"Gongsi", or Avatar and the art of Soccer

| February 12th, 2010

The following is a guest post by Randy – AlleyCat

Gongsi ( 公司) or "clan halls", are benevolent organizations of popular origin found among overseas Chinese communities for individuals with the same surname. This type of social practice arose several centuries ago in China. The Chinese word Gongsi is used in modern Chinese to mean a commercial company. The dutch word Gongsi has a slightly different connotation; it refers to a rather unusual cooperation between unrelated, non-typical partners.
Soccer is a game in which two teams of 11 players compete to get a ball into the other team’s goal by primarily using their feet.

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History shows the Dutch are familiar with both. In terms of scouting talent Ajax is be a big name in the world of soccer, and perhaps soon even more so in China. The Amsterdam club has followed up on their international aspirations when they established a new gongsi with the CFA (Chinese football association), the top club of China FC Beijing Guoan and the Chinese state-owned television CCTV. The letter of intent, which already had been published on the club’s web site before, was recently signed by all parties in the Amsterdam arena. In recent years, Ajax has thoroughly examined the possibilities in China. With the signing of the "letter or intent", the research stage is over.

"Ajax is the first foreign club that has an official cooperation with the CFA. The cooperation is quite unique, unlike any other partnerships between clubs themselves ", says director Maarten Fontein. "Next year, we plan to invest in the youth of top club Beijing Guoan. Clinics shall be arranged to improve skills of both players and trainers. These clinics are designed to develop awareness of space, passing and support, width, and tactical understanding. In addition, both clubs may participate in each other’s tournaments, and there is a possibility of exchanging trainers. Ajax hopes to access the Chinese football market for scouting talents, an hopes to improve their business with the paired merchandising in the lift. Last but not least, it is also our main sponsor Aegon and Adidas who have reason to be pleased, since the Chinese market is very important to them."
The CFA would also like to make use of the services of Dutchman Guus Hiddink. The former head coach of South-Korea, Australia and Russia is being regarded as the perfect candidate for becoming the new head coach for the national team of China. That is the firm belief of the new head of CFA, Wei Di. "Money is no issue" said Di in an interview wit sina.com. "We do not intend to replace the current federal coach, Gao Hongbo, but as soon as that situation changes, and there is a need for new trainer, it must be our objective to contract Guus Hiddink ", according to Wei Di. He adds:, "if we are to employ foreign coaches, we do not need second-or third choice. The new coach should be the best. It will not be cheap, but I do not believe that money is a problem for us."
Wei Di is not a man of just words. He is known as bold reorganizer. In his previous job as head of the Chinese water-sports federation, he also has strongly invested in attracting foreign coaches. His approach turned out to be fruitful: during the Olympic Games in Beijing, Chinese athletes won gold in the rowing and kayaking, sports in which they formerly had performed mediocre or even poorly. Wei Di is the highest official since last month in Chinese football. He has the immense task to rebuild professional soccer in China which for years been plagued by corruption scandals. October last year, even the Chinese President Hu Jintao has felt obliged to intervene personally. He called on the sport to return back to ‘honesty, fair-play, and discipline".

Tidying-up operation

This statement was immediately followed by a tidying-up exercise. The last two months, the police arrested 21 coaches, players, referees and managers. They are suspected to have put bets on their own competition and at the same time tempering with the result of the matches. It is up to Wei Di to eradicate corruption. His predecessor, Nan Yong is associated with the 21 that were arrested. He risks being sentenced to the death penalty. Yet the main task of Wei Di is to ensure that China’s national team will perform better. The poor level of play is now difficult to swallow for many Chinese, who are having a hard time taking soccer seriously. There is even talk of shame. How can a country that leads in so many areas and inhabits 1.3 billion people, not be able to find eleven players that are good enough to qualify for a World Cup?
The system of kongsi was utilized by Chinese throughout the Chinese diasporas to overcome economic difficulty, social ostracism, and oppression. In today’s overseas communities throughout the world, the gongsi is similar to modern business partnerships, but also draws on a deeper spirit of cooperation and consideration of mutual welfare. It even has been stated by some that the development and thriving of Chinese communities worldwide are the direct result of the gongsi concept. A vast number of Chinese-run firms and businesses were born as gongsi – many ending up as multinational conglomerates. In the Chinese spirit, derived in large part from Confucian ideals, these gongsi members or their descendants prefer not to boast so much of their wealth. Instead they take pride in earning success through their specific work ethics, and the combined efforts of many individuals who are devoted to group welfare.
A similar mythology can be witnessed in Avatar. Two different communities struggling for survival, ultimately forced to cooperate by circumstances. The Na’vi represent something that is our higher selves, or our aspiration selves: what we would like to think we are. The humans represent what we know to be the parts of ourselves that are trashing our world – maybe even condemning ourselves to a grim future. Whether the Dutch will honor their Na’vi aspirations in this case, instead of being the bloody imperialists they always were, remains to be seen. After all, most of these ‘totoks’ (*) can’t be trusted. What makes it even worse: they were invited this time! I still cannot imagine why. After all, even the Dutch are only human…

– Alleycat

authors note: "totok" is an Indonesian pejorative for white Dutchman. Apparently it meant "traveling salesman" in its original Chinese context.

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