Author: Jim Png of www.xqinenglish.com
Note: This article first appeared on Xiangqi.com.
In 1956, the first Chinese National Xiangqi Individual Championships was held in China. It was a milestone in the history of Xiangqi. The formation of the Chinese Xiangqi Association (CXA) later would further fuel the growth of Xiangqi. Soon, many more Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) tournaments were held in China, giving Xiangqi players a platform to showcase their skills and earn a livelihood.
Today, there is a major Xiangqi tournament in China every one or two months. There are also major international Xiangqi tournaments held annually, but the majority of the action is in China. Tournaments that are on a global level have been discussed in another article.
This article is a short introduction to the major Xiangqi tournaments in China only. Some of the tournaments are now defunct (like the Five Rams Cup, Yinli Cup, et cetera), but many such tournaments are still going strong.
Please note that the list is, by all means, not exhaustive. If you were to search the scores of major tournaments, well over a hundred tournaments can be found. The author has based this list on the more prominent competitions whereby sufficient information can be found online. He has chosen to go into slight detail on the major tournaments rather than mention names only. The author will introduce a simple history and particulars of some of China's more significant tournaments, past and present. As the article is too lengthy, it has been divided into two parts. The first part will include the ‘official’ tournaments held by the CXA. The second part of the article will focus on significant tournaments sponsored by different companies and business groups.
The contents include:
- Chinese National Xiangqi Individuals Championships 象棋个人赛 （中国）
- Chinese National Team Championships 全国象棋团体赛
- Chinese National A-League 全国象棋男子甲级联赛（中国）
- Chinese National Women’s A-League 全国象棋女子甲级联赛（中国）
- Chinese National Mind Games Sports Meet (Xiangqi Division) 全国智力运动会（象棋组）
- The National Games of the People’s Republic of China (Xiangqi) 中华人民共和国运动会（象棋项目）
The Chinese National Xiangqi Individuals Championships is considered to be the most important individuals event in Xiangqi. Winning the event automatically makes the winner a Chinese Grandmaster. They will be eligible to participate in international events the following year, which often, these champions will succeed and become International Grandmasters. Often, they will be invited to participate in many more tournaments for the rest of their lives.
The competition is also considered the most challenging and brutal tournament in China, where heroes are born. Winning the event is the highest honor any Xiangqi player in China can dream of, and it often means that the champion is made for life. Past winners often become heads of the chess academies or departments for Xiangqi back home and assume other posts and appointments. They also have the chance to travel abroad to represent China and gain even more glory. As there is a massive gap in Xiangqi between China and the rest of the world, winning the tournament will also mean that the champion is the unofficial world’s best player.
The event was also a milestone in the history of Xiangqi when it was first held back in 1956. It was the first event that brought the best players from different provinces to compete to determine who was the best in China for that particular year. Before the Chinese National Xiangqi Individuals Championships, there were no national events. Players would often compete in different invitational events or tournaments that comprised players from other provinces. Most of these tournaments were of a small scale. The bigger ones consisted of participants from only a few provinces, and nobody could be convincing enough to claim to be the best in China.
The Chinese National Xiangqi Individuals Championships is an annual event. But it was canceled from 1961-1963 and 1967 -1973 due to internal circumstances in China. The 1962 event was not completed and stopped at the first leg. The 1976 event was also canceled as China mourned the passing away of Mao Zedong.
When it first started, there was only a men’s division. Later, in 1980, the women’s division started, which marked another milestone in the history of Xiangqi. The Chinese National Xiangqi Women’s Individuals Championships were held twice in 1980 and 1981 before becoming an annual event.
As with other sports and competitions, discussion of the greatest of all time (GOAT) will often include the winners of the event. One major contender for the title of GOAT is Hu Ronghua (胡荣华 hú rónghuá, 1945-present). For the men’s division, Hu had dominated the competition, winning the tournament ten consecutive times from 1960 to 1979, when the tournament was held, and in 1983 and 1985. And when people felt that he passed his peak, he did it again in 1997 and 2000. Hu Ronghua is the current record holder for being both the youngest player (15 years) and the oldest player (55 years) to have won the event. Of course, he has also won countless other Xiangqi tournaments, but his achievements in the Chinese National Xiangqi Individuals Championships remain the stuff of fiction and may never be surpassed. (1) (2)
The link below shows two matches that were played in the 2020 National Individual Xiangqi Championships. There is no commentary, though.
The Chinese National Team Championships is another significant Xiangqi event in China. It is held annually and began in 1960. However, the tournament was stopped from 1961-1976, before it was reinstated due to various reasons. A women’s division was later added.
The event is also crucial in that players in China can gain the titles of Xiangqi Master if the team they belonged were placed in the top six positions.
The team that won the event for a particular year would also be eligible to represent China in international team events where the title of International Xiangqi Grandmaster can be obtained.
The Chinese Xiangqi Association organizes the tournament, and there are many strict requirements of the players. (3)
When the Chinese A-League began in 2003, the event was ‘relegated’ to becoming a preliminary tournament for the A-League. However, it was reinstated back to its former glory in 2014 and has since continued to be one of the premier team tournaments in China.
How ‘grand’ is the tournament? In the 2021 tournament, 85 Chinese Xiangqi Grandmasters and Masters participated in the event. Among these participants were past 18 Chinese National Champions. 2021 also saw the first-ever participation by a team representing Tibet. (4) (2)
The video below shows the actual proceedings of the 2021 event. It is pretty long, but it offers live commentaries and the arena where the game was played.
The Chinese National Men’s A-League Tournament began in 2003 and represents one of the highest levels of team tournaments in the world today. The CXA organizes it. Before the event, there were not many team tournaments, and the A-League gave professional Xiangqi players (who are considered athletes in China) another stage to showcase their skills. There are many strict requirements for teams to meet. The tournament is held from July to October each year.
As there are too many teams, there is a preliminary selection process. Sometimes, a city or province may send more than one team for competition.
Teams will travel to different hosting venues on specific dates to compete.
The current tournament format started in 2016 where the tournament was divided into two different phases. For the first leg of the competition, the participating teams will battle each other and try to gain enough points to be eligible for the second leg, somewhat like the post-season in basketball. Thus far, the Guangdong team has been dominant. (2 页 33) (5)
The video shown below is one of the episodes broadcasting the matches in the 2021 matches.
The Chinese National Women’s A-League first started in 2013. It represents another vital tournament where women Xiangqi players get to showcase their skills. (2 页 34)
Thus far, the 2014-2015 season was not held. It resumed in 2016 and has since been one of the premier events for the fairer gender. (6)
In the author’s humble opinion, the women’s A-League is just as exciting as the men’s. The event has also garnered much attention, so much that live televised commentaries are available. The tournament schedule has also been differentiated from the men’s event so that Xiangqi fans can focus on the event.
The video shows one of the matches in the 2021 Xiangqi Women’s A-League. The commentators are Grandmaster Zheng Yihong (Fujian Province) and Women’s Master Ma Tianyue, who heads the Xiangqi Division of the Hangzhou Chess Academy and is home to GM Wang Tianyi.
The Chinese National Mind Games Sports Meet is a huge event in China. The first event was held in 2009 at Chengdu, Sichuan. The second event was held in 2011. Since then, the event has been held every four years, with the latest event being held in 2019. (7) (8) (2 页 34)
The mind games include Xiangqi, Weiqi, International Chess, Wu Zi Qi (Go-moku), International Checkers, and Contract Bridge. Competitors in these six disciplines gather to compete. In 2015 (3rd event), there were over 2300 professional athletes, over 470 coaches, and over 3200 competitors. By the 4th event, as many as 4000-5000 athletes were competing for about 60 gold medals.
Note: Professional Xiangqi players are considered athletes and enjoy the benefits that athletes get in China.
The Xiangqi division consists of 11 sections: Men’s Professional Division, Men’s Team Division, et cetera.
The event was held in Aug 2017 in Tianjin, Jiangsu, China. The first Chinese National Sports Meet was held in 1959, and Xiangqi was considered to be one of the athletic events. There were many historical battles between the older generation of Xiangqi players like Yang Guanlin, Hu Ronghua, et cetera in the first few games.
However, Xiangqi was later dropped from the games. This leave of absence was thirty years. Much to the joy of Xiangqi fans in China, Xiangqi was inducted back into the Sports Meet in 2017. It has been part of the Games ever since. (9)
International Chess was also part of the games where International Grandmasters like Hou Yifan and Ding Liren participated (14th event). (2 页 35)
A short table shows a summary of where and when the past games were held, which can be found at the following URL.
For Xiangqi, the tournament was divided into the following divisions:
- Professional Men’s Division,
- Professional Women’s Division,
- Men’s Open Division,
- Women’s Open Division,
- University Team Division,
- Men’s Youth Division, and
- Women’s Youth Division.
The following link shows a live commentary of some of the matches from the 2021 event.
There are many Xiangqi tournaments in China. The CXA has been actively promoting Xiangqi. There are still many more tournaments of a similar nature that have not been covered in this article. Most of these tournaments include rank tournaments for youths, women, et cetera, where the winner gets to be promoted to Xiangqi Master or Xiangqi Grandmaster. In the next article, a list containing some of these articles have been given.
1. 维基百科编者. 全国象棋个人赛. 维基百科编者. [Online] 条目版本编号：64608460, Mar 4, 2021. [Cited: Aug 8, 2021.] https://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E5%85%A8%E5%9B%BD%E8%B1%A1%E6%A3%8B%E4%B8%AA%E4%BA%BA%E8%B5%9B&oldid=64608460.
2. 珠江文化. 象棋白皮书 -- 关于象棋现状的调查报告. Guangzhou : 珠江文化, 2019.
3. 全国象棋团体锦标赛. 百度百科. [联机] [引用日期: 2021年Aug月26日.] https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E5%85%A8%E5%9B%BD%E8%B1%A1%E6%A3%8B%E5%9B%A2%E4%BD%93%E9%94%A6%E6%A0%87%E8%B5%9B/16203314.
4. 全国象棋团体锦标赛冷门迭爆等级标准提升参赛规模扩大. 参赛规模扩大 等级标准提升 全国象棋团体锦标赛冷门迭爆. 国家体育总局. [联机] 2021年Jun月10日. [引用日期: 2021年Aug月27日.] http://www.sport.gov.cn/n316/n343/n1192/c992773/content.html.
5. 全国象棋男子甲级联赛. 百度百科. [联机] [引用日期: 2021年Aug月27日.] https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E5%85%A8%E5%9B%BD%E8%B1%A1%E6%A3%8B%E7%94%B7%E5%AD%90%E7%94%B2%E7%BA%A7%E8%81%94%E8%B5%9B/51144078.
6. 全国象棋女子甲级联赛. 百度百科. [联机] [引用日期: 2021年Aug月27日.] https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E5%85%A8%E5%9B%BD%E8%B1%A1%E6%A3%8B%E5%A5%B3%E5%AD%90%E7%94%B2%E7%BA%A7%E8%81%94%E8%B5%9B/22173692.
7. 象棋王子. 智运会象棋综述：湖北战绩最佳 沪军意外未夺一牌. 新浪网站 http://sports.sina.com.cn . [联机] 2009年Nov月23日. [引用日期: 2021年Sep月10日.] http://sports.sina.com.cn/go/2009-11-23/20504711297.shtml.
8. 维基百科编者. 第一届全国智力运动会. 维基百科，自由的百科全書. [Online] 66565030, Jul 13, 2021. [Cited: Sep 10, 2021.] 第一届全国智力运动会.
9. 葛会忠. 弘扬象棋文化 共享全运赛事. 国家体育总局. [Online] Aug 2, 2021. [Cited: Sep 11, 2021.] http://www.sport.gov.cn/n317/n344/c999620/content.html.