Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Chinese Invented Golf?

I cheered when I heard the Chinese were making a case for "discovering" America long before Columbus. As a Minnesotan of Norwegian ancestry, I was raised to believe that Leif Erickson landed on American soil long before that damn Southerner did. So I'll gleefully endorse any challenger to Cristobal Colon.

But the Chinese map of the world -- and America -- that was supposed to prove that a Muslim Chinese admiral and eunuch, Zheng He, hit American shores in 1421 was too good to be true.

The map was purported to be a 1763 copy of one from 1418. The story fizzled out, only rumors remaining.

But there's good news: the Chinese may have invented golf.

The Times Online reports:

"More than 400 years before Scottish shepherds began tapping a ball across the grass at St Andrews, the Mongol emperors of China were swinging their clubs in the game of “hit ball”, the Chinese Golf Association announced yesterday, in a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People where China’s leaders receive visiting heads of state and the parliament gathers once a year."

Of course -- hit ball. The evidence came partly from four paintings, partly from an array of carved rosewood clubs modeled after the ones depicted in the paintings. They show an emperor and his ladies using putters to put balls in holes marked with flags.

The Times continued:

"Cui Lequan, a professor of the cultural history working committee of China General Administration of Sport, compared “hit ball” with modern golf and quoted from a rule book written in 1282 to back his case. “If you read Ball’s Rules and compare that with the rules set by St Andrews in 1754, there is little difference.”"

Professor Cui suggests that Mongol hordes brought hit ball to Europe, where it was blended with a similar, existing game that became golf as we know it.

The Times reminds us that the Chinese invented the compass, gunpowder, paper, and printing. But there's more. Some cliff paintings discovered early this year "suggest residents of the far western Xinjiang region were skiing in the Stone Age." And a 4,000 year-old bowl may prove the Chinese invented pasta. And the fork. The word is that, like football (and golf for that matter), the Chinese invented the fork and then grew weary of it for hundreds of years, letting the West pick it up.

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