Even Child Prodigies get nervous.
Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)
Translated by Jim from www.xqinenglish.com, 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, Hanyu Pinyin chén shēng). Perhaps this name may be unfamiliar. However, in the same era, at the turn of the century in China, there was a very well known player called Lin Yixian (林弈仙 Hanyu Pinyin lín yì xiān) who was nicknamed the “Invincible Central Cannon” (無敵中炮, Hanyu Pinyin wú dí zhōng pào). And who did Li Yixian learn his craft from? It was none other than Chen Sheng. An interesting point to note was that Li 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 was twenty yuan.
This was 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 Hanyu Pinyin 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 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 hard-working 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 conceited 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…
To be continued…
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