Basics of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) 03 The Chessboard

The Xiangqi Chessboard represents the battleground on which the game is played. This article would highlight more basic knowledge that is needed to know about the Xiangqi Chessboard than what has been covered in the previous article. It is very important to know some of the terms associated with the Xiangqi Chessboard as they would be needed for discussion.

The article would be presented based on the following topics:

  • History of the Xiangqi Chessboard and its Symbolism
  • Basic Terms

For the visitors who prefer watching videos, the Webmaster has also made a short video presentation that has been uploaded to Youtube, as shown below.



History of the Xiangqi Chessboard and its Symbolism


The ancient Chinese have long described Xiangqi as a game of miniature warfare, and the Xiangqi Chessboard would represent the battleground. The origins of the Xiangqi Chessboard cannot be ascertained, but many people believe that it represented a battleground that was located at Xingyang, He-nan Province, China. There was a canal called the Hong Gou. Click here for the link to Google Maps showing the place.

It was during the Chu-Han Contention (楚汉战争Chǔ Hàn Zhàn zhēng, 206-202 BC) where there was a standoff between Liu Bang (刘邦 Liú Bāng, c. 256 BC- 195 BC) and Xiang Yu (项羽 Xiàng Yǔ). Neither side could get the best of each other, and a treaty called the Treaty of the Hong Canal was signed. Later Liu Bang, the initial underdog, would manage to break the deadlock and defeat Xiang Yu, forcing Xiang Yu to commit suicide. Liu Bang would then establish the mighty Han Dynasty. But he would not have succeeded if he did not have help from able generals like Han Xin, Xiao He, and Zhang Liang. (1) (2) (3)

An interesting fact to know would be that Liu Bang was represented by the color Red and the color of Xiang Yu’s army was Black. There is much more symbolism that would be beyond the scope of this article.

An interesting fact is that in many Xiangqi boards, the Chinese characters 楚河汉界 (Chǔ hé Hàn jiè) can be found. The Chinese verse would refer to the standoff at Xingyang, as mentioned above.

There has been some controversy about the inscriptions of Chu-River and Han-Border on the Xiangqi board. Xiangqi ancient manual collector Liu Guobin stated that the inscriptions of Chu-River and Han-Border only appeared in the last century. (4 页 14)

However, there is a documentary that was done by CCTV in China, which discussed a Xiangqi board from 1108AD (大观二年). The inscription of 楚河汉界 could be seen clearly from the video. The video cannot be found on Youtube but it can be viewed at the following link .

There is another documentary which touches on the subject nicely. It has been embedded below. 



Indeed, one of the hypotheses regarding the origins of Xiangqi was that it was invented during the Chu-Han Contentions. David Li believes that General Han Xin invented it based on his experience during the Chu-Han Contention. The origins of Xiangqi would be beyond the scope of this article. Still, for the sake of discussion with relation to the Xiangqi Chessboard, it would suffice to say that it probably had something to do with the Chu-Han Contention.


Basic Terms

Since the Xiangqi chessboard is the battleground, it would be important to know the ‘geography’ of the chessboard. The terms are crucial because they are used in Xiangqi notation, which has its own system and is completely different from the algebraic notation used in International Chess.

A Brief Description

The Xiangqi chess board is made up of nine vertical lines and ten horizontal lines. The pieces are played on the lines and not in the squares.

The vertical lines are called FILES, and the horizontal lines are called RANKS.


There are different names to the files. The English names given below were based on a short glossary by the Asian Xiangqi Federation that was published decades ago. (5) (6)

 Names of the Files in Xiangqi

Diagram of Files with names

File Number

Chinese Name(s)

English Translation

1 & 9

边线 biān xiàn

Edge File

2 & 8

外肋 wài lèi
车行线 jū xíng xiàn

External Rib File

3 & 7

象位线 xiàng wèi xiàn
侧翼线 cè yì xiàn

Elbow File

4 & 6

肋线 lè xiàn

Rib File


中线 zhōng xiàn

Central File


Each rank would also have a unique name, as shown below.Name of the Ranks in Xiangqi

Diagram of Files with names


Chinese name

English Translation

1st rank (starting with rank where King is)

底线 dǐ xiàn
后卫线  hòu wèi xiàn

Bottom Rank

2nd rank

生命线 sheng mìng xiàn
底二线 dǐ èr xiàn

Throat Rank

3rd rank

炮位线 pàowèi xiàn
宫顶线 gōng ding xiàn
布置线 bù zhì xiàn

Cannon Rank

4th rank

兵林线 bīng lín xiàn
卒林线zú cù lín xiàn

Pawn Rank

5th rank

河界线 hé jiè xiàn
前哨线 qián shào xiàn

Riverbank Rank

6th rank

骑河线 qí hé xiàn

Cross-riverbank Rank


Note: Red’s Riverbank Rank would be the same rank as Black’s Cross-riverbank Rank.

For descriptive purposes, the Webmaster strongly recommends mentioning the color when describing the position of a piece. For example, it would be better to say “Red advanced his Cannon to Black’s Pawn Rank,” which would be a clear indication that the Cannon has crossed the River and was not advanced to his own Pawn Rank.

However, because the name is so established in Chinese literature, by default, certain moves or variations are so well-known that there is no need to mention the color. An example would be the Double Pawn Ranked Cannons Variation of the Screen Horse Defense.

The importance of knowing the names of the main files and ranks cannot be understated. Xiangqi can be discussed only when the people discussing know how to describe a piece that has moved or describe the important regions on the board.

River, Palace et cetera

There is a space in the middle that represents the RIVER, which separates the two opposing colors. The four corners of the chessboard are known as BOARDCORNERS.

There are unique squares that contain two diagonal lines in them. These two squares face each other across the River, and each square is known as the PALACE (九宮jiǔ gōng). Another Chinese name would be 九宫格 jiǔ gōng gé. The King and his two Advisors cannot leave their palace.

Many openings are named regarding the palace like the Cross-Palace Cannon Opening and the Palcorner Cannon Opening (see Glossary of terms). There are four PALACE CORNERS for each palace, which has been abbreviated as ‘PALCORNER.’ However, by default, ‘Palcorner’ would refer to one of the two palace corners ON THE CANNON RANK.

There are a few intersections that have extra markings on them. The markings are known as BOARDSTARS (盘星 pán xīng), and they help distinguish where the Pawns and Cannons are placed in the initial array. (5)   

Additional verses

Some boards come with additional Chinese characters. Often there are Chinese characters in the middle ‘楚河汉界‘ as mentioned above.

Sometimes, additional Chinese verses are found on the side of the chessboard.

观棋不语真君子 (guān qí bù yǔ zhēn jūn zǐ) means that onlookers (观棋) should not comment(不语) on the game during active play and that such behavior is the mark of a true gentleman (真君子). Simply put, no kibitzing is allowed.

Another commonly seen verse would be 起手无悔大丈夫 (qǐ shǒu wú huǐ dà zhàng fu) which is translated as a man of his words (大丈夫) would make his moves without regret (无悔) and will not try to take back a move. Simply put, it would be a reminder that no take-back of the moves is allowed.

The Naming of the Files and Ranks

The files are numbered from RIGHT TO LEFT respective to the color. This concept is very important because one of the components of Xiangqi notation is the file number. Therefore, Red’s 1st file would be the same as Black’s 9th file, Red’s 2nd file be the same as Black’s 8th file, and so on.


Please refer to the article on Xiangqi Notation for more.


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