The Benefits of Learning Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)

Throughout the years of promoting Xiangqi on the internet, the Webmaster has had a lot of interaction with people interested in Xiangqi. There have been many suggestions and comments about the work that he has done, and the Webmaster is very grateful. There was this one particular suggestion that the Webmaster felt was very constructive. That visitor (cannot remember the name) asked the Webmaster about the benefits of playing Xiangqi. He even suggested writing an article about the topic. Since then, this issue has been one of the articles on the top of my to-do articles.

What are the benefits of learning Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)? The Webmaster did some research on the web and found out that the most commonly cited answers were: better visualization, improved focus, improved concentration, improved logical thinking, better problem-solving skills, mind training and brain development, character development, learning through adversity, learning from one’s mistakes, et cetera. (1). While these answers are indeed some of the benefits of Xiangqi, they can be rather abstract concepts. The Webmaster believes that the topic can be discussed further in greater detail.  

Note: This article would discuss the benefits of Xiangqi in general. For the benefits that can be gained by children, they would be discussed in another article.

What the ancient manuals say

The Xiangqi Master From the CavePerhaps the earliest mention of the benefits of playing Xiangqi was found in the ancient manual Invincible after Training in the Caves. The author of the ancient manual was called a Taoist Priest called Chun Yang (纯阳道人chún yang dào rén). The date of publication of the ancient manual is not known, but Xiangqi scholars believe it to be in the Ming Dynasty as the title was derived from a poem written at the same time. The relative simplicity of the games would suggest that it was earlier than the Secret in the Tangerine or even the Elegant Pastime Manual.

There were some words of advice about the benefits of Xiangqi, which is perhaps the earliest advice to date.

  • 着棋三快:眼快,心快,手快。
  • 着棋三审:审对方之布局,审对方之得先失先,审对方之得势失势。
  • 着棋三好:好棋身,好局势,好思想。
  • 着棋三胜:气胜,智胜,势胜。

The following is the Webmaster’s translation:

  • Three things to do quickly when making a move: be quick with your eyes (visualization), be quick with your heart (making plans), be quick with your hands.
  • Three things to analyze before making a move: Analyze the enemy’s opening, analyze the enemy’s initiative, analyze the enemy’s situation.
  • Three things to benefit from Xiangqi: A healthy body, an advantageous position, and a clear (and logical) mindset.
  • Three factors that would lead to a win in Xiangqi: A stronger ‘chi,’ a smarter plan/strategy, an overwhelming situation.

The third point in Xiangqi would mention the benefits of playing Xiangqi and remains valid even in the modern-day world.

An interesting thing to note would be Priest Chun Yang’s suggestion to play rapidly. The Webmaster believes that it was more of a reflection of the romantic style of Xiangqi that was prominent during his time. It does not necessarily mean that he advocated playing after spending minimal time analyzing the situation.

Wong Ping Long has published the book using the title of The Master Training from the Caves. The Webmaster has provided some help with Wong, and we had a pleasurable time doing the book.

For those interested in the book, an affiliate link is provided below:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/967143620X/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=967143620X&linkCode=as2&tag=xqinenglish-20&linkId=3a36fdc75063a52af482f8c7135dfdb5  

DISCLAIMER: This webpage contains products with affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, xqinenglish.com will receive a small commission. You will not incur any extra cost when buying from an affiliate link.

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Personal benefits

The personal benefits that can be gained from Xiangqi are many. There have been many articles that have discussed this issue in Chinese. The following is a list of some of the most significant gains in life skills, character traits, et cetera. The list was distilled from many articles by the Webmaster. (2) (3) (4)

Better Memory and Improved Skills in Logical thinking.

Xiangqi is a mind game. Like physical sports, Xiangqi is a mind sport that exercises the brain and trains the mind to think logically. It would be impossible to capture the enemy king if there was no logic in the moves made.

A player can only improve if he can learn from his mistakes in earlier games with logical analyses. A better memory would often result from repeating the steps of analysis.

Perhaps the best example of better memory is the ability of many Xiangqi Masters and Grandmasters to play blindfold simultaneous games. It would be impossible to play blindfold chess if a person could not remember the moves that had been made. Logical thinking is also a necessity as it would be required to remember the correct order of the moves made.

Better problem-solving skills

Xiangqi would undoubtedly improve your problem-solving skills.

As mentioned earlier, one of the benefits or by-products of Xiangqi is to learn logical thinking, which can be applied to solving problems.

Need practice? There are tens of thousands of Xiangqi problems that can be found on Chinese websites. Try a few puzzles a day for a short period, and you would be amazed at how you can approach problems and solve them. There are a few thousand puzzles on the website for practice, and the Webmaster plans to upload more puzzles over time.

Ambition

A Xiangqi player can learn to become ambitious through playing Xiangqi. He will give everything he has to achieve his goals, as exemplified by trying to checkmate the enemy king in Xiangqi. He will learn to identify his goals, contemplate success, or analyze the situation with the ultimate aim of reaching his goals.

Grit and a Powerful Mental Fortitude

Sherrie Campbell wrote in a short article about mental fortitude. (5)

“Mental fortitude is a necessary element of success. Mental fortitude is defined as the ability to focus on and execute solutions when in the face of uncertainty or adversity. If we break under pressure, if we lose patience with the process we're being challenged with, it can easily drive us to quit prematurely. Having the mental fortitude necessary to succeed requires patience, creativity, exploration, and execution. When we develop the mental fortitude necessary to stay strong in the face of adversity, we abate the fears of being in it. “

If her words were put into the context of Xiangqi, the concepts that she put across could be easily appreciated and understood. 

In bad or losing positions, players in Xiangqi learn never to give up and learn to be brave and tackle problems head-on. The Webmaster feels that this would be the most important attribute that can be learned or fostered through playing Xiangqi.

It would be analogous to the Sun Zi’s teachings in the Art of War.

“Cast them into positions from which there is nowhere to go, and they will die without retreating. If there is no escape from death, the officers and soldiers will fully exhaust their strength.” – Sun Zi’s Art of War, Chapter on Nine Terrains. (6 p. 179)

Xiangqi is one of the best ways of training grit and mental fortitude in the face of ‘man-made’ adverse situations on the board.

Increased Focus and Concentration under Pressure and Harassment

Finding a way out in times of adversity. Yuntai Mountain, Henan Province. ChinaEven in dire situations, Xiangqi players learn that to overcome the odds through grit and determination. They focus on the goals and objectives of the game and concentrate on coming up with solutions to solve their problems.

The pace of Xiangqi is much faster than other traditional board games like International Chess or Go, and pressure can suddenly increase dramatically in just the span of one or two moves. Seasoned Xiangqi players learn to keep their cool in similar situations and will try to find the best solution.

Being harassed by the enemy is also very common in Xiangqi. After playing many games, Xiangqi players learn to keep their cool and not be easily provoked. This life skill would be especially important in today’s world where competition is everywhere—learning to focus on the long-term goals and be oblivious of temporary setbacks or harassment from others is easily cultivated in Xiangqi.

Patience

In the hectic world of today, the ability to be patient and unfazed in adverse situations has become all the more important. This ability can be further discussed in two settings.

When at a disadvantage, the Xiangqi player will try to put up a stubborn fight and await the chance to even the odds or even turn the tables. The ability to sit and weather the storm is simply invaluable. Try playing Xiangqi till the very end. It is impossible NOT to learn patience.

When the odds are in favor of the Xiangqi player, he will still calmly go about his business and wait patiently for the chance to end the game. A seasoned Xiangqi player can easily understand that things are not what they appear on the surface and that the chance to win will appear in the blink of an eye. Like what was mentioned in Sun Zi’s Art of War:

孙武《孙子·九地》:“是故始如处女,敌人开户;后如脱兔,敌不及拒。.”

“For this reason, at first be like a virgin (at home); later – when the enemy opens the door – be like a fleeing rabbit. The enemy will be unable to withstand you.” --- from Sun Zi’s Art of War, Chapter on Nine Terrains.  (6 p. 183)

By playing Xiangqi, it is very easy to develop patience. It is almost second nature to the Xiangqi player.

A Keen Eye for Details

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Xiangqi players are all too familiar and understand this concept very easily. Over time, it would become second nature to pay attention to details.

The Webmaster has seen nonchalant people or people with a careless disposition displaying a keen eye for details after playing Xiangqi. It is impossible not to when playing Xiangqi.

An Intuitive Reflex

Xiangqi players are trained to make difficult decisions under time pressure. The more seasoned a Xiangqi player is, the more capable he would be in making the correct decision within a short time. Xiangqi grandmasters have shown that they can make the correct decision in blitz games, demonstrating their powerful intuition.

Strategical Planning and Preparing for the Future

Being able to make plans for the future is second nature to the Xiangqi player because every move would essentially be a practice in planning.

Xiangqi would also FORCE you to improve your ability to calculate or anticipating your opponent’s moves. Indeed, Xiangqi can easily cultivate the player’s ability to think about the future and prepare in advance.

For example, a prophylactic move in Xiangqi would refer to a move that is made in anticipation of a perceived threat. Making prophylactic moves is most commonly seen when moving an Advisor for defense in anticipation of attacks by the enemy pieces early in the Opening phase. It becomes second nature to Xiangqi players to be wary of possible danger and prevent them before-hand.

Another example would be the ability of Xiangqi Grandmasters or Xiangqi Masters to play simultaneous blindfold matches. It would not be possible for them to do so if they did not have the mental capacity to plan against so many different players at once.

Character development

There is a saying in Chinese, 胜不骄,气不馁 (shèng bù jiāo, qi bù něi), which means that a person does not become conceited when he claims victory. Neither will he be frustrated with defeat. Xiangqi is one of the best ways to cultivate such mental fortitude.

After the ‘battle’ has ended and the dust has settled, Xiangqi players who have lost their game KNOW that they will live to fight another day. They understand that it is but a temporary setback with lessons to be learned.

Winners would understand that they were lucky to have won, but there will be another battle waiting ahead with stronger foes. A humble disposition would be nurtured over time.

A Xiangqi player would also become more confident after playing Xiangqi. He would also learn NOT to take defeats so seriously, which is another very important life-skill to learn.

Economic benefits

There was a Youtube video of an interview that left quite an impression on the Webmaster. The title was: “Chinese Chess: The Key to Business in China?” (7)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bfHqHuXryQ   

 

In the short interview, Feng Jun, Founder of Aigo, argued for Chinese Chess being the key to understanding the culture and business opportunities in China. The Webmaster highly recommends this video as it is perhaps the best example of the benefits of what learning Xiangqi can do for your business.

Indeed, the attributes needed in the modern-day, cutthroat world of business can be learned and fostered easily with Xiangqi.

The Webmaster, although an orthopedic surgeon by profession, is an avid fan of the late Peter Drucker’s writings. Indeed, the principles found in Xiangqi are eerily similar to what Mr. Drucker preached. (8)

Even for other concepts not written by Mr. Drucker, the principles of Xiangqi would apply. For example, the Deming Cycle, the PDCA (Plan à Do à Check à Act/Adjust) cycle, can be easily understood from the effort required to make each move in Xiangqi. The Webmaster believes that the PDCA method is perhaps the best summary of how to analyze each move in Xiangqi. (9 頁 44) (10)

As mentioned earlier, Sherrie Campbell defined what mental fortitude was. She gave eight points for further discussion, which the Webmaster thinks can be easily learned through Xiangqi. 

 

How Xiangqi can help develop mental fortitude

8 Essentials for Developing Mental Fortitude

How Xiangqi can help

1. Define your win.

1. Capturing the enemy King, and prevent your King from being captured.

2. Create efficient procedures

2. Determine the best tactical combinations that can be used in a particular situation.

3. Set priorities

3. Priorities are set in Xiangqi. It is impossible NOT to learn setting priorities in Xiangqi. For example, the first priority would be to ensure your King was not in danger and so on.

4. Self-evaluation

4. Evaluation of one’s position, the strengths, the weaknesses, et cetera.

5. Self-control

5. The Xiangqi player will learn over time how to avoid temptations by the enemy and how to be patient.

6. Prepare for negotiations

6. It would be analogous to taking the enemy head-on in Xiangqi.

7. Mental Training

7. Xiangqi FORCES you to visualize as you make plans. The further you can visualize or the wider you can ‘see,’ the better the chances of winning.

8. Relentless optimism

8. Xiangqi gives you the hope that if you can manage a checkmate, even after sacrificing almost all of your pieces, a win would still be possible. Xiangqi also teaches you that there is always hope and not to give up too early or too soon.

 

The Webmaster would also recommend a short article by Ba Yanchao, which discussed Xiangqi and Management that can be found on this site.

As a short note to end this section, retired Grandmaster Li Laiqun, one of the Webmaster’s Xiangqi heroes, retired from Xiangqi in the mid-90s. He founded a real estate company in Hebei Province and is now a very successful typhoon.

In his biography, the Grandmaster described how he built his empire using the principles he learned from Xiangqi. It has been one of the most inspirational books about business, life, and philosophy that the Webmaster has ever read. It is highly recommended for anyone who knows Chinese. The title of the biography is 《象棋特级国际大师李来群传奇人生 棋行天下》.  (11)

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Social benefits

The online Cambridge Dictionary defined the word ‘Social’ as (12):

relating to activities in which you meet and spend time with other people and that happen during the time when you are not working …

Xiangqi can be a very social activity. One of the happiest times of the Webmaster’s life was during Secondary School (Junior High) and Junior College (High School) back in Singapore. The Webmaster eventually became the president of chess clubs. Xiangqi was an essential part of life, and nothing can replace the memories of interacting with other fellow Xiangqi lovers. The Webmaster also had fun with International Chess and Weiqi players back then.

Yes, Xiangqi is a very social event. Other than the usual club activities, competitions, and training, you get to interact with other Chess (generic term) enthusiasts. Because of the nature of Xiangqi, there is more mental and philosophical interaction and exchanges.

Many years after graduating from school, the Webmaster still has contacts with his old ‘archenemies.’ He has also made many new Xiangqi friends, and during vacations abroad, these friends have always been entertaining.

Having a passion for Xiangqi can enhance your life and make it so much more meaningful. The game itself would often take a backseat as the principles and philosophy found in Xiangqi is discussed.

The philosophy found in Xiangqi has also taught the Webmaster much about social interaction. The concept of aiming for equilibrium can be fostered easily into relationships with fellow Xiangqi enthusiasts. Because winning and losing is an everyday event in Xiangqi, you learn over time that to let go of the ‘must-win’ mentality and learn to appreciate the beauty of a draw or even losing.

On a lighter note, Xiangqi has taught the Webmaster how to identify the ‘weaknesses’ of his friends and earn many free meals. Of course, what goes up would eventually go down; he is also often on the ‘giving’ end. Maybe he should work more on covering his weaknesses.

Recently, the Website broke down after the Webmaster did something stupid when he altered some of the parameters of the website. Luckily, a fellow Xiangqi enthusiast from Malaysia offered his help and fixed the issue in one hour. That is another unexpected social benefit for the Webmaster.

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Understanding the Chinese Culture Better Through Xiangqi

Henan China Yuntai Mountain 22Xiangqi is also one of the best reflections of the values of the Chinese culture. There are many values that the ancient Chinese have deemed important that have been passed down through generations. And Xiangqi would be one of the best ways to understand and practice these values.

For example, the draw in Xiangqi can reflect the values of benevolence 仁, righteousness 义, wisdom智, courtesy礼, and faith 信.   (13)

There are also many Chinese proverbs or sayings in Xiangqi that have their roots in Xiangqi. They represent gems of wisdom of the Chinese culture, but they may be hard to understand. However, if the foreigner knows Xiangqi, it would be much easier to understand the Chinese culture.

The wisdom and the sayings of Xiangqi have been collected in another article and will not be presented in this section.

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Benefits for International Chess Players  

There are many similarities between Xiangqi and its cousin, International Chess. There are also many principles, concepts, or ideas that could be applied from one form of Chess to the other.

For players with a background in International Chess, there are many benefits to learning Xiangqi.

For example, Xie Jun, the women’s World Champion in International Chess from 1991-1996 and 1999-2001, started playing Xiangqi before she switched to International Chess. (14)

Davide Nastasio listed five important reasons on why he thinks that learning Xiangqi would benefit players with a background in International Chess:

  • Xiangqi is extremely tactical
  • Xiangqi obliges you to visualize
  • Xiangqi will continue to keep your brain working on Chess
  • Xiangqi teaches a winning mentality
  • The break (from International Chess) will do you good

In this article, Nastasio also showed a tweet from IGM Fabiano Caruana playing Xiangqi to take a break from International Chess. Please check out the tweet itself.  (3)

The last reason that Nastasio mentioned is quite commonly seen with Xiangqi grandmasters and masters alike. Many Xiangqi grandmasters and masters are chess polymaths in China. The Webmaster has invented the term chess polymath to refer to players adept in two or more different forms of Chess with a winning record to prove it.

While learning Xiangqi would benefit the International Chess player, enthusiasts in other similar games like Weiqi (Go), Shogi, and Janggi can also benefit from Xiangqi and vice versa.

For example, Grandmaster Li Laiqun was known to be an avid player of Weiqi. Hu Ronghua is a fifth dan in Weiqi in China.

Learning Xiangqi would allow you so see other games from different perspectives.

Grandmaster Hu Ronghua is perhaps the best Xiangqi player who ever lived. What most Westerners do not know is that Grandmaster Hu was also an expert in International Chess and Weiqi. What made him stand out was the ability to absorb the principles of other games and apply them to Xiangqi.

For example, he revolutionized the way openings were played based on the principles he learned from Weiqi.

From Taichi, he learned the principles of counter-attacking, which he demonstrated brilliantly with the Sandwiched Horse Defense, a Central Cannon Counter which he is credited for making viable.  (15)

Hence, to improve your game in whatever form of Chess, like what Davide Nastasio has said, a short break away from the game and taking up Xiangqi could be a good idea.

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Medical Benefits

As a medical doctor (he has a boring daytime job as an Orthopedic Surgeon), the Webmaster has often been intrigued by the effects of board games on health. While there have been very few articles on Xiangqi in this aspect, there has been several general reviews on the effects that board games have on health.

Mutsuhiro Nakao did an extensive review of the literature. He used the term ‘traditional board games’ as his search query and defined these games as chess, Go, Shogi et cetera. The conclusion given from his abstract is given below:

The results of several randomized controlled trials indicated that the playing of traditional board games (e.g., chess, Go, and Shogi) helps to improve cognitive impairment and depression, and that the playing of newly developed board games is beneficial for behavioral modifications, such as the promotion of healthy eating, smoking cessation, and safe sex. Although the number of studies that have evaluated board game use in terms of mental health remains limited, many studies have provided interesting findings regarding brain function, cognitive effects, and the modification of health-related lifestyle factors.   (16)

In fact, board game therapy is a promising option as therapy for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Shota Noda, Kentaro Shirtsuki and Mutsuhiro Nakao suggested the possibility of using board games as treatment for clinical symptoms as promising but that further discussion was needed. (17)

As this article is NOT a medical review, the Webmaster would suggest that playing board games, like Xiangqi , Chess, Go, Shogi et cetera des seem to help a person’s health. However, the direct link, of how the brain actually benefits is still a topic of research. For the moment, it would be suffice to say that playing Xiangqi does appear to have health benefits.

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Other Benefits

Xiangqi has become one of the subjects to get extra marks in university exams in China. Perhaps the best know report of was of young International Grandmaster Zheng Weitong getting admitted into the prestigious Qinghua University in China this year (2020).

A similar situation can be seen in Taiwan, whereby a local Xiangqi expert who won the Youth’s division in an international event in Malaysia was able to get into a prestigious school doing engineering in Taiwan a few years back.

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Possible Harms

What about the harms of Xiangqi?

The Webmaster searched on the internet, and there was very limited material.

Some of the possible harms cited in various blog articles include the fact that Xiangqi can be addictive, which would lead to people spending too much on the game.

Incidents of money games can still be heard now and then. Because of the addictive nature of Xiangqi, if money were involved, it would become vice-like gambling. This fact can be appreciated in the form of Xiangqi street hustlers.

In the past, Xiangqi street hustlers were offering devious puzzles to onlookers to try their skill. The puzzles were very ingenious, and the player couldn't solve the puzzle. The money would be lost.  

There is a video on Youtube which shows examples of Xiangqi hustlers in action. It was a warning video by the Hong Kong Police.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gttpun84Xzo

 

However, despite the bad rep that Xiangqi hustlers give to Xiangqi, the benefits of playing Xiangqi greatly outweigh the harmful effects. Do consider Xiangqi as an option to have fun and play.

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References

1. Home Page. Xiangqi Mind Train Academy 智力象棋学院. [Online] [Cited: Sept 10, 2020.] http://learnxq.com/.

2. 风吟楼. 下象棋的十大好处. 360doc.com. [Online] Jan 2, 2018. http://www.360doc.com/content/18/0102/23/46996736_718540927.shtml.

3. Nastasio, Davide. How XiangQi can improve your Chess. ChessBase. [Online] Dec 6th, 2017. [Cited: Aug 11, 2020.] https://en.chessbase.com/post/why-you-need-to-learn-xiangqi-for-playing-better-chess.

4. 人生谁能没有遗憾. 学习中国象棋的益处. 每日头条. [联机] 2017年Aug月23日. [引用日期: 2020年Sep月12日.] https://kknews.cc/news/6pyxgkq.html.

5. Campbell, Sherrie. Leadership Skills: 8 Essentials for Developing Mental Fortitude. Entrepreneur Asia Pacific. [Online] Apr 12, 2018. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/311791.

6. Sawyer, Ralph D. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China Including the Art of War. Boulder : Westview Press Inc, 1993. p. 568. 0813312280.

7. Crampton, Thomas, [prod.]. Chinese Chess: The Key to Business in China? Youtube, 2010 Oct 4th.

8. Drucker, Peter F. The Essential Drucker. New York : Harper Collins, 2001. 9780061345012.

9. 中野明. 早上三分钟 学会象杜拉克一样思考. [編者] 王雅卿. [譯者] 廖慧淑. 編輯地未知 : 八方出版股份有限公司, 2011. 125. 978-986-6487-95-8.

10. contributors, Wikipedia. PDCA. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [Online] Page Version ID: 971012629, Aug 3rd, 2020. [Cited: Sep 11, 2020.] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=PDCA&oldid=971012629.

11. 傅剑仁. 象棋特级国际大师李来群传奇人生 棋行天下. 石家庄 : 花山文艺出版社, 2016. 978-7-5511-2767-7.

12. social. Cambridge Dictionary. [Online] Sept 12, 2020. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/social.

13. 閒來一樂. 玩中國象棋好處多多,想像不到吧. 每日头条. [联机] 2017年Oct月12日. [引用日期: 2020年Sept月9日.] https://kknews.cc/zh-tw/history/l2oraoe.html.

14. 维基百科编者. 谢军 (棋手). 维基百科,自由的百科全書. [联机] 条目版本编号:56863259, 2019年Nov月13日. [引用日期: 2020年Sep月12日.] https://zh.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%E8%B0%A2%E5%86%9B_(%E6%A3%8B%E6%89%8B)&oldid=56863259.

15. 誇誇棋談. 「象棋人物」胡榮華棋外故事四則. 每日头条. [Online] Nov 20, 2018. [Cited: Jul 30, 2020.] https://kknews.cc/zh-tw/news/p9vb5pz.html.

16. 林恩德. 語言遲緩復健 VS.象棋. 痞客帮. [線上] 2008May14.

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