Games People Play: China by Kim Dramer, 1997.
This book is part of a series about games played around the world. The series also covers sports and other, related activities. This book is specifically about the traditional games and sports of China.
China’s history goes back thousands of years, and so does the history of games and toys enjoyed there by generations of children. The book begins with a brief history of China. This book was written in the 1990s, and it contains a brief description of China’s one-child policy, which controlled the sizes of Chinese families and impacted the way in which children were raised. It also explains some important Chinese festivals, such as the Lunar New Year, Lantern Festival, and Dragon Boat Festival. It explains the origins of these festivals and how people celebrate, including the roles of children in the celebrations.
I most enjoyed the sections about board games. Some of the oldest board games in the world come from China. Some of these games are also played in Japan under different names. For example, the game Weiqi is known as Go in Japan, and this is the name that is also most familiar to Americans. Chinese Chess uses different pieces from the international form of chess. The book mentions Chinese Checkers also, but it doesn’t explain that it was not actually invented in China, even though it is played there today. (The “Chinese” in the title was a marketing gimmick in the United States, to make the game seem more exotic. It’s actually a German variation of the American game Halma, which was based on an older English game called Hoppers.) Majiang (called Mah-Jongg in the United States) is another well-known Chinese game. Sometimes, in the United States, people play it as a solitaire game on their computes, but the real-life board game is a multiplayer game with several variations.
When I was in school, I had a teacher who was fond of tangrams, which is a kind of puzzle game that involves using a set of basic shapes to produce different forms or pictures of objects. The book demonstrates how to make a tangram set and how to use it.
The earliest kites made in China were made for serious, religious purposes, sending prayers, signs, or messages to the heavens. Later, the Chinese also used them to give military signals. Later, paper kites became a popular form of amusement and folk art. They can be made in many different forms. Some of them even make musical sounds, caused by the wind passing over holes placed in the bamboo frame of the kite.
The Chinese also use puppets in different styles. The history of puppet theater also goes back thousands of years, and puppets made for puppet theaters can be very elaborate. Sometimes, plays are performed with shadow puppets controlled by sticks and sometimes with marionettes or hand puppets. The appearance of a puppet and provide clues to the puppet’s character. For example, puppets with red faces represent brave characters while ones with white faces may be cunning and treacherous and ones with black faces are loyal.
Popular sports in China include soccer (called “football” everywhere but in North America) and badminton. China is also famous for its martial arts and some spectacular forms of acrobatics.