Mumen Xiansheng's series on Xie Xiaxun

Xie Xiaxun was, without a doubt, one of the monumental figures in the history of Xiangqi, and he was one of the rare patriots that had the heart to match.

Xie Xiaxun book gifted by Chairman Wang from the Wenzhou Xiangqi AssociationDuring the 2016 Hangzhou International Conference on Chess Culture, the Webmaster finally had the chance to meet with the chairman of Wenzhou City's Xiangqi Association. We had been in contact for some time. Chairman Wang's gift to me was The Patriotic Chess King Xie Xiaxun 《爱国棋王谢侠逊》. Xie Xiaxun was the widely acknowledged Xiangqi king for an entire generation, but my knowledge of him was rather fragmented. This book was a well-organized biography of Xie's life. Before this, the Webmaster had only read about a collection of articles by Xie's son, Xie Danrui. Chairman Wang's book was a much thicker book chronicling the life of the great man. After reading the book, I had many reflections.

At the same time, Mumen Xiansheng wrote a short series articles based on the book, and I was compelled to translate it so more people would know about Xie Xiaxun, definitely one of the most important Xiangqi greats in the history of Xiangqi. 

There were initially nine articles to the series and would serve to be a very nice introduction to the life and greatness of Xie Xiaxun. The Webmaster had chosen to publish the articles as nine installments. Still, upon transferring the site, he decided to combine them into one article as loading time was not as bad as expected.

First created at the old website: 20161103
Last updated on the old website: 20161115

 【连载】胸怀 "大中华" 的棋王——谢侠逊(1

The Heart of the true Chinese Chess King ---- Xie Xiaxun (1)
Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)
It was translated by Jim from, with permission from the author!

During the 4th China Hangzhou International Conference on Chess Culture, I finally had the chance to meet with the chairman of Wenzhou City's Xiangqi Association. We had been in contact for some time. Chairman Wang's gift to me was The Patriotic Chess King Xie Xiaxun 《爱国棋王谢侠逊》. Xie Xiaxun was the widely acknowledged Xiangqi king for an entire generation, but my knowledge of him was rather fragmented. This book was a well-organized biography of Xie's life. After reading the book, I had many reflections.

Xie was, without a doubt, one of the monumental figures in the history of Xiangqi, and he was one of the rare patriots that had the heart to match.

(1) A child genius

Xie Xiaxun was born on the first of October in 1888 to a farmer in Tong Qiao Tou Village (硐桥头村 tóng qiáo tóu cūn). The village was located in the Feng Chao region (凤巢乡 fèng cháo xiāng) of Teng Jiao Town (平阳腾蛟 téng jiāo), in Ping Yang County (平阳píng yáng), Zhejiang province. It was a town that was rich in history and has been known as the "Town of Chess."

There was an exquisite description of Teng Jiao Town, amongst which the verse "卧牛山下鼻息地,笔架山前凤凰窝" left a lasting impression on the author.

"The lazy cattle laid at the foot of the mountains, behind was the nest of the phoenix.. "(This would be the translator's brave attempt at translating the verse).

Xie Xiaxun's father was a lover of Xiangqi. When I read this sentence, it struck a chord in me. Xiangqi was indeed an aspect of culture that was passed from generation to generation. The childhoods of Yang Guanlin and Hu Ronghua demonstrated an uncanny resemblance to Xie's childhood. Many Xiangqi Masters had similar experiences in their childhood that were similar to Xie's. That was because Xiangqi was everywhere in the families, villages, or towns where they grew up. It is the good fortune of Chinese civilization to have such conducive environments for children to spend their childhood.

 The young Xie learned the game from his father, and he was completely mesmerized by Xiangqi, often forgetting to take his meals.

 Many Xiangqi masters demonstrated the same attributes that Xie had done that they were special in terms of Xiangqi. Such a phenomenon is worthy of analysis and study. Like his predecessor Xie Xiaxun, Yang Guanlin was known to have been able to play Xiangqi at six, and Li Laiqun was well known to have been able to play Xiangqi at four.

When Xie was nine, he was given his first Xiangqi manual Strategic Considerations 《韬略玄机》 ( tāo lüè xuán jī), which was an ancient manual from the Qing dynasty. Xie could not let his hands off the ancient manual. What would happen when a nine-year-old studied something as deep as Strategic Considerations? Well, Xie became the king of Xiangqi in his township the following year!

But, was Xie a child genius? Perhaps after being 'king of Xiangqi, we could indeed make such a statement. But like his successor Yang Guanlin, Xie was not born with such a gift. His success was a culmination of a burning desire for Xiangqi and pure hard work. That is why it would be more appropriate to call Xie Xiaxun a 'hardworking child genius'!

 The Chinese have a virtue: we all feel proud of the child geniuses around us, and we would wish that these child prodigies would achieve and succeed in life to make the villages or towns that they came from proud!

 When Xie was thirteen, he was already the pride of his village and township. Everybody wished that he would be able to break free of poverty and travel to Wenzhou to challenge the Xiangqi king there. It was interesting to read in the book that during the discussions of Xie by the villagers. Defeating the Xiangqi king at Wenzhou would seem to a matter of fact despite Xie's young age!

 Xie's clan united together to raise money for this endeavor. Three yuan was raised, and Xie began his first long distanced Xiangqi journey at thirteen. He had the expectations of his fellow villagers burdening his shoulders. But who would have expected that this trip was the first of many similar trips that Xie would make during his lifetime? The duties would become heavier and so wound the trips be fraught with danger. But for the thirteen-year-old Xie, the passion that he had would be all that he needed.

Perhaps, Xie was born to make such trips for the history of China!


 【连载】胸怀 "大中华" 的棋王(二)神童一样很紧张

(2) Even Child Prodigies get nervous.
Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)
It was translated by Jim from, with permission from the author.

Thirteen-year-old Xie Xiaxun wanted to take on the king of Xiangqi in Wenzhou county, a man by the name of Chen Sheng (陈笙 chén shēng). Perhaps this name may be unfamiliar. At the turn of the century in China, there was a very well known player called Lin Yixian (林弈仙 lín yì xiān) who was nicknamed the "Invincible Central Cannon" (无敌中炮 wú dí zhōng pào). And from whom did Lin Yixian learn his craft? It was none other than Chen Sheng. An interesting point to note was that Lin also exhibited a talent for Xiangqi at the age of six, like Xie Xiaxun.

Chen Sheng was a man well-known in Xiangqi circles at the time, and many sought to learn Xiangqi from him. Yet, he was now faced with a scrawny young lad who had dared to challenge him. Chen had very strict rules for accepting challenges. He would only accept challenges if the prize money were twenty yuan.

This rule presented a dilemma for Xie, who had only two yuan in his pocket. We can only marvel at the good fortune of Hu Ronghua who had many enthusiastic Xiangqi mentors to introduce him to Dou Guozhu (窦国柱  dòu guó zhù). It was a stark contrast to Xie's misfortune. This incident must have left a mark in Xie, and perhaps that was why when Xie met Hu, he would often treat Hu as his own and play Xiangqi with him.

Media coverage of child prodigies nowadays would often describe how mature or how great the prodigy was. But thirteen-year-old Xie was none of that. Xie begged for a chance to play against Chen, who was finally touched by Xie's persistence and his plight. Chen decided to lower the prize money to two yuan per match. Even so, Xie could not afford to lose his two yuan.

The young lad was very nervous in the first match. In the book, Xie was described as shivering all over, and even his teeth kept rattling in fear. We can only imagine what Chen must have felt when faced with such a shivering opponent. Xie's nervousness could be attributed to his young age, an age whereby most children were not supposed to shoulder such a heavy burden. Moreover, Xie had never played any money games in his life before. Coupled with the fact that his two yuan represented everything that he had, we can only imagine the stress that he went through. We can only sympathize with Xie's plight, the plight of a hardworking child prodigy trying to make it in life; an aspiring child prodigy who lived in poverty.

The match was played under the scrutiny of the public… and Chen lost! Xie, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, managed to gain an advantage in the opening, and slowly collected himself before winning the first match!

We may say that Chen had lost because he had been too arrogant and that he had looked down on Xie. But whatever the reason, it did not change the fact that Chen had lost.

A rematch was immediately arranged, and Chen managed to avenge himself. In the third and final match, both competitors gave everything they had. Xie managed to gain an advantage, but Chen was not one to be trifled with, and the two finally drew their last match.

Chen was embarrassed that he could not defeat the young lad, despite having stamped his name in Xiangqi circles for such a long time. But Chen was full of praise for the young Xie and felt that Xie was better than himself. Praise had to be given to Chen for his breadth of mind.

 As for Xie Xiaxun, he became an overnight sensation and made a name for himself.

 After his match against Chen Sheng, Xie went back and worked even harder to perfect his Xiangqi. Xie's attitude would be so different from the children nowadays who easily become conceited after a small achievement. It was also a stark contrast to the adults who brag forever about their past glories.

 A tiny but unmistakable star was born in the regional Xiangqi circles, and Xie became known as the Xiangqi Child Prodigy.

 After making his name, there was another Xiangqi expert who became interested in Xie. And this man would have great influence over Xie's life…

 【连载】胸怀 "大中华" 的棋王——谢侠逊(3

 The True Chess King --- Xie Xiaxun.
Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)
It was translated by Jim from, with permission from the author.

(3) Friends for Life

Chen Sheng's disciple Lin Yixian (林弈先lín yì xiān) had heard about a thirteen-year-old lad who was able to draw his sifu and was very surprised. Lin would travel to Pingyang to battle Xie Xiaxun, which was another important piece of Xiangqi history.

But before his battle with Lin, fourteen-year-old Xie did another remarkable thing which planted and nurtured his patriotism. Xie was born in the last years of the Qing Dynasty, whereby China and its peoples endured much humiliation. The Xinchou Treaty (1901AD) had been signed, whereby China was forced to accept the terms. The young Xie was able to create an endgame composition and named it the Alliance of the Eight Countries to commemorate the suffering of the Chinese people. But it was until after October of 1911 did Xie publish this endgame composition.

Lin was eleven years older than Xie and was also known as a child genius when he was young. When they met, Xie was already fifteen years old. The legendary Hu Ronghua analyzed that the most critical period of a Xiangqi player was during the period from 12-15 years old. Xie and Lin did battle for two days, and they drew their games. In the book, it was given that Lin's visit would have a profound influence on Xie's life.

After their initial encounter, after two years, Lin Yixian would again visit Xie. Xie was surprised that his defenses were crushed by Lin and lost three games in a row. The surprised Xie asked Lin for advice. And Lin gladly shared the reason for his improvement with him, the ancient manual, the Secret in the Tangerine (橘中秘  jú zhōng mì). It was an eye-opener for Xie. Xie did not have the ancient manual with him when they met. Later, Xie would search high and low and finally managed to get a copy of the ancient manual. Xie devoured the book, and his skills improved by leaps and bounds. He was also fortunate to have been able to obtain an incomplete version of another ancient manual: the Plum Flower Manual (梅花谱  méi huā pǔ). Xie was especially fond of the examples of the Screen Horse Defense as a viable counter against the Central Cannon. After much study, Xie's Screen Horse Defense was able to hold its own against Lin's Central Cannon (Jim: One of Lin's nicknames was the Invincible Central Cannon).

These two ancient manuals are Xiangqi classics that even Xiangqi masters today must learn as part of their training. It was written in the book that Lin preferred the Secret in the Tangerine and was better at using the Cannon, while Xie had a special liking to the Plum Flower Manual and was more adept at utilizing the Horse.

However, in the early years, most of the copies of the ancient manuals were handwritten copies, and their owners dearly kept them. It would be nearly impossible for the owners of the manuals to share their prized possessions. Yang Guanlin (杨官璘 yáng guān lín), the first grandmaster in China, had a hard time trying to get a copy of the ancient manuals. The story has it that he had to borrow an edition from Zhen Zhanhong's (曾展鸿 zéng zhǎn hóng) library.

Perhaps the unpleasant experience of trying to obtain the ancient manuals was a memory that they could not forget. Both Xie and Yang would later devote their lives to spreading the books so that even the common-folk could have access them to them easily. Xie's work was another major milestone in the history of Xiangqi.

Nineteen-year-old Xie would manage to get a place in Wenzhou's School for Teachers. Patriotism was in the air, and Xie's studies further cemented his ideas for nationalism. There was mention of Xie having created an endgame composition when he was fourteen years old. Xie would then submit this endgame composition to a newspaper which published it as a puzzle for the readers to solve. In the process of doing so, Xie met another vital person who would be another friend for life.

The person's name was Pan Dingsi (潘定思  pān dìng sī) who was from Suzhou. He was also the first person to have created Xiangqi endgame compositions that were modeled after Chinese characters.

In 1916, Pan and Xie combined their efforts to write A Xiangqi Manual to Commemorate National Shame (《国耻纪念象棋新谱》guó chǐ jì niàn xiàng qí xīn pǔ) to express their patriotism. There were thirty endgame compositions in the book that were modeled after Chinese characters. There was much mention of the political turmoil that Xie and Pan faced at that time. At that time, Yuan Shikai had just pronounced himself as emperor and did many things that were against the interests of China. His misdeeds would become a laughing stock in history. Xie even used the Chinese character "卡" to have created an endgame composition to make fun of him.

Pan and Xie also collaborated for another book, Xiangqi Puzzles of Events under Monarch Rule (《帝制纪事象棋新局》,  dì zhì jì shì xiàng qí xīn jú). However, because of specific pressures and events, that book was never published.

There is a saying in Chinese called "人生得一知己足矣" (rén shēng dé yī zhī jǐ zú yǐ) which translated into English would mean that one would be satisfied with having a soulmate for life. When Pan and Xie were at the peak of their collaboration, Pan fell sick and would later pass away. He was only forty-seven when he passed away. Before his death, Pan willed that all the Xiangqi manuals that Pan had collected were to be given to Xie. Naturally, Xie was deeply grieved at the passing away of his friend when he rushed to Suzhou to pay his last respects.

In the book, the friendship between Xie and Pan was genuinely described. Both men lived in times of hardship and were brought together because of Xiangqi. When Pan had left, Xie would become so lonely. It was quite a moving passage in the book.

【连载】胸怀 "大中华" 的棋王——谢侠逊(4)

The Heart of the true Chinese Chess King ---- Xie Xiaxun (1)
Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)
It was translated by Jim from, with permission from the author!

The True Chess King --- Xie Xiaxun. Part 4

(4) The Young Xie Xiaxun and his good times at the Bunds of Shanghai

Xie Xiaxun was born in an age of turmoil. Others in that era were often forced to leave their homes to wander for their survival, and Xie was no different. Xie's father passed away when in 1906, and Xie was compelled to give up his studies to support his family. He had just only managed three months of education at the School for Teachers in Wenzhou. For a traditional family like Xie's family, the passing away of his father meant instantly that the family would be in trouble. And the burden of the family would usually be placed upon the eldest son. Xie began to shoulder the duties of supporting his family in 1908, and he did so by working as an elementary school teacher. Xie would also try to earn some extra income by helping others pen letters and documents. But life was nevertheless very hard, and Xie had a hard time just trying to get by. In 1916, Xie was forced to leave his hometown to travel alone to Shanghai to try to eke a living. Shanghai was one of the busiest and most prosperous cities in China at the time.

It would be impossible for modern-day folks to appreciate what Xie's travels meant in his day. Decades later, Yang Guanlin would undertake his journey to Shanghai, which was fraught with hardship and danger, much like Xie's own experience. Initially, Xie had his share of difficulties, but Xie's fortunes took a turn for the better when he met another friend and mentor. The author believes that this acquaintance was one of the most crucial turning points in Xie's life. In the I-ching has a verse called "利见大人" ( lì jiàn dà rén) which meant that if one were able to meet a benefactor in times of need, it would be the greatest of fortunes. An ironic fact is that there have been so many chess players in the history of China who have met mentors or people who could help them but did not know that they had such great fortune. As a result, they remained mundane.

Xie's 'benefactor' was the general manager of Shanghai's New Trendy Newspaper (which has been out of circulation). His name was 黄溯初 (huáng sù chū), who was also from Xie's hometown of Wenzhou. Xie became an employee of the newspaper agency and was lucky enough to head the Xiangqi column in the newspaper. Although his salary was not impressive, Xie had a regular income. More importantly, Xie's job provided a stage where he could put his prowess in Xiangqi to good use.

Xie was very hardworking, and he produced results. His Xiangqi column had legions of fans and supporters, which accounted for a marked increase in the circulation of the newspaper. Eventually, it would become one of the top three newspapers in Shanghai in its time. Fate had given Xie a chance to change his life for the better, and Xie made the best use of his good fortune. It was a good start for his career in Xiangqi.

One of Xie's many tasks was that he had to travel and survey Xiangqi in China, and Xie made good use of his travels to meet and befriend influential people in Xiangqi of his time. These friends would later provide him with many important literature and documents that would finally allow Xie to finish his greatest masterpiece of all time: An Encyclopedia of Xiangqi Manuals (《象棋谱大全》  xiàng qí pǔ dà quán).One of Xie Xiaxun's Newspaper articles

In 1918, Shanghai held Shanghai City Xiangqi Individuals Tournament. The scale and magnitude of the tournament were never seen before in the history of Xiangqi in China. In Xie's biography, it was said that sixty Xiangqi experts from different places in China gathered in Shanghai to compete. As for Xie, he met the expectations of his supporters and won the tournament. It was one of the most significant milestones in Xie's Xiangqi career, and it would be the start of Xie's efforts to promote Xiangqi on a national level.

After the tournament, different Xiangqi activists from various parts of China all started their clubs and organizations, and Xie was invited to guide them. In the ensuing decade, Xie Xiaxun did a lot of organizational work. It was also during this time that Xie invented demonstration boards with big demonstration pieces and even simultaneous matches. These inventions were critical to foster a new era of Xiangqi whereby onlookers could interact with each other while the competitors played their games in peace. It was said in the book that there was an Englishman by the name of Jackson, who was from the International Chess Club, who used Xie's inventions to promote Xiangqi.

From 1922 to1927, Xie devoted all his energy to writing An Encyclopedia of Xiangqi Manuals. There was quite a passage dedicated to this significant contribution of Xie. There was also a special mention of Zhang Yuying's (张毓英  zhāng yù yīng) Xiangqi Revolution (《象棋革菁》  xiàng qí gé jīng) and Qian Mengwu's (钱梦吾  qián mèng wú) Meng Wu's Xiangqi Collection (《梦吾象集》  mèng wú xiàng jí). After six years of hard work, An Encyclopedia of Xiangqi Manuals was finally finished, which contained over two million words.

Not only did Xie manage to collect all the Qing Dynasty and Ming Dynasty manuals he could find, but there were also many valuable records of the games played by the Xiangqi experts of the 1920s and 1930s and even various endgame compositions of the time. Liang Qichao (梁启超 liáng qǐ chāo) was so impressed that he used his brush to write the two Chinese characters 大全(dàquán) for Xie's book.

The publication of An Encyclopedia of Xiangqi Manuals saw Xie's fame grow even further, and he became one of the most influential figures in Xiangqi. He was already forty years old when he accomplished the feat. The Chinese believe that a man was most productive when he was in his thirties and forties. Xie devoted this crucial stage of his life solely to Xiangqi.

If you thought that Xie had reached the climax of his Xiangqi career, there was another big surprise waiting. And this surprise was due to a random Xiangqi encounter...


The True Chess King --- Xie Xiaxun. Part 5

Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)

Translated by Jim from, with permission from the author.

(五)Xiangqi encounters in both North and South to become the Commander of Xiangqi

In 1922, Xie Xiaxun was sent to Beijing for some official business. He had some free time and went to visit the central park, where he found several people playing Xiangqi. In Xie's autobiography, it was said that one of the players was Zhu Qi(朱琪 zhū qí) who happened to be chairman of the Beijing Daily Newspaper Workers Union (北京日报工会 Běijīng Rì bào gong huì). His opponent was Li Maoxian (李懋仙 lǐ mào xiān)who was one of the elites from Guangdong. One of the spectators was the chief monk of the Xi Shan Temple in Bejing, and another one of the spectators was a young military officer from Jiangsu called Fei Mianqing (费绵钦fèi mián qīn). Zhu had the upper-hand in the match. The onlookers agreed that Zhu had the advantage. Xie could not resist the urge to analyze the position on the board. Kibitzing is never allowed in Xiangqi and is considered to be basic etiquette, and Xie was, of course, well aware of it. That was why he asked the players on the board if he could voice his opinion. And because of this simple request to express his opinion, Xiangqi would become unified in China.

The players and the onlookers were naturally curious and allowed Xie to voice his opinion. Li Maoxian was especially ecstatic, as Xie's analysis was to his advantage. Zhu immediately challenged Xie, saying that if he could turn the tables, Zhu would treat him to lunch. Xie's skill was a notch above the rest and quickly turned the tables, winning the bet. It was at this time that the players and onlookers realized that a real king of Xiangqi was in their midst. Zhu was true to his word and treated Xie to a sumptuous meal, whereby after lunch, Xie was invited to have a simultaneous match between the players and one of the onlookers. It was quite an enjoyable experience for both Xie and his newfound friends.

Amongst the onlookers, the young military officer Fei Mianqing was to cross paths with Xie again. In 1926, Fei traveled to Shanghai for work. Fei was an interesting person himself. Upon asking the opinion of many famous people in Xiangqi circles of that time, Fei took it upon himself to pen a telegram, recommending Xie to be the Chief Commander of Xiangqi in China. The telegram was to be published in the newspapers, and Fei's sense of humor and delightful writing immediately caused an uproar in the world of Xiangqi. Soon, people all over China were clamoring for Xie to become their Commander in Chief!

There was a very detailed description of Xie's autobiography. Xie could not refuse the calls for him to take up his position. So, on the second of February in 1927, he issued a 'telegram' in response that was published in Shanghai's New Trendy Newspaper (《时事新报》). In that 'telegram,' Xie told the world of Xiangqi that he had taken up his new title as the Chief Commander of Xiangqi. In reply to Fei's humorous letter, Xie even issued orders, mimicking the Kuomintang style at that time, to appoint talented Xiangqi players to different roles in his 'army.' What was surprising was that the Xiangqi players that he selected all assumed the roles that Xie had given out. Never before had the Xiangqi community in China been so unified, and it showed the status of Xie.

After assuming the role of Chief Commander, Xie would accidentally stumble into the world of International Chess. Xie's initial encounter with International Chess had a lot to do with a Dane called Charles Kliene (葛麟瑞 Gě lín ruì), who had lived in China for many years and was an expert in the customs and habits of the Chinese. He was also an expert in International Chess and was also fascinated with Xiangqi. Through a twist of fate, Xie and Kliene met, and the two soon became fast friends. Kliene would learn Xiangqi from Xie, while he would introduce International Chess to Xie, teaching him the basics and giving Xie pointers in International Chess. Kliene would also be instrumental in admitting Xie into the Shanghai International Chess Club at that time. Xie's induction into the Shanghai International Chess Club would prove invaluable in his trips to South-east Asia.

In 1919, Singaporean Chinese Xiangqi expert Zhang Zhaolan (张兆兰 zhāng zhào lán) was very impressed at Xie's skills and decided to invite Xie Xiaxun to South-east Asia.

South-east Asia would refer to a region southeast of China that was made up of several countries and regions. For centuries, Chinese merchants had done business with different parts in the area, and some would finally settle down in their newfound homes, bringing Xiangqi together with them and introducing the game to the locals. It can be thought that the Chinese living in South-east Asia enjoyed the same oceans and played the same game!

After many arrangements, Xie was finally ready for his first trip to South-east Asia in 1935. But Xie would not know that the voyage to South-east Asia would change his life forever!



The True Chess King --- Xie Xiaxun. Part 6

Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)

Translated by Jim from, with permission from the author.

(6) The Chief Commander makes his name known

On his trip to South-east Asia, Xie stopped by Guangzhou, where he had many games against Huang Songxuan, Zeng Zhanhong, Lu Hui, Feng Jingru, and other experts (Jim: these players were some of the top experts that represented the south at that time). The mere act of playing the Southern players represented a North-South exchange in China.

In China, it was common to call the Chinese who had emigrated and lived in places outside of China as 'overseas Chinese' (华侨  huá qiáo). And the overseas Chinese were keen to see Xie. The had slogans to welcome Xie, which said: "We welcome Xie Xiaxun, the heavenly king of Xiangqi from our ancestral homeland to visit!"

When Xie first reached South-east Asia, he was whisked off to play against the top local experts for eight consecutive nights, and Xie managed to win all his games. In the autobiography, Xie was brought to Singapore, Penang, Jakarta, Bandung et cetera for a total of ten cities in South-east Asia. And it was done in a short span of half a year. Xie was praised for being the King of Xiangqi, the Xiangqi Genius, by the locals. It was under such a conducive environment that a proud Englishman wanted to challenge Xie to International Chess. His name was Paul B. Hunter, and he was the RAF Wing Commander to the region. Hunter was also the Malaysian International Chess Champion and wanted to show off the might of the British. But Hunter did not know that Xie was the Chief Commander of Xiangqi and was an expert in International Chess himself.

In the previous installments, we had mentioned that Xie had learned International Chess from a Dane called Charles Kliene and was also the first Chinese to promote International Chess in China.

In 1933, when World Champion Alexander Alekhine visited Shanghai China, Xie was one of the few who had managed a draw against Alekhine when he gave simultaneous blindfold matches. This bit of history was very well described in the autobiography. Xie and Kliene also had a bond that was beyond chess. In 1932, it was said that Kliene had even saved Xie's entire family. In 1932, the Japanese had invaded and occupied Shanghai. As Xie had organized a series of patriotic activities, he was marked by the Japanese. For five days, Xie's entire family of sixteen people was surrounded and trapped by the Japanese. In the process, Xie's youngest son died. If Kliene had not intervened, Xie's clan would have been exterminated.

Faced with a haughty opponent like Hunter, Xie chose a steadfast approach and used various principles and tactics in Xiangqi to slowly build up his advantage. In the match, it was said that Hunter sent 'envoys' on more than one occasion, hoping to use money and other temptations to force Xie to draw the game. Xie flatly refused and finally defeated the haughty wing commander, bringing him back to the ground.

Hunter not only lost his game but also lost his credibility and respect.

The character of a chess player was like the nature of his personality, as the Chinese saying goes. Perhaps Hunter had never had such a realization.

Xie would later have more International Chess matches during his tenure in South-east Asia. In Jakarta, Xie would draw the 1927 International Chess Champion, a Dutchman called 溪简 (Jim: Was not able to find the English name in my books or over the internet!) who was associated with the East India Company.

Xie's achievements in these two matches shocked the International Chess community and significantly increased the pride of Chinese everywhere. The name Xie Xiaxun was now well recognized in the international community.

Because of Xie, the British government organized the Silver Dragon Cup, which was an international event. International chess players from Germany, America, Austria, et cetera gathered in participation. And they all wanted Xie to participate.xie xiaxun silver dragon cup

Xie traveled back from South-east Asia to take part in the tournament. He had no time to rest or prepare for the tournament but still managed to win the cup with an impressive 18W1D1L record in the twenty round tournament. (Mark Taylor. A Chinese Chess Centenarian. Chesslife Oct 2011 Edition, page 34-35)

It was indeed one of the highlights of Xie's career as a chess player. The chairman of the Kuomintang committee at that time, Lin Sen (林森 lín sēn) was very impressed and even took up his brush to write "沦灵益智" (lún líng yì zhì) the four characters as a gift to Xie. (Jim: the four Chinese characters would mean that Xie was an inspiration to his contemporaries and that he helped stimulated the mind.)

Xie quickly overcame the troubles in the world of chess. But during this time, war broke out.

In 1937, Japan started an invasion of China. Xie was bittered and wanted to do his part for his beloved country. Xie brought his family back to his hometown Pingyang, and despite opposition from his family, he stubbornly chose to go to Nanjing to dedicate himself to his country.

【连载】胸怀 "大中华" 的棋王——谢侠逊(7)

The Heart of the true Chinese Chess King ---- Xie Xiaxun (1)
Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)
It is translated by Jim from, with permission from the author!

The True Chess King --- Xie Xiaxun. Part 7

(7) The Second Trip to South-east Asia and the Chess King nearly lost his life

When Xie reached Nanjing, he heard of the news of the government preparing to send five envoys overseas so that the overseas Chinese could donate to their cause. In Xie's autobiography, it was said that the envoys to Europe and America had already been determined. Only the envoy to South-east Asia had not been decided. The reason was that there were a lot of Chinese in South-east Asia, and this presented extraordinary circumstances of its own. It was believed that the chosen envoy would face particular danger. Therefore, no suitable person could be found to be assigned as the representative.

Indeed, the circumstances were extraordinary, and the journey fraught with danger. Xie nearly lost his life when he was appointed as the envoy to South-east Asia.

Xie voluntarily offered his services. Even though Xie was prepared to put his life on the line, he still had to get the recognition, and that was no minor feat of its own. It took some politics before Xie was finally appointed as envoy to South-east Asia. He had to obtain guarantees from Shao Lizi (邵力子  shào lì zǐ) who was head of the Department of Propaganda for the Kuomintang's central. Shao's secretary Lu Xue (卢雪  lú xuě) hailed from the same town as Xie and had recommended Xie fervently.

But Shao was still skeptical about Xie's position. So, he decided to test Xie. Shao told Xie that the envoy to South-east Asia would probably be put in mortal danger, and would face more hardships than the envoys to Europe or America. Shao then suggested coyly that it might have been better for Xie if he could find other ways of showing off his patriotism.

But Xie bluntly replied: "Our country is facing a calamity, why should I be concerned about my interests? If it required a man to give up his life for his country, it should be an honor that was bestowed!"

Xie's strength of character melted Shao, and after discussion with Zhang Zhizhong (张治中 zhāng zhì zhōng), it was finally decided that Xie was to be appointed as the envoy to South-east Asia. The duo would then write letters to vouch for Xie, who was eventually granted his wish to serve his country.

Before undertaking his trip, many of Nanjing's elite and chess players expressed their gratitude to Xie. They wrote calligraphy and gave gifts to Xie. Feng Yuxiang (冯玉祥 féng yù xiáng), Zhang Zhizhong, Chen Lifu (陈立夫 chén lì fū), Li Zongren (李宗仁  lǐ zōng rén), and Shao Lizi were amongst the people who bade farewell to Xie. There were still many more to send him to the railway station. There was an air of melancholy as many feared that it was their last meeting with Xie. There was mention of poems and calligraphy in the autobiography.

One of the first few stops that Xie made on his second trip to South-east Asia was the Philippines. When he reached there, Nanjing had fallen, and there it was a calamity. Xie changed all of his welcoming events into fundraising events against the invasion of the Japanese. He gave speeches to crowds, and the overseas Chinese had already heard the news of the Nanjing Massacre. All were bitter and angry, and the overseas Chinese were more than willing to help out. Many women donated their jewelry, and each fundraising activity surpassed the former in terms of donations. From the period of January 1938 to December 1941, when the Philippines fell to the Japanese, the country had amassed a total of forty-seven million yuan, which was an astronomical figure at that time.

Xie would later go to Indonesia, where during two months, he would use Xiangqi as a means to try to get donations. Patriotism was in the air, and the Chinese in Indonesia managed over nine million yuan in contributions. Special mention of the head of the overseas Chinese living in Indonesia, Chen Xingchu (陈性初  chén xìng chū) written in Xie's biography. Chen was very impressed and took it upon himself to attend to Xie's needs when he was in Indonesia.

Chen was older than Xie by seventeen years, but when the two met, they felt like they had known each other forever. With Chen by his side, Xie's fundraising activities were much more fruitful. When Xie returned to China years later, Chen would travel to China to show his respect to those who had stood up to the Japanese. Unfortunately, Chen was getting old, and the travels took a toll on him before he passed away in Kunming. Xie was bereaved when he heard of Chen's death, and would often shed tears of dismay when he recalled his times in Indonesia.

Another one of Xie's stops in South-east Asia was Penang. Wang Jingwei's (汪精卫 wāng jīng wèi) wife Chen Bijun (陈璧君  ) was from Penang. (Jim: Wang Jingwei was a famous politician at the turn of the century in China who would later be branded as a traitor.) Xie would receive death threats when he was in Penang, who threatened to harm him.

Xie's biography had a lengthy passage on the incident. One of the most colorful descriptions was a gang of thugs attempting to harm him when he first reached Penang. Not only did Xie not run away, but he also stood his ground and told off his would-be attackers, even berating the fact that Wang had tried to change his tag of being a traitor. His would-be attackers were shocked and ran off instead! When other local Chinese heard about the incident, they were furious and showed Xie their support. And Chen Xingchu would send over a team of bodyguards to protect Xie. In the end, it was said that the traitors were not able to harm Xie anymore.

When in Singapore, Xie continued to use Xiangqi for his cause. One of the highlights was using living chess. Young girls and boys were used as chess pieces in the stadium, and it caused an uproar at that time. Thousands gathered to see Xie, and it was another highlight in his fundraising activities.

After finishing his fundraising trip to South-east Asia, many local Chinese decided to accompany Xie back to China to offer their support against the Japanese invasion.

On his return journey to China, Xie chose to travel by Myanmar and nearly died there from miasma. Poor hygienic conditions also caused Xie to contract dysentery, where he almost died of dehydration. Four people died after contracting dysentery.

Xie was ill for over a month before he was fit enough to travel back to China.


The True Chess King --- Xie Xiaxun. Part 8

Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)

Translated by Jim from, with permission from the author.

(8) Easing the calamity at home --- The chess king got ambushed

When Xie returned, China was in the midst of turmoil, and the Kuomintang government had just relocated the capital to Chongqing. In March of 1939, Xie, who had just recovered from his illness, went to Kunming, where he used Xiangqi to raise funds and also to provide entertainment to the troops there. Xie would return to Chongqing in May, where Shao Lizi welcomed him personally. A banquet was thrown, and the upper class of society and distinguished government officials all gathered. Xie would tell of his trip to South-east Asia and how well the overseas Chinese had received him and their patriotism. As Xie had managed to raise the largest donations, Chiang Kai-shek would ask for his presence. After that banquet, Xie would remain in Chongqing, where he would use Xiangqi in open tournaments as means of publicity to gain support for the cause against the Japanese. That period was regarded as the hardest time in the fight against the Japanese. For his efforts, Xie was known as the Patriotic King of Chess.

In 1938, Wuhan and Guangzhou fell, and the Japanese tried to force the Kuomintang to surrender using any political means. It was a chaotic time, and the Kuomintang was on the verge of doing so. There were many different factions. The Communist party made use of the opportunity and infiltrated the various factions, trying to gather people for their cause, which was to wage a prolonged war against the Japanese. Zhou Enlai (周恩来  zhōu ēn lái), Ren Bi (任弼时 rèn bì shí) were amongst the communist representatives that infiltrated the upper class in Chongqing. Naturally, Xie was targeted.

In mid-summer of 1939, the president of the Oriental Culture Society Guo Chuntao (郭春涛  guō chūn tāo) requested that Xie join him for lunch and made him stay back after it was finished. After lunch, he whispered to Xie: "There is a communist party official who would want to see you this afternoon. Are you willing?"

This meeting would change Xie's life forever. However, it was also a very dangerous thing to do at that time.

They agreed to meet at two pm in the afternoon. The meeting was described vividly in Xie's biography. The person who had wanted to meet Xie was none other than Zhou Enlai himself! It was said that Xie held Zhou's hand for a very long time.共纾国难 the endgame composition which Xie made of his game with Zhou Enlai

The two discussed and exchanged their views on many subjects, and Xie was impressed with the ideals of the Communist Party. After their meeting, Zhou requested a match against Xie, and the games that they played would become an important part of Xiangqi history. In the first match, Zhou had asked for a two-move handicap. Not long into the opening, Xie discovered that Zhou was a very adept player himself, and soon Xie was placed at a disadvantageous position. Xie could only manage a draw in the first match. In the second match, Xie could only offer a one move handicap match. Zhou would start with his Central Cannon opening, and both players adopted a steadfast approach to the game, which also ended in a draw.

Xie had never expected that Zhou's skill in Xiangqi was so high, and both men started discussing Xiangqi. In the end, the endgame that was played in the second match was made into an endgame composition. Xie named it as "Easing the calamity at home" and it was published in a newspaper. Zhou Enlai was a prominent politician, and Xie was an international King of Chess. The newspaper report of their encounter generated waves.

Of course, Zhou Enlai had intentionally visited Xie.

After their initial meeting, the two men would meet many times again. Xie was engrossed in Zhou's views of the times and would travel far and wide to hear Zhou's speeches, and in the process of doing so, Xie would meet other communist officials.

To publicize his patriotism, Xie would create many endgame compositions that poked fun at the times. These endgame compositions would then be published in the newspapers.

In 1940, the Kuomintang would begin their first major clean-up. Xie was displeased with the Kuomintang's passive stance toward the war and had been vocal about it. He even made himself heard in an International Chess tournament and welcomed the players from the Soviet Union.

The Kuomintang was displeased and reprimanded Xie, even threatening him, but Xie did not care. Finally, the Kuomintang was forced to show their hand, and during one of Xie's trips to Zeng Jiayan (to listen to the communist speeches), Xie was ambushed.

He sustained many injuries, and two of his right ribs were fractured together with a contusion to the lungs. Xie fainted after coughing blood, but he was lucky to have been discovered by people from Zeng Jia Yan, or he would have died. Zhou Enlai heard about his plight and visited him in the hospital.

News of Xie's ambush was made known in Chongqing's newspaper, and patriotic nationals were incensed and became very critical. More people applauded Xie for his stubbornness, refusing to concede to authority.


The True Chess King --- Xie Xiaxun. Part 9

Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)

Translated by Jim from, with permission from the author.

(9) The Centurion King of Chess --- with the true Chinese spirit

On the fifteenth of August 1945, the Japanese surrendered unconditionally. Naturally, Xie was consumed in the victorious mood that permeated the entire society. However, there was new trouble brewing. Chiang Kai-shek, who was bent on eliminating the communists, had his own ideas. The threat of a civil war was imminent.

Xie was for peace and against the civil war. But as a chess player, he could only create various endgame compositions that tried to awaken the public's interest, hoping that there would be peace. His endgame compositions told of stories of that time and had titles like Stopping the Weapons is the True Spirit of the Bold (止戈为武 zhǐ gē wèi wǔ), Preventing the Civil War (制止内战 zhì zhǐ nèi zhàn).

However, history has proven that things often went against the will of the masses. Chiang would finally ignite a civil war that lasted for eight years, which was a time of despair. Many democratic folks who voiced their opinions were taken out by the secret service. Amongst the assassinations, the assassinations of Li Gongpu (李公朴  lǐ gōng pú) and Wen Yiduo's (闻一多  wén yì duō) raised the most public outcry.

When the communists were forced out of Chongqing, Xie went to Zeng Jia Yan to send Zhou Enlai off. He grasped Zhou's hands, and tears streamed down his face. But Zhou told Xie firmly, that it would only take three years or at most five years before they would meet again.

In the winter of 1947, Xie was disheartened by the civil war and decided to bring his entire family back to Pingyang, his hometown, where he would go into semi-retirement in the lush countryside. Xie had left his hometown decades ago as a youngster trying to make it in the world, and now he was an older man that returned to his roots.

The civil war ended on the first of October in 1949, and a new China was born.

1949 was a turning point in the history of China, where there was a new beginning. It was also a new start for Xie.

With the personal recommendation of Zhou Enlai, who would now be the Premier, Xie was appointed and inducted by the Mayor of Shanghai, Chen Yi (陈毅 ChénYì ) into the Shanghai Museum of Culture. In the first-ever National Xiangqi Individuals Tournament, Xie was appointed as the Chief Arbiter to oversee the event. Xie would also spend the latter years of his life nurturing the future generations of Xiangqi players. He cared for the young players from the lower tiers of society and would often give them pointers wherever possible. Once, in a Shanghai training camp for youths, he discovered a talented young boy who was just 13 years old at that time. He would later spend much time teaching the young boy the craft. That young boy was Hu Ronghua, who would rule Xiangqi in China for decades, becoming one of the most decorated Xiangqi stars of all time.

During the National Day commemorating the 10th anniversary, Xie was invited to visit Tiananmen, where he would see his old friend Zhou Enlai again.

As Xie got older, he developed various illnesses and was often hospitalized. During one of his hospitalization, his grand-daughter, who lived in Japan, visited him. According to his biography, Xie had failed to recognize his own grand-daughter. It was after a simple introduction that Xie recognized him. Xie immediately told her that,

"You should never forget that you are Chinese, and have the blood of the Xie family running through your veins. The Xies are patriots and loyal to their country, and must never back down when it is their call to serve their country. Do you understand ?"

Xie repeated his words twice, and his grand-daughter kowtowed to him, saying that she had remembered what Xie had told her and would go back to Japan to inform her mother. It was stated that the scene also touched the nurses in the hospital.

Despite his age, one of Xie's biggest wishes was to see the unification of China, and he would often use the broadcasting company in Shanghai to broadcast his message of "by playing the same game of chess will we unite!" He had even written poems about hoping to see the reunification of China and Taiwan.

“报道金门停炮击,待归怀抱看台湾” (bào dào Jīnmén tíng pào jī dài guī huáibào kàn tái wān)

In 1981, the National Xiangqi Individual Championships were to be held in Xie's hometown in Pingyang. When he heard the news of the event, he insisted on visiting the competition venue. And Xie was delighted at seeing future generations of Xiangqi masters doing battle. As a bonus, he played a public match against Master Shen Zhiyi (沈志弈  shěn zhì yì) who was one of the older generations of Xiangqi players. It was Xie's last public appearance playing Xiangqi.

On the twenty-sixth of May, in 1985, there was a summit that was held in Shanghai. The summit aimed to promote and improve the economic status of Pingyang. Xie and other influential people from Pingyang attended the summit and shared their experiences.

In the same year, a tournament was held specially to commemorate Xie. It was an invitational tournament whereby only Xiangqi masters were eligible for participation. The tournament was also aptly called the Centurion Cup. Xie was invited to the competition, where he showed his calligraphy skills. Xie would later be 'bestowed' the honor of the Centurion Chess King.

On the twenty-second of December in 1987, Xie succumbed to pneumonia and passed away in Shanghai at the age of 101 years old (Jim: this was the traditional Chinese way of calculating the age.)

In his will, Xie requested that all the Xiangqi manuals that he had ever collected were to be donated to the Shanghai Chess Club.

The ashes of the Centurion Chess King would later be shipped back to his hometown of Pingyang on the ninth of February in 1990.

In the biography of Xie, there were many other valuable records of Xie's games, pictures, and other literary works.

The life of the true king of chess was also a legendary journey through the ages.2019 Xie Xiaxun Cup in commemoration of the legendary Xie Xiaxun

(The End)

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