The sport of jiju, also called "ball hitting", is the early form of polo. Originated in the Han Dynasty, the sport enjoyed great popularity in the Tang Dynasty. The popularity continued through the Liao, Jin, Yuan, and Ming Dynasties, especially in the imperial court and military troops. The sport was mainly aimed at training cavalrymen in the Tang Dynasty. For the imperial households of the Liao and Jin Dynasties, it was more like a sport game, which was quite similar to modern-day polo.
Jiju was an extremely popular entertaining activity in the Tang-Dynasty court. The players were supposed to sit on horseback and strike the ball, and the rules were somewhat like those for today’s field hockey. The ball used in a jiju game was hollowed out and as big as a fist. Made of a kind of light-weight and pliable wood, the ball was carved with elaborate patterns on the surface.
As the jiju game on horseback was a strenuous exercise, and the players were susceptible to injury, another jiju game on donkey back appeared in the mid-Tang Dynasty. The donkey-riding sport was relatively slow in motion, so it was favored not only by men, but also by court ladies and ordinary women. In addition, some women played what was called “walking jiju” by traveling on foot and striking the ball with a stick.
Some think that jiju was a testament to cultural exchanges between the east and the west. A lot of pictures featuring the sport were found in ancient Chinese murals and paintings. In the paintings entitled Emperor Ming Striking the Ball and Five Dukes Striking the Ball by the Northern Song Dynasty painter Li Gonglin, jiju scenes featuring the playing among Emperor Xuanzong and five dukes are vividly depicted. A mural featuring a Tang-Dynasty jiju scene was also found in the tomb of Zhanghuai Crown Prince in Shaanxi. And pottery figurines of male and female jiju players on horseback give a more lifelike feel