Games Hongkou People Play?

[UPDATE 10/11: Thanks to some very helpful comments, below, I’ve learned that the game is called ‘carrom’ and it’s been played in Shanghai for years. My friend Micah Sittig did a bit of digging, and put together an interesting post that gives a bit of history and Asian context to the game (thanks, Micah!) More recent history in comment 5, left by Tom of the Double Handshake blog.]

Before this afternoon, I thought I’d seen just about every street corner amusement that Shanghai’s game-loving citizens enjoy playing in front of their neighbors: chess to Chinese checkers; dominoes to mahjong; poker, to that weird poker played with those creepytriangular Hunanese playing cards. Then, while walking on Zhoushan Road in Hongkou District this afternoon (just around the corner from the Jewish Refugees Museum), I came across this:


If the photo isn’t clear, these men appear to be using miniature pool cues to shoot Chinese checkers into corner pockets located on a tabletop covered in sawdust. For the few minutes I watched, no money appeared to be exchanged (though that doesn’t mean it wasn’t). There was a second table to the side of this one.

Anyway, if anybody knows anything about this game – is it a Shanghai thing? or just common to Zhoushan Road? – I’d be very grateful for the information. The gentlemen in question didn’t seem particularly keen to answer my questions.


  1. Yup, its carrom. It’s very popular in India (although they dont use cues, they just flick with the finger). Its a lot of fun.

  2. Carom must have gone through a recent rise in popularity among the suburban crunchy Volvo types (like me) in the US. My sister bought a carom set from a high end wooden and creative toys website for her son and mine for Christmas a few years ago.

  3. I remember befriending some guys playing this on Shantou Lu, around the intersection of Guangxi Beilu and Guangdong Lu in Shanghai last year – they called it ???. A transliteration of “Carrom” perhaps? The guys told me Shantou Lu was filled with the tables up until the Cultural Revolution and they’re only now re-emerging. He made kangleqiu tables himself and sold them for RMB1,000 each. The rules were pretty straight forward: start your shot from your corner, if you sink a shot, shoot again. First one to 8 (I think there are 15 pucks) wins. Haven’t seen the tables any other places in China.

  4. Looks like the Chinese characters are missing from my previous post…. “they called it kangleqiu” – er, “health” “happiness” “ball”

  5. Thanks for all of the great comments. I think that I might just need to invest in a carrom set, now.

    Tom – I just updated WordPress the other day, and in doing so I appear to have erased permission for Chinese characters. Just fixed it – at least, I think i did!

  6. I grew up in rural michigan and my grandparents (in their 80s now) talk about playing carom at family gatherings when they were young, both with and without cues. Bugs Bunny, dueling with Yosemity Sam, talks about how he’ll “carom a shot off that…” Not sure where carom came from, but it’s been around a while.

  7. Hi there! We played this game in Singapore in school but not with pool cues, but our fingers tips to flick them across the boards. We tend to have pretty sore finger tips after but we tend to be more accurate. Glad to see this posted, Adam.

  8. Ha! Good to find out what this is after all these years. My parents have a set which I think they bought in Hong Kong in the 1980s. It has the pool cues, but we used to make up our own rules!

  9. We played it at my public elementary school, Lanai Road, in the San Fernando Valley, when i was a kid. I had forgotten about it and never realized it wasn’t just a totally mainstream US school game. Loved it. Definitely gotta get a set as soon as my son gets past the stage where the main use for a stick is to hit all other non-stick-like entities.

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