Playing from Scratch – Jianzi

Source: ©2015. Joyce Hemphill, Laura Scheinholtz, and Heather Von Bank and adapted from The Power of Playful Learning

Jianzi (pronounced schi-an-tshe) is a Chinese game that uses a shuttlecock. The game dates back to the 2nd century BC in China’s Han dynasty. It was developed by the Chinese military as a way to promote physical fitness and improve the stamina of the soldiers. A traditional jianzi is made by wrapping paper around a coin with a hole in the center and then decorating it with feathers.


  • Ring from plastic cap on milk jug
  • Plastic grocery bag
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Large eraser

To make:

  • Lay the plastic grocery bag flat on the table. Using scissors, remove the handles and the bottom seam. Smooth out the bag so that it is flat on the surface. Cut the right side from bottom to top, and cut the left side from bottom to top creating two layers of rectangular plastic. It is OK if the edges are rough.
  • With layers together, turn the plastic so the longer side extends out in front.
  • Place the plastic ring at the top and center of the plastic sheets.
  • With the ring inside, fold the plastic over and over – like a burrito or an eggroll – until all the plastic is wrapped around the ring.
  • With fingers, locate the center of the plastic ring. Using the tips of the scissors carefully cut a small opening through all the layers of sheeting. If this doesn’t work, an adult can use the point of the scissors or pencil to poke a small opening through all the layers. Note: When poking through the layers using a pencil, place a large eraser on the table, lay the sheeting over the eraser, and poke down into the easer.
  • Take one end of the folded sheeting and push it through the opening. (A pencil may be helpful in completing this task.) Once through, pull tight.
  • Take the other end of the folded sheeting and push it through the opening – same way, same direction as the other one. Once through, pull tight.
    • It should look like rabbit ears.
  • Using scissors cut along the folded long edges to create a feathered look.

To play:

The objective is to keep the jianzi in the air as long as possible using only one’s feet and knees.


  • Time how long the jianzi is played without touching the ground.
  • Count how many times the jianzi is kicked or tapped with the knee.
  • Count how many different body parts (e.g., left elbow, right elbow, left knee, right knee, head) are used to keep the jianzi in the air.
  • Count how many times the jianzi is batted between two players.


  1. Tissue paper and balloons made from shiny foil-like plastic can replace plastic shopping bags.
  2. Use large plastic lids or shoe box lids as paddles to bat the jianzi back and forth between players.
  3. Form a circle of players and using feet or knees pass the jianzi from one to another. Try to get the jianzi around the entire circle without it touching the ground.