Xiang-qi, Chinese Chess - Seasonal Expressions - 1
Xiang-qi, Chinese Chess - Seasonal Expressions - 2

Family Game-Xiang-qi-Chinese Chess

$ 45.00 USD

  • 15" x 13.5" Wood Folding Board, engraved 1.25"diameter x 3/8" thick tiles.
  • Playing games in Chinese and/or with Chinese people is an excellent way of learning Mandarin. It's fun, social and opens up many doors. Knowing how to play popular board games in China also makes you popular in general. Read more about why playing board games is a great idea if you're learning Mandarin here. In this article, I'm going to introduce 象棋 (xiàngqí) "Chinese chess".

    Introducing 象棋 (xiàngqí) "Chinese chess"

    Chinese chess is a classic board game played in ancient times. Exactly how old it is and what the relationship is to international chess is unclear, but it seems likely that they both share a common ancestor in India, but have developed differently, perhaps because of influences from already existing board games. In Chinese, the game is called 象棋 (xiàngqí), which literally means "elephant chess", but is usually called "Chinese chess" in English ("x" and "q" are hard to pronounce, even for people who study Chinese!)

    Don't confuse Chinese chess, which is fairly similar to international chess, with Chinese checkers, which is a completely different game that actually isn't Chinese, but that's another story.

    The board (see the attached picture)

    The board looks pretty much like an ordinary chess board, but is used differently. To start with, it's not the squares on the board that are used, but the intersections. The board also has an empty space inserted into the middle, between the players, adding a tenth line in that directions (making it 9x10, or one longer than an ordinary chess board). There are also four squares with diagonal lines in the middle of each player's side of the board, called 宮 or "palace". Some boards also have other markings for where to put some of the pieces, but these markings don't influence the game.

    The pieces and how they move

    The pieces are round with a character written or carved into them. They are all identical save for the character, so you have to learn what they mean and learn it well if you want to play. Start with this cheat-sheet before you can remember all of them. Note that some pieces have identical functions, but look different for the red and black players. Also note that traditional characters are often used, even in Mainland China.

    General (將 or 帥) - This is the most important piece. You win the game by taking out the opponents general. He can only move forward, backward, left and right, no diagonal moves, and he cannot leave the palace. The only exception is if he faces the other general on the other side of the board with no other pieces in between. The player whose turn it is may then capture the other general and win the game.
    Advisor (士 or 仕) - The advisors stand next to the general and can only move within the palace. As opposed to the general, however, they can only move and capture along the diagonal lines.
    Elephant (象 or 相) - The elephants start outside the advisors and can move exactly two steps diagonally, without being able to jump over pieces in the way. They are said to move like the Chinese character for "field", 田, from one corner to the other. The elephants are defensive pieces and they may not cross the river in the middle of the board.
    Horse (馬 or 傌) - The next piece is the horse, which moves in a way similar to the knight in international chess, i.e. as the character 日 (from corner to corner). It always moves one step vertically or horizontally first, then one step diagonally. Unlike the knight, it can't jump over other pieces on the first move, but can move between pieces on the diagonal move.
    Chariot (車 or 俥) - These pieces start at the corners of the board and works exactly like the rook in international chess. That means that it can move any distance either vertically or horizontally. It is the most powerful piece on the board!
    Cannon (砲 or 炮) - The cannons start two steps in front of the horses. They move like the chariot (any distance vertically or horizontally), but they don't capture the way they move. Instead, they can only capture pieces standing (any distance) behind another piece. For example, from the starting position, the cannon can jump over the other players cannon and capture the horse behind it, even though this is not a good move.
    Soldier (卒 or 兵) - These are the pawns of Chinese chess. They start one line in front of the cannons with one space between each, five in total. They can only move and capture one step ahead. After crossing the river, they can also move sideways, but never backwards or diagonally.
    This should enable you to play, but mastering the game is of course not that easy. If you have no-one nearby to practice with, there are many apps, programs and websites where you can play against other people online or against a computer.