Houw Ka-Tjong who would later be known as Hou Jia Chang, was born in Semarang City, Indonesia, in 1942. He was an Indonesian of Chinese descent and his Chinese roots reached back to Meizhou City, Guangdong.
Hou’s father was the one who introduced Hou to badminton at the age of 8 years old. In his autobiography, Hou recalls playing barefoot outside with a repaired racket that was thrown away. After graduating from high school, Hou left for China in 1960.
In 1960, Hou left Semarang after his high school graduation to further his education at the Departments of Sports of the Guangzhou Institute of Physical Education. During the same year, Hou joined the Guangdong provincial team. Rations were scarce and it is said that the women’s team gave a quarter of their own rations to help their male counterparts.
According to the records, Hou competed in his first tournament in July 1961. He won the tournament in which 6 provinces and cities badminton were invited to compete. Especially during the Cultural Revolution, Hou and his compatriots rarely had the chance to play outside of China so they made the most of their scarce outings. His first opportunity came in 1963 for the GANEFO Games hosted by his native country of Indonesia.
The inaugural GANEFO Games took place in Jakarta, Indonesia. Badminton was Indonesia’s national sport and the team was instructed by Chen Yi’s China’s then Foreign Minister to only win 3 events as a courtesy to the host. In exchange, the players would be treated to dinner by the minister upon their return. This was then amended to only take the team event gold medal. In the final against Indonesia, Hou easily won the first match but then he realized that the rest of the team had been instructed to throw their games. Needless to say, Indonesia triumphed in the team event over China. Hou and compatriot, Tang Xianhu, faced off in the finals of the Men’s Singles of the individual event and Hou emerged as the runner-up.
The absence of Chinese superstars such as Hou and Tang from the international scene for many years has prevented them from earning numerous titles. Many wonder how these players would have fared against legends like Rudy Hartono whom they never met in competition. Perhaps one can draw parallels from the friendly matches that Chinese took part during the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1965, they visited Denmark and crushed the top Danish players such as Erland Kopps. In May 1966, the Chinese proved that their precious encounter was not a fluke by whitewashing the Danes 4-0 in front of 5,000 fans in Beijing. In that friendly match, Hou partnered Fu Han-Hsun to win 15-6, 15-4 against Svend Pri and Per Walsøe.
In 1971, Yves Paré, a player from Québec also experienced the mighty Chinese’s domination when Tang and Hou toured Canada. “I had never encountered such brilliant players before (…) If they had been players from a country member of the IBF, I am sure that Tang and Hou would have been ranked the best two players in the world,” said Paré.
In 1972, Hou joined the Chinese national team as well as the Communist Party. His first known participation in individual international competition was at the First King Mahendra Memorial International Friendship taken place in Kathmandu, Nepal, in October 1972. At the tournament, he easily defeated Kenji Suzuki of Japan, 15-4 15-4, in the final round. It was noted that the game was heavily in Hou’s favour as he dominated his Japanese opponent “with smashes and drop shots.” In Men’s Doubles, Hou and Tang did not hold back against the local favourite, Nepalese B.K. Chhetri and his partner, G. Man Singh, and handed out the meager points of 15-3 15-3 on his way to grab his second title. After his performance, Straits Times dubbed Hou as “China’s top badminton player” who was “a 29-year-old clerk with the All China Sports Federation.” When asked about his future plans, “Hou said he would not take part in open World tournaments.”
In 1973-1974, the Chinese team took part in many friendly matches. In January 1973, Hou and Tang were sent on an expedition to England to play against the country’s top players. As China has not sent any players to compete on the international circuit from 1966 to 1972, the players were relatively unknown. “Exciting, fast, accurate, deceptive and, on demand, powerful,” was how Pat Davis described the Chinese. The Chinese team sent shockwaves throughout the badminton community when they dominated England’s best players in every event except in Mixed Doubles. Davis further elaborated that the Chinese players left the “English players stranded like whales.” Their domination was made even more remarkable due to the fact that players such as Hou and Tang were already over 30 years old!
The Chinese played Denmark again in a friendly match in 1973. Hou was matched up against Svend Pri and defeated him 15-6, 15-6. At that time, Svend Pri was ranked second in the world only under Rudy Hartono. The Chinese won 10 matches to 0.
After conquering Denmark, Hou and his teammates moved on to Malaysia. Still in 1973, the Chinese played the Malaysian squad in front of 10,000 people. When asked why he lost 8-15, 3-15, to Hou, Punch Gunalan, who would finish as the runner-up to Rudy Hartono at that year’s All England, simply said, “speed.”
During that friendly match, Eddy Choong praised Hou’s play: “Although not as fast as Tang, Hou has an uncanny sense of anticipation plus a wide variety of strokes (…) His defence is impenetrable. It’s solid. And Hou has proved one point – that the power game does not always win matches.”
After being given permission by the IBF Council to participate in the 1974 Asian Games in Iran, the Chinese were eager to compete and show the world their capabilities. Hou represented China in the Men’s Singles individual event and cruised through his first rounds. He brushed aside the up-and-coming Liem Swie King 15-8 15-7 in the semi-final and met compatriot, Fang Kaixiang, in the final round thus ensuring a gold medal in Men’s Singles for China. Hou overcame Fang with the scores of 15-12, 15-11, to win his first Asian Games title.
In the Team Event, Hou joined forces with Fang and 5 other fellow players (Yu Yaodong, Tang Xianhu, Chen Tianxiang, Chen Hsin Hui, Yang Mei Liang) to breeze through the quarter-finals and semi-final with the tie scores of 3:1 and 3:0 against Hong Kong and Pakistan respectively.
At the final stage, the Chinese had a close call against the Indonesians. Hou won the first singles match of the tie 15-3, 15-7 against Nunung Murdjianto. Hou was back to play in the first doubles match of the tie but lost to Tjun Tjun and Johan Wahjudi 15-12, 13-15, 4-15. By the end of the tie, the Chinese had won all 3 singles matches and lost both doubles. Thus, winning the Team Event gold medal by the narrowest of margins with the score of 3-2 for China.
China had very good results at the 1974 Asian Games. The Chinese won both Male and Female Team events and all of the individual events except for Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles which went to Indonesia.
However, Hou was not invincible. At the 1976 First Asian Invitational Badminton Championships in Bangkok, Iie Sumirat of Indonesia managed to gain the upper hand against Hou with a score 12-15, 15-8, 18-15, in front of a crowd of 12,000 people.
Later that year, the 34-year-old Hou attended the 1976 Asian Badminton Championships held in India. Hou clinched the Men’s Singles title with a victory over Liem, 17-16, 15-9 in only 40 minutes. Hou was 14 years older than Liem.
Two years later at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok, the 36-year-old Hou bronzed in Men’s Doubles with fellow Asian Games veteran, Yu. Hou and his teammates (Hou Jiachang, Luan Jin, Tang Xianhu, Yu Yaodong, Han Jian, Lin Shinchuan) attempted to prolong their reign at the Asian Games but they were unable to retain the title when they fell to Indonesia 1:4 in the final round. Hou and Yu scored China’s only point with their victory over Iie Sumirat and Ade Chandra 15-9, 15-13.
Just two months later, Hou returned to Bangkok for the 1978 WBF World Championships. Hou and Yu triumphed over native stars, Sarit Pisudchaikul and Sawei Chanseorasmee of Thailand, 18-15, 15-12. Hou was awarded his trophy by Deng Xiaoping, the Vice-Premier of China.
Hou finally retired from the national team in 1979. The 3-time national champion (1963, 1972, 1973) transitioned into a coach for the very same national team. During his time as a coach, Hou helped many players – such as Yang Yang, Zhao Jianhua, Xiong Guobao, Han Jian - reach the highest tier in badminton. He is credited with 15 World Championship titles in Men’s Singles as well as 4 Thomas Cup conquests.
From October 1979 to December 1993, he was the head coach of the Chinese team. In 1994, he moved to the United States of America but even after leaving, he maintained ties as a member of the coaching advisory committee of the National Sports Commission of China from January 1994 to December 1997.
In the early 2000s, Hou was living in Mississippi with his second wife, Huang Mei, who was a top Chinese gymnast in the 1960s. Hou lost his first wife to ovarian cancer. Huang worked at the University of Southern Mississippi and Hou helped with the university’s badminton program.
In 1986, the Badminton World Federation honoured Hou Jia Chang with the IBF Distinguished Service Award. Almost 20 years later, Hou was inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame in 2002 where his achievements would be immortalized for the generations to come.
2002 – IBF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Apa & Siapa (Sabaruddin Sa.)
Badminton – The Complete Practical Guide (Pat Davis)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Gillian Gilks – A Life of Badminton (David Hunn)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Histoire du badminton (Jean-Yves Guillain)
L’univers du badminton avec Yves Paré (François Béliveau)
Tempo (December 23, 1978)
The Straits Times (October 14, 1972)
The Straits Times (January 21, 1973)
The Straits Times (September 21, 1973)
The Straits Times (September 23, 1973)
The Straits Times (November 7, 1976)
The Straits Times (November 8, 1976)
The Straits Times (November 9, 1976)
The Straits Times (November 9, 1978)
-- By Yves Lacroix