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Chinese Chess

Photo by rosino / CC BY

Go (Wei QI)

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Chinese Chess Beginning Position Layout with the divider (楚河 漢界) on Chess Board

Photo by antontw

Chinese Chess Pieces with Black & Red Color, Labeled in Chinese Character

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Chinese Chess Tournament During the Mid-Autumn Festival at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

Photo by 25802865@N08 / CC BY





OTHER NAMES: Xiang Qi (in Chinese, translated as "Elephant Chess")


Chinese chess is one of the most challenging game played around the world, as it incorporates ideology and designs from Weiqi, or Go. Although the origin of the game has been debated, some sources have began to debunk Harold J. R. Murray's century old hypothesis on the origin of the game.



The earliest mention of the Chinese chess ("xiang qi") comes from a "Bi Ji" (Notebook in Chinese Literature) and an encyclopedia of the in the 16th century describing Chinese chess origins in the third century BCE. The exact text as  "雍門周謂孟嘗君足下燕居則鬥象棋亦戰國之事也蓋戰國用兵故時人用戰爭之象為棋勢也", which translates to "Yong Menzhou 雍門周 said to Meng Chang Jun 孟嘗君: Mylord, if you are at leisure, play Xiangqi; thus it was a thing from the time of the contending realms. Because in the strategy of the contending realms the people of this time used elephants just as in the board game strategy (qishi 棋勢)". (2)


It is theorized that due to the nature of the game incorporating Go (Weiqi), another ancient Chinese board game, Chinese chess might have been a refinement of an precursor game.


Chinese Chess eventually made its way to Europe through the silk road trades, and eventually around the world.



It is interesting to note that many attributes the fact the game is called "The Elephant Game" ("象"=elephant), and that China has no elephants whereas India has elephants, thus the game must not be of Chinese origin. However archaeology and recent findings have found fossil evidence that elephants have indeed been around China during the Chinese empire era (a time before dynasties and warring period). (3) This gives a very fresh perspective and interpretation to the ancient text mentioning Chinese chess.


Another interesting fact is that the middle ground of the board, commonly referred to as "The Divide", is marked with the words "楚河" (River of Chu, a country in the warring era) and "漢界" (boarder of Han, the ethnic faction eventually establishing Han dynasty) which is a reference to the Chu-Han War, which happened between the first and second Chinese dynasty. (4)



Chinese chess consist of 2 color suit often in red and black colors, where red is home and black is considered invading side. Each suit includes 5 slave(soldier) pieces, 2 catapult (cannon) pieces, 2 chariot pieces, 2 horse pieces, 2 elephant(advisor) pieces, 2 officer(scholar) pieces, and 1 general(marshal) piece where the parenthesis marks the translation for the red pieces. The objective of the game is to take out the enemy general(marshal). (5)




What may have served as a war game in the past, is now a popular game with competitive plays in tournaments hosted all over the world. Today Chinese chess serves as a great fun family or group entertainment for pastime.  


Game box for playing Senet

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The origin of games is one of the oldest human civilization lineage, spanning over millenniums of development to date. From archaeological evidence traditional games is one of the fundamental aspect of life in the ancient world, and is paramount to the development of social culture and military strategies. Many of these games became modern day family fun for holidays and occasions to enjoy.

Family Playing Boardgame Together

Photo by krisnfred / CC BY




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