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Ancient Chinese Sports:

China is one of the oldest civilizations of the world. It is said that Sports in China as old as the civilization itself and
different forms of Sporting Activities existed in China. Physical activity in China is as old as 10,000 years old and
includes limbering, lifting metal tripods and shooting arrows (i.e. also known as shejjan). The Zhou Dynasty was
well known for encouraging physical activity and sports.
The growth of Sports in China took place along with the military, political and economic growth in China.
Swordsmanship and touhu (throwing arrows into wine pitchers) of the spring and autumn and the Warring States
periods (770-221 BC), cuju (football) and baixi (acrobatics) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), jiju (polo) of the
Tang Dynasty (618-907) and bingxi (games on ice) were extremely famous, along with hunting.
Animal Play as a physical activity became very prominent during the Hans Dynasty and daoyin, which means
physical exercise along with breathing, was practiced. Auto massage was an effective exercise. Archery, Arrowshooting was also one of the favorite sports of the people in China.
Wrestling and martial arts also known as Wushu was introduced in China and till date is prominent. Coloured
pottery, bronzeware, bronze mirrors, chinaware, murals, brick paintings, Yungang grottoes, Dunhuang murals, and
paintings of the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties were ancient sports relics.

Ancient China Sports were very diversified and had a unique value in terms of health, military uses, activity,
different uses etc and also had its own value for being a part and parcel of The Ancient Chinese Civilization.

A major aspect of Song Emperor Huizongs birthday celebrations was a soccer match between royal
teams. Two referees would certainly have been warranted on these occasions, as the losing team
faced flogging and having their faces smothered in yellow and white powder. Soccer matches were
eventually institutionalized and incorporated into festive occasions. They commenced after all in
attendance had drunk their sixth cup of wine. Being played in the spirit of performance rather than
competition, they were less ferocious than Emperor Huizongs birthday matches.
It was also during the Song Dynasty that football clubs, known as Yuan Societies, first appeared in
China. Their players were called Yuan mates, and had the hypothetical right to transfer to other
clubs. Leaving a Yuan Society, however, was no easy matter. Yuan mates seeking to play elsewhere
were required to give detailed information about their coaches and previous career experience and
also to pass rigorous tests of foot balling skill. One such rite of passage was keeping the ball in the
air for 100 kicks off either foot.

Cuju maintained its popularity right through the succeeding Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644)
dynasties, but declined during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The rulers of Chinas last imperial
dynasty were of the Manchu ethnicity. They espoused archery and wrestling, preferring to inhibit
team sports that could be a front for subversive groups.

Beat the Ball

Hitting, as well as kicking, a ball was also a popular pastime in ancient China. In the Tang Dynasty it
took the forms of maqiu (polo), a sport as popular as cuju during the Tang Dynasty, and buda (step
hit) a game similar to hockey.
During the Song Dynasty buda became refined into the game known as chuiwan (hit ball). The main
differences between chuiwan and buda were that the point of the former was to hit the ball into a
hole rather than a goal, and competitiveness was based on indirect, as opposed to direct,
confrontation. Hockey thus evolved into the earliest form of golf.

The heads of chuiwan clubs were made of wood and wrapped in ox sinew. They were fashioned for
long- and short-distance shots. The shaft was made of hard yet flexible bamboo. The ball was
slightly larger than an egg and made from knots of lumber, cattle horn or agate.
There were both individual and team chuiwan events. The distance between player and hole varied
between a dozen to 20 meters. Contestants scored by getting the ball into the hole in three shots.
In 1282, the 19th year of Zhiyuan Reign of the Yuan Dynasty, Ning Zhi wrote a book on chuiwan
called Wan Jing (The Book of Chuiwan). It gives a detailed account of the history of chuiwan, its
general rules, and competition venues. Chuiwan is the obvious forerunner to todays golf. The main
difference between the two is that chuiwan was played one-handed.

Football, or to be more exact, soccer, was first played in China in the Han Dynasty (206 BC AD
220). Then, as now, the actual ball was made of leather, and inflated with hair and other soft fillings
rather than air. That the so-called beautiful game has such a long history in the celestial kingdom
may come as a surprise. The astonishing fact of the matter is that it was played by both men and
women. This is attested by Han Dynasty historical records and images on bricks. The sports
emphasis at that time was on individual rather than team skills.

Football in the Han Dynasty was played on a pitch bounded by low walls on all four sides. There
were 12 players on each side and two referees chief and deputy. Han Dynasty strategists
considered football, or cuju (literally kick ball), as an effective form of military training. It helped to
build up soldiers physique, nurture valor and acquaint them with the subtleties of attack and
defense. When celebrated Han general Huo Qubing led his troops to the Gansu Corridor to fight the
Xiongnu (Hun) invaders, he gave orders to build and play upon a football pitch. This was an effective
way of boosting troop morale as well as keeping them fit.
Female footballers appeared once more in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) at the time when air-inflated
footballs, made from eight pieces of leather stitched together over an animal bladder, appeared.
Women were the main exponents of a game that was actually a kind of reverse kick-basketball.
Players from both teams took turns at aiming for a single, aerial, goal that hung in the center of the
pitch. It was constructed out of two 10-meter-high poles, between which hung a net with an opening
one meter in diameter.
The succeeding Song Dynasty (960-1279) is regarded as the golden age of cuju in China. Both
single- and double-goal football were played throughout, but it was the latter that became a national
favorite, both at court and among the common people. Improvements in football-making technology,
whereby the shell was made from 12 rather than eight pieces of leather, also gave the ball a rounder

Artful Archery

China has a 2,000-year history of archery (shejian,) according to historical records. In remote
antiquity, bows and arrows were used for hunting and later as weapons. Chinas most famous
archer, often dubbed the Chinese Robin Hood, was Yang Youji who lived during the Warring States
period (475-221 BC). Every Chinese person associates Yang Youji with the story of the competition
between him and another archer named Pan Hu. When Yangs turn came to shoot, he complained
that the target was both too large and too near. He agreed to take his turn after substituting the
target for a willow leaf and lengthening the distance to 100 paces. He naturally won the competition
hands down. The two Chinese idioms bai bu chuan yang (shoot an arrow through a willow leaf at a
hundred paces) and bai fa bai zhong (a hundred shots, a hundred bulls eyes) that originate from
this story make shooting at willow (sheliu) synonymous with striving constantly to improve skills.
Shooting at willow subsequently evolved into horseback archery, an extremely difficult sport at which
only the most skilled exponents could compete. The target comprised two rows of peeled willow
twigs stuck in the ground and tied at the top with a kerchief. Each of the contestants aimed a
flightless arrow at one of the twigs as they rode past. The point was to split it and catch the topmost
half before it hit the ground. Archers that accomplished both feats scored highest, followed by those
that hit their twig but failed to catch the severed half.
This sport was a feature of Song Dynasty military training and performances. It began to die out
around the mid-Qing Dynasty with the introduction of hot weaponry.


Wrestling (jiaodi) was the ancient sport believed best to evince the might of the ruling monarch. This
concept was based on the legendary battle of two tribes. One was headed by Yellow Emperor, the
other by Chiyou, chief of the Miao tribe and inventor of weapons and metallurgy. Chiyou was a
ferocious warrior who affixed two ox horns to his head with which to gore his foe. Although he failed
to vanquish the Yellow Emperor, tales of his bravery have been passed down through generations.
Ox horn headgear became a facet of the Chinese traditional performance art known as Chiyou
Drama, that emerged and became popular during the Qin Dynasty (221 207 BC). Its performers
wore horns and simulated battles between wild oxen.
It was Emperor Qinshihuang that first brought Jiaodi Drama (wrestling minus the ox horns) to the
imperial court. Upon unifying China, the emperor collected, confiscated and destroyed all weapons
so as to consolidate his rule and prevent uprisings. It was his love of Jiaodi Drama that gave him the
idea of promoting jiaodi as a means of self-defense. This form of drama subsequently developed into
a competitive sport of strength and skill. By the succeeding Han Dynasty it was a favorite among the
common people. They would travel from near and far to attend large-scale official contests held
regularly in large towns and cities.
The Mongolian rulers of the Yuan Dynasty particularly enjoyed both watching and actively
participating in wrestling. It was also a sport for women. Marco Polos travel notes mention one Yuan
Dynasty noble woman who decided that she would marry the man that could defeat her in a
wrestling bout. As it happened, she emerged undefeated from a series of matchmaking feats, and so

found no mate. Her wrestling prowess did, however, win her the reward of 10,000 horses. There is
no record of whether this doughty lady subsequently abandoned wrestling in favor of horse racing.

Sports in Ancient China and Greece

The history of the Olympic Movement may be divided into the ancient and modern periods.
The ancient period covered at least 12 centuries from 776 BC when the first Olympic
Games was held in Greece to AD 339 when the Roman emperor Theodosius the Great
prohibited the Olympic Games as a pagan activity. Then came a lull of some 15 centuries in
which no Olympic Games were held, though the ancient Olympic ideals had not perished
from the mind of many a great thinker. The modern period has covered less than one
century, starting from 1896 when the first modern Olympic Games was held ---on an
international rather than national scale.
Chronologically, the ancient period of the Olympic Movement corresponded in Chinese
history to the period from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-256 BC) to the Jin Dynasty (265240 AD), while the modern period corresponded to the period from the latter part of the
region of Guang Xu (1875-1909) of the Qing Dynasty to the present-day People's Republic
of China. In the ancient period,China had no relations with Greece in the field of sport,
although there was the Silk Road serving as a channel of trade and cultural exchanges
between the East and West from the second century BC. In the modern period, however,
China has been associated very early with the Olympic Movement. Such a relationship is
more or less rooted in the common origin and features shared by ancient China and
Greece in the field of sport, which forms part of national culture and is inseparable from
socio-political life---for all social communities at all times.
The ancient Olympic Games were a four-yearly event with sporting activities as its main
content and the cessation of hostilities among the city states in Greece as its main
characteristic. In those days, China also experienced divisions from time to time. There
were the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC) and the Period of Warring States (475221 BC) during the Zhou Dynasty before the First Emperor of Qin (259-210 BC) unified the
whole Chinese empire. Following the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), the main part of China
was divided again during the Period of Three Kingdoms (220-280), to be reunified under
the Jin court. As in ancient Greece, there were of course intervals of peace between wars
among the states or kingdoms---not as a result of the proclamation of truce during the
Olympic Games which were non-existent in ancient China, but as a result of diplomatic
manoeuvres or military deterrent forces. After all, there is the universal law of "split after
long unity and unity after long split," as Chinese philosophers put it.
However, the non-existence of Games does not necessarily mean non-existence of sports.

As a matter of face, there are sports whenever and wherever there are human activities.
Man must take up sports to keep fit for survival and amuse themselves after work. In order
to gather food , hunters in the palaeolithic times not only invented tools, such as stone
axes, balls, hooks, spearheads and nets, but also learned how to use them more efficiently,
knowing that only with a stronger physique and the ability to run and swim faster, jump
higher and throw a projectile farther and with greater precision could they catch more game
and fish. This was the origin of the running, jumping, throwing and swimming events which
figure so largely in the Olympic Games today, and whose origin can only be attributed to
human instincts rather than to a particular race or individual at a particular time. The stone
balls excavated in Gaoyang County in China's Shanxi Province date back to 100,000 years
and are supposed to have been used not only in hunting, but also in throwing contests as
athletes do in shot putting today. Archery, another Olympic event, has appeared in the
mythology of many nations. Odyssey was said to have slain his wife's suitors with his bow
and arrows. A Chinese legend has it that during the Yao times many thousand years ago, a
marksman named Hou Yi shot down nine of the 10suns in the sky which had scorched all
plants on the earth. Even today, bows and arrows are still used among many ethnic groups
in China as a weapon to kill animals and in archery as a popular sporting event.
In ancient times men engaged themselves not only in flight with nature, but also in flight
among themselves. Therefore sport has yet another aim: to improve the ability to beat the
enemy, with or without weapons. During the rule of the Yellow Emperor, who has been held
as the first ancestor of the Chinese nation, a rebel tribe headed by Chiyou trained his
warriors in fighting with cow horns fastened to the head, which was included in the "one
hundred amusements" and developed into various forms of wrestling in later generations.
Military training in ancient China included all kinds of martial arts, such as wrestling,
pugilism, fencing, tripodlifting, horse-racing, stone-throwing, hunting and swimming. During
the Spring and Autumn Period, a high-ranking official in Qi state named Guan Zhong (?-645
BC) ordered the building of swimming pools by conducting the water of three rivers and
awarded heavy prizes to good swimmers among his "water troops." A copper pot excavated
in Chengdu in Sichuan Province is inscribed with a battle on water in those days. Among
the Greeks there is note of occasional swimming races, and a famous boxer swam as a
part of his training.
Sports also served military purposes in a ancient Greece, especially in Sparta where all
citizens received stoic military training from early childhood, in almost the same sports as in
ancient China. According to historical records written during the Period of Warring States,
the Chinese kings and emperors ordered their officers to teach archery, charioteering and
wrestling in winter and "required the populace to spend six hours farming and two hours
practicing martial arts every day."
The ancient Chinese and Greek civilizations shared another thing in common in sporting
activities, that is, they were often combined with dancing. A pot in the Neolithic Age
excavated in Qinghai Province's Datong County shows on the inside surface three groups
of dancers. It is said that in those times China was hit by frequent torrential rains and floods
and people suffered a lot from unbroken spells of wet weather. In order to relax their
stiffened bones and muscles and dispel their gloomy moods, they would dance a kind of

dance that "could conduct the flow of blood and vital energy in the body." The military
training in Sparta also included dances and there were choreographic competitions at the
ancient Olympic Games. Actually there was little or no difference between physical
exercises and dances as is the case with such modern sports as figure skating and artistic
and rhythmic gymnastics.
What should be emphasized here is that sports were included in the educational system
both in ancient China and Greece. During the Zhou Dynasty and the previous Xia (21st--16th century BC) and Shang (16th---11th century BC) dynasties, all seats of learning were
at the same time places for teaching martial arts. The great Chinese philosopher and
Educationist Confucius (551-479 BC) was also a good athlete in archery and charioteering
and took an active part in fishing, hunting, excursions and hill-climbing. Paying equal
attention to moral, intellectual and physical development of his 3,000 pupils, he carried out
an educational system of "Six Arts," namely, rituals, music, archery, charioteering, writing
and mathematics, which were supplementary to each other. In archery, for instance, he
insisted on proper conduct, or what we call "sportsmanship" today, pointing out that an
archer should do his best to win and what's more important, "be modest and observe
rituals." Besides, he advised people to keep a good eating habit, to abstain from stale dish
and meat and not to talk when taking a meal. Such guiding principles were similar to those
of the great Greek philosopher Plato (428-348 BC) who held that physical training and
sanitation should become an important part of education and that one should train his
physique through sports and mould his temperament through music. The curricula at his
time included gymnastics, which was broadened to embrace hygiene and dietetics. The
Greek gymnasium also taught philosophy, literature and music, and public libraries were
It is interesting to note that both Chinese and Greek educationists in ancient times
emphasized that physical training should suit different ages. According to the Chinese
classic work Li Ji (Book of Rites), children should learn "civilian dances" at 13, "martial
dances" at 15, and archery and charioteering at older ages. Plato also advocated different
sports for different age groups---music and singing for 7-12, dancing, wrestling, archery and
horsemanship for 12-17 and more physical training for 17-20.
Whether out of historical necessity or contingency, sports in both ancient China and Greece
were closely combined with productive labour, military training, dancing and the whole
educational system, thus providing an ideological foundation for China's ready acceptance
of the modern Olympic ideals, which were deeply rooted in the ancient Greek society, in
spite of the cessation of Olympic Games for15 centuries.