The level of technological advancement in China and Shanghai in particular is unmatched. Yet, although smartphones and tablets are all the rage, and you cannot lead efficient life without a few certain apps, still – Chinese people keep their traditional, out door games alive.
You will find Chinese parks full of people, both young and old, from dawn to dusk, engaging in various Chinese sports and leisure activities. Chinese people are very sociable and would rather spend time with others than alone. The activities they enjoy in their free time also usually involve some movement, keeping them more active and healthier than many of their Western counterparts.
Here are some of the most popular traditional Chinese games and outdoor activities. We frequently join many of them during our morning tours – the locals are always excited to share their tradition with the tour participants!
1. 抖空竹 dǒu kōng zhú
Also known as diabolo, the Chinese Yo-yo is an hourglass shaped item that is spun on a string. The string is connected to two hand sticks. The way to get the diabolo to balance and rotate is to move the hand sticks up and down alternatively. Because of this, the Chinese refer to the playing of the diabolo as, “抖空竹”, or “shake the diabolo.” Players with higher skill can toss the yo-yo up and catch it on the strings, or manipulate the strings into patterns while keeping the yo-yo spinning.
空竹 literally means “empty bamboo.” Diabolos were originally constructed out of bamboo, and the cups were hollow in the middle.
The Chinese Yo-Yo is also used frequently in performances, often where acrobatics are involved. The famous acrobatic troupe, Cirque Du Soleil, employs Chinese Yo-yos in several of their acts.
2. 毽子 jiàn zi
While the term “shuttlecock” usually refers to the ball in badminton, it is also often used to refer to this feather-covered toy. The shuttlecock is essentially a weighted hacky-sack, and is passed from foot to foot by kicking. The object is to keep it from touching the ground. Besides being played in the schoolyard, it is also very popular among the senior citizens as a way to keep their limbs active.
Shuttlecock has evolved into a formal sport of it’s own. It is played with a net, and is similar to volleyball if volleyball was played primarily with feet.
3.书法 shū fǎ
The ancient art of calligraphy is regularly practiced in the parks. Painters draw traditional Chinese characters using a long brush pen soaked in black ink or water. Sometimes outdoor calligraphy contests will be organized.
4.抓拐 zhuā guǎi
This is a game very similar to “jacks” in Western culture. “拐” refers to a piece of bone, often from the thigh joint of a sheep or pig. Children often save them from the dinner table. Just like jacks, a ball or tiny beanbag is tossed up during play. The rules vary, but one of the main objectives is to “turn” all four bones right side up before you catch the bean bag.
In ancient times, this game was strongly encouraged among young girls in order to practice the nimbleness of their fingers. The more nimble their fingers, the more skilled they would be at the loom and embroidery.
5.放风筝 fang fēng zhēng
Kite flying is a traditional Chinese pastime that was declared an official sport in 1991. Regular kite-flying competitions are held in several cities across China. On 20–25 April each year, the annual Weifang International Kite Festival is held in this “Kite City” in Shandong Province. Tens of thousands of participants come from China and abroad to compete with their beautiful and colorful kites in all imaginable shapes and sizes.
6.跳皮筋 tiào pí jīn
The Chinese jump rope resembles more of a giant stretched out rubber band. It is a thin piece of elastic rope that is loops around two pairs of legs.
Unlike the Western jump rope, the object of this game is to hook your legs into the rope to form loops and patterns in a certain sequence. This is often accompanied by a rhyme or song. As each level is completed, the rope is moved higher, making the patterns more difficult to complete.
7.蝈蝈 guō guo
Though not a game, the Guo Guo is often seen as a toy for young children. Thought to be symbols of good luck, these vibrant green crickets are often caught and trapped in whimsical containers. They are known for their melodious “singing.” Some containers are specifically designed to amplify these tunes. During the summer months, you can often see them being sold at markets in China.
The Guo Guo is one of two insects depicted on the famous Qing Dynasty Jadeite Cabbage carving. The other insect is a katydid. The sculpture is on display at the National Palace Museum in Taiwan.
8.斗蛐蛐 dòu qū qū
This particular game may offend some animal lovers, but it is quite popular in rural areas of China. Crickets are put in an enclosed “arena” (usually a clear bowl or box.) The players agitate their crickets by prodding the crickets’ antenna with a stick, so they become aggressive. The crickets are made to fight until one runs from the other, stops chirping, or is thrown from the ring or even consumed by the other cricket.
Many adults also participate in cricket fighting, and some even breed crickets specifically for battle. The cricket battling season takes place between August and September, as these insects rarely live through the fall season.
9.乒乓 pīng pang
In the 1930s, Edgar Snow commented in Red Star Over China that the Communist forces in the Chinese Civil War had a "passion for the English game of table tennis" which he found "bizarre"
Probably, this sport doesn’t need much introduction. Not only is it a national sport of China, but it is also fairly cheap in terms of setup and supplies. You don’t need to construct or pave a court. The tables used in ping pong are portable, and they can fold up to save space. Ping pong is the most played recreational sport in China, with over 300 million players.
10.羽毛球 yǔ máo qiú
Although the game may have originally developed among expatriate officers in British India, where it was very popular by the 1870s, yet China regularly takes home the gold in badminton during the Olympic Games. It is often played casually in the park or in local or national competitions. Casual badminton players have no problem playing outside, but more serious players prefer to play inside to avoid possible disruptions by the wind.
dōngběi de èrrénzhuàn yòng de shǒujuàn
Chinese Handkerchief Dance from Dongbei (èrrénzhuàn is a genre of song-and-dance duet popular in northeast China) is the variation of the traditional Chinese dance called “Yangge” or “Yang Ge” (秧歌). The dance was developed during Song Dynasty and said very popular in many rural areas. It can be performed as many as 10 dancers and comes into many styles depending on the culture of each region.
12.陀螺 tuó luó
The top in China can be traced back as far as the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), when its forerunner was a 4-inch ivory disc called the “ch’en-ch’ien” which served as a pastime by court ladies. “Tuo-luo,” the word for top, is first found in records of the Ming Dynasty (1386-1644 A.D.), when it was played by children when “the willows bud in early spring.”
Some tops are spun by means of a string wound around the base. The string is pulled sharply as the top is thrown forward. A small whip is used with some to maintain a continuous spin.
Tops come in a variety of sizes and materials. Tops are equipped with a sharp metal end to slip other tops apart in top ‘duels’. In this century, giant top, over a foot long and correspondingly heavy, was developed in Ta-hsi village. A rope is used to spin it instead of a string.
13. 甩 龙 shuǎi long