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Chinese Chess
Learn Chinese - History and Culture

altXiangqi (xiàng qí 象棋) is a two-player Chinese board game in the same family as Western chess. The present-day form of Xiangqi originated in China and is therefore commonly called Chinese chess in English. The first character (xiàng 象) here has the meaning "image" or "representational", hence Xiangqi can be literally translated as "representational chess". The game is sometimes called "elephant chess" after an alternative meaning of 象 as "elephant". Besides China and areas with significant ethnic Chinese communities, Xiangqi is also a popular pastime in Vietnam (yue nan 越南). The game represents a battle between two armies, with the object of capturing the enemy's "general" (jiāng jūn 将军) piece.

Xiangqi has a long history. Though its precise origins have not yet been confirmed, the earliest literary reference comes from the 6th century, the earliest indications reveal the game may althave been played as early as the 4th century BC, by Tian Wen (tián wén 田文), the Lord of Mengchang (mèng cháng jūn 孟尝君) for the state of Qi, during the Warring States Period. Judging by its rules, Xiangqi was apparently closely related to military strategists in ancient China. The ancient Chinese game of Liubo (liù bó 六博) may have had an influence as well. As a crystallization (jié jīng 结晶) of wisdom, the chess culture is a legacy of traditional Chinese arts, and has contained many rich values and profound cultural significance throughout the ages. Together with playingmusical instruments, reading, and painting, playing chess (qín qí shū huà 琴棋书画) was considered as one of the essential qualities for ancient Chinese literati (wén rén 文人).

The early-stage xiangqi was composed of three components: chess pieces, dice (shǎi zi 骰子) and board. The pieces were carved out of ivory, with each player having six pieces; before altstarting a game, the two players would play dice; and the board was a square chess board. After a long period of development, the modern form of xiangqi appeared in the Northern Song Dynasty (běi sòng 北宋) and caught on in the Southern Song Dynasty (nán sòng 南宋).

Today, people all across China love various chesses, which are a prevailing form of entertainment. The games are highly competitive and require much brain activity, which could be good therapy for the intellectually retarded people. However, playing chess is more than only a sport in China; it is also a kind of widespread art form.


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