July 12, 2012

Zu-gu: Ancient Chinese Football

“There were three kinds of zu-gu (or CuJu) in Chinese history: the direct game, the indirect game and the free game. The direct game was widely accepted in the Han dynasty. There were twelve players in each team, and there were two goals in the field. They played the game like a battle. The team which scored most was the winner. This kind of play was used for military practice, for example for the training of soldiers. The indirect game was popular in the Tang and the Song dynasties. There was only one goal in the field. The players kicked a leather ball through a hole in a piece of silk cloth which was strung between two thirty feet long poles. A remarkable feature is that while they played, the ball should not drop on the ground. The team that scored most was the winner. This kind of play was usually for diplomatic performances and the entertainment of the royalty. The free game was most popular and has the longest history. There was no goal in the field, the players kicked the ball freely, and the game’s most important factor was the skill of the players: the most attractive one was the winner.

The direct game is similar to the basics of modern association football. The indirect game is somewhat like the modern training form of ‘foot volley’ (‘tennis football’ – keeping the ball in the air). The free game in fact is a free-style and jury type of football, it is a matter of purely showing one’s technical skills.


Bram Cohen, “De Geschedenis van het Voetbal”, Arch Publishing, Amsterdam 1996, blz 5-10 (over oervoetbal in China)