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Brief History
Reference to the "empty bell" was first found in annals of the Ming Dynasty between 1386 and 1644 AD. The bamboo or empty bell, commonly known today as the Chinese yo-yo, was originally made of two round, wooden ends connected in the middle by a horizontal piece of wood. This simple toy was nevertheless an integral part of ancient Chinese culture. Performers of the Chinese yo-yo could often be found in the ongoing street entertainment of Chinese festivals. The yo-yo was also an especially popular pastime in the northern parts of China during the springtime. Since then, the yo-yo has survived hundreds of years with a few minor changes in appearance; for example, the modern-day yo-yo is now usually made of plastic, not wood. Despite these superficial changes, the yo-yo remains a popular toy today, and has not only evolved into a distinctive performance art but also serves as a unique reminder of Chinese heritage.

How do you play Chinese yo-yo?
This ancient spinning game is simple to learn yet provides endless levels of skill development, challenge and fun. The barbell-shaped, hollow toy is manipulated on a string tied to two sticks, which are held by the player. By spinning the Chinese yo-yo fast enough, the player can elicit a humming sound from the yo-yo. Once the beginner has learned to spin the Chinese yo-yo and maintain its speed, he can then progress to learning how to do tricks with the yo-yo, sticks, and string. From just a few simple tricks many highly elaborate variations can be created, and several tricks can be strung together to form routines. Unlike a regular yo-yo, the Chinese yo-yo is not attached to the string, which allows it to be tossed, resulting in a whole set of dazzling tricks. The Chinese yo-yo can even be passed between people to develop multi-player tricks and routines. This game can be enjoyed by the young and the old alike, and can continue to challenge the most advanced player as well as the novice. Its adaptability an d broad appeal have kept it extremely popular over the millennia and up to the present day.

Why do Chinese yo-yo?
The Chinese yo-yo is excellent for developing gross motor skills in a non-competitive and rewarding way. Beyond developing basic skills, playing Chinese yo-yo hones the ability to focus on tasks and can improve learning outcomes in other fields. Practicing yo-yo teaches physical and spiritual discipline, and can help temper one's personality. The non-competitive nature of the Chinese yo-yo creates a friendly social environment where skills are openly shared between players and friendships are strengthened. It is also a unique and visual way of making Chinese culture and heritage accessible to a broad audience. Plus, it makes you look really cool.

Did you know...
· The size of the Chinese yo-yo, as well as the number of holes on its sides, creates the varying pitches of sound.
· The more well-known diablo is the European descendant of the Chinese yo-yo. The diablo does not make sound, and is usually made of rubber in its own distinct shape.
· The second oldest toy in the world is the yo-yo. The first was the doll.

(Partial content courtesy of:

Cut the bamboo like the shape of a hip drum.
Pull it with two pieces of string. It slowly moves.
When the wind blows, it spins like flowing water. In the mountain temple,
Hear the harmony of bells.

-An, from "the Description of Capitol Happenings"

There is another popular toy that is also called "Chinese yo-yo." It consists of a roll of colored paper attached to a plastic handle; the roll unwinds when the device is flung outwards.

(picture courtesy carnivalprizes.net)

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©2004 by the Harvard Chinese Yoyo Club.