Go outdoors! Alfresco activities take hold among China’s youth

“Cycling alone is fun, but your fun will be doubled if you cycle with a group of people,” said Wang Yumeng, who has been biking for four years.

Wang’s interest in cycling started with a photo of a young woman waiting at the traffic light in a professional cycling jersey. She then decided to buy her first outdoor bicycle. “My first bike was a Giant Escape. The name attracted me. I thought it would help me escape my dreary daily routine,” Wang told CGTN.

At first, she realized other cyclists had cycling wearing and gear, so she joined a cycling club, which really boosted her love for the activity.

“Together with them, I rode to a lot of places I had never imagined. For example, I cycled for 200 kilometers into a mountain,” Wang said, adding that her two wheeler widened her boundaries of exploration.

Jeff is also a cycling enthusiast. He told CGTN that he started outdoor cycling as a fitness activity at the beginning of 2022 when he moved from Beijing to Shanghai. He had hiked a lot in Beijing but as the outskirts of Shanghai lack mountains, he tried to look for an alternative cardio workout.

“I have two friends in Shanghai, who are cyclists. I decided to join them so I bought my first bicycle,” said Jeff. His first bike cost him 6,900 yuan ($972) and he believed that’s pretty enough for a beginner.

Wang Yumeng bikes around the Drum Tower in Beijing, capital of China, in April 2023. /Provided by Wang Yumeng

Wang Yumeng bikes around the Drum Tower in Beijing, capital of China, in April 2023. /Provided by Wang Yumeng

Just like Wang, Jeff also enjoyed peddling with a group of people. He said cycling with others can reduce wind resistance and more professional cyclists can also lead other members to explore new routes and help solve problems such as tyre bursts.

Cycling through picturesque landscapes, camping under the stars, hiking to tranquil mountains, and even competitive bouts of frisbee are becoming popular over China. Data shows an increasing number of Chinese people engaging in outdoor activities in recent years, presenting promising opportunities for the outdoor sports market.

According to an industry development report released in October last year, individuals born in the 1990s have become the largest consumer group participating in outdoor sports, accounting for 36.1 percent. They are followed by those born in the 1980s with a share of 32.5 percent. It also revealed a year-on-year increase of 79 percent in outdoor sports-related orders in the first half of 2023, and a surge of 221 percent compared to the same period of 2019.

On the Chinese lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu, numerous daily posts share diverse experiences related to outdoor sports, ranging from sailing, off-roading and skiing to camping, fishing and city walks. Their love for outdoor activities originates from various needs such as getting fit, making friends, enriching their social life or just escaping from the urban life.

Jeff rides a bike with his friends in Shanghai, east China. /Provided by Jeff

Jeff rides a bike with his friends in Shanghai, east China. /Provided by Jeff

“I started hiking after the end of COVID-19. Before the pandemic broke out, I preferred indoor activities like visiting exhibitions and playing murder mystery and escape room games. But after the pandemic, I switched to outdoor activities. I have to go outside. Otherwise, it would be too depressing,” Liu Jiyi, told CGTN in Beijing.

Mark Thomas, a managing director at S2M Consulting, a China-focused sports event company, told Jing Daily, an online media company about China’s luxury consumer trends, that the country has witnessed an increasing long-term interest in health, fitness, and wellness among a fast-growing middle class. He said the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the growth of China’s outdoor sports sector which has tremendous potential. 

According to a development plan released by the General Administration of Sport and seven other departments in November last year, the total value of China’s outdoor sports industry is expected to surpass 3 trillion yuan (approximately $422.6 billion) by 2025, with the number of people participating in outdoor sports across the country already having exceeded 400 million by the end of 2021.

The scenery of Anaguo, a village in Lijiang City, southwestern China’s Yunnan Province, October 1, 2023. /Provided by Liu Jiyi

The scenery of Anaguo, a village in Lijiang City, southwestern China’s Yunnan Province, October 1, 2023. /Provided by Liu Jiyi

The Chinese government has also rolled out various policies to facilitate the development of the industry. 

From 2022 to 2023, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the General Administration of Sport of China (GAS) and other departments issued several documents to boost the outdoor sports industry and promote the facilities and services for outdoor sports. The efforts include establishing trails for brisk walking, improving facilities for camping and mountainous outdoor sports, and constructing parks that provide sports facilities, enabling the public to integrate outdoor activities into their daily lives.

Meanwhile, the standardization of outdoor sports has progressed. Last year, the Chinese government released 11 national standards for ice and snow sports and eight industry standards, including those for sailing and skiing.

As of 2022, there were 127,800 fitness trails in China, up by 20.68 percent from 2021. 

By the end of June 2023, 32 national demonstration projects of hiking and mountaineering trails had been put into use, stretching for more than 3,000 kilometers. And there were 2,452 national-level ice and snow sports venues nationwide by the end of 2022, an increase of 8.45 percent over the previous year, according to a report released by five governmental departments.

“The development of China’s outdoor industry has achieved a historic leap forward in recent years, and is transforming into a mid-to-high-end whole industry chain,” Yang Xuedong, the economic department director of GAS said at a news briefing, adding that the Chinese government will focus on building flagship outdoor sports projects and introducing more high-level sports events to further develop outdoor sports.