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Chinese Diabolo History, Types, Tricks and Art

Playing diabolo is an import game in Chinese traditions. In old times, diabolo is called "huqiao", also called "ground bell", "empty clock" and "wind hyacinth ". It belongs to the traditional toy of Han folk. In Jinan city, Shandong Province, it is called “old cow”. Playing diabolo is called "playing weng", "shaking ground bell" and “shaking bell” in ancient China. It is a Chinese folk entertainment activity and popular in all parts of the country, especially in Tianjin, Beijing, Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang.

General Introduction to Playing Chinese Yoyo Diabolo

Playing diabolo yoyo was originally a garden game. Later, after processing, it was improved to possess competitive and became a traditional acrobatic project. It is divided by its axis, single-axis or two-axis. The axis, the wheel and the wheel surface are made of wood; the wheel circle is made of bamboo. The wheel box is hollow and there are four or five holes around the wheel circle. There is a flute made of wood chip in each whole. When diabolo Chinese yo yo rotates, air pass through the whistle holes and makes sounds. There is a thin cylinder connected to the wheel of Chinese yo yo diabolo, and the rope can be wrapped on it to shake and rotate the whole Chinese diabolo.


The player takes two two-foot-long bamboo diabolo sticks in both hands, and the two diabolo sticks are linked by a cotton diabolo string that is about five feet long with two ends tied to each diabolo stick. The diabolo Chinese yoyo bobbin is wound one or two times by the cotton diabolo string; with one hand push and the other hand pull, constantly shaking, accelerating the rotation, the whistle hole of the diabolo makes sounds. When shaking, the posture is changeable, the ropes are turned over, and the actions varies such as stringing, squatting, throwing, “crossing the bridge”, etc. there are actions called "chicken go to shelves", "fairy jumps", "full sky fly", "distribution" and so on. It is also possible to replace the Diabolo with a pot lid, a wine bottle and the like.

Diabolo is generally made of wood or bamboo, hollow, this this diabolo meaning or diabolo definition in Chinese. It is a toy that uses a string to shake to create high-speed rotation to make sounds. "Shaking Diabolo" is a representative program of Chinese traditional acrobatics, which is simple and compact, and is available for handicrafts. It was originally a very interesting Chinese folk game. In the north of China, people, especially children, like to play the diabolo and can play many diabolo tricks. Palying diabolo combines entertainment, gameplay, fitness, athleticism and performance in a variety of techniques. There are more than 100 patterns of diabolo tricks, and there are many collective patterns such as double players and multiple players.

Diabolo is commonly known as wind hyacinth. It was used as a court toy. In ancient times, playing with diabolo was regarded as an elegant activity for young women. In modern times, diabolo tricks of young women is a wonderful skill. In the acrobatic program, diabolo game represents China's quintessence and has been performed all over the world. It has won gold prize of the “The Acrobatic Art Festival of French Republic” as early as in 1986, and won great honors for China. 

Playing Diabolo in the Palace
Playing Diabolo in the Palace

History of Diabolo Yoyo

Diabolo has a long history in China. According to research, the Diabolo was originally evolved from the "Top" of the Han folk game equipment. The Chinese spinning top is a toy that appeared in ancient times. In the Hemudu Cultural Site and the Changzhou Judun Ruins of the Neolithic Age, the wooden top was unearthed, and the ceramic top was unearthed from the Xiyin Village site in Xia County, Shanxi. Later, in order to extend the spinning time of the top, people used the whip to slap the wooden or ceramic top; later, they switched to the bamboo top, and used the air to make a whistle on the opening, that is, "sound top". Later, the "sounding top" gradually became another name for "diabolo".

However, due to the lack of information on Diabolo in the historical literature, there is still much controversy about its origin: one said that Cao Zhi (the younger son of Cao Cao) had wrote a "The Song of Diabolo " in the Three Kingdoms period. If this is the earliest record of Diabolo, then it has a history of at least 1700 years, but we cannot test the content of Cao Zhi's " The Song of Diabolo "; one said that the "fighting" in the Song Dynasty's Bai Opera acrobatics project is the predecessor of Diabolo, while the Taiwanese scholar Wu Shengda pointed out that Diabolo appears in At the end of the Yuan Dynasty; it is generally believed that Diabolo originated from the "empty clock" of the Ming Dynasty.

As early as the Three Kingdoms period, Cao Zhi wrote a poem "The Song of Diabolo"; during the Song Dynasty, Song Jiang also wrote a poem about Chinese yoyo diabolo.

A children’s song about diabolo Chinese yo yo in a geographical book written by Liu Dong in Ming Dynasty proves that diabolo game has a long history in China. The geographical book records how to make Chinese yo yo diabolo and how to use a diabolo. However, in Qin Xiaoyi's "Overseas Legacy and Lacquerware", there is a "cutting red baby play round box" with a baby play picture on the lid. In the picture, a boy is shaking the diabolo, and there is another boy watching with his ear covered with his hands. The diabolo is disc-shaped, with a wooden shaft in it, and the wooden shaft is tied with a bamboo stick to pull the wooden shaft to shake. According to the editor's note, this piece of red lacquer box was made in the Yongle Year of the Ming Dynasty. If this is true, then as early as the Ming Dynasty, the characteristics and gameplay of Diabolo were quite mature. It can also be proved that the Diabolo game of the Ming Dynasty coexists with multiple ways of playing on the ground and in the air.

In the Qing Dynasty (AD 1644-1911), playing Chinese diabolo has developed into a popular diabolo juggling show. On the basis of the original patterns, the diabolo jugglers created many new diabolo tricks and difficult skills. The performance is combined with beautiful dance and accompaniment music, which enhances people's aesthetic taste. In the process of development, the artists not only performed the traditional wheel-type double-headed diabolo, but also designed the gyro-type single-headed diabolo. They can also perform with the teapot cover, small vase and other artifacts as the props of shaking. The way of shaking the diabolo gradually matures. Playing diabolo has also become a mean for vendors to solicit business. In addition, the diabolo is also popular with women in the palace.

It is known from the above that the Qing Dynasty was a heyday in the development of Diabolo. Not only the equipment is simple, easy to learn, but also diabolo trick has a wide variety of movements, diverse techniques, fascinating and popular. At the same time, the number of people involved in playing diabolo has expanded, from children to royal palaces, merchants and ordinary people. Therefore, playing diabolo in the Qing Dynasty has been widely circulated and continues to today.

What is most amazing is that in the early years of the Republic of China (1912 ~ 1949), in Tianjin, northern China, there appeared another folk artist, Tian Shuangliang, who used wine gourd as a prop. Tianjin was the first place to invent and make diabolo. The “Liuhai” and “Shouxin” brand of diabolo produced in Tianjin, are well-known at home and abroad.

Types of Diabolo Chinese Yo Yo

Diabolo Chinese yoyo can be classified according to its structure, specification, function, playing method and raw material.

Classify by Structure

1. Single-headed diabolo - one axis connected to one sounding wheel. 

Single-headed Diabolo
Single-headed Diabolo
2. Double-headed diabolo – one axis with one sounding wheel connected to each end. 

Double-headed Diabolo
Double-headed Diabolo

3. Double-axis diabolo – Connecting one axis to each side of the center of the sounding wheel. (like above single-headed picture)

4. Layer diabolo – no matter it is a single-headed diabolo, double-headed diabolo or a double-axis diabolo, as long as they have multiple sounding wheels (more than 2), they are all belong to layer bamboo, such as: single-axis layer diabolo (currently at most 9 wheels – 9 layers); double-headed layer diabolo (currently added up to 12 layers): double-axis layer diabolo (currently up to 3 layers).

Layer Diabolo
Layer Diabolo

5. The ground axis diabolo - a sound wheel with a stick stuck through its center, a line string and a perforated bamboo.

Classify by Specification

There are hundreds sizes of diabolo with the smallest diameter is 2 cm, and the largest is more than 40 cm, but the frequently used diabolo (practice or performance) generally are 10 cm to 13 cm. Small diabolo can practice skills while large diabolo can exercise arm strength, waist strength as well as leg strength.

Classify by Raw Material

1. Bamboo-wood diabolo: It is a combination of cut thick bamboo pole and wood. This is the most traditional making. Its sound is pleasant, but with poor intensity and easy to damage.

2. Plastic steel and plastic wood diabolo: With the development of modern science and technology, use new materials, such as injection molding with ABS engineering plastics, and then connect with metal or wood axis. The quality is generally the same; its lifespan is about 3 times that of bamboo-wood diabolo. 

Plastic Diabolo
Plastic Diabolo

3. FRP (epoxy resin + glass cloth) and timber diabolo: Its sounds loud; it has high intensity, good toughness, long service life and it lifespan is generally 3 to 5 times to the bamboo-wood diabolo.

4. Plastic-metal diabolo: It is made of modified plastic and with metal axis. It’s not easy to damage; has longer lifespan and has little noise.

5. Rubber diabolo: Rubber diabolo is currently introduced from Taiwan, mostly double-headed. The shape is the same as that used by the acrobats on the stage. The rubber diabolo has enable the diabolo fans to have a variety of selection of the diabolo playing sites which is the biggest advantage of rubber diabolo. Everyone knows that there are fewer and fewer soft soil groud in the city, instead, more and more hard land such as cement and tile land. Bamboo, wood, plastic or some other diabolos are easy to broken once been hit on the hard ground. While, the rubber diabolo is not easy to break and it is especially good for beginners. It also has the advantage that the collective performance movements are easy to align, and it is a joy to play diabolo while dancing with disco or tap dance music.

Classify by Playing Method

1. Single-player diabolo.

2. Double-player diabolo.

Classify by Function

1. Performance diabolo: The general specification diabolo.

2. Crafts diabolo: It can be played as well as be collected for appreciation.

3. Electronic diabolo: Use high-tech to install electronic chips in the hollow wheel of diabolo and store music into the electronic chip (the songs you like); install a flash (small color-light bulbs) around the wheel and wheel surface; and install a dry battery or a rechargeable battery (No. 7 or No. 5) inside the hollow axis. When the diabolo Chinese yoyo rotates at high speed, it will make a pleasant song and a fantastic aura to please audiences. As you can imagine, if it is performed on the stage, it will be even more impressive. 

Electronic Diabolo Yoyo
Electronic Diabolo

4. Inverted cone diabolo: It is an improved ordinary diabolo in order to adapt to the needs of the twist movement. The radius of the part which connect near-wheel axis and string groove is extended while the radius of the part which connect axis top and groove is shortened, which makes the whole axis is of slightly inverted cone type. The improved diabolo is not easy to fall off the diabolo string.

Diabolo Sticks

Diabolo stick is an essential tool for playing diabolo. The diameter of the stick is about 8 to 12 mm. there are also thinner or thicker sticks for special needs. The suitable length is 450-550 mm. Now, with the development of long stick skill, there is diabolo stick that is more than 1 meter long. I have seen a long stick of 2002 mm in Beijing. It is made by 72-year-old Mr. Zhang Wenrui specially for commemoration of 2002 (which is quite beautiful). It is also the longest stick I have seen.

The material of the diabolo stick is traditionally made of bamboo or wood. Yet, nowadays, the sticks are mainly made of glass rod or engineering plastic rod. Some are modified with a fishing rod.

In order to increase the fancy of the performance, a number of accessories such as a bowl (60 mm in diameter), hook (both horizontal and vertical), and a strut are attached to the diabolo sticks.

Diabolo Strings

The diabolo string is made of ordinary cotton thread, which can be bought. You can also tame it yourself with glove string or other cotton thread. No matter buy or tame, you should pay attention to the direction of the rope. Tame the string to the right if you play diabolo with right hand; tame the string to the left if you play diabolo with left hand. Otherwise, the cord will automatically entangle in the process of shaking the Diabolo. This must be noted.

The length of the rope is the length of the diabolo string plus 3/4 arm length.

It is used to connect string in the slot at the ends of the diabolo stick, so that it is easy to wrap the thread around the stick when the twist the diabolo. Now, the thread is threaded into a special nut which can be replaced by a bicycle valve core nut.

Diabolo Tricks

There are several common Chinese yoyo diabolo tricks.

Chicken Go to Shelves

After the diabolo yoyo is turned sharply, untie the rope buckle and throw up the Chinese yo yo diabolo, caught it with one diabolo stick to make it roll on the stick or roll to the other stick. 

Diabolo Trick - Chicken Go to Shelves
Diabolo Trick - Chicken Go to Shelves

Fairy Jumps

Step on the middle of the diabolo string with one of your feet so that the diabolo turning on one side of the foot jumps over the instep to the other side.

Full Sky Fly

Throw the diabolo up, then catch it with the rope, continue to shake it or throw it again. 

Diabolo Trick - Full Sky Fly
Diabolo Trick - Full Sky Fly


Only single-axis diabolo is suitable for this game. Place the axis end (tip) to the smooth ground with the wheel surface upwards, make it rotates. When it slows down, take it up and rotate it.

Ant Climbs Tree

Attach one end of the long rope to the treetop, hold it at the other end. Another person shakes a diabolo and quickly throws the flying diabolo to the long rope. The rope holder pulls the long rope hard and shakes the diabolo to the air of fifty or sixty meters high. When the diabolo falls, the player catches it firmly. 

Diabolo Trick - Ant Climbs Tree
Diabolo Trick - Ant Climbs Tree


It is a very important basic technology in the diabolo tricks, and many patterns are derived from it.

Diabolo Art

Playing diabolo is one of the unique Chinese sports. It is not only a means of exercising but also a beautiful artistic performance. It is very ornamental. At the same time, it has collectible items. Whether as a toy or as a sports equipment, Diabolo can be called a rare thing. Like wushu, it should be excavated, organized, inherited and developed. The development of diabolo sports, for other sports such as sushu, gymnastics, running, etc. is also a good auxiliary exercise.

In the past 20 years, with the update of the players of Chinese diabolo, every generation of players have created a number of diabolo programs with more comprehensive skills, more beautiful images and higher cultural tastes. With the theme of playing diabolo in the Spring Festival, a lot of different styles of diabolo games are created. The Beijing Acrobatic Troupe's "Kids with Diabolo" reproduces the life style of Beijing folk girls playing with diabolo, which is hearty, lively, naughty and humorous; the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe's "Girls Play Diabolo in Spring" shows the court girls’ elegant while shaking the diabolo; the Chinese Acrobatic Troupe's "Shaking Diabolo" shows the high overthrow skill; the Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe's program reflects the modern girl's love of playing diabolo in the spring. A small diabolo toy, even only in the Spring Festival entertainment, can play a variety of ways, reflecting the rich and colorful Chinese folk customs.

The action of playing diabolo seems to be a very easy upper limb movement. Actually, it is a movement of the whole body, which is accomplished by the ingenious cooperation of the limbs. The average gravity of the diabolo is about 200 to 300 grams. Some Chinese diabolo are made to weight from one to a few kilograms to exercise energy. A small diabolo Chinese yoyo flying up and down, the player uses the upper limbs to lift, pull, shake, twist, throw, catch; use lower limbs to walk, jump, wrap, guide, put down, squat; use eyes to aim, chase; use waist to twist; use head to pitch and turn, etc. Player is required to control Chinese yoyo diabolo in the most favorable moment and to complete various actions in the air. Too early or too late will fail. Thus, it requires quick response, accurate time, and sensitive and coordinated action. When jumping, the movement of the waist is very important. The upper limbs oscillate and sometimes the neck also moves. For continuous jumping, heart rate can be accelerated.

The amount of playing diabolo movement can be controlled at will, and the amount of exercise can be determined by your physical fitness. You don't have to compare with other people. Not limit for the venue, simple equipment and little investment, thus can be participated by men, women, the young and the old all people. Playing diabolo yoyo is a game and also a sport. As long as you have fun, with reasonable amount of exercise, you can not only achieve physical fitness, but also enjoy the exercise. The exercise effect is comparable to jogging, swimming, cycling, boating, climbing, Off-roarcises and increase outdoor activities as a supplement to computer games. The elderly and chronically ill patients can practice through less intense movements. In particular, the inconvenience of waist and limbs of the elderly is a common chronic disease. The diabolo game is basicallyaist and limbs. If probably exercise by playing diabolo Chinese yo yo, it has certain benefits for blood circulation and can expand lifes been many reports of restoring health as a result of persisting in Chinese yo yo diabolo playing. 

Playing Multiple Diabolos
Playing Multiple Diabolos

How to Play a Diabolo?

To learn to play Diabolo, you must first learn from the double-headed Diabolo, and then learn to shake the single-headed Diabolo. Two-wheeled diabolo (double-headed diabolo) is easier to operate than single-wheeled diabolo (single-headed diabolo). The whistle holes around the wheel are consisted by a large one creating bass and several small one making high-pitched voice. According the the number of whistle holes, there are three whistles, four whistles, six whistles and up to thirty-six whistles. When shaking, all whistles pronounce at the same time and creating sounds screaming into the cloud.

After mastering the basic skills, add more difficulty to diabolo tricks. As long as you are willing to study and work hard, you will improve your skills. Not only can you shake and catch, but you can also reach the hand, eye, body, method, and step-by-step rules. Pick, throw, carry, cross, twist and the body are extraordinary, and become the master of diabolo.

Here’s a video about diabolo tricks for beginners: 

As for how to make a diabolo, I won’t describe it here for it is difficult and most player choose to buy it in stores offline or online. As for online diabolo for sale, you can search it in some large online platform such as Amazon.

OK, Helen’s share about Chinese diabolo is that all, thanks for reading.



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