Chinese Chess

History

Chinese chess has a long history. Though its precise origins have not yet been confirmed, the earliest indications reveal that the game has been played as early as the 4th century BC in China. . Some claimed that it was invented in the Tang Dynasty (around 700 A.D.); then in the South Song Dynasty (around 1,200 A.D.), it evolved into the form and rules that we now are familiar with.

Chinese Chess or Xiangqi is a traditional board game that has been around for thousands of years. Xiangqi is a popular board game especially in countries in the Far East: China, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and others. Asserting the exact history of Xiangqi is difficult, as there remains some disagreements among the few historical texts and scholars.

Distinctive features of Xiangqi include the unique movement of the pao (“cannon”) piece, a rule prohibiting the generals (similar to chess kings) from facing each other directly, and the river and palace board features, which restrict the movement of some pieces.

It is believed that Xiangqi has the same ancestor as Western Chess (International Chess), an old Indian game of Chanturanga, very popular in Europe, America and elsewhere. Xiangqi is recorded to have been played from at least the first century AD, but no one knows exactly when it begins.

Chinese Chess or Shiang-Chi or Siang K’i is a considerably modified form of Shatranj, the first reference of which has been found in a book called ‘The Book of Marvels’ by Nui Seng-ju who died in 847 AD.

The pieces are simple disks with Chinese characters on them to differentiate and are played on the points of the board rather than within the squares. The un-checkered board consists of 10 x 9 points with two notable distinguishing features. Firstly, dividing the players in the middle is the ‘River’, an open area. Also, each player has an area of 9 points in the middle at the nearest edge called the ‘Fortress’.

In Xiang Qi, the concept of Stalemate does not exist. If a player cannot move, that player has lost which serves to remove one of the more tedious aspects found in the European game.

It is often quoted that Xiang Qi is the most popular game in the world which is true but this is, of course, largely due to China’s great population (European Chess is more ubiquitous but Europeans should not be smug about this either since it has little to do with the qualities of the game and everything to do with European military and political dominance during the latter half of the second millennium AD).