Beifang Qiyi, the Xiangqi lover's companion in the 20th century 01
Author: Jim Png
Note: This article first appeared on Xiangqi.com.
From the mid-1970s to the 1990s, many Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) periodicals entertained the millions of Xiangqi lovers in China and abroad, particularly in Southeast Asia. Out of these periodicals, perhaps the most popular and influential monthly Xiangqi periodical in the 1980s- 1990s was Beifang Qiyi (《北方棋艺》běi fāng qí yì). The author remembers scavenging for old editions of the monthly magazine in the late 1980s and 1990s in old bookshops at Bras Basah Complex in Singapore. It was a joy to find any old editions.
In this article, the author will pay homage to this very important Xiangqi periodical. In many ways, it is a trip down memory lane.
The article will be discussed with the following contents.
- Humble Beginnings
- A Platform to broadcast News and Information about Xiangqi
- Trends in Opening Theory
- Providing Records and Analyses of the games
- Midgame Magic and Analyses
- Endgame Theory
- Endgame Compositions
- The Culture of Xiangqi (Poetry, Riddles, et cetera)
- Book Introductions and Reviews
Diagram 1 Cover of the 4th edition of Beifang Qiyi in 1979
Beifang Qiyi was first published in 1979. The chief editor was the legendary Grandmaster Wang Jialiang (王嘉良 wáng jiā liáng, 1933-present) from Hei Long Jiang Province. The process of publishing the magazine was a long and arduous one.
According to the Grandmaster's memoirs, which he had recently published, the idea for the magazine was already born back in the 1960s, and Grandmaster Wang Jialiang had submitted his proposal to the relevant authorities. The year was 1965 when he submitted his proposal for a magazine on Xiangqi.
Unfortunately, not long after his submission, China underwent the Cultural Revolution, and all Xiangqi activity halted for almost a decade. The magazine had to wait even longer, and it was until April of 1979 that the very first edition of Beifang Qiyi was finally completed. The grandmaster had to pull a lot of strings and put in much effort to realize his dream.
Initially, Beifang Qiyi was meant to be a magazine that featured Xiangqi, Weiqi, and International Chess. The Xiangqi section was spearheaded by Grandmaster Wang himself, while legendary Weiqi superstar Nie Weiping (聂卫平 NièWèipíng 1952 - present) was responsible for the Weiqi section. The Grandmaster did not mention much about the International Chess division.
At the very beginning, Grandmaster Wang Jialiang wrote most of the articles on Xiangqi himself. He had some help from Li Delin (李德林 Lǐ Dé lín， ? - ?). Li Delin was also a co-author of several of the grandmaster's early books. Perhaps he is most recognized as the author of A Complete Collection of Checkmating Techniques in Xiangqi (《象棋杀着大全》xiàng qí shā zháo dà quán).
Grandmaster Wang recalled Li having to work as an engineer during the day. Li would go to the small room where they were assigned after work to help write articles on Xiangqi. The two would give their best to publish high-quality articles. Whenever they were tired, they would sleep on the table and snooze before waking up and continuing. It was common for them to work through the night. Soon, they had to get more help as both men were overworked.
Finally, when the first edition was nearly out, the Grandmaster recalled running into more unexpected trouble. They had been initially given a grant of ten thousand yen, but somehow the funds were siphoned for other uses. The Grandmaster had to plea with the printing houses to make payments at the end of the year.
Luckily, their efforts touched the heavens. The very first issue of the magazine sold over seventy thousand copies which exceeded expectations manifold. Soon, they were able to cover their costs, and the magazine was finally up and running.
Grandmaster Wang soon turned his attention to Beifang Qiyi full time. But he was not relieved of his duties as a Xiangqi competitor and still had to lead the Heilongjiang team in Xiangqi competition. The magazine strained his efforts, and it showed in his results in 1979 and 1980. In particular, he lost to one of his arch-nemesis, Hu Ronghua, in 1979. It was a regret that the Grandmaster had to live with as he mentioned these events in his memoir with a heavy heart. (1)
Back in the 1980s, China was just starting to open its borders to the world. Before the 1980s, there was minimal Xiangqi interaction between players in China and those in Southeast Asia. Information about tournaments in China was limited and hard to come by.
The Asian Xiangqi Federation was formed in 1978, and it marked a new era as Xiangqi began to be promoted internationally. International events started to flourish in the 1980s, but before the age of the internet, the transfer of information was limited.
Today's younger generation cannot appreciate a world without the internet. The ubiquitous presence of the internet and devices like smartphones have made access to information much more effortless. Literally, whatever answers you needed could be found at your fingertips.
However, the 1980s and early 1990s were still the time before the internet. Information about Xiangqi could only be obtained from periodicals like Beifang Qiyi and other books. Often, news of Xiangqi events in China could only be accessed several months later in other countries in south-east Asia.
Information like the news of various international events, the scores of the games played at these events, analyses of the games, the particulars of Chinese and International players… et cetera, had to depend on periodicals like Beifang Qiyi and other Xiangqi magazines, newspapers at that time. And the articles given in Beifang Qiyi were perhaps of the highest quality and most readily accessible.
Perhaps it was luck and great timing, but Beifang Qiyi managed to fill the niche for spreading information about Xiangqi, both in China and internationally. Indeed, Xiangqi promotion would never have been the same without Beifang Qiyi. Not only did Beifang Qiyi play a role in promoting Xiangqi, but its contents also immensely helped Xiangqi enthusiasts everywhere to improve their game.
The magazine's contents had much variety, and it served many vital roles in the promotion of Xiangqi in China and south-east Asia.
Diagram 2 1979 2nd Edition of Beifang Qiyi. Short report of Chinese Team playing against Hong Kong Team
The notice above reported about the Chinese Team traveling to Hong Kong for a friendly competition. The Chinese Team won against the Hong Kong team, who put up a respectable performance. It was noteworthy that Xiangqi grandmasters like Hu Ronghua and Yang Guanlin lost some of their games in that encounter.
The author remembers searching second-hand book stores when he was in secondary school (junior high) back in Singapore for various magazines to find information about these events. They were very cheap and informative. Soon, he would buy more than he could read, and they became collector's items. Unfortunately, he would lose many of these books when he moved house.
Diagram 3 1983 5th Edition of Beifang Qiyi. Report of GM Li Laiqun's success at the Asian Xiangqi Cities Championships
Diagram 4 1986 Aug Edition. Notice of an International Team of Xiangqi experts going to America to promote the game.
In the author's opinion, reading Beifang Qiyi would be equivalent to seeing the evolution of Xiangqi from the 1970s to the 1990s. The following article will showcase most of the contents of the magazine. For the author, it has also been a trip back down memory lane.
Perhaps the most popular section in the magazine would be the section on opening theory and trends in the Xiangqi Opening. The editors and authors of the boards would analyze the boards from various tournaments and identify novelties. These articles would often spark a trend, and suddenly many people would use the lines given in Beifang Qiyi, with further refinements, in their matches not long after the articles were published. Indeed, the author is not exaggerating when he claims that Beifang Qiyi set the trends for the ways games were played.
The diagram below shows an excerpt of the discussion on one of the variations in the 56 Cannons vs. Sandwiched Horse Defense with Right Elephant Variation. It was by Grandmaster Hu Ronghua!
Diagram 5 1981 11th Edition of Beifang Qiyi. Grandmaster Hu Ronghua introduces the 56 Cannons vs. Sandwiched Horse Defense with Right Elephant Variation
Back in the 1970s to early 1990s, Beifang Qiyi was one of the sources to find the scores of different players. As mentioned earlier, that was before the age of the internet. Often, magazines like Beifang Qiyi were the only available source of the scores, sometimes only the raw scores without any commentaries, of essential matches.
The commentaries given in the various analyses represented some of the highest level Xiangqi commentaries of its times. Xiangqi Grandmasters and Masters alike would pick the brain of the players of the match and past comments. Sometimes, the game was commented on by one of the players. The reader could get a rough idea of what was going on in the player's mind during that game by reading the commentary.
The comments given in the various analyses also contained some of the latest variations in Xiangqi opening at that time, and they would often spark a trend.
The commentaries of the passages were one of the best ways to improve your game.
Diagram 6 1979 1st edition of Beifang Qiyi. Analysis of a game played between Master Li Guangliu and Grandmaster Hu Ronghua
This page was taken from the 1st edition of Beifang Qiyi. It was a commentary of a game that was played between Guangdong's Master Li Guangliu vs. Shanghai's Grandmaster Hu Ronghua. The titles of Xiangqi Master and Grandmaster were only available and given a few years later!
The commentaries of the passages were one of the best ways to improve your game.
The midgame phase is perhaps the most challenging phase in Xiangqi. The study of the midgame phase is usually done on a case-by-case basis with a central theme. This format was used in Beifang Qiyi.
Various Xiangqi Masters have written articles over the years. Notable mention must be given to Master Huang Shaolong's (黄少龙 huáng shào lóng,1939 - present) articles which represent top tier quality material on Xiangqi. An example of the venerable Master's work is shown in Diagram 7.
Diagram 7 1980 3rd edition. Short article on the analysis of a midgame position by Master Huang Shaolong.
The endgame phase in Xiangqi is another critical phase. Naturally, since ancient times, the endgame phase has been studied in detail. Patterns and rules have been identified.
The topic of endgames may seem tedious, but it is anything but so! There are many tricks and traps for specific scenarios.
Endgame theory has significantly progressed since ancient times, so much so that there are new theories and principles to learn. The editors at Beifang Qiyi understood the importance of the endgame, and this section has been one of its core and most important sections in the book.
The following article is a discussion of a specific endgame situation. It is by the late Li Zhongjiang (李中健 lǐ zhōng jiàn, 1939-2012). The author has nothing but the highest respect for Li and considers him to be one of the authorities on the subject of Xiangqi endgames. Together with Grandmaster Wang Jialiang and Wang Guoshun, the three would publish The Complete Guide to Xiangqi Endgames (《象棋残局大全》xiàng qí cán jú dà quán). This book has been reprinted several times and remains one of the authoritative books on the topic.
Given below is an analysis of a particular endgame situation.
Diagram 8 1983 5th Edition. The great Li Zhongjian discusses Chariot-Horse Shots in various positional wins.
The study of endgames and the creation of endgame compositions (排局 pái jú), known as problems in International Chess, is another integral and vital portion of Xiangqi. Of course, there had to be a section devoted to this branch of Xiangqi.
In 1980, the magazine turned one year old, and several endgame compositions were created to honor the event. Usually, the answers would be given in the next edition of the magazine, but the answers were given below in this instance. See Diagram 9 and Diagram 10.
Diagram 9 1980 02 Beifang Qiyi Edition. Endgame compositions in the form of Chinese characters are shown here. They are 北方棋艺. They were created to commemorate the magazine turning one year old.
Diagram 10 Published answers to the endgame compositions given above.
There was also much discussion of the puzzles in the ancient manuals. Many of these puzzles found in the ancient manuals were imperfect and flawed. People have been studying them for centuries. However, it was in the mid-twentieth century that Lin Youru (林幼如lín yòu rú, 1920 - 1963) started publishing endgames that more people could understand what faults or flaws that others had found in these endgame compositions. (2)
When Beifang Qiyi came about, it served as another significant platform for the study of endgame compositions.
Diagram 11 1980 2nd Edition of Beifang Qiyi. Discussion of the famous endgame The Three Sworn Brothers Battling Lv Bu from the ancient manuals.
The endgame discussed here is quite famous. The title is based on an incident from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (《三国演义》Sān guó Yǎn yì) which mentioned the three sworn brothers of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei doing battle against Lv Bu.
In the original ancient manual, it was suggested that the endgame should end in a draw. But further study by modern-day endgame experts in Hong Kong found that Red should have won instead. Yet, experts in China would later agree that Red should win, but the moves given by the Hong Kong experts could be further refined. There was a howled lot of references and discussion. The author admits that he often had trouble getting past the first variation or sub-variation as a young boy. (See Diagram 10) But the depth and breadth of these discussions have mesmerized Xiangqi lovers for centuries.
Diagram 12 Further discussion of the endgame given above.
Last but not least, the magazine's readers were often challenged to solve various endgame compositions, using a 'Puzzle of the Month' format. Xiangqi enthusiasts from all over China would submit their answers. There were simple gifts of cash and magazines to encourage more readers.
Diagram 13 1983 Apr Edition of Beifang Qiyi. Endgame Composition Challenge.
Beifang Qiyi was loaded with much information about the culture of Xiangqi. Many articles addressed this aspect of Xiangqi. Indeed, there were many aspects to Xiangqi that the author did not know before reading the magazine. It was the go-to source for many Xiangqi enthusiasts.
The following is an article by Li Geng (李浭 Lǐ Gēng, ? – present) who is one of the most prolific Xiangqi authors. He has well over 60 books in his name.
Diagram 14 1984 July Edition. Prolific Xiangqi author Li Geng discusses some of the prose and poetry from the Song Dynasty.
For example, sometimes, there were Xiangqi riddles. An example is the one given from the February edition of 1972. The riddles appeared at the bottom of one page, and the answers could only be found many pages later.
Diagram 15 1979 2nd edition of Beifang Qiyi. Some Xiangqi riddles were given at the start of the magazine.
The answers to the riddles were given a few pages later to encourage the readers to read through the book to find them.
Diagram 16 1979 2nd edition of Beifang Qiyi. Answers to the Xiangqi riddles were given several pages later.
There are hundreds of books that are published each year on Xiangqi. The quality of the books can vary greatly. Book recommendations can also be found in Beifang Qiyi. The recommended books are often very high-quality books that will be snapped up by Xiangqi enthusiasts everywhere.
The diagram below shows the recommendation of another book by Grandmaster Wang Jialiang on the Same Direction Cannons.
It is also interesting to see how cheap the books were in the 1970s and 1980s.
Diagram 17 1981 Aug Edition. Book recommendation of 《桔中胆》.
The following is a book recommendation of Xu Jialiang's reassessment of the ancient manual, Elegant Pastime Manual. This book remains one of the authorities on the Elegant Pastime Manual.
Diagram 18 1981 11th Edition of Beifang Qiyi. Xu Jialiang's remaster of the Elegant Pastime Manual is introduced.
The book reviews found in Beifang Qiyi are also top-notch. There are detailed analyses of the various books and what new information they can provide. Given below is an introduction to the Central Cannon with Pawn Ranked Chariot Treatise. The author had the book, but somehow it got lost before he could even finish the first chapter.
Diagram 19 1983 5th Edition of Beifang Qiyi. A book review of the Central Cannon with Pawn Ranked Chariot Treatise 《中炮过河车专辑》 is shown.
To be cont’d