Queen of Tarot

The ancient wisdom of the cards

The Game of Leaves

Tags chinese, dice, china, history, 0827, asian

The Game of Leaves was the world's first role playing game. It involved looking up complicated rules in a rulebook, and competing for position using dice. Very little is known about the game except that it involved a book of rules, dice, and tokens. From late descriptions of the game it sounds as if there was a board game component to it. (A. Lo. The game of leaves: An inquiry into the origin of chinese playing cards. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 63(3):389-406, 2000.) The game was often referred to as "gold speckled leaves", which does make it sound quite a lot like early gold-leaf Tarot cards. Many scholars will tell you that playing cards were invented in 827 because they have conflated these two games. If there is any relationship between these games, which I doubt, it is this: The Chinese money-suited cards look more like play money to me than real money. I believe they may originally have been the tokens being won and lost in the Game of Leaves. By 1067 no one remembered how to play the games, and by the time of the rule of Genghis Khan, their original purpose had been forgotten, and they were treated as an exotic custom.

Li He, Prefect of Hezhou (modern Guangxi), was travelling along a river with the courtesan Ye Maolian, and invented the game of caixuan (selection with dice), and called it the game of leaves.
A few successful candidates of the civil service examination play a game with cubic dice by the shore of Lake Dongting.
after 860
Li He's game of selection with dice becomes popular all over China.
The writer Su E (jinshi degree 885-7) describes meetings between the daughter of Emperor Yizong (r. 860-74), Princess Tongchang (?-870) with members of the Wei clan. In the '[n]inth year of the xian tongera (868)... [t]he various branches of the Wei clan enjoyed the game of leaves. In the evenings, the princess would place shining pearls in trays made with red precious stone, and ordered attendants [?]to hold them in the hall. Night turned into day.'
~ Li Dong, a descendant of the royal family, wrote a poem about the game of leaves for his friend, a member of the Wei family
907 June 4
Tang Dynasty Ends
Liu Renyu once played the game of leaves (ye xi) with Emperor Taizu (r. 907-14) of the Liang Dynasty. One day, he was slightly too proud of himself. He had come from the ranks of a common soldier, his speech was often blunt, and he said to Emperor Taizu, 'If I get it, the empire will be divided equally between us.' Emperor Taizu replied, 'Even if you get it, it's still too early for you.' At that time Emperor Taizu commanded four territories, and Renyu was low among the ranks. Although they were related by marriage, ... Emperor Taizu took offence to his words. Later, Emperor Taizu ascended the throne. Renyu had served as a military official for a long time, and he begged for a fiefdom, but the emperor never agreed to it. When his age was advanced and he lay sick in bed, his daughter-in- law memorialized the emperor several times, but the emperor still recalled Liu's slip of the tongue. Only when she wept and pleaded was Liu given charge of Yenzhou. Before he started on his new appointment, his illness took a turn for the worse and he passed away.
Song Dynasty Begins
~ On the day chia-wu [of the first month in the nineteenth year of Ying-li the emperor] played cards with the courtiers.+ - New Year's Eve
~ On New Year's Eve, the Emperor Mu-tsung played cards with his wives. + - February
~ The Tartar Prince assembled his lords for a tournament of leaves, and is murdered soon after. Chinese scholars draw moralistic conclusions.~ The Liao Emperor Muzong (r. 951-69) also enjoyed the game of leaves. In the spring of 969, the historians record in the Liao shi (History of the Liao Dynasty) that the emperor went on a drinking spree for 25 days. He ordered the Palace Inspectorate General to carry out the rite of smashing the earthen ox [for him], and on the jiawu day (26 February) played the game of leaves with his ministers.
Rule of Taizu
The Song emperor Taizu (r. 960-76) ordered the ladies of the palace to learn the game of leaves as an evening pastime.T'ai Tsu revived the old system of flying cash used under the Tang Dynasty
~ Qian Weiyan (973-1030), son of Qian Shu (who ruled the kingdom of Wu Yue from 948-78), had the game of Yezi jie ge (Rules for turning over leaves) in his home.
+ - Yang Yi liked playing the game of leaves.
~ Returning to court, he [Zhang Shisun, almost 50, newly appointed magistrate of the Shouwu province] prepared some compositions and sent them to Yang Yi. For three days, he visited Yang Yi, but it happened that on these occasions Lord Yang was playing the game of leaves with his friends, and the gatekeeper dared not announce him. Zhang did not leave either. Lord Yang happened to see him from an opening in the window, and knew that he was no ordinary person. He invited him in and talked politely to him, read his compositions, and was of the opinion that he had the makings of a prime minister. Before long, he recommended him to be a censor, ... and in the end he became prime minister.~ Yang Yi's retainer, Zhong Jian, can also play, because of this.
~ Yezi is referred to as "gold speckled leaves" in books
~ Liu Bin invents another dice selection game, in which the players seek to win high rank in the organizational structure of the Han dynasty (206-220 CE)
~ "The game of yezi ge (Rules of Leaves) was present after the mid Tang period. ... It was popular during banquets of the scholar-officials of the Tang period. This was still so in the Five Dynasties period (907-60) and the early years of the dynasty (960 onwards), and then gradually it was put aside and not handed down. Some people may possess the rules for this game now, but no one knows how to play it."
~ In the preface to her board game of dama (driving horses) dated 1134, the poetess and game aficionado Li Qingzhao (1084-1154+) writes that games such as changxing (a version of backgammon) and yezi (leaves) have not been passed down to her times.8 early 1200s
~ Games are played in the palace during the six days before the coming of the new year. 'Gambling equipment made of rhinoceros horn or ivory, speckled gold leaves for competing (dou ye).' "Dou ye ", Zhou Mi further notes, are also sold by peddlers. early 1200s
~ Games are played in the palace during the six days before the coming of the new year. 'Gambling equipment made of rhinoceros horn or ivory, speckled gold leaves for competing (dou ye).' "Dou ye ", Zhou Mi further notes, are also sold by peddlers.
Reign of Ghengis Khan
~ In Xihu Laoren's (The Old Man of West Lake) Xihu laorenfanshenglu (A record of splendour by the Old Man of West Lake), completed around 1235, various types of performances are noted, such as crows playing chess, bears wielding staffs, and monkeys competing with leaves [cards?](douye). Also, on new year's eve, the games of dou ye and dice are noted.