Baseball is very popular in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea but not other Asian countries. Why is that?
If I had to guess, it’s probably because during early 20th century when baseball was the most dominant sport in America, Japan got caught up in it – at this time Japan was militarily the most dominant country in Asia. They were influenced by global trends and baseball was a global trend at the time. To this day, Japan boasts the best professional league outside the MLB.
South Korea and Taiwan were colonies of Japan at that time and they too got caught up in the baseball trend. Remember, Koreans and Taiwanese were forced to speak Japanese during that time.
Baseball wasn’t popular in China because during that time China was very fragmented. The Qing Dynasty had collapsed just decades earlier and China under the ROC was fragmented among various regional warlords all vying for control, and Manchuria was under Japanese control at the time. Most Chinese were impoverished and illiterate at the time. Except for Shanghai which was considered the ‘Paris of the East’ at the time, the other parts of China wasn’t a good time for Chinese people (hence why Communism became popular) and they hardly had any leisure time to preoccupy themselves with baseball (which required substantial equipment, team + setup to play, compared with basketball or other sports).
Basketball became popular in China because of Yao Ming; when he joined the NBA he brought along a billion fans with him. Taiwanese also watched Yao Ming as one of their own.
Basketball is not as popular in Japan and Korea because they didn’t have any star player in the NBA. On the other hand – Japan and Korea have professional players in the MLB – Ichiro Suzuki and Ryu Hyun-Jin respectively, whereas China has none – and that is another reason why baseball isn’t as popular in China.