CuJu (蹴鞠; literally means kick-ball) is an ancient Chinese sport similar to today’s football (soccer). The first recorded document about the game dated back 2300 years ago during the Warring States Period (256 BC-221 BC) in the Kingdom of Qi (齐国; now Shangdong Province).

CuJu
People playing CuJu in a recent cultural
exhibition in Xuzhou, China

The sport gone hiatus for a few decades during Qing Dynasty (221 BC–206 BC), and became popular during Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). The first emperor of Han was said to be a fan of CuJu, hence led to the development of the game.

The CuJu game during the Han Dynasty was similar to modern day’s football game. It was a physical (and skills) battle between 2 teams of 12 players (11 in modern days) to put the ball inside the goal post on the opponents end without using their hands.

The game took a massive change in Tang Dynasty (618–907). First, there was a huge breakthrough in the Ju (the ball)… the ball was made of animals’ bladder and was filled with air compared with stuffed-and-stitch hair and cloth in the old days.

The new ball was much lighter and bouncy, thus the rules of the game changed dramatically. Instead of having the goal post on the floor, the goal mouth was set hanging on air at the middle of the field. The players competed against each other to put the ball through the goal without the ball dropping on the floor… with no physical contact involved.

The light weight of the new ball also gave the females a chance to play the game… and a new form of CuJu sport was developed, called BaiDa (白打). There was no goal mouth in BaiDa… the aim of the game was simply to juggle the ball as long as possible, and showing different kind of skills.

BaiDa became popular among men as well during Song Dynasty (960–1279), and the old game of goal scoring became obsolete gradually.

CuJu began its downfall during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), when the game was used as a gimmick by the sex industry to attract customers; public servants had also became obsessed with the game and that partly led to the downfall of the dynasty.

After overturning the Yuan Dynasty, the first emperor of Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) banned all militants and public servants from playing the sport, fearing that their addictiveness could lead to similar destruction of Yuan Dynasty. The game was not forbidden for common citizen, but its popularity was gradually fading.

CuJu was almost completely forgotten during Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).

Today, the traditional CuJu is only played in exhibition and cultural event; its popularity is completely overtaken by modern day football.

In 2004, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the governing body of international football (soccer), claimed officially that China was the birthplace of its game.

[Reference]



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