Although, I typically don’t like to make generalizations, I think it’s interesting to share some observations I’ve had regarding the fitness stigmas here in Shanghai. This blog entry contains no tips or advice on how to train better or eat healthier but rather it’s a reflection on the industry in which I am in and some context which I find brings things into better perspective. You may agree or disagree with me and if you feel the need to reply back to me, then all the better! I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter as well.
It is little surprise that the fitness industry here in China is still a developing one. You hear it all the time; the state of the gym facilities here in Shanghai, the unprofessional personal trainers, the lack of healthy options for food, the limited fitness activities and functions available. These are all signs of an immature industry and it’s a reflection of the people’s attitude towards exercise and fitness.
This is not a hit on Chinese people and their dis-interest in health and fitness. Exercise has never been a priority in their long and tumultuous past. If we just look back a bit more than one generation ago, China was an entirely different environment than it is now. Lujiazui wasn’t covered in ultra-modern skyscrapers but was occupied by marshes and low-rise residential housing and factories. The priorities of a low-income society are much different than those of a burgeoning middle-class society.
“Many were engaged in traditional services, handicrafts, or small-scale, part-time assembly work. In 1985 workers in urban collective units earned an average annual income of ¥968.”
So it’s not surprising that fitness was not an activity that most Chinese pursued in. When we look at it from this context, it would seem rather ridiculous that someone would choose to exercise instead of making more income to feed your family. Add to the fact that work back then mainly consisted of quite strenuous physical labour. Why would you spend even more time doing exercise!?
When speaking to a Chinese friend why fitness is slow to take-off here in China she had mentioned that it was in part due to the less-than pleasurable experience of going to their local gyms. They are constantly being harassed by the personal trainers to up-sell them on personal training packages. I have also witnessed this with my own eyes and was even told by someone working in the industry that the majority of their responsibilities as personal trainers are to sell rather than to train. This level of professionalism is sadly the norm here.
Context is everything. By understanding where things have been and how things are now, we have perspective that can help shape the future. I firmly believe that the fitness industry here in China will grow exponentially and it is my intention to assist in that progression in whatever way, shape, or form.
Exercise is an activity that is redundant in an agrarian society, but is essential in an urbanized one.
And China is urbanizing like it’s nobody’s business¹.