The Times April 27, 2006
A thirteenth-century depiction of the emperor and his courtiers playing the ancient game of hit ball, which Chinese experts believe was taken back to Europe by Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes (Reuters)
Confucius he say ‘take a seven iron’
By Jane Macartney
China is claiming that emperors and concubines were putting balls into holes in the ground for centuries before the game of golf was first played in Scotland
WITH its invention of gunpowder, fireworks and chopsticks, China has a head start in any competition for inventions that shred the nerves.
Now, however, the Chinese are laying claim to something that may cause more frustration and anguish that almost anything else on Earth golf.
More than 400 years before Scottish shepherds began tapping a ball across the grass at St Andrews, the Mongol emperors of China were swinging their clubs in the game of hit ball, the Chinese Golf Association announced yesterday, in a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People where Chinas leaders receive visiting heads of state and the parliament gathers once a year.
Experts from the Palace Museum, Chinas most prestigious, and from Peking University were on hand to reveal their findings after more than two years of research. To back up their case, they showed off a replica set of clubs, re-created from ancient paintings that show the emperor at play.
The replica set of golf clubs recreated from ancient paintings(Claro Cortes IV/Reuters)
White-gloved girls unrolled copies of four paintings depicting the emperor, courtiers and his ladies putting balls across the ground into circles on the ground that are designated by tiny coloured flags. It all looks a lot like golf.
Zhang Xiaoning, secretary general of the golf association, swelled with pride. Most sports in China are imported from the West . . . I believe this discovery of a game very similar to golf is a great contribution by China to world sports.
The officials restrained themselves from an outright claim to the invention of golf, saying that more research would be necessary. But they clearly harboured few doubts as to where the game originated.
Cui Lequan, a professor of the cultural history working committee of China General Administration of Sport, compared hit ball with modern golf and quoted from a rule book written in 1282 to back his case. If you read Balls Rules and compare that with the rules set by St Andrews in 1754, there is little difference.
But how did golf reach Europe from China? Professor Cui has an answer. When Genghis Khans Mongol hordes conquered much of the known world, he left some of his warriors behind in Europe. I am not saying for sure that they introduced golf to Europe, but its possible that they combined hit ball with a local ball game and this developed into golf.
China would have it that emperors, and particularly their concubines, were golf addicts hundreds of years before Scotlands first documented reference in the 15th century.
The replica golf ball
The sticks copied from the ancient paintings do bear a remarkable resemblance to modern golf clubs and were carved from expensive rosewood. Song Yatong, from the Central Arts Institute, said: This took us two years of work and we kept to the ancient style while using our own creativity.
This latest claim of invention follows an illustrious list. Chinas Four Great Inventions are the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing. But Chinese ingenuity does not stop there. In January China found cliff paintings that suggest residents of the far western Xinjiang region were skiing in the Stone Age. Last year the discovery of a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles was taken to show that in the rush to invent pasta, China got there first.
And then there is football, which China says was first played in the 8th to the 5th centuries BC in eastern Shandong province but disappeared in later centuries because of a lack of interest. The fork is another invention to which China lays claim, although, like golf, its a find that did not quite catch on.
Mr Zhang raised a laugh by admitting: It seems our ancestors were playing golf hundreds of years ago, but the skill of Chinese players today is pretty low so this discovery encourages us to catch up.
Chinas landscape is now pockmarked with golf courses, particularly around maincities, and the sport has become a national pastime that is especially popular with officials and entrepreneurs who see an opportunity for an outing while cultivating connections. So perhaps its not so unlike golf in the West after all.