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This is Story in the Story.
When Nankai University was founded in 1919, the institution mainly relied on funding from private donors.
In 1937, it had an enrollment of 429 students with 182 sports clubs that included soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball, tennis, and hockey. The pursuit of physical fitness is the ideal accompaniment at the university. Athletics are coded into the school’s DNA.
Students at the Tianjin institution, which this year celebrates its centenary, are renowned as much for their physical fitness as they are for academic excellence.
In an unprecedented move, Nankai University in 2017 issued certificates of physical fitness to over 1,200 graduates who exercised regularly and kept fit.
The university now has 26 academic colleges, more than 2,000 faculty members and over 26,500 full-time students
Today’s Story in the Story looks at how one university in China has continued its tradition of combining education with sports so students will be better prepared for life’s challenges after they graduate.
Sports form an integral part of campus life at Tianjin's prestigious Nankai University, where students are encouraged to improve their physical fitness through dragon boat racing. (Photo: China Daily)
Finance freshman Si Yujia is a shining example of how Nankai students manage to strike a mutually beneficial balance between study and play.
With a multitude of gyms and fitness centers on campus, Si can work out anytime, anywhere, while a proliferation of sporting clubs allows her to pursue her favorite hobbies, including table tennis, swimming, badminton, and - her newest addition - dragon boat racing.
"Nankai's dragon boat team is an honorable team boasting a long history and with many national prizes," Si said.
"As a member of the team, not only do I get a glimpse of this history, I get to join in the fun."
With an emphasis on teamwork, collective coordination, and tradition, dragon boat racing perhaps best represents Nankai's vibrant sporting ethos.
One of the team's senior crew members, postgraduate student Li Yufan, is passionate about the ancient sport.
"Each move of the paddle matters in dragon boat racing. No matter how long or short the distance, the race can only be won if every member rows as best as they can," he said.
Li is one of the converted as far as Nankai's sports obsession goes. He admitted that, in his freshman year, he was shocked to see students "goofing around" with badminton rackets or basketballs, thinking it was a waste of time.
However, as Si summed up, it's all about striking a balance to ensure students stay fit and healthy. "There's always some leisure time for sports," she said.
Physical exercise is not merely a part of Nankai's culture - it is actually written into the rules and regulations of the university.
Students are encouraged to improve their physical fitness through volleyball at Tianjin's prestigious Nankai University. (Photo: China Daily)
Every semester, students undergo tests to track their physical fitness. A health certificate containing the scores of these tests, as well as specific athletic skills, is issued to graduates, along with their diplomas.
Only by meeting the basic requirements of the physical test can undergraduates apply for scholarships or honorary titles.
These regulations aim to encourage students to enhance their physical condition.
Ji Naxin, dean of the sports department, said students should aspire to graduate with both high academic qualifications and a healthy lifestyle.
Nankai has had sports in its genes since its establishment 100 years ago.
Zhang Boling, the university's founder, was determined to make physical activity a pillar of Nankai's reputation. He included physical education in required courses and organized campus sports.
"Zhang emphasized the coordinated development of morality, intelligence and physique, and the idea that fostering sportsmanship is an integral part in shaping one's personality," Yao Ming, chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association, told a sports-related forum at Nankai earlier this year.
"This perfectly resonates with our current idea that the moral values of athletes matter more than winning or losing," Yao said.
Nankai's graduates are not satisfied with just their diploma; the health certificate is equally important.
Many consider the latter as giving them an advantage over their peers in the job market.
Since 2017, a total of 4,036 students have gained the certificate when graduating, among which 229 are given a special designation as graduates with an excellent physique.
Li has already earned his certificate with his bachelor's degree, while Si is still working on it.
"The certificate is not just a recognition of great physical condition, it's an incentive to motivate students to a healthy life," she said.
(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Xu and Da Hang. Music by: bensound.com. Text from China Daily and Global Times.)