Entertainment And Games

The people were very busy in ancient China, and they had little time for relaxation. Probably because of that, they invented many games and entertaining activities that helped them make their spare time more enjoyable.

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Some of those games are still played today, and most of them were popular for more than 1,000 years.

Ancient Chinese Sport

  • Chuiwan (literally, “hit the ball”) was a game very similar to golf that was invented during the Song dynasty. Two teams, each consisting of two to ten people, tried to hit the ball into holes with a rod on a large field.
  • Cuju was invented during the Warring States period. It was very similar to football. Divided into two teams, men could only use the feet and head to hit the ball into the goal of the opposite team. One team consisted of about 12 people. Chinese soldiers also played cuju to relax and keep fit.

football from China

Board Games

Board games were common in ancient China. Two among them were particularly popular. Those were Chinese chess and another strategy game called Go. Both games were for two players.

  • The Chinese chess board was nine lines wide and ten lines long. There were two colors: red and black. Each player had a set of figures consisting of a general, soldiers, advisors, horses, chariots, elephants, and cannons. The goal of the game was to capture the opposite general.
  • Go was played on a board that had a 19×19 grid. Two players would put white and black stones on 361 fields until one of them managed to surround a bigger area of the board.

Music and Opera

  • Opera first appeared in China in the fourth century, during the Later Zhao Dynasty. Just like opera in any other place and time, it combined singing, acting, and dancing.
  • Just like in any culture at any time, music was an important part of life in ancient China. Popular traditional instruments included the guzheng, xiao, dizi, and yangqin. The guzheng was the most common instrument. It typically had around 16 to 25 strings and bridges that were movable. It was played similarly to the way the guitar is played – the strings were plucked with the right hand, and the tone and melody were created by the left hand, which pressed the strings in an appropriate way.
  • Since there was no way of recording music and one had to afford to pay musicians, enjoying music was probably the privilege of upper classes.

A Shao opera performance in Shanghai

Other entertainment

  • Since the time of the Tang dynasty, the Chinese organized cricket fighting matches. The fights were held in autumn, but the owners would previously spend some time feeding the insects and keeping them in fighting shape. The crickets would be put in a ceramic can. If they weren’t in a mood to fight, the owners would stimulate them by using a grass stalk. The battle would last for a couple of minutes.

Chinese Kites

  • Flying a kite has been a popular outdoor activity for ages, but in ancient China, kites were merely used for sending out messages to the military. The kite was invented during the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770–221 BCE), and it was made of paper or silk and bamboo, that served as the skeleton.

Q&A

What was the name of the popular Chinese sports activity that was similar to the modern game of football?

The name of the game was cuju.

Did ancient Chinese play the game of chess?

Yes, but they had their own version of it. The figures on the board were red and black, and they represented figures consisting of a general, soldiers, advisors, horses, chariots, elephants, and cannons.

When the opera did first appeared in China?

The records say that opera first appeared in China in the fourth century, during the Later Zhao Dynasty.

What kind of insect was used for fighting matches in ancient China?

It was cricket.

Did ancient Chinese fly kites?

Yes, but they didn’t do it for fun until centuries later.