Scissors, paper, rock. Picture by DOMINO POSTIGLIONE. Source: (Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Can't decide where to have dinner? Need to determine who will take out the trash? Battling over who gets the front seat? All of these disputes can be easily solved by using an ancient Chinese method of decision making. That's right: Rock, paper, scissors. The origins of rock, paper, scissors can be traced back to China around 200 BC. The game has evolved over the years, but the basic premise has remained the same, and it's never waned in popularity. In fact, the game is hugely popular in Japan. Let’s look at the early versions of rock, paper, scissors and how it became a global decision-making method.
Rock, paper, scissors has an ancient history. Source: (wikipedia.com)
China's Han Dynasty
The origins of rock, paper, scissors have been traced back to China's Han Dynasty. The game was originally called shoushiling, meaning "the three who are afraid of each other," and the three choices were "frog, slug, and snake." Like today's version of the game, the choices are represented by hand gestures: An extended thumb represents the frog, the pinky finger represents the slug, and an outstretched index finger is the snake.
For hundreds of years, shoushiling was an exclusively Chinese game, but as you're no doubt aware, it eventually made its way around the world. On its journey, it underwent some ... bizarre changes.
The hand gestures for the rock, the scissors, and the paper. Source: (bbc.com)
Rock, Paper, Scissors Comes to Japan
In the 1700s, the people of Japan were first introduced to shoushiling, where it is now known as janken. In the historical Japanese version, a fox (called kitsune) beats the village chief, the village chief beats a hunter, and the hunter beats the fox.
Rock, paper, scissors is a common game across the world, but it is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. It is often used to settle disputes or help make important decisions in the worlds of business, politics, and technology. It's possible that the many Japanese immigrants who came to the west coast of the United States brought janken with them.
Auction house Christi's earned several million dollars all because they won a game of rock, paper, scissors. Source: (artsy.net)
A Famous Use of Rock, Paper, Scissors
In fact, the game showed up in a well-publicized story about a Japanese businessman named Takashi Hashiyama in 2005. That year, he had decided to auction off his impressive collection of art, and two famous auction houses vied for his business. He couldn't decide which of the two auction houses to use, so he asked representatives of the two auction houses to play janken to help him decide, insisting "I believe this is the best way to decide between two things which are equally good." Christie's went with scissors, and Sotheby's went with paper. Christie's win earned the auction house several million dollars in commissions from the sale of the paintings, making it potentially the most expensive game of rock, paper, scissors in history.
The Indonesian version of the game involved death by elephant...and earwig. Source: (stanfordmag.org)
The Morbid Indonesian Version
As the game spread around Asia, it evolved even further. In Indonesia, it took a dark and morbid turn. The three options were an elephant who beat a man by trampling him to death, a man who crushed a tiny earwig, and an earwig that climbed up the elephant’s trunk to feast on his brain, driving him crazy and/or killing him. Indonesia is pretty hardcore.
Comte de Rochambeau, a Revolutionary War figure, really had nothing to do with the game, yet some people call it Ro Cham Bo. Source: (lactu.playbacpresse.fr)
At some point, the game took on a new name, "Rochambeau" or "Ro Cham Bo." Although some stories claim that the names "Ro," "Cham," and "Beau" were meant to represent the rock, paper, and scissors, it is unclear exactly how this came about. Some claim it harkens back to a Revolutionary War figure, Comte de Rochambeau, a Frenchman who helped the Americans fight the British. There is no evidence, however, that Comte de Rochambeau had any connection with the game at all. Still, in many regions, the game is known as Rochambeau instead of rock, paper, scissors.