China is well known as an ancient country with a civilization several thousand years old. But few people know that sports in China claim a history as long and honorable as the country's civilization. Ancient relics that have been un-earthed indicate that people in China 4,000 to 10,000 years ago already knew how to do physical exercises to limber up themselves. Such physical activities as shejian (shooting arrows) and juding (lifting metal tripods) which were carried out as far back as in the Western Zhou Dynasty (c 1,066- 771 BC) may well be compared to what we call sports today.
During the several millenia of Chinese history, sports in China grew in pace with economic, political and military development. A great variety of sporting activities were practised, in different ways at different times, some even bearing different names in different places. In terms of the purposes they served, they may be classified into the following groups:
1. Performing and entertaining sports, such as swordsmanship and touhu (throwing arrows into wine pitchers) of the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods (770-221 BC), cuju (football) and baixi (acrobatics) of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), jiju (polo) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and bingxi (games on ice) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Hunting, which is only for amusement, also falls into this category.
2. Keep-fit activities such as daoyin (physical and breathing exercises combined with automassage) and wuqinxi (Five Animal Play) of the Han Dynasty, and all kinds of traditional life preserving exercises that have been handed down to this day.
3. Various forms of physical training for military purposes, such as archery and charioteering in the Western Zhou Dynasty and long-distance runs in the army camps of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
There were also exercises for two or more of the above purposes. Jueli (wrestling) and wushu (martial arts), for example, may be practised as performing arts, or as fitness exercises, or as military skills.
Sports in ancient China were extremely rich and diversified, each with distinct features of its own. Traditional Chinese life preserving arts, in particular, combine bodily movements and mental activity in a way rarely seen in sports practised in other parts of the world. With their unique values in promoting health and combating disease, these arts are invaluable assets to mankind.
With their unique national features, Oriental charm, health-keeping and therapeutic values and entertaining effects, ancient sports form an intrinsic part of Chinese civilization. Today, they are being steadily improved on a scientific basis and have taken their place in the sporting world, enriching the treasure house of human civilization.
Beginning from this issue, we shall introduce to our readers ancient sports relics of different historical periods, including coloured pottery, bronzeware, bronze mirrors, chinaware, murals, brick paintings, Yungang grottoes, Dunhuang murals, and paintings of the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. These precious relics and exquisite Pictures will enable our readers to obtain glimpses into the history of sports in China.