WHY WRITE ABOUT XIANGQI (CHINESE CHESS) IN ENGLISH?
Xiangqi is perhaps the most popular board game that is played in the world. It is estimated that more people are playing Xiangqi than International Chess. Unfortunately, people who do not know Chinese can have trouble getting access to Xiangqi.
The Webmaster has played the game of Xiangqi (or Chinese chess as it is more commonly known) for the past 30 years. After graduating from med school, the Webmaster found some time to rekindle his love affair with Xiangqi.
Note: Xiangqi is the OFFICIAL name for Chinese Chess, as advised and suggested by leading authorities like the World Xiangqi Federation, Asian Xiangqi Federation, and the Chinese Xiangqi Federation.
How the site was inspired
In a nutshell, over ten years ago, when playing Xiangqi on www.itsyourturn.com, the Webmaster interacted with a few Westerners. They were very interested in Xiangqi but lamented on the fact that there was so little information on how to improve the game. They asked for tips here and there, and the Webmaster was more than willing to share the limited knowledge that he had. As it was hard to explain certain concepts, the Webmaster started to surf the net and found out that English articles or resources in Xiangqi were indeed very limited.
There were some sites in English, maintained by many enthusiasts like myself, but the information available was still glaringly inadequate. Most of the available sites were also catered to Chinese who knew English, and not targetted at Westerners without any prior knowledge of the game.
After all, if there are a zillion websites on Xiangqi, International Chess, Shogi, Janngi, Go, Go-moku et cetera, and some of them were in various languages, why should there be so few sites on Xiangqi in English? Especially when perhaps more people play the game? That was the initial spark that later gave birth to www.xqinenglish.com.
But why learn Xiangqi? Perhaps this article by Davide Nastasio would be inspirational.
My level of Xiangqi is limited. The Webmaster is, at best, a club level player (who has improved after doing the site himself). He is neither a reporter nor a journalist. But the enthusiasm for Xiangqi is real and burning and he would like to share whatever he can to help the newcomer. In essence, this site would represent the website or resource he wished he had when he first fell in love with Xiangqi decades ago.
The goals of this website are simple:
- To introduce the basics of Xiangqi, in English.
- To teach beginners how to play the game, what to do, where to go to play and obtain more resources, when to do it, who might be helpful,
- To provide a platform where non-Chinese speakers can learn Xiangqi at their own pace and level,.
- To share with non-Chinese speaking people the history, culture, and the beauty of Xiangqi.
- To provide basic non-technical information about Xiangqi.
- To share with the West what is going on in the World of Xiangqi.
The Infant Stage 2011-2015 and hurdles.
Initially, the Webmaster was a computer illiterate who relied on templates by many friends. When the Webmaster first started out, he had minimal knowledge of how to use Microsoft Word and Excel. Formatting documents was a concept he never had a chance to learn. The main function of his first computer, a Pentium 1 that had just come out, was mainly to collect emails and his first encounter with the web was back in the mid 1990s.
For the site, the Webmaster had to use wysiwyg services and relied on templates provided by friends. He did not know anything about Xiangqi viewers or that they existed. He did not know how to present Xiangqi boards on a computer or webpage. The Webmaster asked around and Mr. Felix Tan and Mr. Peter Sung responded. They were godsend. To this day, both Mr. Peter Sung of the World Xiangqi Federation and Mr. Felix Tan have been especially helpful and the Webmaster respects them as mentors, friends and advisors.
Then there was the biggest barrier of all: the language barrier.
Prior to 2016, there was only a meagre list of terms compiled in English to explain Xiangqi. There were already books in English that were present but the authors used different terms to explain the same concept. Heck, despite the official recommendations for the names of the chess pieces authorized by the Asian Xiangqi Federation (AXF), a lot of authors used their own preferred terms. It was very confusing, even to the Webmaster who already some background knowledge. Perhaps that was why Xiangqi promotion never really took off in the West despite fervent attempts by the early Xiangqi promoters.
The Webmaster had to plow through every book he could get his hands on where he read and distilled useful terms. Because of the similarities of International Chess and Xiangqi, the Webmaster managed to obtain the Oxford's Companion to Chess by Hooper and Whyld and scanned the terms that were similar or the same. When terms were not available or impossible to translate, the Webmaster tried to learn more about the origins and cultural anecdotes and associations of the various terms. One by one, after many refinements and repeated corrections, the Xiangqi boards were better explained in English. In 2018, the Webmaster has collected all the work that he had done into the world's first Lexicon of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) Terms in English.
Ancient manuals were slowly translated and added. Content was growing slowly but surely. The Webmaster would also discuss with new foreign friends as late as 2-3am for days on end to try to understand what they wanted. Particular must be given to a Mr. Jeiter, who is very shy and reticent and refused to give his full name, but one of the best allies any Xiangqi promoter can have.Together, the Webmaster translated several articles while Mr. Jeiter made them into PDF articles that are now available for download on this site.
Then there is Mr. Chris Hankinson, a professional artist whose resume included designing a Christmas Card for the White House during President Barack Obama's tenure. Chris is also the person behind the book covers that the Webmaster has written. He is also an expert in International Chess and constantly beats the Webmaster in Xiangqi.
A Facebook page was added where puzzles were posted on a nearly daily basis. To date, there are at least 3000 puzzles alone on the site. There are also at least another 3000 game records. Then there are another few thousand boards from the ancient manuals. Dozens of articles have been written to help address many aspects of Xiangqi.
The Webmaster has since learned a thing or two more about the intricacies of formatting articles, adding pictures, manipulating Excel documents, simple coding, how to maintain a website et cetera. He is proud to consider himself slightly less of a computer illiterate now. Over the years, the Webmaster has gained added a Youtube Channel, a Twitter account, and a Facebook group page to help further the Webmaster's cause and realize the website's goals.
2016-2020. Making new friends and journeying back to where it all started
The Webmaster also continued his Xiangqi journey, making many new friends in China, Europe, the North Americas, South-east Asia et cetera. However, The Webmaster believed that to really understand and appreciate Xiangqi, he would have to travel to China. While it might seem an obvious thing to do, there had to be an event, reason or cause so strong enough that putting bread on the table could be excused for a short while.
And that one reason was the annual Hangzhou Chess Summit.
The first Xiangqi trip was made in 2016 after the annual Hangzhou Chess Summit, which is held in October annually, accepted the Webmaster's papers and invited him to present his findings. Lady luck was smiling and one of the Webmaster's paper, a report on Xiangqi promotion in the West with discussion of the language barrier was placed top for the Xiangqi division and was third place overall. Another paper was submitted in 2017 which achieved the same result. 2018 was perhaps the best year with his paper being placed second overall. It was a truly fantastic experience that made all the years of slogging and promoting Xiangqi worthwhile in every sense.
The Hangzhou Chess Conference is an invitation whereby both Chinese and foreign chess lovers from Europe, the Americas, Asia et cetera gather to submit several hundred papers per event. Masters and grandmaters of different disciplines, presidents of various chess organizations like Go, International Chess, Xiangqi et cetera attend the event which is slowly becoming the premiere event for chess in the world, in the author's humble opinion.
For visitors with a background in International Chess, big names like Xie Jun (the first Chinese women's champion), Tian Hongwei (head of the International Chess division) et cetera are but some of the names that have graced the event.
At the conference, the Webmaster met and made many new friends, both Chinese and foreign Xiangqi Grandmasters, Xiangqi Masters, Xiangqi enthusiasts, Xiangqi educators, fellow Xiangqi promoters et cetera. Exchange of ideas and experience have helped the Webmaster redefine the direction for the website to serve more people. The pictures shown above was the German delegation in 2016. Special mention must be given to Mr. Romeo Xue (far left) and Mr. Wang Ge (far right) who have been active in promoting Xiangqi in Europe. Wang Ge is also one of the most hardworking grassroots Xiangqi promoter in Germany to date which the Webmaster truly respects.
The German delegation have had very fruitful visits to the annual Hangzhou Chess Summit.
Preserving Xiangqi and the World Xiangqi Rules
The Webmaster has taken upon himself to try to preserve the extant ancient manuals on Xiangqi for posterity. Thus far, six manuals have been translated, explained and published on Amazon. He has also tried his best to provide books and other material to further the promotion of Xiangqi.
One of the biggest achievements or contributions that the Webmaster made to Xiangqi was translating the first ever unified rules of Xiangqi into English. Prior to 2018, tournaments in China used the 'CXA Rules' while tournaments outside of China used the 'AXF Rules'. In 2018, to promote Xiangqi, there were a few ammendments that were made and a unified set of rules, known as the World Xiangqi Rules was published for use. The World Xiangqi Rules has much significance as today, all major tournaments outside of China use it as the golden standard. Prior to 2018, there was simply no English version which made Xiangqi promotion a daunting task. The Webmaster had the honour of helping out with the English version. Both the Chinese and English version are now published as one book for use. Hopefully, another major hurdle in promoting Xiangqi to the West has been taken down.
Re-doing the website...why not?!
The old website hosting service that the Webmaster used, MTWebcenters, could barely support the needs of the website as content grew. By 2019, a simple addition would sometimes take over three hours. Caching took much longer. Clearly, the hosting service simply took up too much of the Webmaster's time. The cost of maintenance simply did not make it worthwhile anymore.
And the site had grown so big that the Webmaster had trouble finding links himself. To be honest, there were pages that could not be found or mistakes that could not be rectified because the Webmaster could not find the relevant page. He would often get lost himself and there were still stuff that he had prepared but not uploaded.
So, after identifying issues to be resolved and areas to be improved, the Webmaster decided to move his website, using Joomla as a new platform. It was a leap of faith as the Webmaster would now be forced into learning another completely new field. There were about 2600 pages of content to be reorganized and categorized.
The past decade of promoting Xiangqi has its ups and downs. It was a lonely, sometimes depressing journey at times. My only brother succumbed to illness in 2016 which was a major blow. To be honest, there were many instances when the Webmaster wanted to call it quits.
Luckily, there have been tons of encouragement from different people to keep the site going on. That is why, even today, the Webmaster will plod on, one article, one puzzle, one video ... at a time. Although the results are still far from satsifactory, one day, the Webmaster envisions a world where the nearest opponent can be found just across the corner in every part of the world. Until then, he will do his best.
And the Webmaster would like to take the opportunity to thank all visitors and friends who have been together with xqinenglish.com. All the hours of work put in has been worth it, because www.xqinenglish.com is for you.
About the author:
Jim Png was born in Malaysia, but he grew up in Singapore and later went to Taiwan where he finished his medical education and training to become an orthopedic surgeon. His love affair with Xiangqi has lasted for over three decades now. During his school years in Singapore, Jim had been the president of his chess club and also the captain of his Xiangqi team, which had won the Raffles Cup in 1991 and was placed third place in 1993 in the same event. Medicine, the brutal training regiment of an orthopedic surgeon, family, and kids forced him to stop playing competitive Xiangqi.
Instead, Jim has found another way of enjoying Xiangqi, by sharing his love of Xiangqi with the non-Chinese speaking world. He does this with www.xqinenglish.com, a website that he launched in 2011. Since then, Jim has singlehandedly uploaded thousands of puzzles, and hundreds of pages onto his website. The website has over 2400 pages at last count. In 2016, he started uploading videos onto Youtube where there are hundreds of videos now. Feeling that he could do more, Jim has embarked on other ambitious projects. Some of the fruit of his labors include the first ever Lexicon of Xiangqi Terms in English, which he hopes to allow non-Chinese speaking people to communicate Xiangqi in their native tongues. He has also translated several ancient manuals, and meticulously researched Chinese history in his translations. He hopes to be able to translate as many ancient manuals as he can. His ultimate goal is to share with the world the beauty of Xiangqi, which to him, is a way of life.
Jim is still working hard at promoting Xiangqi every day, often putting in more hours into it than his day job. Jim Png is happily married and has two children.