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This is even more surprising since Chinese players can even be found in the world's biggest football leagues
No, not really. There are only two Chinese players that really had a lot of playing time, Sun Xiang, the first Chinese to ever play the European Champions League and Zheng Zhi who played in Premier League with Charlton (which eventually was relegated).
There are a few second rate players who are in the academies or in second rates clubs all over Europe but they are nowhere near international level.
Chinese football suffers quite a few problem, the main ones being corruption, greed and face.
Corruption I won't even talk in detail, there are ample information available on the internet about it.
Greed because they refuse to let good players go to a good European team and would rather sell them to second rate Russian teams. I'm thinking of Chen Tao who probably was the Chinese player with the biggest potential ever. Many European clubs were scouting him, Lyon even made a 750,000 USD offer for him but his club refused to sell him, they wanted 5 millions. 5 millions for a young player who never proved anything. This is the price of an average experienced player ! In the end they sold him to a Russian team for 2.5 millions. How good is Chen Tao now ? The same is true with Wang Da Lei. He was touted as one of the most promising goalkeeper in the world. Lazio and Inter made offers but they were rejected because not high enough. Wang Da Lei ended up NOT playing for his team as he was relegated in the B-Team. Another wasted potential.
Face because the teams prefer to spend millions in foreign players rather than developping proper infrastructure to train young players.
Finally, the biggest problem of Chinese football, from my experience playing with Chinese people, is that China does not have a culture of football at all. Players have great stamina and are even quite skilled technically but they all want to be the star of the team. No sacrifice, very little collective play, if they have a friend more likely to score they won't pass the ball they will try to score by themselves.