Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

History of baseball in China

March 5, 2023

While baseball hasn’t yet established a cultural foothold in China like it has in other Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea, the opportunity continues to expand its reach in the most populous country on the planet.

The introduction of baseball in China actually predates its arrival in many other countries. American missionary Henry William Boone is credited with bringing baseball to China with the founding of the Shanghai Baseball Club in 1863. At least three Chinese schools -- Huiwen and Tongzhou Colleges in Beijing and St. John's College of Shanghai -- established baseball programs before the end of the 19th century. According to research from SABR, June 2, 1905, is generally considered to be the date of the first baseball game between two Chinese teams on China’s mainland, with St. John’s College of Shanghai facing a team from the local YMCA.

Baseball continued to grow in China during the first half of the 20th century, but due to the sport’s connection to America, it was essentially eradicated in the country during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, stalling its momentum. Baseball’s rehabilitation in China began after the end of the Cultural Revolution following Mao’s death in 1976, and continues to this day.

Interest in baseball reached unprecedented levels in China in the previous decade, with dozens of new baseball facilities opening up around the country and the number of colleges and universities offering baseball growing immensely. In 2018, Major League Baseball partnered with Tencent to stream MLB games in China.


The China national baseball team has been participating in international competition since the 1980s and took part in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as the host country, as well as each of the first four iterations of the World Baseball Classic. The China Baseball League was established in 2002 and ran for 14 seasons before ceasing operations in 2018. It was replaced by another professional league, the China National Baseball League, in 2019.

Here's a guide to Chinese baseball in advance of the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

WBSC Rank: 30

Last WBC appearance: 2017

Best WBC finish: 2009, 11th place

China’s professional league: China National Baseball League

After the China Baseball League folded following the 2018 season, the China Baseball Association launched the Chinese National Baseball League, with play commencing on Aug. 15, 2019. The CNBL’s charter teams -- the Beijing Tigers, Tianjin Lions, Guangdong Leopards and Jiangsu Huge Horses -- were the same four teams that participated in the inaugural CBL season in 2002.

The CNBL hasn’t played since 2019 due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the league is expected to return to action in 2023. In the interim, players have remained with their clubs to train and hold scrimmages.

2008 Summer Olympics

As the host nation for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese national baseball team received a bid to participate in Olympic competition for the first time. Although the Chinese team finished eighth out of eight teams in the tournament, it did notch its historic first Olympic win, defeating heavily favored Chinese Taipei.

China’s win came in dramatic fashion, as it scored five runs in the bottom of the 12th inning -- after surrendering four in the top of the 12th -- to walk off Chinese Taipei, 8-7.


MLB efforts to develop baseball in China

MLB Development Centers

To help foster Chinese interest in baseball at the grassroots level, Major League Baseball opened a development center in Wuxi in 2009. It became the first baseball training facility in China that provided professional baseball training for middle school and high school-aged students within an academic environment. This was followed by two other development centers, one in Changzhou and one in Nanjing.

In 2015, Xu Guiyuan became the first graduate of one of these Chinese development centers to sign with an MLB team when he joined the Orioles organization. Hai-Cheng Gong (Pirates) and Justin Qiangba (Red Sox) followed in Guiyuan’s footsteps.

MLB China Series

In March 2008, the Dodgers and Padres took part in a pair of exhibition games at the since demolished Wukesong Baseball Stadium in Beijing, marking the first time MLB teams played in China. The two clubs played to a 3-3 tie in front of 12,000 fans in Game 1, and the Padres took Game 2, 6-3.


The Dodgers’ connection to China goes back decades. In 1986, then-owner Peter O'Malley helped to fund the construction of the first baseball-specific stadium in China. Located in Tianjin, a coastal city about 75 miles south of Beijing, the park is aptly named Dodger Stadium and is home to the Tianjin Lions.