China saddles up with exclusive riding clubs and horse towns

Chinese riders and their horses take part in a performance in the show hall of an equestrian-themed town in Jiangyin, Jiangsu province, northwest of Shanghai. (AFP)
Updated 31 December 2018
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China saddles up with exclusive riding clubs and horse towns

SHANGHAI: Leather riding boots are neatly lined up on a carpet, a picture shows blood-thirsty hounds on a fox hunt and a fountain spews water from the mouths of stone horses.

These may sound like the trappings of upper-class Britain, but this is in fact suburban Shanghai and the County Down Club, the self-styled first exclusive membership club in China for horsemanship and fox-hunting.

The club, which takes its name from a county in Northern Ireland, was founded three years ago and owner Steven Sun says equestrian sport “has developed rapidly in China during the past five to ten years.”

“I think it’s a change in awareness,” said the 32-year-old, whose interest in horses was triggered while studying in Britain.

Rising numbers of Chinese are taking up sports such as horse riding as the country's growing economy — now the second biggest after the US — gives people more disposable income to pursue leisure activities.

County Down has a dozen horses and Sun wants it to be at the forefront of promoting equestrian sports in China.

 

 The club, which also features an indoor swimming pool, gym and sparkling white piano, is just as much about networking as about horse riding, Sun says.

County Down has about 80 members and annual membership is 58,000 yuan ($8,400), but prospective newcomers will need more than just deep pockets.

“We hope our members have good qualities and manners or are highly educated elites,” said Sun, in a polo shirt and riding trousers. 

“That can ensure communication between our members will be at the same level. One of the benefits is that our members can meet using this platform and push each other forward.”

Sun says he has forged links outside China, too, taking members on fox hunts with European nobility. He also has four racehorses in France.

Zoe Quin recently founded WonderHorse, which provides products and services relating to horses. The industry is “booming” for two main reasons, said Shanghai-based Quin.

“Chinese parents consider horse riding an elite education to make their kids more outstanding in this highly competitive Chinese society,” said Quin, formerly chief representative in China for LeCheval, which promotes the French horse industry.

“As for adults, they can extend their participation in equestrian sports beyond riding into broader aspects such as ownership, investment, travel, leisure and social activities. More than a sport, it is a new experience for Chinese.”

The governmental Chinese Equestrian Association declined to give numbers, but according to the respected Horsemanship magazine’s annual report, there were 1,802 equestrian clubs in China up to July 2018. That is double the number in 2016, with the majority in northern and eastern China, notably around Beijing and Shanghai, according to the magazine's findings.

With the Chinese government stating in 2014 that equestrian sports were to be “strongly supported,” the trend looks set to continue.

Underlining the point, in January 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in China bearing the gift of a French Republican Guard horse for his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

However, Horsemanship identified areas of concern, primarily the lack of media coverage and a shortage of experts such as trainers and vets.

A two-hour drive from Shanghai is the horse-themed “Pegasus
Water Town” complete with hotels, art gallery, a mall with Venice-style gondolas, an equestrian club and “Horse Culture Museum.”

There are more than 400 horses of dozens of breeds imported from around the world and visitors form long queues for horse-drawn carriage tours of the resort in Jiangsu, northwest of Shanghai.

Once a week, pristine horses are paraded and perform crowd-pleasing tricks in an opulent arena designed in what the official website calls “Austro-Hungarian Empire style.”

A giant portrait of Napoleon on horseback overlooks the performance.

At one point in the show, women horse riders in white gowns and sparkling tiaras convey white carriages that would not look out of place at a British royal wedding.

It is all a far cry from 40 years ago, when China’s ruling Communist Party launched wide-ranging reforms that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.

“Forty years ago China was very poor, there was no possibility to do such a high-end sport,” said Shen Houfeng, general manager of Heilan International Equestrian Club, one of the jewels of the resort.

“But you see 40 years after reform and opening, China has seen big changes. It’s gone from a country people didn’t pay attention to, to one that everyone cares about.”

FASTFACTS

There were estimated to be 1,802 equestrian clubs in China to July 2018.


US intelligence says Huawei funded by Chinese state security: report

Updated 20 April 2019
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US intelligence says Huawei funded by Chinese state security: report

  • The accusation comes at a time of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing
  • Huawei dismissed the allegations

US intelligence has accused Huawei Technologies of being funded by Chinese state security, The Times said on Saturday, adding to the list of allegations faced by the Chinese technology company in the West.
The CIA accused Huawei of receiving funding from China’s National Security Commission, the People’s Liberation Army and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network, the British newspaper reported, citing a source.
Earlier this year, US intelligence shared its claims with other members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, which includes Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, according to the report.
Huawei dismissed the allegations in a statement cited by the newspaper.
“Huawei does not comment on unsubstantiated allegations backed up by zero evidence from anonymous sources,” a Huawei representative told The Times.
The company, the CIA and Chinese state security agencies did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
The accusation comes at a time of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing and amid concerns in the United States that Huawei’s equipment could be used for espionage. The company has said the concerns are unfounded.
Authorities in the United States are probing Huawei for alleged sanctions violations.
Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Canada in December at the request of the United States on charges of bank and wire fraud in violation of US sanctions against Iran.
She denies wrongdoing and her father has previously said the arrest was “politically motivated.”
Amid such charges, top educational institutions in the West have recently severed ties with Huawei to avoid losing federal funding.
Another Chinese technology company, ZTE Corp. , has also been at the center of similar controversies in the United States.
US sanctions forced ZTE to stop most business between April and July last year after Commerce Department officials said it broke a pact and was caught illegally shipping US-origin goods to Iran and North Korea. The sanctions were lifted after ZTE paid $1.4 billion in penalties.
Reuters reported earlier this week that the United States will push its allies at a meeting in Prague next month to adopt shared security and policy measures that will make it more difficult for Huawei to dominate 5G telecommunications networks.