Ancient Chinese Games: CuJu,WeiChi,KungFu, China Culture

Ladies of the Tang court playing double land (about 800 AD)In ancient China, as in other places, both board games and movement games probably come from war training. Board games trained generals in battlefield strategy, and martial arts trained men to fight. According to some stories, it was the Yellow Emperor, about 2600 BC, even before the Shang Dynasty, who first invented martial arts. We don't know much about that, but certainly people in the Chou Dynasty (about 1100 BC) were fighting using Jiao li martial arts techniques. By about 550 BC, in the Eastern Chou Dynasty, Sun Tzu wrote a book called the "Art of War", which describes a lot of martial arts ideas and techniques. Around the same time, Taoists probably began practicing Tai Chi.


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By the time of the Han Dynasty, about 50 AD, we have better information about the martial arts. At this time, Pan Ku wrote a book about Kung Fu called "Six Chapters of Hand Fighting." By 220 AD, about the time the Han Dynasty collapsed, a doctor named Hua T'uo wrote another book about Kung Fu called the "Five Animals Play" which shows five different ways of fighting named after the tiger, the deer, the monkey,WeiChi, the bear, and the bird.

Ancient Chinese Games

Shaolin monks practicing Kung FuJust before 500 AD, Buddhist monks came to China from India and founded the Shaolin monastery, which is in central China, near modern Zhengzhou. Chinese monks at Shaolin developed kung fu as an art and to defend their monastery and their country. There are records of the Shaolin monks fighting to defend their monastery from bandits around 610 AD, and fighting to defend their country in 621 AD, at the end of the Three Kingdoms civil wars. After that, we don't hear much more about martial arts in China until the 1500's AD, which is outside the period of this site.


Guan Yu playing GoPeople in China also invented a lot of board games. The most popular one today is Go. People were playing Go in China as early as 2000 BC, during the Shang Dynasty. Othello is a simple version of Go.


By medieval times, mostly rich, powerful people played Go, while poor people played Xianqi, or Chinese chess, which is more like the Islamic (and modern American) game of chess. It is possible that Xianqi was the earliest chess game; people were probably playing it by the 400's BC.


Oriental Culture


CuJu (means kick-ball) is an ancient Chinese sport similar to today’s football (soccer). The first recorded document about the game dated back 2300 years ago during the Warring States Period (256 BC-221 BC) in the Kingdom of Qi (now Shangdong Province).


The sport gone hiatus for a few decades during Qing Dynasty (221 BC–206 BC), and became popular during Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). The first emperor of Han was said to be a fan of CuJu, hence led to the development of the game.


The CuJu game during the Han Dynasty was similar to modern day’s football game. It was a physical (and skills) battle between 2 teams of 12 players (11 in modern days) to put the ball inside the goal post on the opponents end without using their hands.


The game took a massive change in Tang Dynasty (618–907). First, there was a huge breakthrough in the Ju (the ball)… the ball was made of animals’ bladder and was filled with air compared with stuffed-and-stitch hair and cloth in the old days.


The new ball was much lighter and bouncy, thus the rules of the game changed dramatically. Instead of having the goal post on the floor, the goal mouth was set hanging on air at the middle of the field. The players competed against each other to put the ball through the goal without the ball dropping on the floor...  with no physical contact involved.


The light weight of the new ball also gave the females a chance to play the game… and a new form of CuJu sport was developed, called BaiDa. There was no goal mouth in BaiDa...  the aim of the game was simply to juggle the ball as long as possible, and showing different kind of skills.


China Culture, Oriental Culture


BaiDa became popular among men as well during Song Dynasty (960–1279), and the old game of goal scoring became obsolete gradually.


CuJu began its downfall during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), when the game was used as a gimmick by the sex industry to attract customers; public servants had also became obsessed with the game and that partly led to the downfall of the dynasty.


After overturning the Yuan Dynasty, the first emperor of Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) banned all militants and public servants from playing the sport, fearing that their addictiveness could lead to similar destruction of Yuan Dynasty. The game was not forbidden for common citizen, but its popularity was gradually fading.


CuJu was almost completely forgotten during Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).


Today, the traditional CuJu is only played in exhibition and cultural event; its popularity is completely overtaken by modern day football.


In 2004, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of international football (soccer), claimed officially that China was the birthplace of its game.


In case you were wondering, Chinese Checkers is NOT a Chinese game. It was invented in Germany.

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