5 Popular Leisure Activities in China


Chinese Leisure Activity #1 – Mazhang

This is a favorite cultural activity for many Chinese people, especially the elderly. Many retirees enjoy getting together in their free time for a friendly game of Mazhang. Some take it very seriously and gamble a lot of money on the outcome. Others see it as light entertainment and a healthy diversion from everyday life. Casual players enjoy it as a social activity where they can gossip about the latest news in the neighborhood.

It is common to see tables set up in shady areas around village centers or in parks. Enterprising families have used their homes to set up Mazhang parlors where tables can be rented. They provide the facilities and snacks, at a cost.

Mazhang is somewhat of a lightning rod in cultural circles. Some view it as a complete waste of time and an unhealthy addiction. Others feel it offers a nice environment to get together with friends and chat.

The game itself looks quite confusing to newbies. But it is fairly simple to pick up. It is helpful to have a good memory, but needs basically no strategy, the outcome often depending on luck.

Chinese Leisure Activity #2 – Shopping

You do not know what crowded means until you have seen Chinese pedestrian streets during holidays. One Chinese idiom accurately describes the swarming mass of people as “ren shan ren hai,” literally, “people mountain people sea.”

Like in most countries, women especially enjoy this common pastime. They don’t feel the need to buy anything, but enjoy looking, trying on outfits, and haggling over prices. A day spent wandering around the endless shops, trying on 10 outfits, haggling over 20 items, but purchasing only a snack and drink to refresh oneself is considered to be very profitable.

Chinese guys seem quite happy to accompany their girlfriends/wives shopping. They will happily carry their girlfriend’s purse, give their opinion on her clothes, and carry her bags. Personally I doubt how many of them truly enjoy shopping for the sake of shopping and expect that there could be ulterior motives. One local confirmed this for me saying, “This is a popular way for a guy to fish out a girl and impress her.”

Chinese Leisure Activity #3 – Ping Pong/Badminton

These are easily the top two sports in the country. Many parks have public table tennis tables, which are free to use. You can see the same people day after day lining up with their own paddles to get in a game. I thought I was a good ping pong player until I arrived in China. But my ego has received a much needed lesson after being manhandled by several savvy players. Good players put so much spin on the ball it is almost impossible to return it. Nonetheless, many just enjoy lazily lofting the ball back and forth without any true competition.

Badminton is taken very seriously, which is no surprise after watching China sweep all the badminton events in the Olympics over and over. Companies often book courts for their employees to enjoy a game after work. Parks also often provide free outdoor courts. Casual players take advantage of this, but serious players will avoid them because of the wind. Walk around in a Chinese neighborhood and you will be sure to notice pairs swatting the shuttlecock (yes, this is a word) back and forth without a net. A parent with a child, boyfriend and girlfriend, all you need is two racquets and a birdie.

Chinese Leisure Activity #4 – Karaoke

You may have thought that Chinese people are reserved and shy. This may true in general, but when it comes to grabbing a mic and singing in public, they toss caution to the wind. Every type of class and group can be found enjoying karaoke.

This social activity is especially common for groups of classmates at reunions or business meetings. A “little bit” of alcohol is often involved, which tends to help people throw off their natural inhibitions. If you are asked to sing, don’t worry because being able to sing in tune or in the right key are not required.

Chinese Leisure Activity #5 – Going to a Park

One reason elderly people in China are more fit than their Western counterparts is because they spend their free time outdoors instead of watching television. Parks are filled from before dawn until after dusk every single day of the year. If you are going to be in China on a trip, it is highly recommended to take in the sights of a local park.

Kite flying, tai chi, games of chess, mazhang, cards, public dancing, and running are just a few of the activities that you will find there. Chinese people are very social by nature and enjoy spending time with groups instead of on their own. Parents take their kids out to “sai tai yang,” which means “soak in the sun.” Even babies are taken out everyday to get some natural sunshine. 

If you enjoyed our article on " 5 popular leisure activities in China," check out our list of 5 reasons Chinese people are healthy and fit and other Chinese culture articles below.

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