An Introduction to Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) and How to play Xiangqi

Xiangqi (aka Chinese Chess) is a turn-based game of strategy that is usually played by two players although there have been tournaments in the past whereby a Xiangqi Master or Grandmaster was partnered another player to promote the game. Although the game is played by millions across Asia, it is not very well-known outside of the Chinese-speaking realm.

Important Note

World Xiangqi RulesBefore the Webmaster continues, he would like to remind the visitor that:

the OFFICIAL name for the game is Xiangqi, not Chinese Chess.

The official name can be found in the World Xiangqi Rules which was published in 2018.[1] The World Xiangqi Rules were approved and authorized by the World Xiangqi Federation (WXF) and the Chinese Xiangqi Association (CXA). The Webmaster had the honor of translating the first ever English translation of the rules.

There are many posts, blogs and apps on the internet that continue to use 'Chinese Chess' in their articles, which is okay, but they fail to acknowledge the official name. More often than not, translation of the terms was not based on the recommended terms found in the World Xiangqi Rules.
For the purpose of promotion, the Webmaster has chosen to use Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) in his articles, or simply Xiangqi.

The introduction to Xiangqi can be divided:

  • Technical aspects, including how to play the game,
  • Historical and Cultural aspects, which include the history of Xiangqi, and its influence on the Chinese culture,
  • Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) in the modern world.

The technical aspects will be covered in this article while the topic on the history of Xiangqi and its influence on the Chinese culture will be covered in detail in a different section that is still under construction. For visitors who are interested in a short summary of the history of Xiangqi, the following is given.

A separate section, still under construction will, will introduce how Xiangqi is like in the modern world.

 

The History of Xiangqi in a nutshell

Liu Bo SetIn a nutshell, Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) has been played by the Chinese for centuries. The current form of Xiangqi that is played nowadays took form no later than the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279AD). Prior to the Southern Song Dynasty, there were several games which were believed to be the prototypes of Xiangqi. 

With regards to the origins of Xiangqi, there are two polarizing opinions:

  • Most Western scholars and historians like Thomas Hyde, Sir William Jones, HJR Murray[2] et cetera believe that Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) was a product of Chaturanga or Shatranj. 
  • Chinese scholars and historians believe that Xiangqi was invented in China and underwent a series of evolution before it became the game that we know today. Perhaps the earliest 'ancestor' of Xiangqi was Liubo (六博 liùbó), a mysterious game that was played over 3000 years ago. A Liubo set is shown here. [3] [4] [5] 

For interested readers on the topic of Liubo, a good summary can be found at Jean-Louis Cazaux's site.[6] The article on Wikipedia has also grown nicely.
Unfortunately, to the Webmaster's knowledge, there has not been any summit whereby Western historians and their Chinese counterparts have sat down and presented their cases for discussion on the origins of Xiangqi (Chinese chess).

FAQs

For visitors new to the site, the Webmaster has compiled a list of frequently asked questions and added links to various pages on the Website:

  • How do I play Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)? --> See article below
  • Is Chinese chess harder than chess? ... and other comparisons between Xiangqi and International Chess --> article in progress
  • Who goes first in Chinese chess? --> See Rules of Xiangqi.
  • What are the rules for Xiangqi? ---> See Rules of Xiangqi
  • Where can I play Xiangqi? ---> Under construction. For the moment, click here.
  • Is there a stalemate in Xiangqi? --> yes, but unlike International Chess, a stalemate would be counted as a loss for the king placed under stalemate. You cannot refuse hide in Xiangqi.

For more questions, please email the Webmaster at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and he will do his best to answer you.

 

HOW TO PLAY XIANGQI

In a nutshell:

Material needed: A Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) Set consisting of a Xiangqi board, 32 Xiangqi pieces with 16 per color is required.

Very simple rules:

Red would make the first move followed by Black. The pieces are moved according to the rules and the process is repeated until:

  • one of the kings is captured, ending the game automatically, and giving the win to the player who managed to capture the enemy king,
  • one of the players resigns,
  • a stalemate appears, which unlike International Chess, would be a loss for the player whose king was placed under stalemate,
  • both players agree to a draw,
  • or when a judgement based on the World Xiangqi Rules is reached for a repeated position.

For most over-the-board play, the first four conditions are often met. The last situation is usually encountered in tournaments or competitions.

Note: In Xiangqi, by default, Red would make the first move, and thus have the first-move initiative. However, this was not always so. For reasons not known to the author, when the CXA was first formed in 1956, the committee in charge of the rules decided that Black was the first to move. The decision was reversed in 1981. This interesting rule would explain why in some of the older Xiangqi manuals, the diagrams are arranged such that Black would be placed at the bottom of the page and Black would go first. [7] page 11
In the ancient times, Red was the first to move.

The above is a short summary of how a game of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) is conducted.

However, things are not as simple as they seem because Xiangqi, like International Chess, contain different types of pieces. Each piece moves and behaves differently. There are seven types of Xiangqi pieces: the King, Advisor (x2), Elephant (x2), Chariot (x2), Horse (x2), Cannon (x2) and Pawns (x5).

That is why, for the newcomer, the technical aspects is further divided into the following topics for discussion:

  1. An introduction of the chessboard,
  2. The chess pieces and their value,and 
  3. Xiangqi notation.

The game itself is further divided into three phases:

  1. Opening phase,
  2. Midgame phase, and
  3. Endgame phase.  

Each of the phases will have their own sections on the website.

Finally, there are man-made puzzles that have existed during the Song Dynasty. The AXF has called these man-made puzzles Endgame Compositions.

One of the earliest puzzles was by the patriotic poet Wen Tianxiang. The International Chess equivalent would be problems or studies. These man-made positions would often be arranged such that it would be impossible to occur in over-the-board play. However, they would contain clever tactical combinations or carry a particular theme.

As can be seen, there is some work to be done in learning how to play Xiangqi. But do not fret, it is not difficult at all. Just read the articles and everything will be fine. Instead of concentrating all this information into one huge gigantic page, the Webmaster has decided to break the articles up into short ones so that Xiangqi will not seem burdening.

 

In the following section, the Webmaster will go through each item in detail. Just click on the arrow at the bottom for the next article.

 

References:

  1. World Xiangqi Federation and Chinese Xiangqi Association. World Xiangqi Rules. . ISBN 978-7-5009-5414-9. 人民体育出版社. Click here for the link to the publisher's website. Note: The first part of the book is Chinese, while the second part is in English.

 2. Murray, HJR. A History of Chess ( 1913 Orginal Edition). New York : Skyhorse Publishing, 2012. reprint. 978-1-63220-293-2.

 3. , 如安. 中国象棋史. 北京 : 团结出版社, 1998. 7-80130-170-6.

 4. 李, 松福. 象棋史話. 北京 : 人民体育出版社, 1981.7. 7015.1939.

5. , 家森. 象棋与棋话 第三版. s.l. : 世界书局印行, 1947, 民国36年. No ISBN.

  6. Jean-Louis Cazaux. Liubo. http://history.chess.free.fr/liubo.htm

  7. 屠景明,楊柏伟. 《象棋词典》. 上海: 上海文化出版社. 2009. 978-7-80740-339-5/G.475