China captain Fan had put pen-to-paper on a permanent deal from Shanghai Shenhua, while his compatriot Sun had signed on loan from Dalian Shide.
Interest in Palace from China boomed to the extent that the clamour to watch Palace games was unprecedented, with the club even running a Chinese-language version of its website for a brief while.
And while Jihai had made his Palace bow and suffered an injury in a rather more low-key League Cup defeat to Bury the previous week – Zhiyi would debut in the return leg – it was another month before Jihai took to the Selhurst Park pitch.
As demand grew and grew, interest culminated in Palace's match against Sheffield United, on this day 25 years ago: the first-ever English league game broadcast on live national television in China.
This coincided with the home debut of Fan – and as a result yielded one of the club's largest-ever audiences.
While there were around 18,000 fans inside Selhurst Park to watch the Eagles beat the Blades 1-0, some publications cite the international viewing figures as high as 500 million-strong.
The exact figure is understandably unknown, and other publications suggest a more reasonable – if no less surreal – range of 100 to 300 million people tuned in, as Sasa Curcic's 74th-minute goal settled a hard-fought Division One contest.
While international interest has understandably inflated greatly in the Premier League era, the figure at the time was simply remarkable.