Chinese Sports and Leisure Activities

What activities do the Chinese like to do in their free time?

People in China love to share in a wide range of Chinese sports. It’s in their culture to share activities together such as games, and leisure activities. You can go and observe these activities anytime you go for walk around a local park or at traditional festivals or competitions.

I have learned many of these activities by just asking the people doing them if I can have a go! Here is my list of the most common Chinese sports and activities.

Chinese people like to spend their free time outdoors as much as possible. Parents will take their children outside to sai tai yang (“soak in some sun”). In parks you will often see concrete tables with game boards laid out on them. The local Chinese people will take their own game pieces to the park and play.

Where Will You Find Most People Doing Sports and Leisure Activities?

You will find that most Chinese parks will be full of people, both young and old. From dawn to dusk, you will find Chinese people engaging in many different types of Chinese sports and leisure activities. Chinese people are very sociable and would rather spend time with others than alone. Many older Chinese citizens will be members of social groups that will regularly gather in a park to play games, dance or sing. The activities they enjoy in their free time also usually involve some movement. It’s important to keeping them more active and healthier than many of their Western counterparts.

Below you’ll find some of the most popular Chinese sports and leisure activities that I have encountered while living and working in China. When you see someone practicing one of these, consider asking if you could join in. Chances are they would be happy to share their culture and traditions with you.

Hacky Sack, Chinese-Style (Jianzi)

Jianzi is the Chinese version of Hacky Sack. During this game, players keep the hacky sack or shuttlecock off the ground using their feet and other body parts, but not their hands. The hacky sack is constructed out of a rubber sole or plastic disk with feathers attached to it. In a formal setting, participants will play on a volleyball or badminton court. In the park, however, people will usually just gather around the jianzi. This is more difficult than it looks, and requires a lot of skill to master. I have often joined a group in the park and had to retire after several minutes because I can’t keep up with them.

Tai Chi Chuan: “The Boundless Fist”

You may have already seen tai chi being practiced in public parks in your home country. This Chinese sport has two main purposes: to develop good defense skills through building muscle strength and flexibility, and to relax the body and reduce stress.

Chinese Sports and Leisure Activities
Tai Chi in a local public square

The slow movements of tai chi are grounded in the belief that incoming force should be met with softness, instead of resistance or fighting. It is a gentle way to fight stress and creates a relaxing, meditational atmosphere. It is also commonly offered in hospitals, clinics, and senior centres.

One of China’s Oldest Toys (Tuo Luo)

If you are walking around and you hear the cracking of a whip shatter the silence then someone close by is using a tuo luo. This is a traditional Chinese toy made out of wood and steel. The toy has a steel ball attached to the bottom which spins on the ground. To begin, a string attached to a stick is looped around the top of the tuo luo several times. The toy is then placed on the ground. The player holds on to the stick and pulls the string quickly to make the top start spinning. Then he or she whips the top with the string to keep it spinning fast for as long as possible.

The Art of Chinese Calligraphy

If you are lucky, you may see the ancient art of calligraphy being practiced in a public park. Painters draw traditional Chinese characters using a long brush pen soaked in black ink or water. Sometimes outdoor calligraphy contests will be organized.

Chinese calligraphy
The traditional Chinese art of calligraphy

Near where I live many Chinese people practice their calligraphy using an oversized brush and water. They will write out the characters on the concrete to be enjoyed until they dry up and disappear.

China’s Most Popular Pastime (Mahjong)

My mother in law is a local amateur mahjong champion, so I have been trained in this amazing addictive game and can hold my own in most games. This is a strategic board game commonly played by elderly Chinese. But now younger people will sit down and play with their friends if there is a table and nothing else to do! While also played at home, people will often gather in the park to play.

Chinese Sports and Leisure Activities
People playing traditional Chinese mahjong

The game may seem confusing at first and it helps to have a good memory. In the end, however, luck often proves more important than skill. Some view the game critically as it can be addictive and some players bet money on it. Others just treat it as light entertainment and an opportunity to socialize with friends. The clicking sound you will hear walking around the streets of China will be majiang being played inside.

Kite Flying — a Competitive Sport

Kite flying is a traditional Chinese pastime that was declared an official sport in 1991. Regular kite-flying competitions are held in several cities across China. On the 20th to the 25th April each year, the annual Weifang International Kite Festival is held in this “Kite City” in Shandong Province. Tens of thousands of participants come from China and abroad to compete with their beautiful and colorful kites in all imaginable shapes and sizes.

Ping Pong (Table Tennis) and Badminton: China’s Top Two Sports

Of course you can’t go anywhere and not see or hear these two games being played. If you are ever invited to play a game then the chances are it will be one of these two. The top two Chinese sports are ping pong and badminton.

people playing badminton in china
Badminton is played everywhere in China

Watching the Olympics you will see that China regularly takes home the gold in these two sports. Both of these sports are also played casually in the park or in local or national competitions. Casual badminton players have no problem playing outside, but more serious players prefer to play inside to avoid possible disruptions by the wind.

From Ancient Kick Ball to Modern Football (Cuju)

Yes, there is a debate to whether football started in China but a game similar to football was first recorded in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). Called cuju (“kick ball”), it was played by both men and women with a leather ball filled with hair and other soft materials. It was used as a form of military training and as a pastime to keep the soldiers’ morale high. Today, playing football is a popular Chinese sport, although the country is not competitive on an international level.

Chinese Sports and Leisure Activities
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Chinese Sports and Leisure Activities
People in China love to share in a wide range of Chinese sports, games, and leisure activities, which you can observe anytime you do for walk around a local park or at traditional festivals or competitions.
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Our Elysium
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