipedia. "Soccer in the United States". (, 5-May-2011.

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German child football fan in costume and blowing vuvuzela

Chinese football fans cheer