Baoding balls could be referenced to as far as 26-220 AD during the Han Dynasty to the Hebei province in China where Baoding city is located. Although, the archives show balls were not used at this time, the people used walnuts instead to train the hands. Many centuries later, iron balls replaced walnuts during the Sung Dynasty, 960-1279 AD, when their use as weapons became adopted by the martial arts and acrobats used the balls do demonstrate their skills. They believed the balls provided them enhanced powers for their performance.
It was not until the Ming Dynasty that the traditional hollow baoding balls we know today came into existence. Emperor Jia Jing (1522-1567) had his court study the balls for their effects. With the increased attention, a method was invented to create hollow balls instead of solid balls. The invention of the hollow baoding ball can be thought of the age when baoding balls came to existence for use on the meridians and good health.
Then in the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong (1736-1799) was prescribed the daily use of the baoding balls by his physician. His enthusiasm for the balls popularized them into a cultural practice. Qianlong was China’s longest living emperor and it promoted the use of the balls greatly. During this time the balls became widely used and were sought after in high demand. As one of the “Three Treasures of Baoding” (the other two being flour sauce and potherb mustard), the balls became a work of art. A method was invented that placed a smaller ball and spring inside the hollow ball to produce a musical chime. Baoding factories developed secret manufacturing techniques which produced beautiful cloisonne designs on the metal spheres.
Today, most common baoding balls you will find are cloisonne and chrome plated steel chiming balls. Some hollow steel balls are also filled with material like sand which gives the ball a heavier feel but at the cost of having no chime. In the old days, the cloisonne balls were made with thicker metal and thicker copper wires for the designs. They were a great quality piece and had a nice feel. You can sometimes find these vintage baoding balls for sale. However, as time progressed, factories began focusing on cost and many baoding balls on the market today are made with thinner metal, smaller designs, and imitation cloisonne. As with any product, you will have high quality balls, and some very low quality.
On the higher end of the spectrum you can find solid steel balls, copper balls, and gemstone baoding balls. Gemstone balls are popular for the metaphysical properties of the gemstones and some even feature intricate carvings.
Some less common baoding balls you can find feature little nubs or spikes all around the ball. The nubs stimulate acupressure points more and have their own unique feeling. For the collector there are even metal balls with elaborate engravings or hand painted oriental art.
Each type has their own properties that make them better for a particular use. Large hollow balls for example can help stretch fingers and warm up hands before playing instruments. Read our post on picking a size and type of baoding ball for more details.
Over the years baoding balls have been called many names. The most commonly known names are Chinese health balls, Chinese stress balls, Chinese exercise balls, harmony balls, dexterity balls, meditation balls, chiming balls, and just Chinese balls. All the names signify a benefit the balls provide and came about on what the a seller of the balls was targeting for their customer. The good thing is that baoding balls can do all of those things!