Parenting Stories and Tips

5 Games I played as a Chinese kid born in the late 80s

Were you born in China in the late 80s? Odds are you will remember these games just like I did. They are simple, cost next to nothing, require very little space, and are incredibly fun even in today’s standards.

I’m always amazed at just the sheer variety of toys available for Emilia these days whenever we go to the toy store. She even have trouble figuring out what she likes and end up spending tons of time going from isle to isle. Many times we purchase things that she instantly loses interest in as soon as we step foot in our home. The unnecessary toys take up extra space and need even more effort to remove.

Most people know that China’s population is massive, and what come with a lot of people is the scaricty of resources and space. As a result, a lot of kids games developed are designed to be played with next to no equipment, in small spaces.

I think back to some of the things we play as kids and still find them interesting, and we try to teach Emilia to play some of those games now that some of them are appropriate for her age. It really helped with keeping our home free of clutter, and she still gets to play with loads of toy when we go to community centers and family drop-in sessions.

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1. Shadow Puppet 手影

In our west facing nursery, we get a lot of sunlight in the afternoon. One day I noticed Emilia pointing and waving at the wall and I suddenly realized, she was playing with her shadows.

Although she is still too young to learn the proper gestures to make different animals, at one year old she enjoys waving at her shadow buddy and doing silly dances against that wall, and this activity has become our daily afternoon ritual after her nap.

Image from Google

2. Feather Kicks/Shuttlecock Jianzi 毽子

This is a popular game in a few other countries in Asia. A Jianzi is basically a few pieces of feather tied to a weight and a rubber bottom, the concept is similar to badminton birdy. The weighted bottom ensures the Jianzi will always fall down with the rubber piece first. The game is simple, you keep the piece of Jianzi afloat by kicking it into the air repeatedly, and the game ends when it lands on the floor. This was a very popular break time game when I was in elementary school since it takes very little space and just one piece of equipment. If there are lots of children interested, we would play team vs team, and each team has to pass the Jianzi between team members with each kick or do a good old 1v1, whoever’s Jianzi lands first loses.

The game is a wonderful way to train whole body coordination and is a lot of fun when played in a group. I still remember wearing my best sneaker to school on days when we will be playing so that I get the perfect amount of bounce out of my Jianzi and have my momentary fame as the winner. Good times.

I was surprised to find that it is available on Amazon, for a very cheap price too. Who knew this was still a thing?



3. Cat’s Cradle 翻花绳

This was another one that most girls enjoyed at our school and is a one I look forward to playing with Emilia later on. All you need is a piece of string tied in a loop that does not stretch, although a little bit of stretch is probably ok too.

It’s a bit hard to explain the setup of the string so here’s a video.

Essentially once the string is set up on person A’s hand, then the other player, person B will have to manipulate it using both hands, in mirrored actions, and take over the set of string. If when person A pulls out his or her hand and the string loosens up then person B loses. Each player take their turn until one player loses. The game challenges the dexterity of fingers, but also memorization of steps. Since the starting setup is the same, the solution is often repeated as well.

Image from Google

4. Chinese Jump Rope 跳皮筋

This isn’t your normal jump rope where you just skip over and over, the game of Chinese jump rope requires the player to jump in a particular sequence inside a looped long elastic rope. Each end of the loop is usually held by a person, so the minimum number of player is generally three people. Depending on how the rope is being held, the level of difficulty increases. It starts out with two people holding the loop on their ankle with feet together, then on their knee, then waist, then chest; and then it gets lowered again and this time it is on only one ankle, making the loop narrower, and continue. You lose if you fail to perform the jump sequence at any difficulty level and the other team win.

This was a great total body workout that took very little space, in fact I still remember the jump sequence to this day. In Chinese schools, space is usually very precious, and not everyone will get a chance to play on the basketball court in an organized team vs team fashion, so jump rope was a great alternative to get some sweat going and have some competitive fun.

Image from Google

5. Shadow Tag 踩影子

This one requires a group of friends to play, and is a variation of tag. Instead of tagging one another by tagging or grabbing, you play by trying to step onto other’s shadows. This game was fun to play when there wasn’t enough of us to actually play tag, or if we are in too small a space to properly play tag. We played on the field, but also in alleys and hallways.

Image from Google

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