The Rules of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)

One of the most commonly asked questions about Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) is the rules of the game. Unfortunately, this topic is extremely broad and not as simple as it seems.Singapore Zoo. Breakfast with the Orang Utans

If the visitor were looking for an article on how to play Xiangqi, please refer to How to Play Xiangqi by the Webmaster. This article would give a short introduction to the Rules of Xiangqi from ancient times up until modern times.

This topic shall be discussed in the following aspects:

 

A Brief History of the Evolution of the Rules of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess)

The earliest rules for Xiangqi existed no later than the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279AD), as evidenced by the earliest, still an extant record of the game, Shi Lin Guang Ji.

There was mention of how to play the game in various poems. Of particular mention was a poem by Liu Kezhuang (刘克庄Liú kè zhuāng, 1187-1269AD). (1) The poem was called《象弈一首呈叶潜仲 xiàng yì yī shǒu chéng yè qián zhòng》诗中描绘了棋盘、棋子的形式和下法,与现在流行的下法相同)

Liu Kezhuang’s poem

《象弈一首呈叶潜仲 xiàng yì yī shǒu chéng yè qián zhòng》 (2)

小艺无难精,上智有未解。(xiǎo yì wú nán jīng shàng zhì yǒu wèi jiě)
君看橘中戏,妙不出局外。(jūn kàn jú zhōng xì miào bù chū jú wài)
屹然两国立,限以大河界。(yì rán liǎng guó lì xiàn yǐ dà hé jiè)
连营凛中权,四壁设坚械。(lián yíng lǐn , quán sì bì shè jiān xiè)
三十二子者,一一具变态。(sān shí èr zǐ  zhě yī yī jù biàn tài)
先登如挑敌,分布如备塞。(xiān dēng rú tiāo dí fēn bù bèi sài)
尽锐贾吾勇,持重伺彼怠。(jìn ruì Jiǎ wú yǒng chí zhòng cì bǐ dài)
或迟如围莒,或速如入蔡。(huò chí  wéi jǔ huò sù rù Cài)
远炮勿虚发,冗卒要精汰。(yuǎn pào wù xū fā rǒng zú yào jīng tài)
负非繇寡少,胜岂击彊大。(fù fēi yóu guǎ shǎo shèng qǐ/kǎi jī jiàng/qiáng/qiǎng dà)
昆阳以象奔,陈涛以车败。(Kūn yáng yǐ xiàng bēn  chén tāo yǐ jū bài)
匹马郭令来,一士汲暗在。(pǐ mǎ guō lìng lái yī shì jí àn zài)
献俘将策勋,得隽众称快。(xiàn fú jiàng cè xūn dé jùn zhòng chēng chèng kuài)
我欲筑坛场,孰可建旗盖。(wǒ yù zhú tán chǎng shú kě jiàn qí gài)
叶侯天机深,临陈识向背。(yè hóu tiān jī shēn lín chén shí xiàng bèi)
纵未及国手,其高亦可对。(zòng wèi jí guóshǒu qí gāo yì kě duì)
狃捷敢饶先,讳输每索再。(niǔ jié gǎn ráo xiān huì shū měi suǒ zài)
宁为握节死,安肯屈膝拜。(nìng wèi wò jié sǐ ān kěn qū xī bài)
有时横槊吟,句法尤雄迈。(yǒu shí héng shuò yín jù fǎ yóu xióng mài)
愚虑仅一得,君才乃十倍。(yú lu:4 jǐn yī dé jūn cái nǎi shí bèi)
霸图务并弱,兵志贵攻昧。(bà tú wù bìng ruò bīng zhì guì gōng mèi)
虽然屡克获,讵可自侈忲。(suī rán lu:3 kè huò jù kě zì chǐ tài)
吕蒙能馘羽,卫瓘足缚艾。(Lu:3 Méng néng guó yǔ wèi guàn zú fù ài)
南师未宜轻,夜半防斫寨。(nán shī wèi yí qīng yè bàn fáng zhuó zhài)

Note

a) 繇 can be read as yáo/yóu/zhòu

b) 隽 can be read as jùn/juàn

c) the Webmaster has trouble applying the pronunciation marks to  lu:.

The following would be a translation by Dennis A. Leventhal in his The Chess of China. The Webmaster feels that it is a rather accurate translation. (3)

“Lesser arts are not difficult to master,

But even the best minds have more to learn.

Look at the chess game in the tangerine!

Their wisdom did not extend beyond the board.

Two states stand firm like mountains,

Divided by a great river border.

Encampments laid out a central power

Of four walls make a firm stronghold.

Thirty-two units in all,

One by one, they transform the array.

First (one) advances to challenge the enemy;

(The other) marshals a fortress-like defense.

Thrusting deeply, one sacrifices his braves;

(The other) holds firm awaiting opportunity.

Some are held off like at the siege of Chü;

Some assault swiftly like the strike through Ts’ai.

Distant cannon is no vain threat,

Massed infantry needs skilled handling.

Defeat may arise from lesser numbers,

(But) may not strong blows overcome the greater?

At K’un-yang, even with his elephants, (Wang Mang’s army) fled;

At Ch’en-t’ao, ‘though strong in chariots, (Fang Kuan) suffered defeat.

With only a few cavalry, Kuo (Tzu-yi) went forth to victory;

‘Though only an advisor, Chi An remained by (the throne).

After presenting his captives, the General is recorded as meritious;

For his excellent achievements, the people praise him happily. “

 

As can be seen in Liu Kezhuang’s poem, the rules for Xiangqi were already well-known and developed by his time, which would be the Southern Song Dynasty. All seven types of chess pieces were mentioned, and the number of men was also clearly specified. The layout of the Xiangqi board could also be interpreted in the poem.

The mention of the cannon as one of the chess pieces was also significant as we would not doubt that the Xiangqi played back then was the same as modern-day Xiangqi.

Liu Kezhuang’s poem/ode has been listed as one of the concrete pieces of evidence proving that the Xiangqi we play today had already taken form during the Southern Song Dynasty, about a thousand years ago.

 

Other mention of the Rules in later ancient manuals

The rules of Xiangqi that were used in ancient times were a little bit different. Evidence of this can be found in still extant ancient manuals that go back as far as the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644AD). The rules used in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912AD) were a continuation of the ones used in the Ming Dynasty. Of notable interest would be the user that was written in the Remains of the Heart of the Warrior (《心武残篇》xīn wǔ cán piān) whereby there was a rare segment discussing the rules of Xiangqi in its time. There was also a slight mention of the rules int eh Plum Flower Springs Manual. (4 页 52)

World Xiangqi RulesIn 1956, Xiangqi gained status as a sport in China, and the Chinese Xiangqi Association was formed. The first-ever Chinese Xiangqi Individual Championships in China were held that year, and a committee was formed to formulate the rules. As the Chinese Xiangqi Association regulated the rules, the Webmaster has decided to call them the CXA Rules, which are called 《象棋竞赛规则》(xiàng qí jìng sài guī zé). The CXA rules would be translated as Rules of Xiangqi to be used in competition. To date, there have been more than ten revisions with the latest revision being done in 2011.

However, as the standard of Xiangqi was a few notches higher in China than in other parts of the world, a separate set of rules was formulated to cater to competition outside of China. This set of rules was formulated by the Asian Xiangqi Federation back in the late 1970s, and the Webmaster has decided to call them the AXF Rules.

The Asian Xiangqi Federation was the biggest group in charge of the promotion of the games outside of China. However, the amount of work to be done was too much. So the World Xiangqi Federation (WXF) was formed in 1991 to help shoulder the responsibilities of spreading Xiangqi.

Both the AXF and WXF used the AXF Rules in tournaments throughout the world, and it was the golden standard for a long time. There were also periodical revisions to the AXF Rules.

In 2018, to unify the rules for international promotion, the World Xiangqi Rules (《世界象棋规则》shì jiè xiàng qí guī zé)was jointly commissioned by the WXF, the AXF, and the CXA. It was based primarily on the AXF Rules. Most importantly, an English version of the rules was added, which the Webmaster had the honor of doing the translations.

The World Xiangqi Rules is now the official standard set of rules to be used in competition outside of China.

But why are there two sets of rules?

In a nutshell, the level of play in China is still decades ahead of the rest of the World. To cater to this level of Xiangqi, the implemented CXA Rules are much more demanding than the World Xiangqi Rules. While Xiangqi is still being introduced to the West, the less demanding World Xiangqi Rules would be more readily accepted by newcomers and make promoting Xiangqi much easier.

So, if the visitor to this site is a relative newcomer, the World Xiangqi Rules is the only set of rules that you need to know and understand. The World Xiangqi Rules can be bought online from bookstores in China.

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Rules used in Ancient Manuals

According to Tu Jingming’s Xiangqi Dictionary (《象棋词典》), there was no unified set of rules for Xiangqi in ancient times, and there was little discussion. Perpetual Checks were not allowed, though. As mentioned earlier, only the Remains of the Heart of the Warrior (《心武残篇》xīn wǔ cán piān) contained a rare segment discussing the rules of Xiangqi in its time. (4 页 52)

An alternate Check and Mating Threat, Alternate Check and Threat to Capture, Perpetual Mating Threat, Perpetual offer of material were deemed as draws if neither color wished to change their moves.

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Rules used in Casual Play

Most people asking about the rules of Xiangqi probably refer to simple rules for conducting a game for casual play.

Over the years, the Webmaster has been asked many times about the rules. In the old website, there was a section dedicated to the Rules used by the Asian Xiangqi Federation or AXF Rules for short. However, after moving the website, the Webmaster decided to delete the section altogether for reasons that will be explained later.

It would be hard to compare the rules of both games, but the Webmaster has chosen to discuss them in two different scenarios: the rules used in casual over-the-board play and the rules used in tournaments.

In a nutshell, the following rules would be fundamental differences that International Chess players have to get used to when trying out Xiangqi:

  • Perpetual Checks (长将 cháng jiāng) are never allowed. This rule rises above all other rules. The player delivering perpetual checks would be punished with a loss even if he had a winning position.
  • A stalemate (困毙 kùn bì) would end in a loss for the color whose king was placed in a stalemate. You have to fight till death, even if it means coming out of a shelter.
  • There is no such thing as the promotion of the pawns or en passant, as described above.
  • The existence of a special rule called the Royal Rule, which states that the Kings cannot face each other the same file without any intervening piece (which may be of either color). This rule would give the king a chariot-like presence, especially in the endgame.

There are some similarities for the rules used in Xiangqi and International Chess:

  • Takebacks are NOT allowed, but the rule can be broken quite often in OTB play.
  • The Touch-Move Rule is to be followed in both forms of chess, but again, OTB play is very similar.
  • Time controls for both casual and tournaments are similar.
  • Tournaments are organized using similar systems like the Swiss systems.

For how to move the pieces and capture material, please refer to the article on how to play Xiangqi.

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Official Rules used in Competition

There are TWO sets of Rules in Xiangqi. In a nutshell, as competition is generally a few notches higher in China, Xiangqi tournaments in China adhere to the Rules given by the Chinese Xiangqi Association, which will be abbreviated as the CXA Rules. For tournaments outside of China, the recently unified World Xiangqi Rules, which was published in 2018, is the golden standard. For newcomers still unfamiliar with which set of rules to follow, the World Xiangqi Rules would be the only set of rules to follow.

There are some differences between the World Xiangqi Rules and the CXA Rules, but they are concerned mainly with repetitions. To decrease the possibility of ending in a draw, the CXA Rules are generally stricter and more demanding on the players. For example, the Fifty-Move Rule is used in the World Xiangqi Rules, while the CXA Rules demand at least sixty plies before a draw can be reached. It is not in the interest of this article to go into further differences between the two sets of rules.

The World Xiangqi Rules, on the other hand, was based on the rules presented by the Asian Xiangqi Federation (AXF for short). In 2018, the AXF rules were slightly modified to become the World Xiangqi Rules. An English version was finally available, and the Webmaster was honored to have been able to provide the English translations.

As for International Chess, the FIDE rules remain the gold standard.

The system for the passing of judgment on repeated positions is also different in Xiangqi.

In summary, in the event of a dubious position, the following scenario is usually seen:

  • The clock is stopped by the player who wants a consultation, and the arbiter is called to pass judgment.
  • The arbiter would then identify the ‘nature’ of the recurring moves for both Red and Black.
  • He/she would then determine if the nature of the moves for Red were legal or illegal, and the same thing would be repeated for Black’s moves.
  • If Red’s moves were legal, and Black’s moves were illegal, Black would have to change his moves or be punished according to the rules and vice versa.
  • If the moves by both colors were legal, it would be a draw if neither color wished to change their moves.
  • The situation would become complicated if the moves of both colors were illegal, and the other stipulations and clauses would have to be consulted before the arbiter passes his judgment.

In short, the nature of the moves is the key to passing judgment.

They include:

  • Checks,
  • Mating Threats,
  • Chases (by material of one color on an enemy piece),
  • Exchange Offers,
  • Blocks,
  • Discovered Chess to capture material et cetera.

There are very specific definitions of each of the terms which would be beyond the scope of this article.

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Special Rules for Handicap Matches

Yuntai Mountain in Henan Province China.There are special stipulations in handicap matches. To begin with, handicap matches can be differentiated into two categories:Material Handicap Matches and Move Handicap Matches.

In Material Handicap Matches, whereby a piece, usually a horse, is given up by the stronger player, there are special stipulations to ensure that the game is still playable for the person with a handicap.

For example, in matches whereby two horses are given, the central Pawn of the player with the handicap CANNOT BE CAPTURED unless it moved. The Central Pawn would be known as an Untouchable Pawn (铁兵 tiě bīng). (4 页 52)

In handicap matches whereby a chariot is given up, there is a special stipulation known as the Untouchable Flank (三座宫 sān zuò gōng) Untouchable Cannon (铁炮 tiě pào). The Untouchable Cannon would specifically refer to the Cannon on the flank where the chariot had been given up. (4 页 23) This Cannon cannot be captured unless it moved. The Horse in the same flank would be known as the Untouchable Horse (铁马 tiě mǎ). There would also be an Untouchable Pawn, which would refer to the Pawn on the Edge File. The stipulation is such: Pieces in the Untouchable Flank, the Untouchable Cannon, the Untouchable Horse, and the Untouchable Pawn CANNOT BE CAPTURED UNLESS THEY HAVE MOVED

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Rules used in Xiangqi apps and devices

One of the biggest problems facing Xiangqi app development is the rules. And if would cause the game developers a huge headache because of the different sets of rules in use.

For example, the Tiantian Xiangqi App is perhaps the most popular Xiangqi app there is. In repeated positions, Tiantian Xiangqi would not seem to be able to pass the correct judgment. Instead, most of the time, it would be a draw.

The Webmaster has also seen similar issues with other apps.

Perhaps, if the Rules of Xiangqi would take into consideration the computer programming required, the Rules of Xiangqi would be perfected.

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Afterthoughts:

The Webmaster has often marveled at the fact that the same set of rules for Xiangqi had already existed over one thousand years ago. Although there were minor corrections, the Rules in the ancient times still apply! It is also quite remarkable that the rules of handicap games were quite sophisticated.

As an ending note, for beginners who want to know the basics of the rules, the official set of rules would be the World Xiangqi Rules. The Webmaster was honored to have translated the English version of the Rules. The book itself can be bought online.

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References

1. contributors, Wikipedia. Liu Kezhuang. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [Online] Page Version ID: 954541558, May 2, 2020. [Cited: Sep 14, 2020.] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Liu_Kezhuang&oldid=954541558.

2. 未知. 《象弈一首呈叶潜仲(节选)·[宋]刘克庄》原文与赏析. [联机] 2019年. [引用日期: 2020年Sept月14日.] https://www.pinshiwen.com/gsdq/zheli/2019050622576.html.

3. Levanthal, Dennis A. The Chess of China. Taipei : Mei Ya Publications, 1978. 978-0899551586.

4. 屠, 景明 and 杨, 柏伟. 象棋词典. 上海 : 上海文华出版社, 2009. 978-7-80740-339-5/G。475.