Who invented playing cards and why?

For each person, the game of cards has a different meaning. To some, it is a way of keeping the mind preoccupied. Some take it as a sport where they invest their time learning and perfecting their skills playing. Some see it as a way of making money. All these reasons are valid.

There are many card games whose rules change from country to country. Despite having several card games, money cards, dominos, and poker can trace most of them to Ancient China’s common origin. The Chinese invented the first card games, which evolved into modern forms. Here, we get to look at the history of Chinese playing cards and how they are played.

Old Chinese playing cards

chinese cards game

The Chinese have been linked to inventing some of the world’s best creations. One such invention is that of playing cards. They had various card games such as money cards and Chinese chess cards. They carried these games wherever they went, even during trading.

In Ancient China, printing was done to make Buddhist texts. Later on, the papers and cards used to play were printed, which influenced the invention of card games. These card games were smaller than modern cards.     

Following the invention of paper card games, it became easier to play as the material was lighter to carry around, unlike before, when they used bones and wood to make them. The printed paper games also had more details and colors.

The History of Chinese playing cards

The Chinese playing cards’ history can be dated back to the time of emperors and dynasties. Below is a brief history of how and when the Chinese cards came.

Who invented Chinese playing cards?

In ancient China, playing cards were invented during the Tang dynasty. The first card game created was the game of leaves known as ‘Yezi Ge.’ The records and rules of how to play this game have been lost. However, the origin of this game can be traced to the years 613 – 906.

Some theories claim that the game of cards was first invented in the 15th century and not in the 9th century. Despite all the debates, many researchers have dated the playing of cards to have started back in the 9th century.

When Chinese playing cards were invented

There are written records that prove the existence of the leaf game during the Tang dynasty. One such instance, as reported by Su E, who was the Tang dynasty’s writer, is in 868 when the princess Tongchang was playing the leaf game with other members of the family.

In Ancient China, paper printing had already been invented by the 8th century. The printing of papers enabled the cards and documents used to play to be produced. Another instance was in 69 when the emperor Muzong played the game of leaves with his ministers.  

The leaf game was played and progressed all through to the 11th century. It was during this time that this game became famous. After this, The Chinese invented other card games and printing to make play materials. The Chinese introduced some of these games, including money cards, domino cards, character cards, and Chinese chess cards.

The Chinese playing cards gained recognition in neighboring countries and increased in these towns. Immigrants from China took the Chinese playing cards to Southeast Asia, Japan and Mongolia.

What were the ancient Chinese playing cards used for

From the rule of the Tang dynasty to the 19th century, the old Chinese played cards for different reasons. As people were drinking, they played cards to pass the time. Frequent amongst men, who enjoyed this as they drank wine.

The Chinese also used playing cards to gamble. They gambled while playing cards to get money. Until today, many people who play cards do it for this reason. The casino business has grown into the lucrative venture it is right now.

Chinese playing cards: How to play and the different ancient Chinese card games

Chinese chess cards

The leaf game was the first invention of the Chinese card games. However, other card game inventions followed, such as the domino, money, character, and chess cards. The Chinese played these card games in a counterclockwise direction.

Domino cards can be traced back to the Southern Song dynasty. Initially, they were played using ivory, bones, and ivory. The Chinese later reinvented the format of the card in 1600. Domino cards were played using two suits: the civil and the military, which were not visible on the cards. Dominos were printed on the cards.

Money cards were invented during the 12th century. Played using four suits that influenced the four suits used in the poker game: spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. The four suits used to play the money cards were: cash, a string of coins, myriads, and tens of myriads.  

Character cards were invented during the middle tenure of the Qing dynasty. The cards had Chinese characters printed on them. There were different types of character cards: number cards, great man cards, and doll cards.

Chess cards appeared during the 19th century and were divided into red and four-color cards. The great man cards were based on ‘On the Great man book,’ which had 24 to 25 cards. The number cards had Chinese numerals printed on them. Doll cards were eight series of cards repeated eight times.


The card games have a rich history that researchers can trace back to ancient Chinese history. The Chinese card games, which first started with the leaf game, progressed to the: domino card, money cards, character cards, and chess cards games. The rules and suits for these games were different. Playing these cards varied from being a way of relaxation to carrying out important decisions such as promotions. These games have evolved to the modern-day card games now played globally in different countries, either in casinos or private holdings. Therefore, we can conclude that the Chinese card games have played a significant role in what we have in the world of card gaming today.

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