Chinese people absolutely love gaming, so it should come as no surprise that the country has an incredibly rich gaming history to go along with the country’s iconic culture.
And looking back over the development of popular games throughout the centuries, it is clear that no matter what materials are available, the Chinese can create fun and exciting pastimes out of anything. This is evident with games like Go, where players place black or white stones on a grid in an effort to dominate the largest amount of territory, and knucklebones, where the players use the bone from a sheep’s thigh joint in a speed flipping challenge. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the classic games of old that have stood the test of time and remain extremely popular. Some of these are skill based, others are to do with logic and chance.
Ancient Chinese Skill Games that Have Stood the Test of Time
Knucklebones is a prime example of the Chinese initiative to create a game out of virtually anything available. For this game, the player requires four pieces of bone, which usually come from the thigh of a pig or sheep. They have to throw something in the air, such as a bag of beans, while they quickly turn the bones over on to the other side before catching the bag again. This game is so old that nobody can really pinpoint when it was invented. But it is said that in the old times it was used as a way of practising the nimbleness of one’s fingers.
Another absolute classic is Go, which is an abstract strategy board game for two players. It takes place on a large grid printed on a piece of cloth or wood, and players have to position black and white “stones” on the playing surface. The aim of the game is to cover more territory than your opponent, which seems fairly simple in theory but it gets much harder when the board starts to fill up, as players can only place their stones on the corners. Players can capture other stones if they manage to corner them, and the game goes on until one player decides they can’t continue. This means that games can last for quite some time. The game is one of the oldest still played, and has been around since 4th Century BC. The earliest written reference to it was in the historical annal Zuo Zhuan, which referred to events in 548 BC. Archaeologists have discovered ancient game boards and deduced that the earliest forms of the game were played on a 17 x 17 grid. Nowadays, the grid size varies depending on the ability of the players.
Popular Games of Chance and Logic
Chinese people love staking on games of chance, which is why Macao has recently emerged as the number one casino destination in the world in the last ten years, ahead of Las Vegas. In 2015, revenue from gaming and gambling in the region exceeded US$28 billion. By far the most popular game is baccarat, which also happens to be James Bond’s game of choice. The card game requires players to bet on whether the player’s hand or the banker’s hand will win. The winning hand is the one with the highest value, with nine being the limit. The simplicity of the game is perhaps what appeals to the Chinese clientele, but there are other games that are enjoyed in the country which require a bit more of a skill element.
Poker is now making a name for itself in China as pros like Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan have helped to promote the game in Macao casinos by playing in high stakes cash games. These players have been ever-present on TV shows in the States during the rise of the card game, and as recognized celebrities should help to attract more Chinese players to the game. Still, at the present time there are no Chinese owned or operated sites offering poker, and the residents of the country have to stick to using international sites to play online. Otherwise, they would have to go to a casino. As poker becomes more popular all over the world, though, with over 40 million people playing regularly according to pokerplayersresearch .com, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more options cropping up for Chinese people in the near future.
There are other skill games that Chinese people love that have been around for much longer than baccarat and poker, and have truly stood the test of time. Chinese chess, known as Xiangqi in China, is one of the most popular board games played in the country. It is a unique game with its own set of rules, but is in the same family as international chess, chaturanga, shogi, Indian chess, and janggi. Xiangqi uses black and red pieces, and the order of which colour starts first has changed over the course of the game’s history. According to the first-century-BC text Shuo Yuan, this dates back to the Warring States period. In order to win, players have to capture the opposing player’s general.
As illustrated here, China has many games that have been around for years that still remain extremely popular today. The great thing about all these pastimes is they don’t require any technology to play them, and most only require a few simple materials which can lead to hours of fun. According to Bloomberg, China is now the gaming industry capital of the world, with global revenue surpassing $100 billion for the first time in 2017. But this massive sector has a lot to thank the games of old for, as they laid the foundations for the booming industry that we know today. So before you pick up that PlayStation or Xbox controller, you may want to decide to go back to your Chinese roots and play something slightly more primitive.
Also published on Medium.