Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Chinese Toy: Jianzi {Make Your Own Shuttlecock Tutorial}

Shuttlecock kicking, or Ti Jianzi, is a popular traditional folk game. Originating from the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), it grew in popularity over the years, with shops specializing in shuttlecocks during the Tang dynasty (608-907), and formal competitions held during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). These days it is a popular past time in China, and is becoming more popular abroad. There is even an international federation that holds world championships in shuttlecock kicking. 

Couple playing Ti Jianzi
Photo Credit: Janus Jacquet
A shuttlecock is made by affixing feathers to a weight. For hundreds of years, they have been made at home, by wrapping an ancient Chinese coin (the kind with a hole in the middle) with goose or chicken feathers. You can also buy modern versions made with plastic discs.

Photo Credit: Fang Hsieh
To play Ti Jianzi, a shuttlecock is kept in the air as long as possible by catching it with either your feet, knees, shoulders - any body part except your hands, though most often with the heel of your foot. You can play it alone, or with others, kicking it from player to player.

Make your own shuttlecock

We started off by making our Jianzi the old fashioned way: with feathers, washers (not sure where to find ancient Chinese coins) and twine. Tying it all together was a feat of imagination. Twine, twist, knot, go in, go under. I ended up doing my own, Elle's, and finishing off Pea's. We took them outside, and started playing Ti Jianzi. Although we had a great time, after about twenty minutes, the washers were hanging from the feathers, and since they were bundled together with no rhyme or reason, it was not easy putting it back together. 

So we made our new and improved versions :) using a piece of fabric to bundle it all together. This way, when it does need fixing - as any homemade toy that's been kicked about is bound to need - it will be quite easy.

You will need:
  • four to five feathers
  • two 1'' washers
  • twine
  • fabric, cut into a 3"x3" square

  1. Tie the two washers together.
  2. Wrap around the washers with twine.
  3. Tie the feathers tightly together near the base with twine, leaving only a small amount of the bottom tips - you want the ends to be long enough that the bundle feels secure, yet not so they're jutting out sharply.
  4. Insert bundle of feathers into the washers, place in the center of your square of fabric.
  5. Gather the fabric up over the washers, and secure tightly, very tightly, with twine around the base of the feathers. I took the twine, tied it once, wrapped it around the base, tied it again, wrapped it around once more, then triple knotted it. 

Then get outdoors and play!

We "played" for over an hour, which for Pea to remain outdoors and active (other than hiking) is something close to a miracle. And by "playing" I mean attempting to kick the shuttlecock, and occasionally getting it on the first try, and sometimes even getting it with the right amount of force to the person it was aimed at. More often it zoomed past someone, sending one of us scurrying to get it. Elle's enthusiasm had her kicking it as though she were trying to kick a football across a field, and I, being the natural athlete that I am, kept covering my face and cowering when it came in my direction. When Hubby joined in, who it turns out played hacky sack as a kid, the success rate did improve, resulting in the shuttlecock remaining in the air, on occasion, for two foot strikes! 

I can see why this game was used in military exercises - it requires concentration, agility, and good hand-eye coordination. 

Clearly we need a lot of practice - and with summer coming, and knowing the girls enjoyed this so much, we will. Practice. And I'm sure it will continue to be a source of much laughter!

You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:

You can find more creative and kid friendly activities at the following linkups:


  1. Watching people play this in the parks in China is so cool! I bought one for my son last time we were there, but I love the tutorial. We are heading back next month to adopt again, and your blog is making me "homesick" for China. I can't wait for our trip!

    1. Congratulations on your adoption! I hope you have a great trip! If you have any suggestions or ideas of what we could explore relating to China, I'd love to hear them :)

  2. Great toy!I see it for first time!I like it!

  3. How fun! Though I suspect I would have played about like you did :) So interesting it was used in military training, but I can see why!

    1. It is fun - and I'm learning to stand my ground - slowly :) The girls will master it long before me!

  4. You do the coolest things! I've never heard of a shuttlecock before. Thank you for linking up the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop.

    1. Thanks! Its fun to make something we can use over and over again.

  5. Wow! I'm so glad you linked up this post on the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #4! My mother-in-law went to China 2 years ago, and brought a set of these. She told me it was some sort of game that they play in China but wasn't sure how to explain or tell me the name of it! Now I know! Thanks for linking up at the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #4!

    1. I hope you try them out! I'd love to hear about it if you do :)


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