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Ancient Wrestling in China:Jiaodi

Jiaodi(Jiao li) and Xiangpu are two primitive forms of wrestling. Jiaodi came into being in primitive society as a physical fight form. Huang Di and Chi You, leaders of two rival tribes were fighting for the ruling of society at that time. Chi You was a brutal and cold-blooded man. Armed with two bull horns in the head, he was hard to defeat. Huang Di, a courageous and upright man, won the war in the end. Impressed by Chi You's fighting practice by wearing horns in the head, Huang Di preserved it in the form of drama: Chi You Drama. The performers will wear bull horns and fighting each other like bulls. During East Zhou period (770BC-256BC), Jiaodi prevailed, especially among the northern tribes.

Bronze Carving themed with Jiaodi during Warring Period 475BC-221BC)

In Qin dynasty(221BC-206BC), Emperor Qin Shihuang played a critical role to innovate and popularize it. After united all kingdoms and states in China in 221BC, he introduced Jiaodi into royal palace, and turned it from a sport competition game embracing strength and skills into an entertainment activity known as Jiaodi drama. Besides, to prevent people rise against him, Emperor Qin Shihuang destroyed all the weapons in China and ordered the Jiaodi participants stop to wear the bull horns and wrestle with each other by hands. He also collected folk music and dance nationwide, which paved the way for the prosperous of art in later dynasties. Jiaodi drama, which was more an entertainment activity than a competitive sport during Qin dynasty evolved into a comprehensive performance later. In 1975, a wood comb was discovered in Hubei province, which is a masterpiece depicting two Jiaodi drama performers in Qin dynasty. The reign of Qin Shihuang was fleeting. However, its influence is immeasurable and lasting.

Jiaodi Drama formed during Qin dynasty(221BC-206BC)

During Han dynasty(206BC-220BC), Jiaodi penetrated into the lower class of society. People cherished so much passion for this entertainment that they would cover hundreds of miles to see the government-runned Jiaodi drama. In the Jiaodi Drama, two participants usually wear make-up before they perform in public. The basic features of wrestling came into being in this period. In 1970s, one piece of silk embroidery of Han dynasty was unearthed, which depicts two Jiaodi participants ready to fight each other. The entertainment function of it still outweighed that of sports competition is this period. A comprehensive art form embracing folk dance, folk music, acrobatics, martial art and magic emerged during this period, which was known as Baixi (literally mans variety show, Baixi is the counterpart of Yayue: the elegant music played in royal palace). Emperor Huan Wudi established a music organization named Yuefu at this period. Against the background of enhanced cultural and artistic exchange between middle and western China thanks to the opening of Silk Road, Baixi drama took in Jiaodi drama and prospered unprecedentedly. Royal families started to launch large-scaled Baixi performances also. The most renowned Jiaodi drama in this period is Mr Huang Of East Sea. Here goes the plot: In the end of Qin dynasty (221BC-206BC), a magician named Mr Huang went to East Sea to kill a white tiger. Unfortunately, his magic powers disappeared the moment the tiger jumped into him. Thus he was killed by the tiger. Featuring fixed figures, plots, conflictions and ending, this is thought to be the earliest drama in China, and Baixi is considered as the cradle of Chinese drama by experts.

Jiaodi game depicted in one tomb fresco

During Jin dynasty (226-420), Jiaodi was named as Xiangpu. In Tang dynasty (618-907), the word Xiangpu and Jiaodi co-existed. The succeeding dynasties include Song (960-1276), Liao (907-1125), Jin (1115-1234), Yuan (1271-1368) witnessed its robust development. Xiangpu was divided into two categories: sport competition and entertainment performance during these three dynasties. 

During Tang and Song dynasties, Jiaodi drama or Xiangpu became a more widely spread entertainment activity. It appeared in various occasions such as royal palace, government officials' mansions, military camps and villages in the form of Baixi. Jiaodi was also one form of ancient martial art originated from Warring States period (475BC-222BC). In Han dynasty, it was deeply-rooted among the lower class.

In North Song dynasty (960-1127), Xiangpu will be held once or twice per year in its capital, and females joined in this entertainment also. According to history record, there was female participants wearing collarless and short-sleeved costumes to perform Xiangpu in Kaifeng,Henan province, which caused a great sensation at that time, and people thronged to see this rare phenomenon. (In feudal society, women are not expected to reveal their body so much). Si Maguang, an important historian, wrote a letter to emperor to stop this behavior. Despite of his objection, female Xiangpu continued. In South Song dynasty (1127-1276), female Xiangpu performance functioned as a prelude to the male Xiangpu to attract more attention.

 Clay Artworks depicting Children play Jiaodi(xiangpu) in Song dynasty(960-1279)

Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the founder of Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), listed wrestling as one of the testing approaches to select generals. He was very good at wrestling, archery and horse riding also. Jiaodi was warmly welcomed by them. According to one book wrote by Marco Polo, there was one woman of noble class who was selecting her future husband by wrestling, though no man could win her, she was awarded with 10000 horses as a reward.

During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) which was founded by Manchu people, the word "xiangpu" was substituted by "wrestling" and is used till nowadays. The traditional wrestling and Xiangpu blended together, and reach a summit. Wrestling, a game enjoyed by large population from emperors to farmers, thrived at that time. It became a career also, those who wrestle for the ruling class are called Buku, wrestling organizations were set up to serve them. Buku is responsible of studying and practicing wrestling. Each December 23, they will perform in Yangxin Palace. Amateur wrestling performers usually stage the shows in prosperous and crowed places. Beijing city in Qing dynasty (1636-1912) boasted numerous wrestling sites. It was one of the most popular games enjoyed by people.

Xiangpu Wrestlers(Clay Sculptures of Jin Dynasty1115-1234,金代)


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