≡ Menu

The Sights Of China: Whipping Tops

The parks of China often start filling at 6AM. By eight, they are a fury of elderly people doing tai-chi, calisthenics, dancing, and walking backwards. I met a group of old men who were whipping spinning tops in the big, spacious, and nearly deserted central park of Xinyang’s Shanyang new area. All around us were [...]

The parks of China often start filling at 6AM. By eight, they are a fury of elderly people doing tai-chi, calisthenics, dancing, and walking backwards.

I met a group of old men who were whipping spinning tops in the big, spacious, and nearly deserted central park of Xinyang’s Shanyang new area. All around us were empty exhibition centers, vacant public entertainment houses, and the skeletons of uncompleted high-rises stretching out into the smoggy horizon. This place was still in the process of being built, but not even this new city netherworld was devoid of old folks and morning exercises.

I came upon a group of three old guys who were spread out in a circle. Each had a long, leather whip with which they were spinning a large, stone top. They would get the top spinning by wrapping the whip around it, placing it upon the pavement, and then pulling the whip like a rip cord. The top would then start spinning madly, and they would crack it with their whips at intervals to keep it going.

Noticing my curiosity, one of the old men called me over and handed me his whip. His top was still spinning and it was up to me to keep it that way. I spun the whip once over my head like I’d observed the men doing, and awkwardly flung the business end of down in the direction of the rotating stone. Miss. I tried again. Nothing but air. I couldn’t hit the damn thing. I’d started out this interaction being the observer but now I was the show. Apparently, it was a comedy, as I was providing good fodder for the other old guys to chuckle over.

Stone top

Stone top

Whip for striking the top

Whip for striking the top

I finally made contact with the top, but this just knocked it off-kilter. It flopped instead of spun, and then petered out on the pavement. But the old guys would not let me quit. The top was again cued up, and I was given instruction. You need to strike below the top, right where the small point meets the pavement to keep it spinning. I eventually got the hang of it.

As an exercise, top whipping seemed to meet the Chinese criteria — soft, full range of motion movements, hand/ eye coordination, rhythmic and peaceful in essence — and pretty much had the same idea as the other morning workouts that were going on nearby.

Whipping tops is an old Chinese activity, but I’ve only rarely observed it first hand. Even in the belly of a new city, the ancient arts, games, and activities of this culture live on.

This is one of the sights of China.

Whipping tops

chinese-whipping-tops-3

chinese-whipping-tops-5

Check out more sights of China here.

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Share on LinkedIn1Pin on Pinterest0Share on Reddit0Share on StumbleUpon0Digg thisPrint this pageEmail this to someone
Filed under: China, Uncategorized

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 83 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3211 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support Wade Shepard’s travels:

Wade Shepard is currently in: Bandar Seri Begawan, BruneiMap