Simple Introduction to Books on Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)
There are many books on Xiangqi (Chinese Chess), and they represent an integral part of the Chinese culture. However, most of them are written in Chinese, and there is very limited literature in other languages. Xiangqi book collectors have tens of thousands of books. Perhaps the most famous and slightly tragic is Fang Changqin 方长勤 who has over twenty thousand books, periodicals, publications, et cetera in his collection. To preserve his collection, he had to sell his collection of Xiangqi Antique pieces allegedly from the Song Dynasty. Fang Changqin was so dedicated to Xiangqi that he was never married. Liu Guobin is another famous Xiangqi collector who is believed to have a similar number of books. (1) (2) (3)
There is a special ‘subset’ of Xiangqi collectors: ones that focus their efforts on the ancient manuals. Perhaps the two most famous collectors are Shanghai’s Yang Mingzhong 杨明忠 and Beijing’s Liu Guobin 刘国斌. Their efforts to protecting the heritage of Xiangqi is most respectable. Indeed, Liu Guobin’s efforts to locate the Xiangqi Manual Fathomless Ocean 《渊深海阔》was even made into a documentary. Unfortunately, the Webmaster has not been able to locate the documentary on Youtube or other platforms. (3)
There are many Chinese books and publications on Xiangqi. The Webmaster is but a moderate Xiangqi book collector and reader. There are only about three hundred books in his meager collection, and the following content is based on the books that he has read or collected.
In general, Books on Xiangqi can be categorized as:
- General Books on Xiangqi (mostly introductions or beginners manual)
- Ancient Manuals (reprints)
- Opening Treatises focusing on very specific variations
- Books on Midgames
- Books on Endgames
- Books on Basic Kills
- Books with commentaries of important games for a specific tournament
- Books on the History of Xiangqi
- Books on the Culture of Xiangqi
- Books dedicated to kids
- Collection of articles on Xiangqi
- Periodicals that discuss on Xiangqi
- Dictionaries, Pictorial Dictionaries, Encyclopedias and Lexicons
- Some Thoughts
These books are often targeted at the beginner. They contain basic knowledge on the game of Xiangqi like how to play the game, basic concepts, basic openings and principles, endgames, basic kills, et cetera. The content does not vary much.
They vary in size, but most are about 200 pages thick.
You CANNOT say that you know Xiangqi if you have never read the ancient manuals. The Webmaster has chosen to define ancient Xiangqi manuals as books that have been written before or during the Qing Dynasty.
There are many mistakes in the ancient manuals, which is perfectly understandable given the limitations that the ancients had. However, these ancient manuals are valuable not only for their contributions to the evolution of Xiangqi; they are priceless for their cultural and historical value.
There are about thirty ancient Xiangqi manuals that are still extant, and these books have been published in modern-day as reprints with new findings, corrections, or improvements of the original content. In fact, many modern-day manuals use A LOT of content from the ancient manuals simply because these ancient manuals are simply the foundations of Xiangqi.
Over the years of Xiangqi, the Webmaster has the impression Xiangqi enthusiasts are not keen on the ancient manuals, feeling that they are outdated. Unfortunately, such a view would be incorrect in the Webmaster’s humble opinion. There is too much to be learned from the ancient manuals. Even the grandmasters go back to revise the ancient manuals to create new variations or ways to improve their game.
The majority of Xiangqi players are interested in the Xiangqi opening. The number of books in this category is estimated by the author to be the greatest of all the books on Xiangqi.
Some of the books are general introductions to an opening system. There are also treatises, not just general books, on very specific variations. For example, the Webmaster has at least two books on the Edge Cannon for Chariot Exchange Variation in his collection.
Even unorthodox openings or counters have their treatises. There are several book series. Indeed, you can expect a new book on a new variation to come out if there was an upset in the major tournaments using that particular variation.
Books on midgames are relatively rare. They contain analyses of positions from actual games or problems. Strategy and tactical play are the foci of these books.
Some of them are quite nicely written, with heavy reference to military strategy. Sun Zi’s Art of War, The Thirty-Six Strategems, and other ancient books on military thought are often combined into detailed explanations of analyses. The Webmaster highly recommends these books.
While the Endgame Phase may seem boring, the study of endgames in Xiangqi is one of the most important fundamentals in Xiangqi. In general, most of these books focus on endgame tabiat and explain various concepts or the key points in each endgame situation. It cannot be stressed enough to know the basics of the endgames.
There are also treatises on various piece-kind combinations which try to demonstrate the possibilities and the frequently used tactics with a particular combination.
Finally, there are also endgame dictionaries, not just one, but several different dictionaries and encyclopedias on Xiangqi.
Over the past few decades, the discipline of Basic Kills was differentiated as an individual discipline from endgame theory. Books dedicated to Basic Kills have since appeared with increasing frequency. When the Webmaster was still schooling, such books were virtually non-extant.
There are many books whereby after a major tournament ends, the games that have been played are analyzed and commentated. Most of these books are selected games from a particular tournament or a particular year and would demonstrate the latest novelties in the openings and brilliant midgame and endgame play.
Such books are very important in general to improve your play.
Some books have been commentated by the players who are usually Xiangqi Masters or Grandmasters. The Webmaster highly recommends such books as they allow the reader to peek into the mind of a Xiangqi Master or Grandmaster when they are doing their thing.
To the Webmaster, one of the greatest joys in life is being inspired by the play of a Grandmaster or a favorite player. Indeed, the Webmaster would often say to himself:
“Damn, if only I knew that a position could be played that way…”
Bibliographies can be divided into two broad categories in the Webmaster’s opinion. They can be bibliographies about past Xiangqi players or people who have contributed to the evolution of Xiangqi. Then there are the bibliographies of the players who have made it to the top or left a lasting legacy.
There are about thirty Chinese grandmasters and about twenty women grandmasters in China today. All these grandmasters have their own stories to tell for having made it to the very top. Imagine being the best in a population of thirteen billion.
There are many bibliographies of these Xiangqi experts, masters, and grandmasters which chronicle their path to success. Often, they also contain games with commentaries by themselves. They are very inspiring because of the trials and tribulations that they had to go through.
Note: Awarding people with the titles of Xiangqi Master, Xiangqi Grandmaster, or even Xiangqi International Master or International Grandmasters was quite a recent event. The title of Xiangqi Grandmaster in China was only finalized in the 1980s where the first batch of Xiangqi Grandmasters was named.
When referring to books on the history of Xiangqi, the Webmaster would refer to books that solely discuss the history of Xiangqi and nothing else. These sorts of books are relatively limited; perhaps they were not commercially viable. It is not that there was not much to say about the topic. Instead, the history of Xiangqi was usually discussed with relationships to a particular ancient manual, presented as parts of books, or written as articles in periodicals. Books that focused solely on the history of Xiangqi are rare. To date, the most authoritative book is 《中国象棋史》by Professor Zhang Ru-an (张如安). (4)
These books are also rare for similar reasons given for books on the culture of Xiangqi.
Passing the torch to the next generation has been one of the top priorities for Xiangqi in China. There are now many books dedicated to teaching kids Xiangqi. These books are simpler in context, and the Webmaster prefers using these books to promote Xiangqi.
There are several series of books dedicated to teaching various aspects of Xiangqi to kids.
Some books are collections of articles written over time by one author that have been published into one book. Several such books are available. Generally speaking, they cover many different topics in Xiangqi.
There have been several important periodicals in Xiangqi. Perhaps the earliest periodical was by Lin Youru back in the 1950s. Unfortunately, many of these periodicals have gone out of print. Even the periodical that accompanied the Webmaster over the decades, Qiyi 棋艺, has recently gone out of print. Memories… (5)
There are several dictionaries on Xiangqi. Perhaps the most representative of these groups of books was the Encyclopedia of Xiangqi by Xie Xiaxun.
There are still some books that cannot be categorized in the categories mentioned above. Most are articles that mention Xiangqi but have been collected into other books NOT related to Xiangqi. There are also books that discuss the psychology of Xiangqi players, an attempt to introduce coordinates for Xiangqi notation, Xiangqi and computer theory et cetera. There are also literary works on Xiangqi where perhaps the most well known work was A Cheng's Chess King (棋王) which was made into a movie. These sort of books are so rare that they cannot form a category for themselves.
Literature in Xiangqi is crucial for the promotion of the game. There are many books on Xiangqi. However, most are in Chinese and are printed in China. They can be hard to access if you were not living in China. Perhaps the market isn’t big enough, or they have lesser commercial value as compared to other books in different categories. Nevertheless, literature on Xiangqi remain a very important part of the heritage. The Webmaster hopes that with this short article, the world of Xiangqi books can be introduced so that interested foreigners can take a peek into another world of Xiangqi.
The Webmaster will try his best to find links to important books on Xiangqi and list them on this website.
1. 京城象棋“怪人”之方长勤:为办书馆甩卖宋代棋子(2). http://sports.sina.com.cn. [Online] Oct 12, 2008. [Cited: Aug 23, 2020.] http://sports.sina.com.cn/go/2008-10-12/10584002831.shtml.
2. 维基百科编者. 刘国斌. 维基百科，自由的百科全書. [Online] 47978926, Jan 24, 2018. [Cited: Aug 23, 2020.] https://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E5%88%98%E5%9B%BD%E6%96%8C&oldid=47978926.
3. 张, 展. 象棋人生. 北京 : 经济管理出版社, 2012. 9787509621394 .
4. 张, 如安. 中国象棋史. 北京 : 团结出版社, 1998. 7-80130-170-6.
5. 老炮象棋. 炒作大王林幼如. 壹读. [Online] Oct 21, 2012. [Cited: Aug 23, 2020.] https://read01.com/NNoL8N3.html#.X0Fa2TV-WUk.
6. 誇誇棋談. 劉國斌：藏譜大家的「車馬」人生. 每日頭條. [Online] Dec 18, 2018. [Cited: Aug 22, 2020.] https://kknews.cc/zh-tw/news/n9nerv5.html.
7. 朱, 南铣. 中国象棋史丛考. 北京 : 中华书局, 2003. 7-101-03704-0.
8. 近现代中国象棋书籍出版发展历史研究. 苑, 玉洁. 杭州 : 中国棋院杭州分院, 2016.