Swimming (游泳 Yóuyǒng)

FAN Wei 樊维 and LU Zhouxiang 吕洲翔

Since prehistoric times people have taken to swimming like, well, ducks to water. Drawings of swimmers dating from the Stone Age have been found in the Cave of Swimmers in Egypt and references to swimming appear from 2000 BCE in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Bible, and later in the Old English epic poem Beowulf.

In China swimming originated along the middle and lower reaches of the Huang (Yellow) River 黄河 where people developed the skills to move through and float on water. Swimming was not only a fundamental life skill but also a hunting and warring skill. The Chinese character for bath 浴 was found on oracle bones of the Shang dynasty 商 (1766–1045 BCE), and the word swim 泅 first appeared in annals of the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770–476 CE). Drawings on bronze ware from the period 475–221 BCE show scenes of people swimming in rivers. During the Han dynasty 汉 (206 BCE–220 CE), nobles bathed in the royal aquatic pool. During the Tang dynasty 唐 (618–907 CE), a swimming pool called the “aquatic hall” 水殿 was built for nobles’ use, and a ball game similar to modern water polo came into fashion there.

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