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In the pronunciation of “POLO” (literal Chinese word for “Horse Ball”), there are clues that reveal the origin of this sport through it pronounciation and literal meaning, indicating that China may also be the birthplace of ancient polo. 

Historical records and unearthed fragments of Sichuan Decorated Satin prove that Chengdu has produced a globally popular polo suit comparable to the “Nike” brand nowadays. 

Through the restored exquisite “Tuanhua Green Satin” polo suit, we can recall the amazing strokes left by Chengdu in the history of ancient sports, and also give a full meaning for Chengdu’s return to its Equestrian sports origins. 

Chengdu: Sichuan Decorated Satin and its global popularity

In 1984, at the 23rd Los Angeles Olympic Games, a gift from the Chinese Olympic Committee caught people’s attention. This was an ancient Chinese polo tapestry. The Chinese delegation, that participated in the Olympic Games for the first time, presented it to the International Olympic Committee.

There seemed to be far-reaching significance behind this move. In the general impression, the ancient Chinese sports project may be Tzu-Chu Cuju (an ancient football, originated in China) or the martial arts Tai Chi, etc.

How could polo share this glory? In ancient China, how and why has the polo movement been so exciting? What impact has it had on the development of sports and international exchanges around the world?

Everything starts with polo and draws a memory of pride about Chengdu.

Modern differences in Polo: a matter of scale

The horses were running at full speed, the suits brightly colored, and the ball was as small as a fist. On this “luxurious” mirror like field made especially for the game, two teams were playing with one ball, competing to score a goal against the other team. Extremely competitive and spectacular, this wonderful sport was the ancient polo once popular in the courts of the Tang Dynasty in China.

Horse Ball (Polo) in ancient China was known as “Jiju”, “Jiqiu”, and players rode on horseback with a long-handled club to hit the ball. However, the origin of this ancient, now globally renowned sport, has been shrouded throughout our history in a veil of mystery, and so far, there is no definite conclusion on where this sport originated, or how. 

Some people think that polo originated from Persia (present-day Iran), and spread from Persia to Tubo (present-day Tibet) during the Tang Dynasty, and then gained popularity in the Central Plains of Ancient China.

Shuai Peiye, after years of research, has come to believe that polo likely originated in China. He saw that the English word “Polo”, came from the British colonies of India, a term that has now been accepted worldwide; and its sound used in the ancient Hindu Persian version of “Pa Luo”, likely came from the Tibetan grassland pastoral area. 

What’s more interesting is that in the Gilgit region of northern Pakistan, which is crossed by the ancient Silk Road, there are still many ancient polo fields and ancient polo plays, which are played exactly the same way as the ancient Chinese polo used to be. 

In the Famous Capitals written by Cao Zhi during the Three Kingdoms Period, there were poems like these: “the players were busy playing Jiju (ancient Polo), with agility and various skills“, indicating that at least in the late Han Dynasty, polo was popular in China. 

So far, all countries with strong polo and equestrian teams in Europe have not yet found a historical record that’s earlier than this one we mentioned.

The charm of ancient polo did not diminish throughout the years, but has evolved into the glory of modern polo we know today. To this day, the United Kingdom, the United States, Argentina, India and the Middle East still love this sport. 

Polo is loved by the European royal families and leaders of various countries for example. The celebrities that have fallen in love with polo include the British Crown Prince Charles and his two princes, the Prince of Sudan and many other international film stars. 

The famous Argentine football player Gabriel Batistuta, the “God of War”, has gotten involved with polo after his retirement from soccer, a unique scene for the polo world. 

Since it hosted in 2012 Olympic Games, the UK is working hard for the polo sport to make its comeback in the Olympic games and in the sports world.

Peiye Shuai

ITA Shuai Peiye è un esperto di ricerca equestre cinese, vice presidente dell'Associazione Equestre del Sichuan, consulente dell'Associazione Equestre di Chengdu e l'editore della Storia degli Sport Equestri Cinesi. ENG Shuai Peiye is a Chinese equestrian research expert, vice president of the Sichuan Equestrian Association, consultant to the Equestrian Association of Chengdu and the publisher of the History of Chinese Equestrian Sports.