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Origin of the name of tug-of-war


"Hook pulling", usually held in the first full moon of Lunar year, was used by the military commander of the State of Chu during the Spring and Autumn period (8th century BC to 5th century BC) to train warriors. During the Tang dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang promoted large-scale Tug of War games, using ropes of up to 167 metres (548 ft) with shorter ropes attached, and more than 500 people on each end of the rope. Each side also had its own team of drummers to encourage the participants. Emperor Zhongzong of Tang held the game of Tug of War for fun and Xuanzong Emperor also once held a tug-of-war contest attended by a thousand people. Not only the ordinary people of the time, but also those in royal palace also enjoyed the sport a lot. He also invited foreign guests and ambassadors to watch the game in order to show Tang’s strong army and powerful dynasty.

Tug of War, a teamworking competitive game depends on physical power, originated form the late Spring and Autumn period. The Chu State bestrides south and north of Yangtze Riverwith numerous watercourses spreading freely. Besides its land army, it also trained a mighty navy and invented a weapon called "Gou Ju" (literally hook and reject) specially designed for water battle. When an enemy force was about to retreat, the soldiers would use the weapon to hook the enemy boats and pull back with all strength to prevent escape. Later, "Gou Ju" spread from the army to the folk people and gradually evolved to the tug-of-war contest.

 “Hook pulling” was popular in the areas of Chu State, and later the weapon was replaced by rope made of thin bamboo. The length of rope for competition was determined by the numbers of participants. During the time of competition, each side also had its own team of drummers to encourage their participants. In Tang dynasty, the game was promoted and became a national competitive sport because of Emperor Zhongzong and Xuanzong of Tang’s advocation. And hemp rope up to 167 metres (548 ft) with shorter ropes attached long took place of the rope made of thin bamboo. When the competition starts, people will pull the shorter ropes and both end of main rope. The competition rule is to set a flag as a boundary in the center of rope. The team who pulled out of the boundary wins the game. The version of Tug of War is as the same with modern version of Tug of War.

The development clue from hook pulling to Tug of War was clear, but it is controversial when the game was named as “Tug of War”.

Generally most people are in favor that the denomination appeared in Tang dynasty and numerous historical books can be the evidences. While some people pointed that the name has appeared in the Northern dynasties for a painting named Ghost Tug of War painted by Zhan Ziqi, a famous painter in Sui Dynasty. However, the question with most controversial sounds is why the game was named as Tug of War and if there is any special historical information to be searched as a reference.

Someone holds the belief that the denomination is influenced by Xiangyu’s grandiloquence: Strength to move mountains spirit unexcelled. And the massive scene is what Tug of War shows.

Someone thinks that name of Tug of War is the traceability of traditional training war on water. There are two explains: the mark of victory was is the boundary flag which was called River, if one team pulled out of the boundary which means they pulled out of the River; the center of rope called River, and winners pulled out of the River. Actually it is a visual description of competition rules.

Someone believes that Tug of War is one kind of witchcraft activity. If folks hold the game in spring in order to pray for rain and have good harvests. The Tug of War means to tug the Milky Way to irrigated crops in man’s world.

Besides, some minorities in Southwestern China also have Tug of War activities with numerous legends. You can refer to Research on the Meaning of Tug of War if have an interest.