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Why play PC games? China has a treasure trove of classic toys and games that give both body and mind a healthy exercise.
[Photo of Chien-tsu players]
Before the advent of video games that made zombies out of this generation’s children (and adults), there were traditional games, which required more interaction, physical exercise, better hand-eye coordination, and a little more effort from that gray matter between the ears.

Unfortunately, some of these faded from memory because of rapid changes in society. In the face of China’s fast modernization, now might be the best time to look back at those traditional games before they become completely forgotten. Here are just some of the games the Chinese played growing up.

Kite Flying

[Photo of Chinese kite]The kite was invented by fifth century BC philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban some 2,800 years ago. Back then, it was used not only for recreation but also for measuring distances, testing wind speeds, and sending signals. It was even used for military purposes and for carrying men.

Often flat and rectangular, the earliest kite’s sail and flying line were made of fine silk while its frame was fashioned from thin bamboo strips. In 549 AD, the Chinese used paper kites to communicate during rescue missions.

The tradition of kite flying is kept alive through kite festivals held in many parts of the world. During competitions, enthusiasts get to show off not just their kite-flying skills but their creativity and craftsmanship as well. Nowadays, a kite can take on more complicated shapes. Some have geometric designs and are three-dimensional. There are even those shaped into birds, insects, dragons, and other creatures. To create kites more air-worthy than the ancient ones, kite-makers today use synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon for the sail and the flying line.

The city of Weifang in Shangdong, China prides itself as the Kite Capital of the World. It has the world’s biggest kite museum with a display area of 8,100 square meters. An annual kite festival is also held in the city’s salt flats.

The Chinese Yo-yo or Pull-bell

The Chinese yo-yo or pull bell consists of two discs of the same size, which are connected by an axle. The discs have holes, which produce different tones. The sound depends on the size of the hole and the diameter of the discs. The earliest reference to the Chinese yo-yo was in Records of Scenes at the Capital from the Ming dynasty (1386-1644 AD).

One plays this toy by pulling and spinning the bell using a string tied to two sticks. Each stick is held by one hand. While techniques like sleeping or looping can be done using the Western yo-yo, tricks with elegant and poetic-sounding names—“A Wild Goose Lands on the Flat Beach,” “The Golden Cicada Casts Off Its Shell,” and “Rise Upward to the Blue Clouds”—can be performed with the use of the pull-bell.

Xiangqi: Chinese Chess

[Photo of Chinese Chess players]XiangQi is the East’s version of the chess game. Thirty-two chips—made from plastic, wood, and even jade—are placed on a game board with nine vertical and 10 horizontal lines . Each piece sits on two intersecting lines, unlike in the Western version where every piece is placed at the center of individual squares. The board is divided into two territories by a “river” that runs across the middle. Each territory has a distinct “palace” where the General (King) piece is located. Other pieces include Horses (Knights), Elephants (Bishops), Chariots (Rooks), Soldiers (Pawns), Advisors, and Cannons. As expected, these pieces are moved differently compared to those used by Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov. To win the game, one must checkmate his opponent’s General. A stalemate here is not a draw but also a win.

XiangQi was played as early as fourth century BC, and was said to be invented by Han Xin (a military commander) in preparation for battle against Xiang Yu (a prominent general during the Qin dynasty). Today, it still is one of the most popular boardgames around. The 10th World XiangQi Championships was held in Macao in October last year.

Catch the Dragon’s Tail

This kids’ game is played outdoors and requires 10 players or more. The participants must stand in line with their hands on the shoulders of the one in front of them. The first person in line is the “head,” while the last one in line is the “tail.” The object of the game is for the head to capture the tail. All the other players must prevent the tail from getting captured by the head. When that happens, each player moves back one place and the tail goes to the front of the line to become the new dragon head.

Piaji: Slam It Like a Pog

Piaji is a popular kids’ game in Heilongjang province. It is similar to POG, a game popularized in the 1990s, which used bottle caps. Cardboard discs (each measuring 1.5 to 3 inches in diameter) with a different picture on each side are needed by its two players. They must have at least 10 piaji discs each.

The game begins with Player B placing his piaji on the ground. Player A will then slam his piaji onto player B’s, and if player B’s disc turns over, player A wins player B’s piaji. Player B can get his turn only after player A fails to make his opponent’s cardboard chip to turn over. The game will continue until one of them has no piaji left.

Tsoo! Tsoo!

Your eyes have no use here, but if you can train your other senses to compensate for the temporary lack of vision, you could become the game’s ace player. Tsoo!Tsoo! needs at least four participants and is best played outdoors (if you want to avoid accidental breakage of your mom’s priceless Ming vase). One of the players is blindfolded and shouts “Tsoo! Tsoo!” The rest, called “chickens,” would try to touch the blind-folded player without getting tagged. If a chicken gets tagged, then it’s his turn to wear the blindfold.

Chien-tsu or Shuttlecock

The shuttlecock has a circular weight on one end and feathers on the other. One kicks it using the toe, instep, heel, the inner or outer side of the foot, or the knee. This game became popular during the Han and Tang dynasties (207-906). During the Sung dynasty, it became officially known as chien-tsu, the Chinese word for arrow. The shuttlecock game was revived in 1975 by the Taipei government. Taiwanese school officials were instructed to include the game in their elementary physical education programs.

print ed: 04/08

 

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