Whether golf originated in China has long been a debate.
However, judging from the description in the Chinese classic Wan Jing (Ball Game Treatise), the game Chuiwan is similar to modern Western golf in many respects. Wan Jing is the earliest known book in the Yuan Dynasty (1280~1368), and it is dedicated to the game.
Literally, “chui” means “to hit” while “wan” means “ball”, in Chinese. Chuiwan thus means “to hit a ball”. The ball game evolved from the “polo” competition in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), in which competitors raced on horseback holding a stick to hit a ball over a large field up to 750 meters long by 600 meters wide. Highly competitive, the game only fit the most adept racers. As a result, Budaqiu, which means “striking balls on foot”, was invented. In Budaqiu, racers ran on foot instead of riding a horse and swung the sticks to see who could hit the ball the farthest. Budaqiu was geared toward the ladies from the Imperial court.
Around the middle of the Tang Dynasty, Budaqiu racers were divided into two opposing teams with several holes dug in the grass.
The game reached the height of its popularity in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Budaqiu became known as Chuiwan during the Jin and Yuan Dynasties. As stated in Wan Jing (Ball Game Treatise), during the Yuan Dynasty, both Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty and Emperor Zhangzong of the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234), were fascinated with the game of Chuiwan. Consequently, Chuiwan took both the court and the masses by storm.
The scenes depicting Chuiwan are vividly illustrated in The picture of Ming Emperor Xuanzong Seeking Pleasure by the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) court painter Shang Xi, as well as The picture of Beautiful Ladies Playing Chuiwan by the Ming Dynasty painter Du Jin.
“The picture of Ming Emperor Xuanzong Seeking Pleasure and Chuiwan” by the Ming Dynasty court painter Shang Xi is preserved in the National Palace Museum. The picture of Ming Emperor Xuanzong Seeking Pleasure is 36.8 cms high and 6.89 meters long and vividly depicts recreational activities of the Ming court. These included arrow-shooting, Chuiwan, Touhu (pitch-pot) in which players threw sticks from a set distance into a large canister, and a ride in a sedan chair. The picture illustrates the Ming Emperor playing Chuiwan—its ceremonious etiquette is beyond all expectations.
The popularity of Chuiwan is also evidenced by a Song Dynasty (960-1279) carving, Child Playing Chuiwan excavated from the Dai Temple in Mt. Tai, Shandong Province. However, the game’s popularity declined during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). As stated in the Chinese classic Dou Cao Zang Gou (ancient Chinese games book), the contributing factor of Chuiwan’s waning popularity was not limited access to fields, but rather, the emperor’s weakening vitality and lack of interest. After Manchu tribes conquered China to replace the Ming Dynasty with the Qing, the new royal family was fond of hunting, wrestling and ice-skating.
The available historical record of Chuiwan is the book Wan Jing published in 1282 in the Yuan Dynasty by Ning Zhizhai. Consisting of 16 chapters, the book detailed the rules of Chuiwan. The playing field of Chuiwan depicted in the book bears a striking resemblance to a modern golf field: “The terrain is plain, raised, sunken, hilly, upward, obstructive, impeding, coated, and external. The plain part should not be missed; the raised part should be made use of; the sunken part is accessible; the hilly part should be approached slowly; the impeding part should be dealt with skillfully; the upward part should be avoided … With holes dug in the filed, colorful flags were erected. Teams play Chuiwan, having fun together.” Sticks of unequal length and field flags in various colors depicted in the picture of Ming Emperor Xuanzong Seeking Pleasure are reminiscent of a modern golf field. The striking resemblance makes the viewer smile.
According to Wan Jing (Ball Game Treatise),Chuiwan was a game that emphasized not only one’s performance and skills but also the cultivation of ethics. The ultimate goal of the game was to upgrade one’s morality level. In the ball game, contestants were demanded to show respect to the elderly, to maintain a friendly relationship with others, and to speak politely. Contestants were expected to show respect to the elderly, to maintain a friendly relationship with others, and to speak politely.
Chuiwan not only blended elements of ancient Chinese culture with a ball game but also manifested the composed elegance of a self-disciplined gentleman. In the face of victory or failure, one should not reveal pride and should take the defeat well. Mental calmness should be retained; tranquility kept in mind; gentle attitudes adopted; ease and comfort exhibited through body postures; modesty revealed in behavior; and the communication simple and proper.
These self-disciplined behaviors thoroughly correspond with present-day golf etiquette, such as correct clothing, self–discipline and self-respect, courtesy and tolerance that are typical of gentlemen and ladies.