Cuju, the Soccer Predecessor

Cuju, the Soccer Predecessor

The copies of unusual ancient balls, stone carvings and pottery attracted the most interest among the assortment of soccer-related exhibits from FIFA and famous soccer-playing countries and regions at the Charming Football Exhibition in Hamburg, Germany for the 2006 World Cup.

The forerunner of today's footballs, called a cuju, was first used in the game of the same name played in China over 2,500 years ago, according to FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.

Centuries before football appeared in Europe, the Chinese had already been practicing kicking balls with their feet in order to score points in organized matches known as cuju. In Chinese, cu means "kicking the ball with feet" and ju is "a stuffed ball made of hide."

Cuju became popular during the Warring States Period (472 BC-221 BC). During that time period, cuju was as popular as today's game of football, boasting countless fans. Compared with the modern game of football, which originated in Europe and played for competition, Ancient China's cuju was played for body strengthening. Since cuju could ward off leg numbness occurring after a long horseback ride, it also became a common drill in army training.


Another point worth mentioning is the appearance of female cuju teams during the Tang Dynasty (618 AD-907 AD). Although women in feudal times were of a low status and excluded from many outside occasions, playgrounds seemed to be the one exception where they could play in public. In fact, records indicate that a 17-year-old girl once beat a whole team of army soldiers.


Cuju flourished during the Song Dynasty (960 AD-1279 AD). Professional cuju performers were quite popular. Generally speaking, they were one of two types of players. One group was trained and performed for the royal court; the other group consisted of civilians who made their living as cuju performers.


Large cities set up their own cuju organizations, which are now considered to be the earliest professional cuju clubs. The participants were cuju lovers or professional performers.


There are two main ways to play cuju: Zhu Qiu and Bai Da. Zhu Qiu was commonly performed during court feasts celebrating the emperor's birthday or during diplomatic events. Cuju is a two-sided game, with 12 or 16 players on each team. Another way is to play cuju ball is without the goal. This method is called Bai Da. This was the dominant cuju style of the Song Dynasty, attaching much importance to developing personal skills. The number of mistakes made by the players decided the winner. For example, if the ball is not passed far enough to reach the others, then points are deducted.


However, Chinese traditional ideas encouraged calm, peace and tolerance, so ancient sports in China were different from their more exciting and competitive versions in the West. The 2,000-year-old sport gradually declined in popularity in the mid-Qing Dynasty, and eventually faded into history.