An 87 Year Old Baoding Ball Master Story

This is Li Zhanchun. He is holding up a tower made of baoding balls in his home of Baoding, a city in the Hebei province in China. There, he is part of the Sunset Red Iron Ball Group, and he is very well known.

Li Zhanchun holding a baoding iron ball tower of 45 balls.

Li counts up the layers, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. 11 layers. That’s 45 balls! This is a performing tower, not my best one. My best one is 65!”. When asked if the balls are heavy, he says it weighs about 10 kilograms. That is about 22 pounds.  While he holds and spins the tower with one hand, Li Zhanchun sings a song he created about iron balls. “The iron balls spin both forward and in reverse. They can spin around the center, but you have to persist to spin several!”. It takes a lot of skill to rotate such a tall tower so Li is famous throughout Baoding and is well known as “King Li Tower Holder”.  How did Li come to be such a famous baoding ball person?

Li Zhanchun performing baoding balls at the park in front of spectators

Li says “When I put on performances in the park, people ask me if I’m in my 60’s or 70’s? I say no, my zodiac animal is the rabbit. I’m 87 years old this year! Haha, 87 years old! They don’t believe me!”

His performance lasts several minutes while he sings his iron ball song. For an 87 year old, he has quite an amazing show of arm strength. He often boasts if you don’t believe his strength, you can compete with him. Another feat he likes to show is spinning dual towers. It’s one of his tricks he likes to demonstrate.  “Dual towers. One mind can’t focus on many things, right? This is really difficult. I’ve practiced with iron balls since 1984 for almost 30 years to this day. Neither wind nor rain stop me”, Li says.

Li Zhanchun holding two iron ball towers when he was younger

His journey began in 1984. Li Zhanchun was suffering from health problems and would get sick often. He needed a way to exercise that was not so strenuous. After searching he discovered the iron fitness balls.

In Li’s words, “The iron balls are great because regardless of where you are, at what occasion, whatever time, or whatever environment you are in, this isn’t very strenuous for an elderly person and it won’t make people too tired.”

Li practiced for 4 years and became very good at them. He joined a iron ball group in 1989 where they went to do performances. But one day while performing he had an accident and his tower of balls fell apart. His coach took him off the state and Li felt very embarrassed. Not letting the incident put him down, Li secretly became more determined. He wanted to show his friends and group that it would never happen again.

Li Zhanchun performing with baoding iron balls

“Ten years off stage for one minute on stage. I still hadn’t practiced for 10 years, so I felt like I had to become more skilled, to make my group or to make other groups see that this old guy Li wasn’t a wimp!”, Li said.

Li Zhanchun practiced and practiced. He was always holding baoding balls. According to Li’s wife, Li would always be holding the iron balls and it really drover her up the walls because he would never stop and it bothered her while watching TV. “My wife grew tired of it. I said that they were noisy. How could I watch TV since they were noisy? It wasn’t easy to fix, but I couldn’t stop! So I said I would just stop watching TV!”, said Li.

Li could give up his TV, but could not give up practicing baoding balls. He had to bring his balls everywhere with him. At night, he would put two iron balls by his bed and the first thing he would do is spin them when he woke. 

“He never stopped spinning them. In the morning, they would clank, and when he finished with breakfast, he would still clank them together. He wouldn’t do anything after he ate, just go sit in the room and play with his balls.”, said Li’s wife.

Even when Li went outside his home, he would bring the iron balls with him. His philosophy was constant effort will surely lead to success. He took the balls with him everywhere while shopping. If he didn’t have time to practice at home, this was his solution.

Li Zhanchun spinning baoding balls while shopping

“He would stretch his neck out like this, and say he wanted two cucumbers. They would give him two cucumbers and a plastic bag. He would pick them out with his hands and the balls still in his hands! To pay, he would have them reach into his pocket and get however much he owed. They would take the money and then leave the rest in his pocket. He did that all the time! He wouldn’t put the iron balls down.”, said Li’s wife.

Li Zhanchun improving his skill with iron balls.

His efforts were paying off as his skill using the iron balls greatly increased. As Li demonstrated his many tricks, he says “You can spin to the balls forward, then reverse, and around the center. You spin them around like this. There’s jumping, which also has a reverse. Rotate them horizontally, and quickly. 120 rotations in one minute. You have to reach this point with two balls in order to be up to the standard. And then after that come three balls. You can spin them forwards and jump them horizontally or vertically. And then there are four balls, which you can spin forward, backwards, and then with three on the bottom spinning one in the middle. And then there are five balls.”

Li even demonstrated using 7 balls with one hand. He would place one ball in the center while rotating 6 balls around the center ball. This trick he calls the “big dipper”. There was no stopping to Li practicing and becoming better with new tricks.

“The balls either hit my foot or the ground. If they hit my foot, it swelled up. This floor was hit. My wife wasn’t pleased, she got angry with me. “Your’re ruining the floor with your iron balls! What could be done?” I said it was like tuition. Students have to pay tuition, right? The floor will be fine, if it gets ruined, we can fix it. There was no other way. If I hit my feet, I would mend them, put some medicine on them, and then get back to practicing!”, said Li.

Li Zhanchun in formal Chinese clothing using baoding balls

“It didn’t matter what you said, he was set on those iron balls. He didn’t want to stop practicing. He wanted to keep getting better, with no turning back.”, said Li’s wife. When traveling, the iron balls went with him. “I carry dozens of them in a basket. I went to Jilin, to the Century Plaza, because I practiced everywhere.”, said Li. 

Then one day Li saw on TV a person holding a tower of iron balls. Li thought it was amazing and had to see if he could do it as well. He found someone to custom make his materials and tools.

“I put four balls on it and then spin it, and see if I can stack another. They gave me a “plate” and I tried at first, and with the plate it was fine just spinning like that. I spun it with great practice and stability so I thought that since I could spin one plate, could I spin two? Could I spin three?”, said Li.

Since then, Li would practice with iron ball towers. Every time Li would add a layer of iron balls, the weight would increase. For a 70 year old at the time, it was really straining his arm strength. His arm would hurt so much after practicing that he couldn’t spin them or pick up the balls anymore.

Li Zhanchun practicing baoding iron ball towers

When asked if he thought about quitting, Li said “I thought about it, but that would mean that my determination had failed, and I couldn’t let my own determination fail. I just had to practice with towers. From that point on I continued to practice for 4 hours a day.”

Lil Zhanchun spinning 80 balls for his 80th birthday

Li never gave up and on his 80th birthday, Li performed a iron tower demonstration with 80 balls as a present for himself.  

Li Zhanchun holding 65 baoding balls


At 87 years old his tallest tower he can do comfortably is 65 balls. He is the only elderly person in China that can perform such a feat which earned him the title “King Li the Tower-holder”. 

When talking about how the iron balls helped his health, Li said “I used to have coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. I also often caught colds. In the past, whenever I got sick, my whole body would hurt, and I would be clogged and panicked. It would be hard to breathe, and my whole body would sweat. After I started using iron balls, my energy gradually relaxed, and I used to get sick once every week, but afterwards, I only got sick once and then it disappeared. When I had my yearly physical, everything was normal!  With iron balls, all fingers are connected with the heart. There’s the three Yin and Yang points of the hand, and the movements of the balls stimulate the acupoints, and then the nerves from the brain go to the organs, and when that happens, the iron balls can stimulate the brain, clear and invigorate the meridians, relax the muscles, and invigorate the blood. And then that connects with… If you move every day, your blood and meridians will be clear. If your fingers move, your blood will be free and clear.”

The healthy aspect of using iron balls is widely known in the area. From a medical perspective, when we talk about coronary heart disease, today we typically believe that it is related to stagnation in the Qi and the blood. Rotating balls in the hand is actually and exercise for the entire hand, because while the balls are being rotated, all five fingers are actually moving, including the backs of the hands and the wrists. It is actually a complete exercise for the hand. We talk about how half of the 12 meridians are in the hands. They are connected by the hands, and half are connected by the feet. The hand, then, is the starting point or ending point of the foot meridian, so it is actually the connection point for the hand meridian. At this point of connection, communication is essential. Here, all sorts of meridians connect, and it is a channel of free-flowing Qi and blood. So by exercising the hand, not only is he exercising the hand alone, he is actually opening the flow for the Qi and blood in all of the meridians in the hand and the acupoints of the meridians’ endpoints. This sort of stimulation can stably make the Qi and blood flow, and will actually help the treatment for coronary heart disease.

Li explains that he no longer has to worry about hypertension, “Every year the veteran cadres have a physical. When I had mine done, everything was normal. My hypertension was gone, My blood pressure was 80 and 120, which is normal. Sometimes it was 85.”

This sort of long-term exercise is beneficial to the sympathetic nerves’ balance and stability, so in that respect, it definitely helps the blood pressure. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, the heart governs the spirit and blood vessels. If his blood is flowing clearly, then his spirit will be at ease, and so the fire element in his heart will be easily reduced. When that happens, the fire element in his liver is also reduced, and so his blood pressure stabilizes.

Not only has the iron ball exercises improved his health, Li believes his mental health has improved. “In the past, I would visit a friend’s home, and just what unit was it? What floor was it? I forgot! I couldn’t remember! Sometimes I would go to the market and my wife would tell me to buy some celery, but when I returned home, I found that I’d forgotten! That happened. But that doesn’t happen much anymore. I don’t forget. I can even recite the Three Character Classic and the Book of Family Names.”, says Li.

You would have to hear if for yourself, but Li could recite many poems and songs making you doubt he was really an 87 year old man.

Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that the ten fingers connect to the heart. Actually, ancient Chinese people discovered very early on that hand exercises where beneficial to improving the brain. Not only did this include iron balls, there were many other hand exercises that the ancient Chinese discovered could help prevent senility, and aging of the brain by keeping them fit. Fine motor movement has a receptor in the brain, especially for the hands. The finer the movement is, the larger the receptor’s area is in the brain. So fine motor movement, especially at the tips of the fingers, will actually act to stimulate the corresponding region in the cortex of the brain.

Li Zhanchun, is not the only evidence of these health improvements. In his Sunset Red Iron Ball Group, there are many elderly members where they come to share techniques and practice. They have all expressed improvements to their health when exercising with baoding balls.

As one women in his group said, “In the past, my fingertips couldn’t touch could water, but after this, the water doesn’t seem so cold. My hands used to be really cold, but after using these balls, well, they used to be tight, but they aren’t now. My hands seem to be more flexible.”

Another woman also expressed her health improvements, “In the past when I worked I used a pen, so my wrists would get really sore. After I started playing with these, my wrists relaxed a great deal, and the Qi and blood flowed freely, so they don’t hurt anymore.”

As we end this story about Li Zhanchun, He shares his love for his iron balls which he calls his treasure.  His poem is called “Honest Words from an Elderly Man”.

Li Zhanchun speaking while using 7 baoding balls

“Why be upset that an old man’s hair is white? I’m happy to have iron balls to accompany my golden years. My ball skill will never fade, throughout my golden years, the singing and laughter never ends. I want to sing and I’m happy to practice. I will continue to persist in my exercises, like an old tree growing green in the spring again, with cheerfulness and optimism to aid my glory.” 

Unfinished cloisonne baoding balls after molding

How Baoding Balls Are Made

Ever wonder how they make these intricate hollow musical balls? It’s a process that has been developed for many years and once a secret of China. Machines have taken over much of the world’s manufacturing of products these days, but the chiming baoding balls are still handcrafted by hand in a very detailed step by step process. It makes you appreciate the work that goes into making baoding balls.

Factory worker stamping making metal half spheres from circular metal sheets

The first step is making 2 hollow half spheres by cutting out circular pieces of metal. Sometimes they will use left over metal sheets where other shapes were cut out. These circle pieces are then pressed into a half spheres.

Welding chimes into half spheres and welding two half spheres together to form a ball.

A wire is wound into a coil and welded into one of the half spheres and a ball is placed inside. Two half spheres are then welded together to form the ball. The rough balls are then put in a grinding machine to remove burrs and make them smooth.

Copper is shaped by hand to form the beautiful designs and glued onto the surface of the bare metal balls. Then cloisonne enamel is painted by hand to fill the copper outlines. Designs with multiple colors can take several steps and some designs are very complicated which require much skill to create. 

The baoding balls are then placed into molds and filled with the enamel of the color of the ball. This fills in the areas around the copper designs. When the mold is ready, the balls are grinded down to the copper layer revealing the design of the ball.

Polishing a finished baoding ball and coating with varnish

The baoding balls are polished by hand making the balls smooth and shiny and a protective coat of varnish is applied to the finished ball. 

The finished product is a beautiful painstakingly hand made piece of art with great health benefits. Check out this documentary video of a baoding ball factory below that was made many years ago. You can see that not much has changed on the process of making the cloisonne baoding balls.

Left brain which handles logic and right brain which handles creativity.

Activating Your Left and Right Brain by Using Baoding Balls

The use of baoding balls to improve health is widely known. The effects on the meridians of the hands and the physical benefits of doing the exercises are often discussed when talking about the balls. However, I recently listened to a doctor discuss his experience with using baoding balls in a different aspect regarding the brain which was quite interesting.

You probably remember learning in school that the right side of the brain controls the left side of your body and the left side of the brain controls the right side of your body. So when you are using baoding balls with your right hand, it is activating your left brain because your left side of the brain is controlling the right hand. We also know the left and right sides of the brain have different strengths and functions. We call some people left brained if they are strong in logic and very analytical. Conversely, right brained people are very artistic and creative. Knowing this is how baoding balls can strengthen certain attributes.

Left Side of the Brain

  • Analytical / Logic
  • Language and Reading
  • Math
  • Speaking
  • Focuses on the Details

Right Side of the Brain

  • Creativity / Imagination
  • Expressing and Reading Emotions
  • Music
  • Intuition, Non-Verbal Communication
  • Seeing the Big Picture

So if there is an attribute you would like to strengthen, you could activate that side of the brain by using the balls with a particular hand. The doctor noticed this when his patients could communicate their condition better after using baoding balls to stimulate the left side of the brain.

On the other hand, the cerebellum which is located between the brain the your spinal cord is responsible for regulating motor skills and receiving sensory information. Your balance, coordination, posture, and sensory systems are affected by the cerebellum. With the cerebellum, the right side controls the right side of the body and the left side controls the left side of the body. So if a person has trouble with muscle control, balance, or signals causing pain which should not be, they could target the cerebellum by using baoding balls on the same side of the body as the problem area.

The observation was very interesting and makes a lot of sense. It could explain why some people get better in different ways other than health after using the balls. For example, while practicing music, you might want to use baoding balls with the left hand more and with the right more if you are doing math problems. In any case, we should remember to using baoding balls with both hands.

Vintage baoding balls of doves and chickens

Vintage Baoding Balls

The old saying “They don’t make them like they used to” can be said for many things including baoding balls. These days, quality can vary greatly depending on where you get them. In the old days, the balls were thicker and heavier, the designs more elaborate, and cases nicer. This post is a collection of vintage baoding balls showing you what some of the old baoding balls looked like many years ago, like an online museum. 

Notice in old baoding balls, they used a cloisonne enamel which have discolored over the years. Balls had more copper cloisonne shapes and thicker outlines. That is understandable because copper was not as expensive and the enamel likely had more impurities since they were made differently than the enamel they use today. There were also more factories and skilled artisans that could make these baoding balls back then. It takes many steps to hand make each ball so you can imagine as less factories are able to make them, you don’t see newer balls like the old ones.

Baoding Balls ASMR Relaxation

Baoding Balls ASMR Relaxation

Baoding Balls are an object that can induce ASMR, the ever so pleasant tingling sensation that occurs in your head. Experience relaxation with baoding balls just by watching and listening to them. Give it a try! Relax yourself, focus on the sounds, and watch the video. One tip is to try when you are about to sleep. Put on ear buds and watch to get sleepy. Then lie down, close your eyes, and listen to the sounds.

Credit to the video creator for posting it. If you felt relaxed, there are other videos like that you can find on YouTube.

What is ASMR?
ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response and describes the feeling of euphoria that can be felt by someone when they watch certain images or, more commonly, listen to certain sounds. It seems to be almost ridiculously simple, but it is certainly a growing trend on channels such as YouTube and many people find it an incredibly effective way to relax.

What Does it Feel Like?
The most common term used to describe the physical feeling of ASMR is a delicious tingling sensation that begins with the scalp and travels down the spine. Some people liken it to being stroked gently by a significant other, while some people regard it as a more spiritual experience and feel as though they are literally being touched by Angelic or ethereal beings. It is always, without exception, a harmless and pleasurable experience and many people are embracing it with enthusiasm as a way to relax and de-stress.

How Does it Work?
This question is a little more difficult to answer as the “science” is new, and hard evidence has not been gathered in any meaningful form as yet. However, if you wish to experience it, as many do, try the internet based videos and audio clips for yourself and see if you can identify how the tingle is relaxing you. What is clear is that the people who share their views and experiences of ASMR are undoubtedly reporting a definite physical sensation that is both relaxing and comforting. The tingle can travel all over the body, to the hands and feet and along the limbs, relaxing and softening tension as it goes. Most commonly, the sensation is felt first in the scalp, where it can feel as if your head is being massaged tenderly by a caring and loving presence. The sense of deep relaxation and security or comfort then spreads to the spine and down to the lower back.

Can Anyone Benefit from ASMR?
In a word, yes, anyone can benefit from this form of relaxation, although of course some individuals may not be a susceptible as others to feeling it. It seems to have connections with our childhood sensations or experiences, and the triggers can be very unusual.

What Triggers an ASMR Session?
If you look at the video clips for ASMR you may be surprised! The common factor does seem to be a quiet, repetitive action that goes on for a considerable length of time. You may find clips showing someone turning the pages of a book, tapping their fingers on a hard surface, crinkling and smoothing out paper, folding towels, brushing their hair, or using a scythe on long grass. The tasks are simple and soothing, calming and repetitive and are very often accompanied by a very quiet commentary or voice over. Whispering has been found to be one of the most popular forms of ASMR, with a great number of people reporting that listening to a whispering voice helps them to fall asleep.

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