The True Chess King --- Xie Xiaxun.
Author: 木门先生 from 木门斋 (Recluse of the Wooden Door)
Translated by Jim from www.xqinenglish.com, with permission from the author.
(3) Friends for Life
Chen Sheng’s disciple Lin Yixian (林弈先Hanyu Pinyinlín yì xiān) had heard about a thirteen year old lad who was able to draw his sifu and was very surprised. Lin would travel to Pingyang to battle Xie Xiaxun which was another important piece of Xiangqi history.
But before his battle with Lin, fourteen year old Xie did another remarkable thing which planted and nurtured his patriotism. Xie was born on the last years of the Qing Dynasty whereby China and its peoples endured much humiliation. The Xinchou Treaty (1901AD) had been signed whereby China was forced to accept the terms. The young Xie was able to create an endgame composition, and named it the Alliance of the Eight Countries to commemorate the suffering of the Chinese people. But it was until after October of 1911 did Xie publish this endgame composition.
Lin was eleven years older than Xie and was also known as a child genius when he was young. When they met, Xie was already fifteen years old. The legendary Hu Ronghua analyzed that the most critical period of a Xiangqi player was during the period from 12-15 years old. Xie and Lin did battle for two days, and they drew their games. In the book, it was given that Lin’s visit would have profound influence on Xie’s life.
After their initial encounter, after two years, Lin Yixian would again visit Xie. Xie was surprised that his defenses were crushed by Lin and lost three games in a row. The surprised Xie asked Lin for advice. And Lin gladly shared the reason for his improvement with him, the ancient manual, the Secret in the Tangerine (橘中秘 Hanyu Pinyin jú zhōng mì). It was an eye-opener for Xie. Xie did not have the ancient manual with him when they met. Later, Xie would search high and low and finally managed to get a copy of the ancient manual. Xie literally devoured the book, and his skills improved by leaps and bounds. He was also fortunate to have been able to obtain an incomplete version of another ancient manual: the Plum Flower Manual (梅花谱 Hanyu Pinyin méi huā pǔ). Xie was especially fond of the examples of the Screen Horse Defense as a viable counter against the Central Cannon. After much study, Xie’s Screen Horse Defense was able to hold its own against Lin’s Central Cannon (Jim: One of Lin’s nicknames was the Invincible Central Cannon).
These two ancient manuals are Xiangqi classics that even Xiangqi masters today must learn as part of their training. It was written in the book that Lin preferred the Secret in the Tangerine and was better at using the Cannon, while Xie had a special liking to the Plum Flower Manual and was more adept at using the Horse.
However, in the early years, most of the copies of the ancient manuals were hand written copies and they were dearly kept by their owners. It would be nearly impossible for the owners of the manuals to share their prized possessions. Yang Guanlin (楊官璘, Hanyu Pinyin yáng guān lín), the first grandmaster in China, had a hard time trying to get a copy of the ancient manuals. Story has it that he had to borrow an edition from Zhen Zhanhong’s (曾展鴻Hanyu Pinyin zéng zhǎn hóng) library.
Perhaps the unpleasant experience of trying to obtain the ancient manuals was a memory that they could not forget. Both Xie and Yang would later devote their lives to spreading the books so that even the common-folk could have access them to them easily. This was another major milestone in the history of Xiangqi.
Nineteen year old Xie would manage to get a place in Wenzhou’s School for Teachers. Patriotism was in the air and Xie’s studies further cemented his ideas for patriotism. There was mention of Xie having created an endgame composition when he was fourteen years old. Xie would then submit this endgame composition to a newspaper which published it as a puzzle for the readers to solve. In the process of doing so, Xie met another very important person who would be another friend for life.
The person’s name was Pan Dingsi (潘定思 Hanyu Pinyin pān dìng sī) who was from Suzhou. He was also the first person to have created Xiangqi endgame compositions that were modeled after Chinese characters.
In 1916, Pan and Xie combined their efforts to write A Xiangqi Manual to Commemorate National Shame (《国耻纪念象棋新谱》Hanyu Pinyin guó chǐ jì niàn xiàng qí xīn pǔ) to express their patriotism. There were thirty endgame compositions in the book that were modeled after Chinese characters. There was much mention of the political turmoil that Xie and Pan faced in that time. At that time, Yuan Shikai had just pronounced himself as emperor and did many things that were against the interests of China. His misdeeds would become a laughing stock in history. Xie even used the Chinese character “卡” to have created an endgame composition to make fun of him.
Pan and Xie also collaborated for another book, Xiangqi Puzzles of Events under Monarch Rule (《帝制纪事象棋新局》, Hanyu Pinyin dì zhì jì shì xiàng qí xīn jú). However, because of certain pressures and events, that book was never published.
There is a saying in Chinese called “人生得一知己足矣” which translated into English would mean that one would be satisfied with having a soulmate for life. When Pan and Xie were at the peak of their collaboration, Pan fell sick and would later pass away. He was only forty-seven when he passed away. Before his death, Pan willed that all the Xiangqi manuals that he had collected were to be given to Xie after his death. Naturally, Xie was deeply grieved at the passing away of his friend when he rushed to Suzhou to pay his last respects.
In the book, the friendship between Xie and Pan was deeply described. Both men lived in times of hardship and were brought together because of Xiangqi. When Pan had left, Xie would become so lonely. It was quite a moving passage in the book.
To be continued…
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