In ancient China, Ju was a kind of rubber ball with leather skin outside and feather stuffed inside. Cuju means "kick the ball with foot". It was a popular sport played by ancient Chinese which is similar to today’s soccer game.
During the Warring States Period (476-221 BC), Cuju was used as fitness training for military cavaliers. The popularity of Cuju spread from the army to the royal courts and upper classes in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). It is said that the Han emperor Wu Di enjoyed the sport very much, and matches were often held inside the imperial palace. It was also during the Han Dynasty that Cuju games were standardized and rules were established. 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 developed during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when the feather-stuffed ball was replaced by an air-filled ball with a two-layered hull.
The Song Dynasty (960-1279) witnessed an unprecedented development of Cuju. At that time Cuju was commonly performed at court feasts celebrating the emperor's birthday. On a birthday of Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, a grand Cuju performance match was held in the imperial palace. Both two teams had eleven players with their uniforms differed in color. On the ground, players were in fierce competition. There were also drum corps and rooters to cheer up players, which presented a spectacular scene.
Due to social and economic development, Cuju extended its popularity to every class in society. During the festivals in the downtown area of Kaifeng (China's capital city at that time), the Cuju game could be seen everywhere, and a few fixed Cuju playgrounds were established.
How to Play Cuju
Cuju was a direct competition of two teams, having special playground with two goals and fixed number of players. During the match, the players ran and strived to control the ball like fighting against the enemy in the battle, displaying its strong antagonism. And there was a referee specially set to guarantee the fairness of the game.
Moreover, Cuju was also a sport of the Qingming Festival. Nowadays in some areas in Japan and Southeast Asia, people still play Cuju game during the Qingming Festival, inheriting the practice of Chinas Han and Tang Dynasties.