Taiwan teacher promotes rugby in Fujian
Yeh Chao-hsiang (fourth from right) encourages students from the No 10 Middle School of Fuzhou during a rugby training session in Fuzhou, Fujian province. [Photo/China Daily]
Yeh Chao-hsiang, a rugby player from Taiwan, is now a physical education teacher at a university in Fujian province. He is the first such teacher from Taiwan.
The 31-year-old works at the Physical Education Institute of Jimei University in the coastal city of Xiamen and is also the coach of the university's rugby team.
During his free time, Yeh works to promote rugby－still a niche sport on the Chinese mainland－at primary and secondary schools in Fujian, and to encourage cross-Straits sporting exchanges. "I have realized my dream of becoming a rugby teacher, and I hope to encourage more children to enjoy the sport," he said.
A rugby champion in Taiwan, Yeh started playing as a child. In his graduate and postgraduate years, he studied sports training with a focus on rugby.
In 2017, he came to the mainland for the first time as a member of the Taipei Giants to participate in the Cross-Straits Youth Rugby Tournament in Fujian's capital, Fuzhou. There, he got to know some mainland players, and unexpectedly, the event later turned into an opportunity to develop his future career.
The rugby exchange between Fujian and Taiwan has been going on for six years and serves as a way to bring players from both sides together.
Before the pandemic, Fujian rugby club members would travel to Taiwan during the first half of each year, and in the second half, members from the Taiwan club would come to the mainland.
Spending one week in Fuzhou during the 2017 tournament changed Yeh's view of the mainland. "It was the first time I had visited the mainland. I felt the local people's enthusiasm for rugby and their interest in Taiwan players," he said.
Rugby is more popular in Taiwan than on the mainland and is played in schools and communities in Taiwan, he said, adding that people on the mainland want to learn from Taiwan's experience in promoting the sport.
"I used to think there were very few people playing rugby on the mainland, but I found that there were clubs and people actively promoting the sport," he said.
Sports can help bridge the distance between people, and strangers become friends off the field, he said, adding that he has learned a lot about the development of rugby on the mainland from people he met in Fuzhou.
When Yeh graduated with a master's degree in 2019 and was looking for a job, he learned that Jimei University was looking to recruit a PE teacher specializing in rugby.
After some consideration, he realized that rugby had a footprint in Xiamen, including a rugby club, university rugby teams and youth competitions, but there was still a lot of room for development.
After consulting the university, he traveled to Xiamen in May that year and was hired after an interview.
Becoming a rugby teacher had always been Yeh's dream, but the market for rugby teachers in Taiwan had become saturated, and the salaries being offered for similar positions were not as good as on the mainland, so he decided to leave the island for a better career.
In recent years, rugby has gained popularity in Fujian, and many primary and secondary schools have started classes, which has increased Yeh's confidence in promoting the sport. He serves as a rugby development consultant for primary and secondary schools, and his students also go on to start rugby classes at primary and secondary schools across the province.
Yeh said that many people mistakenly believe that rugby players have to buy protective gear, boots and other equipment, but all it takes to play is an open space.
"Rugby is a good way to develop teamwork skills," he said. "Students are taught to respect teammates and their opponents."
Although it may seem like a rough sport due to the bodily contact, rugby is traditionally known in the United Kingdom, where it originated, as a gentleman's sport because players must follow strict rules on confrontation. "When players get stomped on or hit, they have to learn to keep calm," he said, "Self-discipline and integrity are also important because playing tricks on opponents is not allowed."
Primary school students are the most active group taking classes, he said. "They are curious and excited when they see the oval-shaped ball and the unique ways the game is played, such as only passing the ball backward."
At university, due to his rising status as a veteran player, college students often ask him for tips on keeping fit.
Yeh hopes to invite friends from Taiwan and Hong Kong to the mainland for rugby exchanges with mainland players and said there are few coaches from Taiwan teaching on the mainland. He encourages more talent from Taiwan to work on the mainland, considering the potential that exists for the sport's growth here.
A member of the Gaoshan ethnic group, Yeh has two older brothers, and his parents grow mountain tea in their hometown of Kaohsiung.
He said that his plan to bring his parents over for a visit has been put on hold due to the pandemic and that he hopes to travel to more mainland cities and see snow in the north of the country.
Yang Jie contributed to this story.