Xie Xiaxun articles, translated from Mu Men Xian Sheng

The Heart of the true Chinese Chess King ---- Xie Xiaxun (1)
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!

During the 4th China Hangzhou International Conference on Chess Culture, I finally had the chance to meet with the chairman of Wenzhou City’s Xiangqi Association. We had been in contact for some time. Chairman Wang’s gift to me was The Patriotic Chess King Xie Xiaxun 《爱国棋王谢侠逊》. Xie Xiaxun was the widely acknowledged Xiangqi king for an entire generation, but my knowledge of him was rather fragmented. This book was a well-organized biography of Xie’s life. After reading the book, I had many reflections.

Xie was without a doubt one of the monumental figures in the history of Xiangqi, and he was one of the rare patriots that had a heart to match.

(1) A child genius

Xie Xiaxun was born on the first of October in 1888 to a farmer in Tong Qiao Tou Village (硐桥头村 Hanyu Pinyin tóng qiáo tóu cūn), which was located in the Feng Chao region (凤巢乡 Hanyu Pinyin fèng cháo xiāng) of Teng Jiao Town (平阳腾蛟 Hanyu Pinyin téng jiāo), in Ping Yang County (平阳, Hanyu Pinyin píng yáng) , Zhejiang province. It was a town that was rich in history and has been known as the “Town of Chess.”

There was an exquisite description of Teng Jiao Town, amongst which the verse “卧牛山下鼻息地,笔架山前凤凰窝”left a lasting impression on the author.

“The lazy cattle laid at the foot of the mountains, behind was the nest of the phoenix.. “ (This would be the translator’s brave attempt at translating the verse).

Xie Xiaxun’s father was a lover of Xiangqi. When I read this sentence, it struck a chord in me. Xiangqi was indeed an aspect of culture that was passed from generation to generation. The childhoods of Yang Guanlin and Hu Ronghua demonstrated uncanny resemblance to Xie’s childhood. In fact, many Xiangqi Masters had similar experiences in their childhood that were similar to Xie’s. That was because Xiangqi was everywhere in the families, villages or towns that they grew up in. It is the good fortune of the Chinese civilization to have such an environment for children to grow up in.

 The young Xie learned the game from his father, and he was completely mesmerized by Xiangqi, often forgetting to take his meals.

 Many Xiangqi masters demonstrated the same attributes that Xie had done that they were special in terms of Xiangqi. Such a phenomenon is worthy of analysis and study. Like his predecessor Xie Xiaxun, Yang Guanlin was known to have been able to play Xiangqi at six, and Li Laiqun was well known to have been able to play Xiangqi at four.

When Xie was nine, he was given his first Xiangqi manual Strategic Considerations 《韬略玄机》 (Hanyu Pinyin tāo lüè xuán jī), which was an ancient manual from the Qing dynasty. Xie could not let his hands off the ancient manual. What would happen when a nine-year-old studied something as deep as Strategic Considerations ? Well, Xie became the king of Xiangqi in his township the following year!

But, was Xie a child genius? Perhaps after being ‘king of Xiangqi, we could indeed make such a statement. But like his successor Yang Guanlin, Xie was not born with such a gift. His success was a culmination of a burning desire for Xiangqi and pure hard work. That is why it would be more appropriate to call Xie Xiaxun a ‘hardworking child genius’!

 The Chinese have a virtue: we all feel proud of the child geniuses around us, and we would wish that these child prodigies would achieve and succeed in life to make the villages or towns that they came from proud!

 When Xie was thirteen, he was already the pride of his village and township. Everybody wished that he would be able to break free of poverty and travel to Wenzhou to challenge the Xiangqi king there. It was interesting to read in the book that during the discussions of Xie by the villagers. defeating the Xiangqi king at Wenzhou would seem to a matter of fact despite Xie’s young age!

 Xie’s clan united together to raise money for this endeavor. Three yuan was raised, and Xie began his first long distanced Xiangqi journey at thirteen. He had the expectations of his fellow villagers burdening his shoulders. But who would have expected that this was but the first of the trips that Xie would make during his lifetime? The duties would become heavier and so wound the trips be fraught with danger. But for the thirteen-year-old Xie, the passion that he had would be all that he needed.

Perhaps, Xie was born to make such trips for the history of China!

 To be continued…
Note: This article is original and may not be shared or downloaded without permission from the author or translator.


Even Child Prodigies get nervous.
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.

Thirteen year old Xie Xiaxun wanted to take on the king of Xiangqi in Wenzhou county, a man by the name of Chen Sheng (陈笙, Hanyu Pinyin chén shēng). Perhaps this name may be unfamiliar. However, in the same era, at the turn of the century in China, there was a very well known player called Lin Yixian (林弈仙 Hanyu Pinyin lín yì xiān) who was nicknamed the “Invincible Central Cannon” (無敵中炮, Hanyu Pinyin wú dí zhōng pào). And who did Li Yixian learn his craft from? It was none other than Chen Sheng. An interesting point to note was that Li also exhibited a talent for Xiangqi at the age of six, like Xie Xiaxun.

Chen Sheng was a man well-known in Xiangqi circles at the time and many sought to learn Xiangqi from him. Yet, he was now faced with a scrawny young lad who had dared to challenge him. Chen had very strict rules for accepting challenges. He would only accept challenges if the prize money was twenty yuan.

This was a dilemma for Xie, who had only two yuan in his pocket. We can only marvel at the good fortune of Hu Ronghua who had many enthusiastic Xiangqi mentors to introduce him to Dou Guozhu (窦国柱 Hanyu Pinyin dòu guó zhù). It was a stark contrast to Xie’s misfortune. This incident must have left a mark in Xie and perhaps that was why when Xie met Hu, he would often treat Hu as his own and play Xiangqi with him.

Media coverage of child prodigies nowadays would often describe how mature or how great the prodigy was. But thirteen year old Xie was none of that. Xie begged for a chance to play against Chen, who was finally touched by Xie’s persistence and his plight. Chen decided to lower the prize money to two yuan per match. Even so, Xie could not afford to lose his two yuan.

The young lad was very nervous in the first match. In the book, Xie was described as shivering all over and even his teeth kept rattling in fear. We can only imagine what Chen must have felt when faced with such a shivering opponent. Xie’s nervousness could be attributed to his young age, an age whereby most children were not supposed to shoulder such heavy burden. Moreover, Xie had never played any money games in his life before. Coupled with the fact that his two yuan represented everything that he had, we can only imagine the stress that he went through. We can only sympathize with Xie’s plight, the plight of a hard-working child prodigy trying to make it in life; an aspiring child prodigy who lived in poverty.

The match was played under the scrutiny of the public… and Chen lost! Xie, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, managed to gain an advantage in the opening, and slowly collected himself before winning the first match!

We may say that Chen had lost because he had been too conceited and that he had looked down on Xie. But whatever the reason, it did not change the fact that Chen had lost.

A rematch was immediately arranged and Chen managed to avenge himself. In the third and final match, both competitors gave everything they had. Xie managed to gain an advantage but Chen was not one to be trifled with and the two finally drew their last match.

Chen was embarrassed that he could not defeat the young lad, despite having stamped his name in Xiangqi circles for such a long time. But Chen was full of praise for the young Xie, and felt that Xie was better than himself. Praise had to be given to Chen for his breadth of mind.

 As for Xie Xiaxun, he became an overnight sensation and made a name for himself.

 After his match against Chen Sheng, Xie went back and worked even harder to perfect his Xiangqi. Xie’s attitude would be so different from the children nowadays who easily become conceited after a small achievement. It was also a stark contrast to the adults who brag forever about their past glories.

 A tiny but unmistakable star was born in the regional Xiangqi circles, and Xie became known as the Xiangqi Child Prodigy.

 After making his name, there was another Xiangqi expert who became interested in Xie. And this man would have great influence over Xie’s life…

 To be continued…

Note: This article is original and may not be shared or downloaded without permission from the author or the translator.


 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 (徒林弈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…

Note: This article is original and may not be shared or downloaded without permission from the author or the translator.


Click here for page 2 in the series. Or here for a short summary of Xie's life by the webmaster.
First created 20161028
Last updated 20161101

This website and its content is copyright of xqinenglish.com 2011-2019. All rights reserved.