BEIJING China must urgently address the physical fitness of the nation's youth or run the risk of raising a generation incapable of fighting the Japanese in a future war, the head of the country's top sports university said Thursday.
The government must immediately invest some of its new wealth in ensuring that children take regular exercise, Beijing Sports University president Yang Hua told the sports group of the largely ceremonial advisory body to China's annual parliament.
"It is time for the Chinese nation to improve the physical fitness of our next generation," said Yang. "If we miss the next three to five years a whole generation will be next to useless.
"If there was another war against Japan, would the younger Chinese be able to fight the Japanese one-on-one?
"The government has enough money for banquets and for luxurious office buildings, do they not have money for children's physical education?" he added.
Japan invaded and occupied much of China between 1931 and 1945. Rancour over Japanese wartime atrocities has subsided as a diplomatic flashpoint, but it continues to shape Chinese public attitudes toward Japan and its people.
The fitness of China's young dominated the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference's sports group, a normally sedate gathering turned into a media circus this year by the presence of hurdler Liu Xiang.
The former Olympic and world champion 110 meter hurdler, unconventionally dressed in jeans with his shirt tails hanging out, was making his first appearance as one of the 22 members of the committee.
"A healthy body is the foundation of everything," he said. "I hope I can be an example to attract more attention to athletics, and encourage our children to be stronger and stronger."
The emphasis on academic education in China -- Chinese teenagers preparing for the university entrance exams often study for more than 12 hours a day -- has been blamed for the lack of exercise undertaken by young.
A year after China's elite athletes succeeded in topping the medals table with a cascade of gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, August 8 was declared "National Fitness Day."
"A survey has shown that Chinese teenagers are behind their Japanese peers in almost every indicator it measured," Jiang Xiaoyu, a senior member of the organizing committee for the Beijing Games, told the meeting.
"The physical fitness of the young is a matter of strengthening our country and our Chinese race."
(Additional reporting by Liu Zhen and Ben Blanchard, editing by Patrick Johnston)