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Title: Cuju  
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Subject: Association football, Jianzi, Football, Knattleikr, Harpastum
Collection: Ancient Sports, Ball Games, Chinese Ancient Games, Sport in Japan, Sport in Korea, Traditional Football
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Chinese ladies playing cuju, by the Ming Dynasty painter Du Jin
Chinese 蹴鞠
Literal meaning kick ball

Cuju, or Tsu' Chu,[1] is an ancient Chinese ball game, Cantonese "chuk-ko". It is a competitive game that involves kicking a ball through an opening into a net.[1] The use of hands is not allowed.[1] It is seen by FIFA as the earliest form of football for which there is evidence, being first mentioned as an exercise in a military work from 3rd–2nd century BC whilst recognising modern football codes were developed from "mob football" games that have no historical connection to cuju.[2][3][1] Cuju is a competitive sport[1] which originated in China and was also played in Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The Japanese word for cuju is kemari which is still practiced in Kyoto and some other shrines in Japan.[4]


  • History 1
  • Gameplay 2
  • Cuju clubs 3
  • Kemari in Japan 4
  • Cultural references 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


One Hundred Children in the Long Spring (长春百子图), a painting by Chinese artist Su Hanchen (苏汉臣, active 1130–1160s AD), Song Dynasty

The first mention of cuju in a historical text is in the Warring States era Zhan Guo Ce, in the section describing the state of Qi. It is also described in Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian (under Su Qin's biography), written during the Han Dynasty.[5] A competitive form of cuju was used as fitness training for military cavaliers, while other forms were played for entertainment in wealthy cities like Linzi.[5]

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), the popularity of cuju spread from the army to the royal courts and upper classes.[6] It is said that the Han emperor Wu Di enjoyed the sport. At the same time, cuju games were standardized and rules were established. Cuju matches were often held inside the imperial palace. A type of court called ju chang was built especially for cuju matches, which had six crescent-shaped goal posts at each end.

The sport was improved during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).[7] First of all, the feather-stuffed ball was replaced by an air-filled ball with a two-layered hull. Also, two different types of goal posts emerged: One was made by setting up posts with a net between them and the other consisted of just one goal post in the middle of the field. The Tang Dynasty capital of Chang'an was filled with cuju fields, in the backyards of large mansions, and some were even established in the grounds of the palaces.[8] Soldiers who belonged to the imperial army and Gold Bird Guard often formed cuju teams for the delight of the emperor and his court.[8] The level of female cuju teams also improved. Records indicate that once a 17-year-old girl beat a team of army soldiers. Cuju even became popular amongst the scholars and intellectuals, and if a courtier lacked skill in the game, he could pardon himself by acting as a scorekeeper.[8]

Cuju flourished during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) due to social and economic development, extending its popularity to every class in society. At that time, professional cuju players were quite popular, and the sport began to take on a commercial edge. Professional cuju players fell into two groups: One was trained by and performed for the royal court (unearthed copper mirrors and brush pots from the Song often depict professional performances) and the other consisted of civilians who made a living as cuju players. During this period only one goal post was set up in the center of the field.


Historically there were two main styles of cuju: zhuqiu and baida.

Zhuqiu was commonly performed at court feasts celebrating the emperor's birthday or during diplomatic events. A competitive cuju match of this type normally consisted of two teams with 12-16 players on each side.

Baida became dominant during the Song Dynasty, a style that attached much importance to developing personal skills. Scoring goals became obsolete when using this method with the playing field enclosed using thread and players taking turns to kick the ball within these set limits. The number of fouls made by the players decided the winner. For example, if the ball was not passed far enough to reach other team members points were deducted. If the ball was kicked too far out, a large deduction from the score would result. Kicking the ball too low or turning at the wrong moment all led to fewer points. Players could touch the ball with any part of the body except their hands whilst the number of players ranged anywhere from two to ten. In the end, the player with the highest score won.

Cuju began to decline during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) due to neglect and the 2,000-year-old sport slowly faded away.

Cuju clubs

In the 10th century, a cuju league, Qi Yun She (齐云社) (or Yuan She), developed in large Chinese cities. Local members were either cuju lovers or professional performers. Non-professional players had to formally appoint a professional as his or her teacher and pay a fee before becoming a member. This process ensured an income for the professionals, unlike cuju of the Tang Dynasty. Qi Yun She organized annual national championships known as Shan Yue Zheng Sai (山岳正赛).

Kemari in Japan

  • Kemari is a ceremonial sport introduced into Japan more than 1400 years ago and has been evoluted uniquely in Japan. There was a record that Sakanoue no Korenori and high ranking court nobles kicked a ball 206 times without interruption on March 20, 905 in the Imperial Court, Kyoto.[9]
  • Kemari is conducted on a flat square court called a mari-niwa, at each corner, four trees are planted. The distance of each tree is about 7 meters. The trees may be replaced by bamboo trees. Formally, eight persons participate in kemari. There are many rules and manners to be observed in kemari. For example, the ball should be kicked as low as possible to the ground using the base of the right toe only, after a right-left-right foot movement. No other part of the foot, or the left foot is allowed to use kick the ball.
  • The spirit of kemari is known as kiku-dou, which values consideration for each other. So, there are no winners or losers in kemari; the object is to keep the ball in the air for as long time as possible without letting it touch the ground.
  • Kemari is an accepted ceremony or occasionally pastime during many periods and by many social classes and spread from the capital(Kyoto) to distant areas of Japan. However, it was in danger of disappearance after the Meiji Restoration of the 1860s when the massive westernization occurred. Even during these periods, it was inherited by many noble class persons, including Emperor Meiji who funded a kemari association in 1907;the emperor himself played and taught kemari.


Cultural references

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "History of Football - The Origins". FIFA. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Ike[2014:181]
  5. ^ a b Riordan (1999), 32.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c Benn, 172.
  9. ^ Ike[2014:21]
  10. ^ Ike[2014:181-178]


  • Benn, Charles (2002). China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517665-0.
  • James, Riordan (1999). Sport and Physical Education in China. London: Spon Press. ISBN 0-419-22030-5
  • Osamu Ike (2014). Kemari in Japan(in Japanese). Kyoto: Mitsumura-Suiko Shoin. ISBN 978-4-8381-0508-3
    • Summary in English pp.181-178. in French pp.185-182.

External links

  • Cuju match to be played in Shandong, September 2004
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