DONG, WENYUAN 董文渊 (dǒng wén yuān, 1919-1996)

Nicknames: None known.

Dong Wenyuan was one of the most gifted and yet controversial figures in Xiangqi in the past century. Born in 1919, Dong was the son of a farmer who became a blacksmith in Zhejiang province. When he was only ten years old, he began to learn the craft of being a blacksmith at the place where his father worked. In his free time, he would play Xiangqi in the streets and began learning the game from Pan Xuanzi (潘选子, pān xuǎn zǐ). He surpassed his master when he was 14 and also learned to play Weiqi at the same time. His talent soon caught the eye of a local entrepreneur Zhang Danru (张澹如, zhāng dàn rú) who was an avid Weiqi player. Dong's Weiqi skills left a lasting impression, and that entrepreneur would later bring Dong to Hong Kong, where he would be a very prominent figure for many decades. Zhang would have a very major influence on Dong.

In 1936, there was a local Xiangqi tournament in the city of Hangzhou where Dong participated. Dong eventually won that tournament and stamped his name in Xiangqi. There were other prominent participants, the most famous being Liu Yici (see LIU YICI).

In 1937, a Christian group in Hangzhou organized a Xiangqi tournament for Xiangqi Experts from East China "华东地区象棋名手邀请赛" (huá dōng dì qū xiàng qí míng shǒu yāo qǐng sài). Xiangqi legend Xie Xiaxun was invited to host the event and so were other famous Xiangqi names like Jiangsu's Dou Guozhu, Shandong's Shao Ciming, Fujian's Lian Xuezheng and Dong. It was held in the fitness room of the Christian Youth Club there, and there were exhibition boards. Tickets were sold for two cents apiece. Dong defeated the other participants to become champion. As the participants came from four different provinces, Dong earned the unofficial title of Xiangqi King of the Four Provinces.

With this victory, Dong began his life as a professional chess player. He would begin to frequent famous teahouses in Shanghai and soon made a name for himself and even earned the nickname "Whiz kid from Hangzhou" (小杭州, xiǎo háng zhōu). There were three other 'whiz kids' like himself at that time.

In 1939, Zhang Danru sent his accountant to look for Dong in Shanghai to participate in a major tournament, a tournament that Zhang had organized himself. There were only six participants, the most prominent being Zhou Deyu, the Xiangqi King of the Seven Provinces, whom some regarded as the best in that era. Other famous names included Lu Hui and Zhong Zhen. Zhou won that tournament and Dong was placed second.

Not pleased with this result, Zhang would organize another tournament, which only invited three participants, Zhou Deyu, Zhong Zhen and Dong himself. It was to be a round robin, and each contestant would play two games against each other,and the eventual champion would be decided on the number of points won. Zhang Danru sponsored a medallion made of pure gold for this tournament and called it the Tournament of the Three Kings (三王赛, sān wáng sài). Zhong Zhen and Dong faced each other in the first round, and Dong won both games, earning four points before he was to face Zhou Deyu. The drama began when it was Zhou's turn to face Dong. Zhou accused Dong of match-rigging by bribing Zhong and refused to play his matches against Dong. Although Zhou could not prove his allegations, the crowd was incensed as they had had to pay money to buy tickets to view the matches, and many promptly demanded a refund. With the crowd getting boisterous and the host of the event unable to control the situation, things started getting ugly.

The young and brash Dong suddenly issued an open challenge to Zhou, saying that he was willing to forfeit his games with Zhong Zhen and wanted a best of ten against Zhou. This challenge had the crowd going again, and many cheered. That best of ten matches was to be played two matches per day for a five-day period. Perhaps Zhou was getting on in years, and his opium-smoking habit was finally getting the better of him, Zhou lost his first two matches, then the next two matches on the next day. The event was greatly publicized, and many people flocked to see that great battle.

On the third day, before their encounter, Dong Wenyuan, being the showman he was, stood up and opened his hand for the public to see. On his hand, he had written: 誓杀周德裕 (shì shā zhōu dé yù). Simply translated, it meant that "I vow to kill Zhou Deyu." This gesture had the crowd going wild and greatly affected the psyche of Zhou. In those days, such a gesture was considered to be a very disrespectful and unfitting, even more so for an event like Xiangqi whom many perceived as being one of the cultured pastimes. Zhou lost the final two matches, and Dong won that gold medal with a six win record, signifying a passing of the torch. Dong Wenyuan was only twenty years at that time.

Dong's success got the better of him, and he started becoming very conceited. Dong owed his success to Zhang Danru and was living in his house in Hong Kong. Zhang looked after Dong very well and treated Dong as his own. Dong began taking things for granted and got used to such a luxurious lifestyle, one that his individual abilities would not be able to sustain in those times.

On one occasion, Zhang needed some cash and asked Dong to pawn a five carat diamond, which Dong did pawn but used the money to visit the gambling dens in Hong Kong. When he had lost all the money he had pawned, Dong was too ashamed to face his benefactor and chose to escape back to China. Years later, in an interview, Dong did not show any signs of remorse and just felt that he could not face Zhang Danru. Dong was reduced to chess hustling, making a living with wagers in the teahouses.

Times were hard with the campaign against the Japanese having just ended and often Dong had to worry about where his next meal would come from. Times would get better for Dong as the war ended. By then, Dong had gained a name for himself in Shanghai. He began issuing public challenges, earning money with his reputation and returned to his old lifestyle and earned the reputation of becoming a womanizer. In 1951, in one of his open challenges, a scrawny young man challenged Dong. Dong barely escaped losing with a 2W1D1L record. It was said that he belittled that young man and went back to his old ways. Dong took his gift for Xiangqi for granted, treating it as only a way to make money and seldom studied Xiangqi in his free time, where he was interested in other pursuits. However, that young man went back and studied fervently, improving greatly and challenged Dong again in 1952, finally defeating Dong in a best of ten matches with a two-win margin. Some say that it was this loss that ended his era of dominance by Dong Wenyuan, and marked the beginning of the Yang Guanlin era. Yang would later become National Champion in 1956 and repeat the feat three times.

Oblivious of the implications, Dong kept on returning to his old lifestyle, going from bad to worse. In 1955, he was sentenced to Heilongjiang for womanizing (details of the exact incident were unknown) for five years. In 1960, Dong went back to Zhejiang after serving his sentence. Even though he had not played chess for over five years, his talent was unmistakable, and he even represented Zhejiang to come in fourth place in the National Weiqi Individual's Championships. However, he had returned to his old ways and was blacklisted and eventually expelled from the government body overseeing Xiangqi, Weiqi, and other chess matters. It was said that a Japanese Weiqi player was baffled at why there was no name for the fourth place on the result score sheet. Since then Dong had been reduced to making money by wagering in Xiangqi. Dong was said to have passed away in 1996.

First created: 6th, Dec 2017
Last updated:6th, Dec 2017
Acknowledgements: None yet
References: Xu Qingxiang 徐清祥, The Games of National Players of a Recent Era, 《近代象棋國手名局》 p159-164,

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