Chinese Yo – Yo

While the sport of yo-yo is part of the fabric of Chinese culture, the name “diabolo” didn’t come to be known until much later. The first debut of “diabolo” in China was over 1800 years ago! Only then it was called Kong Zhu (Chinese: 空竹; pinyin: kōng zhú). It was first recorded in a poem called Kong Zhu Fu (Chinese: 空竹赋; pinyin: kōng zhú fù) and was written by Cao Zhi, the third son of Cao Cao (Chinese: 曹操; pinyin: cǎo cao). Cao Cao was one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period back in Chunqiu time.

Kong Zhu became very popular in China, especially in the Beijing and Tianjin areas. Father Amiot, a French Jesuit missionary, arrived in Beijing in 1750. While in China, he witnessed both adults and children alike playing with these fascinating toys. Father Amiot recorded his observations of this unique toy in a journal entry from 1792:

This noisy rattle consists of two hollow cylinders of metal, wood, or bamboo, joined together in the middle by a cross-piece. Each of the cylinders is pierced by a hole in opposite directions. The rope loops around the crossbeam. By holding this rattle in the air, and moving it with speed, a rapid current of air is established in each of the portions of the cylinder, and a snoring is heard, similar to that produced by the German spinning top.

It was a French engineer, named Gustave Phillippart, who would take Father Amiot’s description of “the noisy rattle” to a wider audience. Not only did he develop one of his own, but he also gave “the noisy rattle” a name: diabolo. This word is derived from the Greek dia bolo, which roughly means “across throw.”

These days, Kong Zhu or Diabolo is called many different ways:

  • Che Ling (simplified Chinese: 扯铃; traditional Chinese: 扯鈴; pinyin: chě ling)
  • Dou Kong Zhu (Chinese:(抖)空竹; pinyin: dǒu kōng zhú)
  • Kong Zhong (simplified Chinese: 空钟; traditional Chinese: 空鐘; pinyin kōng zhōng)

Our 2017 Chinese Culture Camp will feature a professional Chinese yo-yo instructor! Be sure to sign up now for our camp so you can learn to yo-yo like a pro.

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