Toys Invented in Ancient China

Ancient Chinese toymakers made toys with movable parts.
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Chinese toys are more than just trinkets children play with. They are symbols of a culture steeped in history and tradition. In ancient times, the Chinese people created toys to communicate commitment to their children. Toys were constructed with education, culture and art as their focus. Each toy served a purpose, such as luring a child to sleep, teaching scientific concepts or representing Chinese history. Many of these toys are still enjoyed today because of the joy and distinctive function they provide.

1 Flying High

Chinese kites were first created for military purposes almost 2000 years ago. Massive kites were built to loft a soldier into the air. He would use the ride to look out for enemies. Kites were also used by fisherman and became a common toy for children. Silk was a common material used for kite making in ancient times. The Chinese would go to great lengths to decorate their kites. Children played with kites and eventually used kite flying as a sport.

2 Bamboo Dragonfly

The bamboo dragonfly is an ancient Chinese toy designed to teach children about science. Dating back to 500 B.C., the Chinese people created this bamboo toy to emulate the dragonfly. When children rubbed this toy between their hands, it went flying into the air. Children had great fun experimenting to see how far their bamboo dragonfly would go. In the 1900s, European inventors used the dragonfly concept to create the first helicopter. Other innovators in aviation such as Sir George Cayley studied the bamboo dragonfly and built larger prototypes that were used later in modern aircraft design.

3 Music to the Ears

Chinese children still enjoy a variety of toys that make sounds and mimic rhythmic instruments invented long ago. Ancient Chinese artifacts include whistles that were used for both hunting and playtime. These whistles were made of clay and were shaped like birds. Similarly, bamboo flutes, finger cymbals and gongs were popular toys in ancient China. Parents used the soothing sounds of flute music as a bedtime ritual. Children continue to celebrate ancient Chinese toys when they play the Sheng. The Sheng is a series of special pipes attached to one another and played like the bamboo flute.

4 Don't Lose Your Marbles

Marbles have been a mainstay of children’s playtime as far back as the Neolithic period, from 4800 to 4300 B.C. Small balls between the size of 1.1 and 3 cm were among the archaeological finds from the Banpo Village. They were made of clay and then porcelain and hand-painted with flowers and other ornate designs. Children used marbles to play games similar to what is today known as Chinese checkers.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.