Chinese people like to spend their free time outdoors as much as possible. Parents will take their children outside to sai tai yang (“soak in some sun”). Even board games which could also be played inside are often played at the park.
You will find Chinese parks full of people, both young and old, from dawn to dusk, engaging in various Chinese sports and leisure activities. Chinese people are very sociable and would rather spend time with others than alone. The activities they enjoy in their free time also usually involve some movement, keeping them more active and healthier than many of their Western counterparts.
Below you’ll find some of the most popular Chinese sports and leisure activities. When you see someone practicing one of these, consider asking if you could join in. Chances are they would be happy to share their culture and traditions with you.
Jianzi stands for Chinese Hacky Sack. During this game, players keep the hacky sack or shuttlecock off the ground using their feet and other body parts, but not their hands. The hacky sack is constructed out of a rubber sole or plastic disk with feathers attached to it. In a formal setting, participants will play on a volleyball or badminton court. In the park, however, people will usually just gather around the jianzi.
You may have already seen tai chi being practiced in public parks in your home country. This Chinese sport has two main purposes: to develop good defense skills through building muscle strength and flexibility, and to relax the body and reduce stress. The slow movements of tai chi are grounded in the belief that incoming force should be met with softness, instead of resistance or fighting. It is a gentle way to fight stress and creates a relaxing, meditational atmosphere. It is also commonly offered in hospitals, clinics, and senior centers.
This is a traditional toy made out of wood and steel. The toy has a steel ball attached to the bottom which spins on the ground. To begin, a string attached to a stick is looped around the top of the tuo luo several times. The toy is then placed on the ground. The player holds on to the stick and pulls the string quickly to make the top start spinning. Then he or she whips the top with the string to keep it spinning fast for as long as possible.
If you are lucky, you may see the ancient art of calligraphy being practiced in a public park. Painters draw traditional Chinese characters using a long brush pen soaked in black ink or water. Sometimes outdoor calligraphy contests will be organized.
This is a strategic board game commonly played by elderly Chinese. While also played at home, people will often gather in the park to play. The game may seem confusing at first and it helps to have a good memory. In the end, however, luck often proves more important than skill. Some view the game critically as it can be addictive and some players bet money on it. Others just treat it as light entertainment and an opportunity to socialize with friends.
Kite flying is a traditional Chinese pastime that was declared an official sport in 1991. Regular kite-flying competitions are held in several cities across China. On 20–25 April each year, the annual Weifang International Kite Festival is held in this “Kite City” in Shandong Province. Tens of thousands of participants come from China and abroad to compete with their beautiful and colorful kites in all imaginable shapes and sizes.
The top two Chinese sports are ping pong and badminton. The country regularly takes home the gold in these two sports during the Olympic Games. Both of these sports are also played casually in the park or in local or national competitions. Casual badminton players have no problem playing outside, but more serious players prefer to play inside to avoid possible disruptions by the wind.
A game similar to soccer was first recorded in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). Called cuju (“kick ball”), it was played by both men and women with a leather ball filled with hair and other soft materials. It was used as a form of military training and as a pastime to keep the soldiers’ morale high. Today, playing soccer is a popular Chinese sport, although the country is not competitive on an international level.
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