(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 Hanyu Pinyin tóng qiáo tóu cūn), which was located in the Feng Chao region (凤巢乡 Hanyu Pinyin fèng cháo xiāng) of Teng Jiao Town (平阳腾蛟 Hanyu Pinyin téng jiāo), in Ping Yang County (平阳, Hanyu Pinyin 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 uncanny resemblance to Xie’s childhood. In fact, 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 that they grew up in. It is the good fortune of the Chinese civilization to have such an environment for children to grow up in.
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》 (Hanyu Pinyin 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 was but the first of the 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!
To be continued…
Note: This article is original and may not be shared or downloaded without permission from the author or translator. Please use the navigation arrows at the bottom of the page or click here to return to the contents page for this section.