It may be an Asian century that lies ahead of us, but we're not quite there yet. Western declinists and China alarmists, take note: Its soccer team is still abysmal. How can an increasingly prosperous nation of 1.3 billion be so bad at its favorite sport? Well, it turns out that social norms make a difference:

Many Chinese sports analysts and scholars point to endemic corruption within the association as one cause of the sport’s ills. The association started the current league system in 1994, and soccer became the first sport to achieve commercial success in China, with sponsors pouring in millions of dollars.

Xu Guoqi, a professor of East Asian history at Kalamazoo College and the author of a new book on China and the Olympics, said Chinese soccer would improve only after the rule of law is established in China. ... “Without rule of law, corruption will get involved, and nobody is responsible to anyone,” said Xu, who wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post last month lamenting the state of Chinese soccer. “If Chinese continue to be obsessed with soccer, they’ll definitely demand something dramatic, something political or involving rule of law. It will start with sports, and then it will move onto something bigger.”

Granted, it's hard to explain how this theory can be reconciled with Italy's World Cup triumph, but the point remains that it'll be a long time before China rivals the West on the soccer front. (And India...well, let's not even start.)

On an unrelated note, today is my last day at TNR, so I wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who's taken the time to read and comment on my posts over the past year. It's been a lot of fun, and I still hope to contribute occasionally, but the regular blogging will sadly be coming to an end.

--Josh Patashnik