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Soccer in Ancient China

14 August 2011

When you watched the world cup, did you ever ask the following questions: Where did soccer originate? And when was soccer invented?

Believe it or not, soccer originated in Shandong province, Confucius' birth place. Evidently it was Chinese of the Qi Kingdom (319BC-201BC) who invented football soccer during the Spring and Autumn Period which was about 2,500 years ago.

In the next thousand years or so this particular form of sports was known as 蹴鞠 (cuju, kickball) in ancient China. The references on soccer can be found in early Chinese classics Records of History (《史记·苏秦列传》) by Sima Qian (司马迁, 145BC-87BC) and Strategies of the Warring States (《战国策》) by Confucius (551BC-479BC).

ancient Chinese playing soccer

This ancient painting portrays an all-star Chinese soccer team in a soccer field which they share with dogs and birds.

In the Han Dynasty (202BC-220AD), soccer became very popular among commoners and elites, and was also employed as part of military training program. Its popularity soared further during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the tournaments were frequently organized with ten thousand audience cheering the match. (球不离足,足不离球,华庭观赏,万人瞻仰).

In Water Margin (水浒), one of four most celebrated classic Chinese novels, author described how a consummate soccer player gained favour with the kingdom's most powerful soccer fan, emperor of the Northern Song (960-1127), and secured a prominent position in the imperial court which eventually brought down on the Middle Kingdom a doomed fate.


the first women soccer team in the world

This ancient Chinese painting depicts the training session of the world's first women soccer team.


While the Northern Song reduced to the Southern Song (1127-1279), a shadowy of former self, the popularity of soccer game did not diminish. In fact, it was during that period, Round Club (圆社), a professional soccer association came into being, specializing on coordinating soccer events and promoting soccer tournaments, which no doubt was the earliest soccer club in the world.


image of kids playing soccer on an ancient China bowl

This china bowl made during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) has a motif showing a group of children engaging in a soccer game.


The game was later introduced to Europe by Arabs who traveled between the continents conducting their global trading business.


birth city of soccer

The model of Linzi city (临淄), the capital of ancient Qi Kingdom, 2,300 years ago, supposedly. The city was situated in today's Shandong Province, the birthplace of Confucius and Lao Tzu.


In Euro 2004, FIFA made a public acknowledgment of soccer's Chinese origin.


linzi, birth city of soccer

Soccer museum in Linzi, the birthplace of soccer


Now is the question: Why today's Chinese played soccer so badly?

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