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From Hockey to Golf

13 August 2011

What do you think these odd-shaped clubs and balls are? Hockey sticks and balls? Yes, they are. But why they look a bit different from the standard ones sold in sports stores? Because they were not purchased from any stores anywhere in today's world but unearthed from ancient Chinese tombs.

This is an ancient Chinese painting depicting rich ladies' daily life. What do you think they were doing here? Yep, make no mistake, they were playing Chinese golf.

Chinese golf was evolved from Chinese hockey which first appeared during Tang Dynasty (618-907). By then it was called 步打球 (it roughly means "using one's feet to hit the ball"), and was played as a contest game. Later, in the era of the Song Dynasty (960–1279), the game gained a meditative feature: the goal in the field was replaced by the hole on the ground, and the objective was not about to compete against others to obtain the prize but to test one's own strength on reaching the designed target. Accordingly, its name was changed from 步打球 to 捶丸 ("swing one's arms to hit the ball")

Entering the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the heyday of Chinese martial arts, the relatively simple sports games like hockey and golf became less popular, but not entirely. When an ancient classic The Theory and Practice of Ball Games (《丸经》) was republished during Wanli's reign (万历), the publisher Zhou Lujing (周履靖) noted in postscript how he often witnessed people playing this ball hitting game in various parts of China. ("予壮游都邑间,好事者多好捶丸。"考诸传记无闻焉,以为世俗博弈之余技耳。").

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