From Academic Kids

Xiangqi (Template:Zh-cpw Template:Audio2), is a Chinese game in a family of strategic board games of which Western chess and Japanese shogi are also members. The Chinese name is literally translatable as either "elephant chess" or "image/representational/symbolic chess" but is commonly called Chinese chess in the West.

The ancestry of Xiangqi is disputed with some historians contending that it originated from Liubo and others stating that it is a relative of the 6th century Indian game of chaturanga (see History below). It is one of the most popular board games of the chaturanga family in the world, especially in Asia. Distinctive features of xiangqi include the unique movement of the pao ("cannon") piece, a rule prohibiting the generals (similar to chess kings) from facing each other directly, and the river and palace board features, which restrict the movement of some pieces.

Note: all Chinese transcriptions given in this article reflect Standard Mandarin pronunciation.

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Xiangqi, Chinese chess

Rules of the game


Xiangqi is played on a board that is 9 lines wide by 10 lines long. In a manner similar to the game go, the pieces are played on the intersections, which are known as points. The vertical lines may be known as files; the horizontal lines may be known as ranks. On the center-back edge of each side of the board, is a 3×3 point area with 4 diagonal lines connecting the center point to the corners. This area is known as 宮 gōng Template:Audio2, the palace or the fortress. Dividing the two opposing sides (between the fifth and sixth rows) is 河 h, the river. The river is often marked with the phrases 楚河 chǔ h Template:Audio2 (Chu River) and 漢界 (trad.) / 汉界 (simp.) hn ji Template:Audio2 (Han border), a reference to the Chu-Han War. The starting points of the soldiers and cannons are marked with a small cross.


The two players take command of pieces on either side of the river. One player's pieces are usually painted red (or, less commonly, white), and the other player's pieces are usually painted black (or, less commonly, blue or green). Which player moves first has varied throughout history, and also varies from one part to another of China. Some xiangqi books state that the black side moves first; others state that the red side moves first. Also, some books may refer to the two sides as north and south; which direction corresponds to which color also varies from source to source.

Modern xiangqi pieces are represented by disks marked with a Chinese character identifying the piece and painted in a color identifying to which player the piece belongs. Modern pieces are usually made with plastic, though some sets use pieces made of wood, and more expensive sets may use pieces made of jade. In more ancient times, many sets were simple unpainted woodcarvings; thus, to distinguish between the pieces of the two sides, most corresponding pieces use characters that are similar but vary slightly between the two sides.


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General and advisors

The generals are labeled with the Chinese character 將 (trad.) / 将 (simp.) jiàng Template:Audio2 (general) on the black side and 帥 (trad.) / 帅 (simp.) shuài Template:Audio2 (marshal) on the red side. These pieces are equivalent to the kings of Western chess. Legend has it that originally, the pieces were known as emperors, but when an emperor heard about the game, he executed two players for "killing" or "capturing" the emperor piece. Future players called them generals instead.

The general starts the game at the middle spot of the back edge (within the palace). The general may move one point either vertically or horizontally, though unlike the king of Western chess, the general may not move diagonally.

When a general is threatened by an enemy piece, the general is said to be "in check." When the general is in check and unable to escape check on the player's move, it is said to be checkmated, and the player loses the game. The general cannot leave the palace under any circumstances; thus, the general can only move to and stay on the 9 points within the palace.

Furthermore, in a rule often forgotten by new players of the game, a player cannot make any move that would leave the two generals facing one another on the same line with no other pieces placed in between. The idea is that a general may capture an opposing general when there are no pieces between them. This is a very important feature of the game, as the general often plays a role in enforcing checkmate, especially when many of the other pieces have been taken and the board is wide open. Indeed, checkmate remains possible as long as a player retains the general and any single piece, even a soldier, that can cross the river.


The advisors (also known as guards or ministers, and less commonly as assistants, mandarins, or warriors) are labeled 士 shì Template:Audio2 (gentleman) for black and 仕 shì Template:Audio2 (scholar) for red. They represent civilian government officials.

The advisors start on either side of the general. They move one point diagonally and may not leave the palace. This effectively means they can only move to and stay on five of the points within the palace. Although their limited movement may cause some to consider them the weakest pieces, they are invaluable for protecting the general, which is indeed their primary function.


The elephants are labeled 象 xiàng (elephant) for black and 相 xiàng (minister) for red. They are located next to the advisors and are the equivalent of the bishop of Western chess. These pieces move exactly two points diagonally, and may not jump over intervening pieces. They may not cross the river; thus, they serve as defensive pieces. The rules restricting their movement mean that there are only seven possible points on the board to which they can move.

The Chinese characters for "minister" and "elephant" are homonyms Template:Audio2 and both have alternative meanings as "appearance" or "image".


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Green moves are legal; red ones are illegal because another piece is obstructing the movement of the horse
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The red horse may take the black horse, but the black horse cannot take the red horse because its movement is obstructed by another piece

The horses are labeled 馬 Template:Audio2 for black and 傌 m Template:Audio2 for red in sets marked with Traditional Chinese characters and 马 Template:Audio2 for both black and red in sets marked with Simplified Chinese characters. The horse is similar to the knight in Western chess. It moves one point vertically or horizontally and then one point diagonally away from its former position. It is important to note that the horse does not jump, as does the knight in Western chess. Thus, if there were a piece lying on a point one point away horizontally or vertically from the horse, then the horse's path of movement is blocked and it is unable to move in that direction. Note, however, that a piece two points away horizontally or vertically or a piece a single point away diagonally would not impede the movement of the horse. The diagram on the left illustrates the horse's movement.

Since horses can be blocked, it is sometimes possible to trap the opponent's horse. It is possible for one player's horse to attack the opponent's horse while the opponent's horse is blocked from attacking the other player's horse, as seen in the diagram on the right.


The chariots are labeled 車 for black and 俥 for red in sets marked with Traditional Chinese characters and 车 for both black and red in sets marked with Simplified Chinese characters. All three of these characters may be pronounced as chē Template:Audio2 or as Template:Audio2. Capturing and moving in a straight line either horizontally or vertically, the chariot moves and captures exactly like the rook in Western chess. The chariots begin the game on the points at the corners of the board.


The cannons are labeled 包 bāo Template:Audio2 or 砲 bào Template:Audio2 for black and 包 bāo or 炮 pào Template:Audio2 for red. The sound of their name is similar to "pow", the noise of an explosion.

Each player has two cannons. The cannons are placed on the row behind the pawns, directly in front of the knights. Cannons move like the chariots, horizontally and vertically, but capture by jumping exactly one piece (it may not jump multiple pieces), whether it is friendly or enemy. When capturing, the cannon is moved to the point of the captured piece (ie., the cannon is a rider when moving and hopper when attacking). They are powerful at the beginning of the game when "hurdles" are plentiful, but lose value rapidly with attrition.


Each side has five soldiers, labeled 卒 Template:Audio2 for black and 兵 bīng Template:Audio2 for red, are similar to the pawns of Western chess. They are placed on alternating points, one row back from the edge of the river. They move, and capture (unlike pawns in Western chess) by advancing one point. Once they have crossed the river, they may also move (and capture) one point horizontally. Unlike Western chess, soldiers may not move two points on their first move, and there is no en passant rule. Also unlike Western chess, when soldiers reach the enemy's edge of the board they are not promoted, nor may they retreat; however, they may still move sideways.

Approximate relative values of the pieces

Soldier before crossing the river 1 point
Soldier after crossing the river 2 points
Advisor 2 points
Elephant 2 points
Horse 4 points
Cannon 4 or 5 points
Chariot 9 points

It is to be noted that these are very rough values, and that the piece values do not take into account positional advantage. Often a piece is more powerful at a certain intersection as compared to another intersection. The chariot at the corner in the beginning of the game is not very useful, but it can be moved to points where it affects the game much more. Also, the value of a cannon drops as the game goes on due to having fewer hurdles for use in capturing, while the value of the horse increases slightly due to fewer obstructions.

Ending the game

The game ends when one player successfully checkmates the other player—that is, when one player successfully threatens the opposing general with a piece and the player with the threatened general has no legal moves which would prevent the general from being threatened.

In Chinese, to say check, one says 將 (trad.) / 将 (simp.) jiāng Template:Audio2, and to say checkmate, one says 將軍 (trad.) / 将军 (simp.) jiāngjūn Template:Audio2.

In Western chess, if a player's king is not in check, but the player has no legal moves that would not place the king into check, then this results in stalemate and a draw. This is not the case in xiangqi; in xiangqi, the player who has no legal moves loses the game.

In Western chess, perpetual check or an excessive number of repetitions of position can result in a draw. This is not the case in xiangqi, wherein if a position is being repeated:

  • The side that perpetually checks with one piece or several pieces will be ruled to lose under any circumstances unless he stops the perpetual checking.
  • The side that perpetually chases with one piece will be ruled to lose under any circumstances unless he stops the perpetual chasing.
  • If one side perpetually checks and the other side perpetually chases, the perpetually checking side has to stop or be ruled to lose.
  • When neither side violates the rules and both persist in not making an alternate move, the game can be ruled as a draw.
  • When both sides violate the same rule at the same time and both persist in not making an alternate move, the game can be ruled as a draw.


Notational system 1

The book The Chess of ChinaTemplate:Ref describes a notational system of absolute positional references in which the ranks of the board are numbered 1 to 10 from closest to farthest away and 1 to 9 from each player's right to each player's left. Moves are then indicated as follows:

[piece name] ([former rank][former file])-[new rank][new file]

Thus, the most common opening in the game would be written as:

1. 炮 (32)-35, 馬 (18)-37

Notational system 2

A notational system partially described in A Manual of Chinese ChessTemplate:Ref and used by several computer software implementations describes positions in relative terms as follows:

[single-letter piece abbreviation][former file][operator indicating direction of movement][new file, or in the case of purely vertical movement, new rank]

The file numbers are counted from each player's right to each player's left.

The single-letter abbreviations are as follows:

ChariotR (for Rook, because using C would conflict with the letter for Cannon)
GeneralG or K (for King)
SoldierS or P (for Pawn)

Direction of movement is indicated via an operator symbol. A plus sign is used to indicate forward movement. A minus sign or hyphen is used to indicate backwards movement. A dot or period or equal sign is used to indicate horizontal or lateral movement. If a piece (such as the horse or elephant) simultaneously moves both vertically and horizontally, then the plus or minus sign is used rather than the period.

Thus, the most common opening in the game would be written as:

1. C2.5 H8+7

Gameplay and strategy

Xiangqi plays faster than Western chess for several reasons. First, the barrier of pawns is reduced dramatically. Second, the cannons jump to capture, making them a long-range threat early in the game. In addition, since the general is confined to only moving within the palace, it can be checkmated more easily unless it is protected by other pieces.

While in Western chess, the battle between opposing sides is concentrated in the middle few rows for the bulk of the game, this is not the case in xiangqi. The board is bigger than the Western chessboard, and there are not as many powerful pieces with long-range moves. Because of this, it can take time to move one's army of pieces from place to place on the board, and there is a tendency for the battle to focus on a particular area of the board. There is no real concept of a struggle for control of the center, as in Western chess.

Usually, the soldiers do not support each other, so the concept of pawn structure does not play such a heavy role as in Western chess.

Defensively, a common configuration is to leave the general at his starting position, deploy one advisor and one elephant on the point in front of the general, and to leave the other advisor and the other elephant in their starting positions, to the side of the general. In this setup, the paired-up advisors and elephants support each other, and the general is immune from attacks by cannons. However, with the loss of a single advisor or elephant, the general becomes vulnerable to cannons, and this setup may need to be abandoned. The defender may move advisors or elephants away from the general, or even sacrifice them intentionally, to ward off attack by a cannon.

The two chariots are not normally lined up together in Chinese chess, as they are the most powerful piece and in doing so, a player risks the chances of losing at least one chariot to an inferior piece of the enemy. Depending on the situation, it may be advantageous to position a chariot at one of the corners of the enemy's side of the board, where it is very difficult to dislodge, and threatens the enemy general.

It is more common to use the cannons independently to control particular ranks and files.


By far the most common opening is to move the cannon to the central column, an opening known as 當頭炮 (trad.) / 当头炮 (simp.) dāng tu po:

1. C2.5

The most common reply is to advance the horse on the same flank:

1. ... H8+7

This move-and-response is known by the rhyme 當頭炮,馬來跳 (trad.) / 当头炮马来跳 (simp.) dāng tu po, mǎ li tio Template:Audio2.

Less common first moves include:

  • moving an elephant to the central column
  • advancing the soldier on the third or seventh file
  • moving a chariot forward by one space

General advice for the opening include rapid development of at least one chariot, because it is the most powerful piece and the only long-range piece besides the cannon. The opening is not as much a struggle for control of the center as openings are in Western chess. It may not be a bad move to develop one horse to the edge of the board, for example, to avoid being blocked by one of one's own pawns that cannot advance. Usually, at least one horse should be moved to the center.


Chinese chess has a long history. Though its precise origins have not yet been definitely confirmed, our earliest indications reveal the game may have been played as early as the 4th century BC, by Meng Changjun for example. (See chess in early literature or timeline of chess). Judging by its rules, we can conclude that the origin of Chinese chess was apparently closely related to military strategists in ancient China.

During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, wars were fought for years running. A new chess game was patterned after the array of troops. This was the earliest form of Chinese chess.

Because some remnants of Chinese silk have been dated in Egypt as early as 1000 BC (see Silk Road) and because of the astounding similarities between xiangqi and an ancient "game" board portrayed in the tomb of Egyptian Queen Nefertari (see origins of chess) the two ancient countries could possibly have influenced one another in the creation of both games. Nefertari's "game" may have provided early inventors with a fundamental model upon which xiangqi and other ancient chess variants are patterned. The ancient Chinese game of Liubo may also have had an influence as well. Assuming our present day historical records to be accurate, both Nefertari's "game" and Liubo are approximately one thousand years older than xiangqi.

During the Wei, Jin and Northern and Southern Dynasties, a kind of chess game was popular among the people. It laid a foundation for the finalized pattern of Chinese chess. In ancient times, both highbrows and lowbrows enjoyed Chinese chess.

During the reign of Suzong of the Tang Dynasty, Prime Minister Niu Sengru wrote a fictional story about chess. That occurred during the Baoying period, so it was named Baoying chess. Baoying chess had six pieces. He wrote about the rules of the chess. Baoying chess produced a significant influence on the chess in subsequent years.

Three forms of chess took shape after the Song Dynasty. One of them consisted of 32 pieces. They were played on a chessboard with 9 vertical lines and 9 horizontal lines. Popular in those days was a chessboard without a river borderline; the Korean game of janggi is derived from this earlier, riverless version. The river borderline was added later, and this form of the game has lasted to the present day.

With the economic and cultural development during the Qing Dynasty, Chinese chess entered a new stage. Many different schools of chess circles and chess players came into prominence. With the popularization of Chinese chess, many books and manuals on the techniques of playing chess were published. They played an important role in popularizing Chinese chess and improving the techniques of play in modern times.

Xiangqi tournaments and leagues

In Europe and Asia there are significantly more xiangqi leagues and clubs than in the United States. Each European nation generally has its own governing league; for example, in Britain xiangqi is regulated by the United Kingdom Chinese Chess Association. Asian countries also have nationwide leagues, such as the Malaysia Chinese Chess Association in Malaysia.

In addition, there are also several international federations and tournaments. For example, the Chinese Xiangqi Association hosts several tournaments every year, including the Yin Li and Ram Cup TournamentsTemplate:Ref. There is also an Asian Xiangqi FederationTemplate:Ref and a World Xiangqi FederationTemplate:Ref, which hosts tournaments and competitions bi-annually, though most are limited to players from member nations.

Xiangqi has spread from Asia into the United States, where it has gained increasing popularity. However, there remains no official league or nationwide club for xiangqi in the U.S.Template:Ref, and Xiangqi is mainly played recreationally or at local clubs, usually located in Chinatowns.


The Asian Xiangqi Federation and its corresponding member associations also rank players in a number format similar to the rankings of chess. The best player in China, according to the 1995 Chinese National Ratings, is Xu Yin Chuan with a rating of 2569Template:Ref. In addition, the Asian Xiangqi Federation also bestows the title of grandmaster to select individuals around the world who have excelled at xiangqi or have made special contributions to the game. Though there is no specific criteria for becoming a grandmaster, the list of grandmasters is limited to less than a hundred peopleTemplate:Ref

Xiangqi and computers

As of 2005, the world's best human xiangqi players remain better than the world's best computer players.

The game-tree complexity of xiangqi is approximately 10150, so it is projected that a human top player will be defeated before 2010Template:Ref.

External links


  1. Template:Note Leventhal, Dennis A. The Chess of China. Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China: Mei Ya, 1978. (getCITED.org listing (http://www.getcited.org/pub/101996662))
  2. Template:Note Wilkes, Charles Fred. A Manual of Chinese Chess. 1952.
  3. Template:Note From rec.games.chinese-chess FAQ #21 (http://www.chessvariants.com/chinfaq.html#question20) What are some of the top tournaments in the world?
  4. Template:Note Asian Xiangqi Federation (http://www.asianxiangqi.org/) homepage includes English translations of Asian tournament results, rules, etc.
  5. Template:Note World Xiangqi Federation homepage (http://wxf.hypermart.net/eg/).
  6. Template:Note From rec.games.chinese-chess FAQ #20 (http://www.chessvariants.com/chinfaq.html#question20)
  7. Template:Note ChessHub.com strongest player (http://www.chesshub.com/faq/cchess/?L=players).
  8. Template:Note rec.games.chinese-chess FAQ lists the International Grandmasters by country (http://www.chessvariants.com/chinfaq.html).
  9. Template:Note Yen, Chen, Yang, Hsu, 2004, Computer Chinese Chess (http://www.csie.ndhu.edu.tw/~sjyen/Papers/2004CCC.pdf).de:Xiangqi

eo:Ĉina ŝako es:Ajedrez chino fr:Xiangqi nl:Chinees schaken ja:シャンチー pt:Xadrez chins sl:Kitajski šah zh-tw:象棋


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