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Sports History of China
Part 1: Before the Western Han Dynasty
 More of this Feature
• Part 2: Tang to Yuan
• Part 3: Minority Sports
 
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Some known ancient cultural relics have provided evidence that health-building activities appeared in China over 4,000 years ago. By the time of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1066-771 BC) archery and cauldron lifting had emerged as sports activities in their own right.

To get a complete and vivid picture of the development of ancient China's sports, go to the China Sports Museum, which lies in the southeastern corner of the National Olympic Sports Center in the northern suburbs of Beijing. It is an octagonal spiral building flanked on one side by a huge sloping wall with its highest point protruding out of the center of the structure. The huge wall, 36.5 meters high and looking like a large flag or a mountain peak reaching up to the sky, symbolizes the pinnacle that China's athletes reach for.

Displayed in its six exhibition halls are over 1,000 photos, 800 objects, 300 historical documents and cultural relics, 30 sand table models and 20 rubbings and paintings reflecting China's more than 5,000 years of sports culture and many sports activities of her 56 ethnic groups.

The origin and development of China's sports activities are closely related with the production, work, war and entertainment of the time. Traces of the earliest sports activities, such as hunting, archery and rowing race, can be seen from some bronze ware of the late Neolithic Age as well as from other articles. An exhibit of the museum, a lacquered wooden comb of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), features as ancient Chinese sports activity, jiaodi. Of early origin, it is a game similar to wrestling of modern times. The ancient jiaodi was performed by athletes wearing ox horns and wrestling with each other imitating wild oxen. The vivid wrestling scene on the wooden comb is one of the earliest known articles picturing jiaodi.

As an important part of popular culture, sports in China witnessed considerable development and took real shape during the Qin, Han and Three Kingdoms periods (221 BC - AD 280), an important stage in the history of China. The various sports activities in these periods found their expressions in the sepulchral mural paintings, stone paintings, brick paintings, pottery figurines and poems. An attractive item on display is a color pottery artifact of the Western Han Dynasty (200 BC - AD 23) unearthed in 1969 in Jinan, Shandong Province. It presents vividly at its bottom 21 acrobats, dancers, musicians and spectators, among which four figurines are performing had-stands and jiujitsu with ease, elegance and skill, demonstrating the high technical level of gymnastic training of the Western Han Dynasty.

Next page > From Tang Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty > Page 1, 2, 3

Written by our column writer Ye Qinfa.

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