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Millennial "Village Wrestling" lights up Northern China
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Millennial "Village Wrestling" lights up Northern China

After Li Yansheng winning his sixth straight bout, the open-air arena erupted with thunderous applause and cheers, while the host's announcement heightened the atmosphere, "congratulations to our first 'Sheep Holder,' Li Yansheng!"

This scene unfolded on April 17 during a wrestling competition, known as "Village Wrestling," in Yuanping City, located in north China's Shanxi Province. Nearly ten thousand spectators in the outdoor arena witnessed Li, from Beisanquan Village in Yuanping City, defeat six opponents in a row to secure the title of the first "Sheep Holder" in this event.

This highly anticipated wrestling match, also known as "Naoyang (fighting for sheep) Wrestling," originated in the Xinzhou region and is usually held in village areas. Its unique feature is that participants are not restricted by gender or age. In this particular competition, the youngest contestant was a 13-year-old girl, while the oldest was a 60-year-old man.

The victorious wrestler, who has achieved six consecutive wins, is awarded the title of "Sheep Holder." Traditionally, the prize for such matches is usually a live sheep, and the winner proudly carries the sheep home, signifying victory and strength.

Naoyang Wrestling can be traced back to the Song Dynasty, boasting a long history. In ancient times, the Xinzhou region was situated on the border, and the border guards would engage in wrestling as a form of training and entertainment during their downtime from guarding the city. Over time, this tradition gradually spread and became a local entertainment sport.

"The rules of this competition are quite straightforward: any part of the participant's body other than their feet touching the ground results in defeat," said Liu Mingyuan, the chairman of the Yuanping City Wrestling Association.

In 2008, Naoyang Wrestling was included in the national intangible cultural heritage list, and the three areas of Yuanping City, Xinfu district, and Dingxiang county were also awarded the title of "Hometown of Chinese Wrestling."

Like many others in Yuanping, Li Yansheng grew up watching Naoyang Wrestling. The intense and thrilling wrestling moves fascinated him, and at the age of seven, he stepped onto the stage for his first competition.

"I had no experience during my first match and quickly had my head pressed to the ground by my opponent," said Li.

Influenced by the wrestling atmosphere in his hometown, Li embarked on a professional wrestling path. Through continuous effort, he has now become a member of the Shanxi Provincial Wrestling Team.

Liu Mingyuan explains that the enthusiastic wrestling atmosphere in Yuanping has led many local youths to pursue professional wrestling careers, continuously supplying talent to both the provincial and national teams.

"To date, Yuanping has contributed over 150 team members to the Shanxi provincial team, and wrestlers from Yuanping have represented the national team in more than 20 competitions," said Liu.

The renowned Naoyang Wrestling not only enjoys popularity among the people of Shanxi but also attracts participants and spectators from various regions, including Beijing, Hebei, and Inner Mongolia.

"Being at the scene was truly awe-inspiring. I never expected that China would have a grassroots wrestling competition with so many passionate wrestling fans, perhaps even more than some major wrestling events," said Zhang Wenyan, an audience member from Beijing.

"Naoyang Wrestling is deeply loved by people here. Meanwhile, our efforts are underway to refine the rules and format of the competition, allowing more people to better appreciate the joy that wrestling brings," said Liu.

Xinhualiu sha

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