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 to for modern day folks to appreciate what Xie’s travels meant in his day. Decades later, Yang Guanlin would undertake his own 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 important turning points in Xie’s life. In the I-ching has a verse called “利见大人”(Hanyu Pinyin 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 ironical 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 (Hanyu Pinyin 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》 Hanyu Pinyin xiàng qí pǔ dà quán)
In 1918, Shanghai held Shanghai City Xiangqi Individuals Tournament. The scale and magnitude of the tournament was 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 biggest 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 own 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 period of time that Xie invented demonstration boards with big demonstration pieces and also 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 special mention of Zhang Yuying’s (张毓英 Hanyu Pinyin zhāng yù yīng) Xiangqi Revolution (《象棋革菁》 Hanyu Pinyin xiàng qí gé jīng) and Qian Mengwu’s (钱梦吾 Hanyu Pinyin qián mèng wú) Meng Wu’s Xiangqi Collection (《梦吾象集》 Hanyu Pinyin mèng wú xiàng jí). After six years of hard work, An Encyclopedia of Xiangqi Manuals was finally finished which contained over two million words. It was also mentioned in the autobiography that not only did Xie manage to collect all the Qing Dynasty and Ming Dynasty manuals he could find, there were also many important records of the games played by the Xiangqi experts of the 1920’s and 1930’s and also various endgame compositions of the time. Liang Qichao (梁启超 Hanyu Pinyin liáng qǐ chāo) was so impressed that he used his brush to write the two Chinese characters 大全 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...
To be continued…
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