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11 Traditional Chinese Games & Toys

Chinese Games & Toys

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11 Traditional Chinese Games & Toys

Below you can find a list of traditional Chinese Games for kids and adults, as well as traditional Chinese toys. These games and toys are used widely in China and also around the world

When I was growing up in Taiwan, we gathered with friends and enjoyed countless afternoons together. Childhood memories are often related to playing on the street with our handmade toys, which mostly were taught by parents or grandparents. 

Please, follow me to the time tunnel and check out some of the most traditional Chinese toys and games. Below you can find:

  • Traditional Chinese Board Games
  • Traditional Chinese Toys and Games for Kids

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Traditional Chinese Board Games

Traditional Chinese Board Games

Chinese board games are an excellent game for kids of any age. Every game has its own story, whether it’s a long drawn strategic affairs or a quick tactical battle. It is fun and educational! Here are a few benefits of board games:

  1. Develop logic and reasoning skills: Playing board games allow kids to think ahead, create “if-then” logical analysis and “what-if” scenarios, which is beneficial for problem-solving, better-thinking ability, and decision making power.  
  2. Improve concentration: Being able to concentrate is vital for board game players. As little kids continue to practice regularly, he/she will build patience and develop a better focus, whether it was conscious or not.
  3. Realize the value of competition: Learning how to lose is as important as learning to win. Kids learn to handle their feelings, overcome stress, and try to develop a Can-do-attitude.

And now here are some of the most popular traditional Chinese Board Games

1. Xiangqi Chinese Chess 

Chinese Chess Traditional Board Games
Xiangqi Chinese Chess 

Xiangqi (象棋 xiàngqí) is the most popular Chinese chess game in China, and it evolved from an ancient Game called Liubu 3500 years ago. The word Xiangqi can be translated into “figure game” or “elephant game” as “象” means figure or an elephant in Chinese. 

The comparison between Xiangqi and classical western chess is commonly discussed, as both are strategy board games for two players. Each player will start with a set of 16 pieces of chess. However, there are significant differences between the two in terms of moves and rules. 

Chinese chess is arranged symmetrically on a 9×10 board, and the game is played on the intersecting lines instead of playing on the squares of the board. Among 16 pieces of chess, there are seven Chinese characters, which are the General, The Counselor, The Minister, The Horse, The Chariot, The Cannon, and The Foot Soldier. Each character is assigned with restriction and power, and your main goal is to capture the general. 

2. Wei Qi

Weiqi Traditional Chinese Boardgame
Wei Qi

Weiqi (圍棋 wéi qí) was first played in China more than 3,000 years ago, and it is one of the oldest board game. Weiqi is known as Go in Japan and Baduk in Korea. The game remains popular throughout East Asia. In Ancient China, Wei Qi was classified as one of The Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar, which also includes calligraphy, painting, and the guqin musical instrument.  

Weiqi is played between two players on a 19×19 board; there are 19 parallel vertical and horizontal lines, which make a total of 361 intersections. Each player will select either a black or white set of stones before the game start and take turns to make moves by placing a stone on the intersection point. The goal is to occupy more territory than the opponent by using “captured” and “surrounding” strategy. Weiqi is a board game known for simple rules with complex strategies. 

3. Chinese Checkers

Chinese checkers board game
Chinese Checkers

Chinese checkers (跳棋 tiàoqí), unlike its name, did not originate from China so it’s not actually a traditional Chinese board game. However, due to its simplicity, it is one of the most widely used multicultural traditional board games in Asia so we have included it in the list. 

German invented Chinese checkers in 1892; it was first named “Hoppity” and later evolved to “Helma.” While Helma was a growing success in Europe, the maker decided to sell it to America with the name “Chinese Checker.” In the 1900s, Chinese foreign relations with the World were not close, which indicates how the Western World fantasizes about its growing interest in Chinese society. 

Two to six players can play Chinese checkers, and the game is played on a star-shaped board. Each player has 10 pieces of checkers and will take turns moving only one piece at a time. Players’ goal is to race all checkers to the opposite side of the board with one or multiple jumps. Each move must be the adjacent piece next to yours.

Traditional Chinese Toys & Games

11 Traditional Chinese Games & Toys

Below you can find z list of traditional Chinese toys and traditional Chinese games for kids of all ages. Some of these you can actually make versions of yourself at home.

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4. Chinese kite

Simplified Chinese: 筝; traditional Chinese: 風箏; pinyin: fēngzheng

Chinese Kite
Chinese Kite

The Chinese kite is one of the most popular Chinese toys for kids of all ages. Two Chinese philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban invented the kite in the 5th Century BC. The popularity of the kite spread from China along the trade route to Korea, India, and Japan. Marco Polo brought it to Europe at the end of the 13th Century. There have been many adaptations across the cultures since the invention of kites. The kites are available in the stores may not look the same as the original Chinese kites. 

Many theories have suggested that it was inspired either by the wind blowing or the flying birds. Regardless, kites certainly play a critical role for The Wright Brothers to develop the flight control system.

Flying kites was not just all about flying high when I was a little kid. Kids would tie a thin paper with our wish written on it for birthdays and Christmas, it feels like sending an old fashion email message to Santa Claus in the 80s. 

5. Paper Lantern   

Simplified Chinese: 灯笼; traditional Chinese: 燈籠; pinyin: dēnglóng

Chinese Traditional Lantern
Chinese Traditional Lantern

Another popular Chinese toy is the Lantern which originated from China and has been associated with festivals since the Tang dynasty; Lanterns are often seen at night during the Chinese New Year at the Lantern Festival and the mid-autumn lantern festival.

Growing up in Taiwan, the importance of lantern walk for many kids is comparable to the Halloween walk in the USA. We would make a paper lantern at school or with parents, and place a thin metal plate at the center bottom of the lantern to support a candle as the final step. 

Unfortunately, most kids burned their paper lanterns with fallen candles before the festival. We would begin to look for tin cans and poked a few holes around it, and then hooked it with wires. Tin can lanterns become a piece of unforgettable childhood memories. 

6. Bamboo dragonfly 

Simplified Chinese: 竹蜻蜓; traditional Chinese: 竹蜻蜓; pinyin: zhúqīngtíng

Chinese Bamboo Dragonfly
Chinese Bamboo Dragonfly

The first bamboo dragonfly, or known as bamboo-copter, has been created as a toy in the 4th Century China, and it played an essential role in the rotor design of a real helicopter invention. 

Bamboo-copter has a helicopter top axis with a cord wound around it,  with a horizontal blade sticking out from the axis. A player would pull the cord and release hands; the bamboo dragonfly will take off vertically in the air like a helicopter. 

Bamboo dragonfly is the most frequently used gadget in the Doraemon series; Doraemon is one of the most-watched Japanese kids’ shows and the highest-rated children’s television show in my childhood. Doraemon is a robotic cat that owns a magic pocket; he often used bamboo dragonflies to fly kids into the sky. Bamboo dragonfly was a many kids’ dream toy from the 60s to 90s. It is still a popular Chinese toy for kids.

7. Badminton 

Simplified Chinese: 羽毛球; traditional Chinese: 羽毛球; pinyin: yǔmáoqiú 

Badminton Traditional Chinese Games
Badminton

Badminton is one of the most popular Chinese games. It is an old racket game, originated from both Europe and Asia. It can be traced in the history of China as early as the 5th Century. It used to be a social game before evolving into a competitive sports game. 

Badminton can be played both indoor and outdoor as in singles or doubles like tennis. Players will use a racket to hit a shuttlecock back and forth without landing it on the ground, and a point will be assigned to the winner of the rally until someone reaches 21 points. 

Research continues to uncover that badminton is an excellent cardio exercise for small kids; it is a rather a safe game as it does not require much physical contact. Badminton is one of the most common sports activities for the family with kids in Taiwan, my brother and I spent several afternoons playing badminton when we were young. 

8. Chinese jump rope: 

Simplified Chinese: 跳绳 ; traditional Chinese: 跳繩; pinyin: tiàoshénɡ

Chinese Jump Rope
Chinese Jump Rope

Chinese jump rope, also known as elastic, it began in the 7th Century in China and adapted by western society in the 1960s. This popular Chinese game for kids is typically played by three or more players, using a string of rubber bands tied into a circle. Jump rope is either attached to the end of the chairs, trees, or two children. 

There are a few ways of playing it; first, jump and cross it like the high jump. The second way is similar to skipping rope, which is to jump vertically and repeat these movements, as the players on both ends will increase the rotation speed. However, the most traditional way is a child performs a specific number of repetitions maneuvers by stepping and jumping in and out of the jump rope. 

In the early days, every child has at least made or posses a Chinese jumping rope at some point in their childhood. We will always chant Chinese rhymes when playing Jump rope. 

9. Beanbags

Simplified Chinese: 沙包; traditional Chinese: 沙包; pinyin: shābāo

Traditional Chinese Beanbags
Chinese Beanbags

Throwing beanbags is a popular traditional Chinese game for kids in the 80s. These traditional Chinese toys are usually handmade from parents or grandparents, by recycling the old fabric, cutting it into a square shape, inserting black beans and sealing it. 

The pitcher will try to hit the opponent with a beanbag; the one that was hit will be eliminated from the game. The opponent who catches the beanbag either will choose to “add a life” or “save a teammate’s life” from eliminations.

The most common way to play beanbags nowadays is tossing towards the stacked up cans, whoever can get all the cans to fall on the floor at once will be rewarded.  

10. Shuttlecock

Simplified Chinese: 毽子; traditional Chinese: 毽子; pinyin: jiànzi

Shuttlecock Traditional Chinese Toys

The shuttlecock is one of the most favorite childhood games in Chinese history, and adults and children have enjoyed it for at least 3000 years. 

The shuttlecock is made out of rubber or a plastic disk and attached with many feathers. The player’s goal is to keep the shuttlecock in the air while kicking it only using the feet repeatedly.

The shuttlecock is quite a physical exercise for kids as well, as the player keeps the shuttlecock off the ground, one-foot kicking and the other balancing. It helps to enhance a little kid’s body coordination, balance, reflection, and timing. 

11. Ping Pong

Simplified Chinese: 乒乓球; traditional Chinese: 乒乓球; pinyin: pīngpāngqiú

Chinese Ping Pong Table Tennis
Ping Pong / Table Tennis

When we hear about Ping Pong, we may connect it with China due to its domination in world sports. Table tennis originated in Victorian England, and it only made to China via Japan and Korea in the early 20th Century. Mao Zedong, The “Great Leader” of the People’s Republic China declared table tennis as the National sport in 1949. He believes table tennis could unite the Chinese people, boost the nation’s confidence, and help China to connect to the World. Ping Pong means more than a sport for China. 

Table tennis is a sport in which two or four players hit a celluloid ball with small rackets across the net. It is a great cardio workout and beneficial for muscle movement. The popular Chinese game only requires minimal space, low-maintenance, and low-cost to get started.  

Traditional Chinese Games and Toys

The history of China last around 5000 years, there are so many traditional Chinese games and traditional Chinese toys to share with you! The famous Tuoluo and Chinese yoyo diabolo, these are all the classic Chinese games that we played. Traditional Chinese toy is more than just a toy; it represents the memories we have created with our parents and childhood friends. 

Author: Hsin is a third-culture kid from Taiwan. Her husband was raised in a mixed Brazilian-Catalan family, and they have 2 daughters. As cross-culture parents, they want to establish family values of our own and embrace multiculturalism. Hsin writes at Nanani World.

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