Par for the course…

I never thought I’d be citing Sports Illustrated here (Alan started it!) [via], but a Chinese historian has found references from over a thousand years ago to what he claims is the earliest known form of golf:

Professor Ling Hongling of Lanzhou University says he has uncovered evidence in a book called the Dongxuan Records that proves golf was played in China in AD 945.

The book, written during the Song Dynasty from AD 960 to AD 1279, claims the game was called chuiwan and was played with 10 different jewel-encrusted clubs, including a cuanbang — equivalent to a modern-day driver — and a shaobang — the ancient three-wood.

The term chui actually means “to hit” while wan is the term for a ball.

[H]e claims the game was imported to Europe by Mongol traders during the late Middle Ages.

[H]e claims a reference in the Dongxuan Records sees a prominent Chinese magistrate of the Nantang Dynasty (AD 937-975) instructing his daughter “to dig holes in the ground so that he might drive a ball into them with a purposely crafted stick.”

I was going to say “obviously, more research is needed” but then I realized that I really don’t care…. The evidence at the moment is decidedly thin — “smoking gun” traces rather than credible documentation — and there’ll be lots of heat back and forth with the Scottish, but it’s going to be a long time before there’s enough evidence to be worth revising the historical record. For one thing, is there any evidence that the Mongols played any such game or could have transmitted it any other way?

As the article says, “The Chinese have a history of making audacious claims to having invented sports,” not to mention everything else.


  1. That’s funny you should mention this topic. I’m in the middle of reading Susan Brownell’s book Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People’s Republic (1995). At the end of the historical overview chapter she mentions that the Chinese claimed soccer was played during the Han dynasty (using an inflated bladder). I think your point is similar to what Brownell says about the Chinese claiming to have invented certain sports — but certainly, this doesn’t come as much surprise since the 2008 Olympics are now only two years away. I think they’re just trying to increase support for the nation again… but that’s not new.

    I also just picked up a book by Dong Jingxia on women and sports in China, though her focus is on elite participation rather than Brownell’s focus on sports, body culture, and the nation. It was written in 2003. Finally, I checked out Andrew Morris’ Marrow of the Nation, about the development of modern sports in Republican China. Has anyone read any of these books? I’d love to hear your opinions. So far, I find Brownell’s book focused heavily on body culture and politics and her own experience, but I like her focus on overall modern changes in exercise (and the involvement of politics of the state) rather than on specific people.

  2. Amanda,
    The soccer thing is of course silly, but there is a lot in Lewis Sanctioned Violence in Early China on kickball in early China. This is the type of data that can easily be re-worked into evidence of ‘soccer’ if one is in the mood.
    The old kickball game was seen as good training for war, and also as having cosmic significance. It is an ancestor, I think, of Kemari, the hacky-sack game that Shinto priests play.

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