There will be five ranking tournaments in China next season, beginning with the Wuxi Classic, upgraded from invitation event status, in July.
A new Chinese ranking event in October will carry a top prize of £125,000. In addition, the Shanghai Masters, Haikou World Open and China Open will return.
Players unenthusiastic about travelling to China can of course opt out but it will cost them precious ranking points, not to mention the chance to win big money. As a snooker territory it is here to stay.
China first staged a ranking event in 1990 but it wasn’t until 1999 that it held another.
I was there. It was the China International in Shanghai and featured an all Scottish semi-final line-up.
Billy Snaddon beat Stephen Hendry in one semi but then lost to John Higgins, who beat Alan McManus in the other.
There had been forays to China long before this, some involving Barry Hearn’s Matchroom stable. One time Hearn had been savvy and invited the then WPBSA chairman Rex Williams along, which led to Rex turning up for a photo-shoot on the Great Wall resplendent in a posh cashmere coat.
When Barry reminded him the dress code was supposed to be casual, Rex responded, “dear boy, this is casual.”
Anyway, by 1999 there was clear interest and tournaments were staged again later that year, in 2000 in Shenzhen and back in Shanghai in 2002.
All went quiet as the WPBSA’s resources dwindled but by 2005 the China Open had been revived in Beijing.
This is possibly the best snooker event I have ever attended. It is hard to explain exactly why to those who weren’t there but everything about it was an eye-opener, from seeing the sights of Beijing itself to the snooker and the emergence of a new national hero in Ding Junhui.
That we are now at the stage where there will be five ranking events in China is down to Ding.
He turned 18 that week and was a revelation, beating Peter Ebdon and Ken Doherty in whitewashes before his 9-5 defeat of Stephen Hendry in the final.
It was an incredible triumph and the nation immediately took him to their hearts. More significantly, major companies started to see snooker as a sport they wished to become involved in.
Here in the UK it is still seen as something of a working class pursuit, hence it mainly attracts sponsors associated with perceived working class activities (smoking, drinking and gambling).
In China snooker is regarded as a bit of a cut above, an activity that appeals to the moneyed. Actually, the truth is that is has always been a game enjoyed by all different types of people but China’s image of snooker has led to serious investment and fully funded, underwritten ranking events.
The TV viewing figures are huge and growing the more they show. This is a genuine boom. I have been to a Star table factory in China which runs 24/7 to meet the demand.
Snooker clubs are full and more and more youngsters are taking to the game.
There seems to be something in the national make-up which makes snooker a sport the Chinese take to.
The new Welsh Open sponsor, to be announced soon, has apparently come about due to moves from the company's Chinese office, due to viewing figures for this tournament being so strong.
However, ordinary Chinese people do not earn fortunes and ticket prices for tournaments are high, so when you turn on Eurosport to watch the China Open the hall seems half empty and the assumption is understandably drawn than not many people in China like snooker.
I can assure you this isn’t the case. I’ve seen unlikely players chased down corridors for their autograph as if caught up in Beatlemania.
It’s a little different to schlepping past the swimming pool at the Newport Centre unnoticed.
Chinese tournaments traditionally start with a red carpet parade. The media go nuts when snooker hits town. And sponsors are clearly willing to invest big money for more and more events.
Not all players like this. I have sympathy with those who dislike travelling full stop. Not everyone enjoys flying but the British players should see how lucky they are: Chinese players have to leave their home country for most of the year to come and live in the UK, away from their families, to play qualifiers and PTCs. This is far more of a sacrifice.
I’m afraid there is also a degree of cultural ignorance. More than once I’ve heard a player complain that ‘nobody speaks English over there’ or that ‘the food is all different.’
Actually, in the hotels in which the players stay almost everyone speaks English and you can get just about any sort of food you like.
I once heard a group of hangers-on complaining that the beer in the official hotel was too expensive – as if the thought of going outside and experiencing the varied and remarkable sights on the streets of Beijing was just too much of an adventure.
A more justifiable complaint is the cost of actually getting to China for all these tournaments, although prize money for the Chinese events is on the rise.
The bottom line is this: snooker’s growth and sustainability depends on it becoming a properly global sport. There is money in China, and company bosses want to spend it on snooker.
The circuit remains predominantly British in terms of player representation but it can’t remain this way in terms of the spread of tournaments.
Not everyone in snooker is happy with the fact, but it remains true: there is a whole world out there, and China’s green baize bubble shows no sign of bursting just yet.