Polo Week: The Imperial Polo Ritual

An account of a polo ritual in China under the Sung dynasty (960 – 1279 aD). The somewhat reserved and “civilised” Sung dynasty followed the T’ang dynasty, which was far more keen on actually playing polo.

“The emperor arrived on horseback. … A eunuch opened a golden box, took out the vermillion-painted ball, and threw it in front of him. … The emperor struck the ball …. and then turned his horse around. The attending officials raised their wine cups to wish His Majesty longevity. Then they presented their respective gifts. The emperor graciously ordered that their cups be refilled and they came forward by rows to thank him, bowing. When the drinking ritual was concluded, everyone mounted. The emperor hit the ball a second time, and then ordered the players to start the game.”

Sung Shih, quoted and translated by James T C Liu in “Polo and Cultural Change: From T’ang to Sung China” in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 45, no. 1, 1985.

Minus the eunuch, doesn’t sound like it would be out of place at a modern game.

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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  1. hahaha, that’s great. At our games usually the “important” person in attendance (if ever there is one) is the person to throw in the first ball into the line-up. And our drinking rituals might be a little different… but yes, other than the eunuch, it’s about the same ;)

    love polo, thanks for giving it a post- your history lessons are incredible!


  2. Thank you! Yes, the T’ang dynasty were much more hands on when it came to polo. I have some good accounts of various exciting accidents that they had. The Sung stuck to VIP duties!

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