‘There is nothing new under the sun’ as the old biblical saying goes. Someone comes up with what they think is a great new concept and then they discover that it has all been done before. That doesn’t always stop them from cashing in.
In the early 1970s two Americans came up with a ‘new’ game which they called Hacky-Sack; they formed a company, trademarked the game and the little sacks/balls they manufactured with which to play it. They subsequently sold ‘their’ game for a shed-load of money.
But truth to tell, Hacky-Sack is no more, no less, than the ancient game that has been played here in China for millenia – Jianzi (sometimes called Ti Jianzi).
The only difference being that the Jianzi which gives its name to the game is a feathered, weighted shuttlecock, whereas a Hacky-Sack is a small weighted pouchy bag. I am irritated by articles in the US media which refer to ‘Jianzi – The Chinese Hacky-Sack’ when what they should say is ‘Hacky-Sack – the American Jianzi’.
Jianzi originated in China at least 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty and was, and still is, played by young and old alike. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) Jianzi shops had become commonplace in China, you no longer had to make your own shuttlecock, mind you they are not exactly difficult to produce and there are lots of websites which will tell you how to do just that.
Here is a picture of my very own one which cost all of 35p! Since my strokes in 2010 I have difficulty standing/walking on two legs, let-alone balancing on one leg whilst the other kicks the feathery jianzi, so it is destined to just be another thing on my bookshelf gathering dust – alas!
Jianzi is played by kicking the shuttlecock to keep it from touching the ground, a player must only touch it with their feet or legs – hands are not involved.
It can be played by a single person, two, three or more people. There are many variations of play.
Much of the time it is just a knock-about with friends but in recent years a more formal, structured game with a governing body, fixed rules, competions, local teams, tournaments etc has emerged, and this is gaining popularity too. Needless to say, money is involved in this development!
We live in a tower block of apartments, however the tower blocks on either side all contain offices so I often look down at the communal gardens and see groups of young white-collar workers jackets off, sleeves rolled-up, having a game of Jianzi during their lunch break.
In the early mornings here in China you see many elderly and middle-aged people in the public parks; they do Tai Chi, sword play, or fan dancing and ball-room dancing, but many of them just play Jianzi on their own as it is excellent aerobic exercise.
It is well known that the Chinese invented gunpowder, fireworks, compasses, paper, umbrellas, moveable type for printing etc etc – but the pundits writing about Chinese inventions never mention Jianzi/hacky sack – so I decided I should redress the balance!