Did China Invent Football?

After the Football World Cup and the amazing finale, everyone had the eyes glued to this fantastic French team and all the scenes of jubilation among the French.

If I had to survey a large range of people about the origins of football, needless to say the majority of the answers would be Europe.

However, the very first origins of football are ….Chinese and according to FIFA, the earliest form of soccer was a Chinese invention.

By the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.—220 A.D.), the game was called Cuju (pronounced tsoo-joo), best translated as “kick ball.”

Cuju was an ancient Chinese sport with similarities to soccer, featuring several significant variations in scoring and play style. It was played in a rectangular field often defined by thread or low walls, with typically one or two goals positioned in the middle of the field. It was a very popular sport in medieval China, pervasive among all classes and enjoyed by intellectuals, peasants, royalty, and soldiers alike.

The game was incredibly popular for many centuries, to the point that it was played professionally among both commoners and in the imperial court. Liu Bang, founding emperor of the Han Dynasty, was a known Cuju enthusiast. The imperial palace included a dedicated Cuju court where professional teams of 12 players each would face off.

Emperor Taizu and ministers playing cuju (c. 1300 AD)
Emperor Taizu and ministers playing cuju (c. 1300 AD)
Cuju Court


The game

Two teams of 12–16 players each attempted to score points by kicking the cuju ball through a goal. However, in contrast to soccer, there was one singular goal positioned in the middle of the field. This goal was made of two posts with a stretched net elevated between them, with a hole cut in the middle. Each team would try to kick the ball through this hole from their respective sides. Early in its history, there was also a two-goal version of cuju in which each team had their own goal in the middle of the field, though this was abandoned due to the popularity of the single-goal variation. It is unclear how many goals had to be scored to win a match or whether a time limit was used.

During the Tang Dynasty (618–907), another version of the sport, called baida, came into popularity, particularly among women. A group of 2–10 individual players would take turns attempting to score goals. A judge or judges would award points for skill, style, and ball handling, and could deduct points for poor performance. The player with the highest score by the end of the game won.

Women playing Cuju
Women playing Cuju



Players were allowed to touch the ball with any part of the body excluding hands. A referee could call fouls and/or deduct points, but it is unclear what constituted a foul, or how this system in its entirety worked. 

Cuju game



Prior to the Tang Dynasty (618–907), cuju was played with a ball made of two sewn hemispheres of leather stuffed with feathers. As the sport gained popularity, a higher quality ball became the standard. With eight pieces of leather stitched together, the new cuju ball was much more uniformly shaped than its predecessor, and an air-filled animal bladder on the interior gave it a lighter weight for easier maneuvering.

This timeframe also established the goal setup that would become the standard for the following centuries. Typically, two posts would sit in the middle of the field with a net stretched between them with a hole cut in the middle, as illustrated to the right.

During the Song Dynasty (960–1279) cuju balls were crafted with twelve pieces of leather to further round its shape, and a professional standard weight of approximately 21 ounces was established. These improvements in the cuju ball quality and uniformity allowed for greater control of the ball among professional players.

Illustration of a cuju goal
Illustration of a cuju goal


Prior to the Tang Dynasty (618–907), cuju was played with a ball made of two sewn hemispheres of leather stuffed with feathers. As the sport gained popularity, a higher quality ball became the standard. With eight pieces of leather stitched together, the new cuju ball was much more uniformly shaped than its predecessor, and an air-filled animal bladder on the interior gave it a lighter weight for easier maneuvering.

This timeframe also established the goal setup that would become the standard for the following centuries. Typically, two posts would sit in the middle of the field with a net stretched between them with a hole cut in the middle, as illustrated to the right.

During the Song Dynasty (960–1279) cuju balls were crafted with twelve pieces of leather to further round its shape, and a professional standard weight of approximately 21 ounces was established. These improvements in the cuju ball quality and uniformity allowed for greater control of the ball among professional players.

Cuju ball
Cuju ball


The sport enjoyed a reign of popularity for over a millennium, even spreading out from China into other countries, before fading away around the 16th century.

But in China for well over 2,000 years, they have played the game of “kickball”. Today spelled zuqiu, it’s still the word used for football.

So can we say football originated in China?

Well it’s true that the Chinese had clubs, rules, and fans more than 1,000 years ago. But the various versions of kickball were a long way from modern football as defined in Sheffield in the 1860s. It was the British codifying of the rules that made association football the world’s game, the sport of the people, not just of the toffs. So maybe we should stick to calling the Chinese version “kickball”?

If you are a football lover or just interested in getting more information about Cuju, feel free to contact U China Travel at info@uchinatravel.com



Why The Lifespan Of A Chinese Is One Of The Longest

If you have travelled a lot in Asia, around the world and have gravitated in different communities, like me, you have probably noticed that the Chinese age more beautifully. What is their secret?

Is it the consistent practice of Tai Chi, dancing in the parks?

Is it their life style with more meditation?

All these options are correct. But one significant reason is missing in that list. Yes you have guessed well…….their diet!

The U China Travel team is happy to share with you, right now, the features and benefits of this diet and make you keen on exploring much deeper when you travel with us.

Western eating habits have been picking away at long-held Chinese principles of balance and harmony in the kitchen, and it’s time we all—Chinese and otherwise—took a look at what the traditional Chinese diet has to offer.

Indeed, that Chinese “fast food” and China’s shift into unhealthy eating habits on the availability of western foods, particularly in cities, breaks almost every rule of the traditional Chinese diet, which is actually one of the healthiest in the world.


Chinese Medicine Philosophy

Chinese culture is based on the philosophy of “yin” and “yang”, as well as the “Five Elements.” From medicine and martial arts to dance and cooking, Chinese culture is built on a foundation of balance, harmony, contrast, and adapting to change.

Part of that balance figures into food. Each organ is tied to an element and a taste. For example, bitter is tied to the heart and fire. (Also, sweet: spleen/earth, sour: liver/wood, spicy: lungs/metal, salty: kidneys/water.) In building a healthy meal, all five of these tastes should be incorporated. That is said to keep the body in balance, which in turn protects it from disease.


How to Keep to the Traditional Chinese Diet

Green Tea U China Travel
Green tea

1. Drink green tea

Green tea helps to hold off hunger, aid digestion, and fight free radicals, which cause heart disease and cancer. In China, it’s customary to leave the same leaves in a pot and simply add water when a person wants a second or third cup. That way, they take in less theine than they would from several tea bags used one after another, and avoid chemicals involved in tea bag production.

2. Give up diary

Dairy is designed for infants, and ours is the only species that continues to drink milk into adulthood. Instead of relying on dairy for calcium, get it from green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, and fermented soy curds made with calcium.

3. Choose white rice, not brown

Brown rice is white rice with a hull around it, but the nutrients in that hull have poor bioavailability. That means our bodies use up energy breaking them down. That said, the Chinese diet values moderation and balance. Instead of having white rice at all times, try to rotate between all the available grains.


4. Don’t count calories

Chinese medicine sees food as nourishment, not potential body fat. Instead of counting calories, the Chinese diet simply aims to include healthy foods. For example, an avocado may have more than 200 more calories than a diet soda. But no one is about to argue that the diet soda is better for you than the avocado! Stop thinking about math, and start thinking about nutrition.


5. Eat red meat in moderation

According to Chinese medicine, it’s a mistake to have too much red meat, and not everyone can do without it. Instead of giving up red meat altogether, the Chinese diet advises two ounces twice a week. But some Chinese still say that people should be vegetarian because only the vegetables can convey the energy from the sun into the body.


6. Bring balance to your dishes

According to Chinese medicine, meals should always balance ingredients that are yin (wet and moist) and yang (dry and crisp). Yin foods cool the body, and yang foods heat it up. Another way to think of it is this: yin foods are usually carbohydrates, and yang foods are usually proteins. By cooking a dish that includes both of these (e.g., grain noodles with mung beans), the combination of proteins and carbohydrates can help to stabilize blood sugar and insulin—keys to metabolic health.


7. Eat slowly, and stop when you feel full

This might be the hardest part of the Chinese diet, but it’s certainly one of the most important. A major problem with western diets today is the way we have tied eating to guilt. Instead of eating three good meals a day, we might skip breakfast and then give in to a pastry by 10am. We might eat vegetables all week, then binge on potato chips all weekend. The way many of us see food is in extremes, bouncing from hunger to excess every few hours.

The solution, according to the Chinese diet, is to never skip meals. To eat three complete, healthy meals every day, and to eat until you feel that you are almost full. Of course, there’s a caveat: you have to eat slowly. It takes the brain some time to signal that you feel full, so it’s very easy to overeat without realizing it if you’re in a rush. Sit down, take your time, and appreciate your meals until you know it’s time to stop.


8. Serve soup at every meal

Western foods are quite dry, and we make up for it by drinking plenty of water during and between meals. The Chinese diet takes a different approach. Their meals almost always include a soup-based dish, which helps to fill the stomach and control the appetite. If you can get a fermented soup (such as miso), it is even better! Fermented soups are probiotics, which help to release nutrients from the foods you take in and last but not least, it champions your gut that will thank you! 


Beef noodle soup
Beef noodle soup
Seafood soup with papaya


9. Rethink your “mains” and “sides”

In the US, meat is a main dish and vegetables are side dishes. But in China, vegetables are viewed as main courses. When you’re preparing a plate for dinner, try to think about what you’re paying the most attention to. Instead of a plate that is two-thirds meat and one-third vegetables, aim for a plate that is two-thirds vegetables and one-third meat. At the very least, half your meal should consist of vegetables.

Flat rice noodles with beef
Beef noodles
Stir fried flat noodles


10. Learn about Chinese medicine

There’s no substitute for a doctor when you’re actually ill, but under most circumstances we can all benefit from learning how natural vegetables, herbs, and spices can keep us healthy. For example, chilies can promote digestion and ginger eases nausea. Whether you believe in these cures or not, at the end of the day it’s just one more reason to make sure you take in plenty of healthy, natural foods.

The key to the Chinese diet is natural ingredients and balance.

Every time you buy and make something, focus on the unrefined, all-natural version. When you make something starchy, consider adding legumes. The next time you want a snack, boil a cup of green tea. Pile your plate with vegetables, and drink a cup of soup on the side. Strive for balance, whatever that means for you.

Now the Traditional Chinese diet is no longer a secret for you!

By traveling with U China Travel, you will have plenty of opportunities to witness and taste that healthy diet. And maybe when you come back home, you will keep in mind that natural ingredients, balance make you healthier and you might have a strong willingness to continue it….

After all, traveling is experiencing and some travels can be more inspiring than other ones….

And this is exactly what U China Travel strives to trigger in each of its guest by giving multiple occasions to explore, share, experience and bring back home long life memories….

team u china travel China tour

U China Travel Memo – A Note From Leo

Leo from U China Travel

Ever been ‘forced’ to spend previous travelling time at shops you have absolutely no interest in? Or perhaps felt suffocated amid huge throngs at touristy sites? Having worked in the tourism industry for many years, I know how you feel. After all, I was one of those guides who would bring people to these touristy shops. Not any more.

I’m Leo, the founder of U China Travel. Thank you for visiting our site, and for taking your time to listen to my story. 

Having graduated from an Aeronautics and Engineering course in a Beijing University, I once thought I would follow a conventional career in the engineering industry.

But fate had other ideas for me, and I landed a job as a guide with different operators all over China. As I brought visitors to discover China, I discovered more about myself. This unexpected journey into an entirely different industry matched my need to do something more fulfilling with my life. It ignited a strong desire to connect with other people, to show them the beauty of China, fulfil dreams and create lifelong memories.

However, I soon realised that the tourism industry in China is, in many ways, a very jaded and commercial one. Tourists often sign up for standard itineraries, packed with rushed schedules, touristy shops, restaurants and sites. Like factory-work, these standard tours give tour agencies greater profitability, but give tourists lesser value. This journey made me discover that there was a huge gap between my vision of traveling and what was (and still is) being offered in the market today. Bland, impersonal mass tourism.

It didn’t feel right.

I believe travelling is NOT about the number of attractions you see, nor about the names of fancy hotels you stay but how rejuvenated and inspired you’ll get from your trip. My initial experiences formed the foundation of my philosophy, and I rapidly understood that my path was somewhere else. 

With this deep desire to offer authentic, high quality, personalised travels and lifelong travel memories, U China Travel was founded in 2009 with a close friend. 

A decade after its creation, U China Travel remains a Boutique Travel Agency and we’re proud of it! We strive to keep constant close relations, preferring direct communication with our guests and offering highly personalised and flexible tours. Our guides are handpicked and are well-known in their respective niches. We specialise in letting you experience the more authentic side of China, and enjoy non-touristy restaurants with great cuisine. Our customer service is top notch.

u china travel leo team

My favourite motto (which I love proclaiming loudly!) goes “As a Boutique Travel Agency we hope NOT to be the biggest, but strive to be the best travel company with the highest quality service in China!”

With this core philosophy in mind, we’ve served and created wonderful memories with our beloved guests, many of whom we’re still in touch.

U China Travel is always listening and improving. In addition to our customised travels, we’re happy to announce a fantastic range of small group tours starting in 2018. With a close knit group of up to 12 pax, you can expect days of fun and inspiration with U China Travel!

Experience a brand new way to discover Chinese culture, history and nature.

YOU are the guests of U China Travel!

Welcome to China

With Love,

Leo  signature

Conde Nast Traveler Editor Letter: April 2013

While sitting in a Doctor’s office waiting room just the other day, I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of the April 2013 edition of Conde Nast Traveler. Delivering “truth in travel,” Conde Nast Traveler is one of the world’s most widely circulated English language travel magazines. This particular edition focused on “The Grand Tour of Asia” – 12 Countries, 24 Cities, 45 Days, 1 Trip of a Lifetime.


The entire magazine provided great insight about the ‘hot spots’ around Asia, told in an entertaining “narrative-itinerary” fashion. But the part of the publication that really caught my attention was the letter from the editor found just inside the front cover.

I have republished the letter in it’s entirety below. I strongly encourage every single person to take five minutes out of their day and give this a quick read. Some of the most relevant and important parts of the letter will be found in bold.

Thank you to Klara Glowczewska, Editor in Chief, for the enjoyable read.

The New Grand Tour

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life” –Jack Kerouac, On the Road

WHEN I FIRST HEADED FOR BEIJING IN JULY 2008, I felt, I confess, more dutiful than enthusiastic. I feared that I wasn’t really going to like China—I just wanted to tick the box and move on. Surely it would be too big, too charmless, too polluted, too impenetrable—cold, somehow. How wrong I was: I felt the electricity as soon as I arrived in the gargantuan (and then new) Beijing Capital International Airport. The sense of consequence—that whatever was happening here mattered deeply not just for China itself but for the rest of the world—was mesmerizing. I thought during my (alas) brief stay that everyone who can should come see this—should walk these streets, take in these sights, have these conversations. Here, for good or bad, was surely a new world rising.

I had just four days for China back then, and about the same for Japan. In this issue we propose an infinitely more rewarding scenario—and we feel it’s important enough that we’ve restructured and redesigned the entire magazine, first page to last, to showcase it (a special shout-out to Design Director Rob Hewitt!). Here is an unprecedented day-by-day guide for how best to see 12 Asian countries in 45 days—the Asian Grand Tour. We could hardly do less. Put it in historical perspective: In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, young Americans of means crossed the Atlantic to spend months and months traipsing through Europe. They embarked on the Continental Grand Tour—an almost de rigueur rite of passage—because it was fun, of course (the art! the architecture! the ruins! the wine! the food!), but also because they found food for the mind there, and because America’s future lay in its economic and strategic ties to Europe. Now our future is inextricably tied to Asia, the continent that will surely affect us all in ways which we can’t yet fully imagine—culturally, politically, economically, environmentally.

Some scholars have proclaimed this the Asian century, implying the end of Western dominance. We shall see. But we don’t have to wait to see how dynamic Asia already is. This year, according to the Global Business Travel Association, China may beat the United States as the top market for business travel—Western companies and governments are all seeking access to Asian markets, resources, and allies. And all travel to the region, business and leisure, was up a combined six percent in 2011. This is not surprising: There are few places on earth where the pre-modern coexists in such captivating proximity to the hyper-modern; where, for example, you can explore exquisite temples, visit ancient villages, and slurp bowls of peasant noodles—and ogle the latest creations of today’s star architects, retreat to the urban delights of a chic fusion restaurant, and fall asleep in the comforts of a refurbished colonial hotel.

Bell Tower in the Distance
Your guide for this special issue is Hanya Yanagihara, Condé Nast Traveler’s Editor at Large. And “at large” she certainly was for this assignment—for 51 days straight. (After a little fine-tuning, we compressed the trip into 45 days.) She had already traveled throughout Asia umpteen times, and her knowledge of and enthusiasm for everything from the evolution of Buddhism to the best places to buy gems (or dumplings) is palpable on every page. But importantly, and in the best tradition of the magazine’s signature Iconic Itineraries (see herefor the 17 other step-by-step guides), before leaving she worked closely for months with one of our assiduously vetted travel specialists to figure out every detail (the full list of specialists is available here). Together they explored every temptation until an ideal (and manageable) itinerary emerged. Hanya then took the trip—in effect test-driving it, tweaking as necessary. This issue is the product of those labors. You can book the journey as presented here or you can design it à la carte—see here for booking information. For Hanya, it was truly the trip of a lifetime. It could be yours, too.


Klara Glowczewska
Editor In Chief



CN Traveler Editor Letter April 2013

CN Traveler The Grand Tour of Asia

Book Your Custom China Itinerary With U China Travel

Shenyang, China – A Lesson In Table Manners

Shenyang city, the capital of Liaoning province in China, is a second-tier urban center undergoing rapid industrial and commercial development.

Home to nearly 10 million people, Shenyang also houses plants for multinational giants like Michelin and BMW.  However, when compared to first-tier cities like Shanghai and Beijing, Shenyang is still decidedly more underdeveloped and lacking international flavor.  Westerners, though they certainly exist in Shenyang, are much harder to come by.

During a recent visit to “the city to the north of Shen River,” our friends – who have been Shenyang residents for nearly a year – took us out to their favorite hole-in-the-wall neighborhood eatery for some authentic Northeast cooking.

As we approached the restaurant, we noticed a number of make-shift grills set up outside for cooking chuan’r.  This presentation played right into my new found addiction to BBQ meat-on-a-stick; all day I had been asking to stop  and pick up some yang rou chuan’r, also known as BBQ’d lamb skewers.

Next to the meat-on-a-stick operation, tied up to a nearby street sign, two lambs nibbled at the dead grass poking through cracks in the cement.

Farm life in the middle of Shenyang City

“There’s the yang rou chuan’r you’ve been wanting,” my friend Nick remarked. Read more