Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) Basics 01 General Introduction

Xiangqi 象棋 is an ancient game that has been played by the Chinese for centuries. It is a strategy game for two people and is perhaps the most widely played board game in the World.

Xiangqi is ubiquitous. People are playing in parks, community centers, temples, in schools, et cetera. If you were to go to any Chinese community in China or South-east Asia, it would not be too hard to find people playing the game. The emergence of the Internet has also added a new playing ground for Xiangqi. But the general impression of Xiangqi stops here. Perhaps the advances in the Internet and the rise of China as a global superpower has made more non-Chinese interested in the game.


Yet, Xiangqi is barely known outside of the Chinese community. Xiangqi would seem to be a mystical game that originated from China. Most of the search queries on Google regarding Xiangqi revolved mainly on how to play the game and where to play it. The technical aspects of the game are but a tiny fraction of what Xiangqi is.

Xiangqi is much more than just a game! The cultural and historical aspects of the game are ignored. Not only is Xiangqi popular as a game, but it is also an inseparable part of the culture of the Chinese. There are dozens of idioms, expressions, concepts that are rooted in Xiangqi. Understand Xiangqi, and many Chinese philosophies can be readily appreciated. There is so much more to Xiangqi, and calling it a mere game would simply be doing it a great injustice.

What is Xiangqi? What is International Chess?It was with this idea in mind that the Webmaster wrote this article. The goal is simple: to show the magnificent World of Xiangqi and not just focus on playing the game. But…

  • How do you present the World of Xiangqi to the West?
  • How do you share with the West the culture, the history, the philosophical aspects, et cetera of Xiangqi?
  • What is Xiangqi like in the modern-day World?
  • Can Xiangqi be introduced in its entirety?

These questions were some of the questions that have haunted the Webmaster ever since he started www.xqinenglish.com in 2011.

After many trials and errors, the Webmaster has found the best way to present Xiangqi to the West would be to break it down into various topics for discussion.

To attempt to present Xiangqi in its entirety, the Webmaster has divided the introduction of Xiangqi into the following topics:

Some common misconceptions

Some of the most common reactions that the Webmaster has seen include:

  • Xiangqi IS Shogi à Shogi is a similar game that the Japanese play.
  • Xiangqi IS Janggi à No again. Janggi is a similar game with similar pieces that the Koreans play.
  • Mistaking Xiangqi for Weiqi or Go as the West is more familiar with -à No again. Xiangqi and Weiqi are the two most commonly played games. Weiqi, or the 'surrounding game' as some would call it, has been around for thousands of years. One of the earliest pieces of advice about Weiqi was written by Ban Gu 班固. There was already mention of Weiqi players in the Spring and Autumn Period. Confucius had mentioned a prototype of Xiangqi and Weiqi in his teachings.
  • Thinking that Xiangqi is the Chinese checkers à Double Hell No. Google pictures of the two games, and you will see the difference immediately.
  • Assuming that Xiangqi is played with the pieces covered à the covered version(s) came very much later. These versions are considered to be variants of Xiangqi.
  • Thinking that Xiangqi is a form of gambling à Xiangqi has gained a bad reputation because it was classified under Bo 博, which was an ancient term to refer to games that included gambling games like Games of the leaves. Bets are played for money games and are still seen. But in its true essence, Xiangqi is NOT gambling. Some games are played for money in International Chess, but does that make International Chess a gambling activity?
  • Xiangqi is Mahjong à For similar reasons mentioned in point f, Xiangqi is sometimes mistaken for Mahjong. There is, in fact, a variant of a game that uses Xiangqi pieces to play similarly like Mahjong.
  • Xiangqi is a game for the masses in China. The higher classes play Weiqi.--> The history of Xiangqi has shown that in the ancient times, there were Xiangqi experts that were inducted into the Imperial Palace to teach the Emperor how to play Xiangqi. There have also been many records of the Emperor's concubines playing Xiangqi.
  • There are no ranking systems in China, or simply Xiangqi does not have tournaments like International Chess. à No, No, No. Xiangqi players are considered athletes in China, and many tournaments are held annually. There is almost one major tournament held very frequently.
  • There is only one set of rules for Xiangqi. à No, the situation is much more complicated, and it will be explained later.

But perhaps the most controversial misconception would be that Xiangqi is a variant of International Chess. Indeed, Xiangqi is presented as such on many Websites where you can play the game.

The Webmaster begs to differ, and he will explain why in future articles.

There are many more misconceptions about Xiangqi, and it would do justice to Xiangqi if someone were able to explain these misconceptions clearly. To be able to do so would be one of the goals of xqinenglish.com.

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Technical aspects

The technical aspects of the game would remain the first thing that most people want to know about Xiangqi. There is nothing wrong, but most of the material in English, on the Web, would perhaps focus on this section. Unfortunately, it is too narrow a view and would cause people to view Xiangqi as just a game. There has not been any article, in English, as far as the Webmaster can recall, that introduces the technical aspects of Xiangqi. Most of the search results on Google would only stop at articles teaching people how to play the game, and even then, there are some mistakes.

Is Xiangqi just about pushing chess pieces across the board?

Edible Cake XiangqiTechnical aspects of Xiangqi include

How you would play the game

The question that most people ask about Xiangqi is, how do you play Xiangqi. It is the top question in the Google search engine. To answer this question, the Webmaster has written an article to summarize how you would play Xiangqi quickly.

The different phases of Xiangqi

A game of Xiangqi can be broken down into three different phases: the opening phase, the midgame phase, and the endgame phase.

There is a lot to be learned for each of these phases. Hundreds of books have been written on specific topics, and many treatises can be found in the market.

In short, the opening phase would be the first 10-15 plies made by one player. The main idea would be to try to deploy chess pieces to important lines and intersections so that a player would have the initiative.

The midgame phase cannot be defined in terms of plies. However, it would represent the phase of the game, whereby there is a confrontation of the pieces for both colors. Sometimes, a game would be over by the midgame phase.

After trading or losing the material, the game would reach the endgame phase, whereby specific combinations are left on the board. Sometimes, the outcome can be predicted if both colors gave the perfect play. (1) (2) (3) (4)

Some of the deeper books divide the Opening Phase, Middle Phase, and Endgame Phase into sub-phases such as the Early Endgame Phase, Middle Endgame Phase, et cetera. The classification has been done to allow for a more accurate assessment of the principles and characteristics of the situation on the board. This level of knowledge would be slightly more advanced.

It would be impossible to show everything there is to know about any one of these phases. Instead, the Webmaster has written several articles on each topic. Some are still under reconstruction.

Tactics and Strategies

In general, a strategy can be defined as the general game plan that you have. Tactics would be the means that are used to achieve a goal set by the strategy. Hence, the concept of strategy could be suggested to be 'doing the correct thing' while tactics would be 'doing things correctly.' Strategies dictate the tactics to be employed and not the other way around. That is why when the strategy is flawed, even though the tactics carried out were correct, a game would be lost.

So many different strategies and tactics can be found in Xiangqi. In fact, there is no consensus on the types of strategies or tactics that can be found in books. Because of the overlapping nature of some of the tactics or strategies, different books have chosen to focus on different aspects, and they are presented. (5)

In the Webmaster's humble opinion, the best place to start learning tactics would be to learn the various Basic Kills that can be found on the site. These basic kills would demonstrate how various piece-combinations can come together in brilliant ways to achieve wins.

The next best place to learn the strategy and tactical combinations would be the ancient manuals, especially the Elegant Pastime Manual and the Secret in the Tangerine. These two books were the only resources that helped many experts.

The Webmaster will upload various examples of tactics and strategies over time to the Website. They will be presented under the section of the Midgame Phase.

Xiangqi Endgame Compositions

The term 'endgame composition' was suggested by the Asian Xiangqi Federation (AXF) in a short glossary that they published decades ago. The International Chess equivalent would be problems or studies in Xiangqi.

Endgame compositions are human-made puzzles that would otherwise be impossible to arrive at with logical play. There are many traps and tricks to each endgame composition. The longer and tougher endgame compositions are guaranteed to drive you nuts. Please refer to the section on Endgame Compositions, especially the 'Big Four' endgame compositions of all time.

An interesting fact to know is that there are tournaments in China where endgame composers submit various endgame compositions to compete. There are even titles like Grandmaster for these endgame composers.

There is an entire section dedicated to endgame compositions on this site.

How do you improve in Xiangqi

It is impossible to answer this question in a very short paragraph. Generally speaking, a balanced combination of actual play and reading material on the topic, followed by relentless post-mortem analyses and learning from the experts in Xiangqi, is a time-proven formula for success.

All work and no play … well, it would be hard to learn so much about theory and never put it to the test. It would be like sticking your head in the water and learning how to hold your breath but never actually jumping in the pool to swim.

All play and no work … well, books on Xiangqi can cut down the learning curve by showing the important variations and explain why.

The importance of post-mortem analysis is another key method for improving your game. Learn from your mistakes, and try not to make them again. The availability of Xiangqi computer programs and other software have also eased the pain of learning.

Learning from the masters and grandmasters is another quick way to success.

There are many tips on improving your game that can be found in different articles on this site. For example, there is a short section, which the Webmaster has translated, whereby Grandmaster Liu Dianzhong explained the principles of Xiangqi Opening Theory. There is also advice by Grandmaster on Zhao Xinxin on improving your game.

Where can you play

This topic can be divided into physical play and online play.

As mentioned earlier, there are many places where Xiangqi is played in Chinese communities. All you have to do is to ask around. In Taiwan, a Xiangqi group based in Kaohsiung has mapped all the different places where Xiangqi can be played all over the island. ( https://www.kschesscommittee.com/blank-7)

As for online play, there has been an explosion of the number of people playing Xiangqi ever since the COVID 19 pandemic started in early 2020. Apps, computer programs and websites are much better than they used to be a decade ago. The Tian Tian Xiangqi App is the Webmaster's preferred way of playing in his hectic schedule. He usually plays Xiangqi during physiotherapy sessions for a slipped disc and also 5-minute bullet chess when waiting in the parking lot.

The Webmaster has tried to piece together some of the better apps in a separate review of the online resources, but the article can only be written slightly later.

What books or resources are available

There are many books or resources on Xiangqi, but the vast majority of them are written in Chinese. English books and resources are comparatively rare, which was the main reason why the Webmaster started the site a decade ago.

Please try to use all the resources on this site as much as possible. There are also lists of sites and recommendations by the Webmaster to sites.

 As mentioned before, this Website represents the resource that the Webmaster wished he had many decades ago when he started falling in love with Xiangqi.

What are the differences between Xiangqi and International Chess

Another commonly asked question that the Webmaster has been asked over and over again is the difference between Xiangqi and International Chess.

To answer this question to the best of his abilities, the Webmaster has written the following article, Comparing Xiangqi, and International Chess. The article contains material that the Webmaster has not seen on other sites, forums, or articles in English.

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Xiangqi History, Culture, and Philosophy

A Short History of Xiangqi

In a nutshell, Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) has been played by the Chinese for centuries. The current form of Xiangqi that is played nowadays took form no later than the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279AD). Before the Southern Song Dynasty, several games were believed to be the prototypes of Xiangqi.

With regards to the origins of Xiangqi, there are two polarizing opinions:

Most Western scholars and historians like Thomas Hyde, Sir William Jones, HJR Murray[2], et cetera believe that Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) was a product of Chaturanga or Shatranj.

The majority of Chinese scholars and historians believe that Xiangqi was invented in China and underwent a series of evolution before it became the game that we know today. Perhaps the earliest 'ancestor' of Xiangqi was Liubo (六博 liùbó), a mysterious game that was played over 3000 years ago. A Liubo set is shown here. [3] [4] [5] 

For interested readers on the topic of Liubo, a good summary can be found at Jean-Louis Cazaux's site.[6] The article on Wikipedia has also grown nicely.

Other than Liubo, some other ancient games were thought to be the 'ancestor' of Xiangqi. These ancient, non-extant games include Prasaka (波罗赛戏 Bōluó sài xì), Chaupur (樗蒲 chū pú), Sai (塞) et cetera. The Webmaster has done much research into the topic and will present them as time goes by.

Unfortunately, to the Webmaster's knowledge, there has not been any summit whereby Western historians and their Chinese counterparts have sat down and presented their cases for discussion on the origins of Xiangqi (Chinese Chess).

Culture of Xiangqi

As for the culture of Xiangqi, there is much to be said. In ancient times, Chess (used in a generic term to mean strategic board games) was one of the key factors to determine if you were a gentleman or now. Chess (Go and Xiangqi) was listed second in the Four Arts (琴棋书画 qín qí shū huà) that gentlemen were supposed to be proficient. The other three were the Zither (music), Chinese calligraphy, and Chinese Paintings.

The influence of Xiangqi on the everyday life of the Chinese cannot be overstated. There are a few hundred idioms, sayings, expressions, et cetera in Chinese that are rooted in Xiangqi. For example, the expression 弃车保帅 (qì jū bǎo shuài) would mean to sacrifice someone of a lower status or rank to protect another person of high status or rank. If the expression were translated directly, it would mean sacrificing the Chariot to protect the King. Other common expressions include 放马后炮 (fang mǎ hòu pào) which would mean stating the obvious. The saying would stem from the Horse Cannon Checkmate in Xiangqi.

There are many more such expressions, and the Webmaster already has a list published in the Lexicon of Xiangqi Terms in English. Perhaps, if time permits, the Webmaster will organize and create an article to share with the World.

Xiangqi Philosophy

Xiangqi is also a way to some, the path to understanding the inner self. There was a video clip recently by a Taiwanese International Master promoting his course, and one of the comments he made was that Xiangqi was his journey in search of the Tao of life.

Indeed, many articles use the principles in Xiangqi and combine them with modern-day management principles.

The Webmaster loves reading Peter Drucker's works and management and finds many of the concepts presented easily understood if used in the context of Xiangqi.

The ancient military classics like Sun Zi's Art of War, the Six Secret Teachings of Tai Gong et cetera, can be very easily understood if you placed it in the context of Xiangqi. There was a series of videos recently by the Chinese Xiangqi Association whereby certain puzzles were explained using the Thirty-six Strategems. The videos have been translated into English and French and are available on Youtube. The Webmaster is considering refining and adding more content to these videos.

There is so much more to write Xiangqi and how it has impacted the lives of many people in the World. In summary, Xiangqi is a great way to begin your encounter with the culture of the Chinese.

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Governing Bodies and Competitive Xiangqi

Four major governing bodies

The official governing body in China is the Chinese Xiangqi Association (CXA). As the level of play in China is a few notches above the rest of the World, there is a separate set of rules that are used for competition in China. These rules, which the Webmaster has coined the CXA Rules, are much tougher than the World Xiangqi Rules that were published in 2018.

The Asian Xiangqi Federation (AXF) was founded in 1978 and was originally tasked with the responsibility of organizing Xiangqi activities and promoting the game in Asia and the World. (6)

The World Xiangqi Federation (WXF) was established in 1993 to further promote Xiangqi to the West and other parts of the World.

The European Xiangqi Federation (EXF) was formed a few years ago in 2012 and is in charge of Xiangqi activities in Europe. (7)

Today, the World Xiangqi Rules serve as the official standard for Xiangqi in the World.

A very short introduction to Xiangqi Tournaments

As for tournaments, there are A LOT of Xiangqi tournaments happening in China and Southeast Asia. There would be a major tournament almost every few weeks in China. There are many more minor tournaments in China and South-east Asia almost every week.

The COVID 19 Pandemic did not quell these tournaments. The pandemic forced the players and competitors to go online. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have many 'international' online tournaments whereby teams from different countries would do battle online, mostly using the app Tian Tian Xiang Qi (天天象棋)

Conferring Titles

For professional Xiangqi, there is a ranking system for the players in China.

The original article that the Webmaster wrote and published in the old Website seems to be lost. He will try to re-write the article again.

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Xiangqi in the Modern-day (computers, internet et cetera)

The invention of the computer and the prevalence of the Internet have changed the way Xiangqi is being played, promoted, or taught.

There are now many computer programs, Xiangqi viewers, online games, et cetera, which can allow anyone to record their games and analyze them. Apps and websites also offer a place where anyone could go and play,

The Webmaster has been playing online mostly for the past decade and has listed some of the places where Xiangqi is available.

Several programs are available which allow for post-mortem analysis.

This information has been collected under the section on computers and Xiangqi.

There are hundreds of articles each day that are published on Wechat and various Chinese blogs in China. These articles cover almost everything from the usual technical stuff to history, culture, and philosophy.

Then there are the hundreds of matches which uploaded every single day. Some were replays of stem games, important games, or matches where there a brilliant opening novelty was given.

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There are a million things in the Webmaster's mind that he can felt he could continue writing. However, as the purpose of this article was to introduce the World of Xiangqi, he has decided to stop his bantering.

The World of Xiangqi is one of the most exciting places there is.

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1. 刘, 殿中. 象棋新编课程 象棋初学门径. 北京 : 北京体育大学出版社, 2000. 7-81051-484-9.

2. 傅, 宝胜. 棋迷过招系列 -- 象棋实战技法. 合肥 : 安徽科学技术出版社, 2009. 978-7-5337-3373-5.

3. 朱, 宝位. 棋牌入门丛书 象棋入门. 合肥 : s.n., 1994. 978-7-5337-0734-7.

4. 王, 国栋, 方, 士庆 and 李, 燕贵. 跟我学象棋 初级教程. 成都 : 成都时代出版社, 2010. 978-7-80705-517-4.

5. 黄, 少龙. 象棋形势判断. 成都 : 成都时代出版社, 2002 (5th Reprint). 7805485526/G.533.

6. 亚洲象棋联合会秘书处. 组织简介. 亚洲象棋联合会官方网站. [Online] Aug 27, 2020. [Cited: Aug 27, 2020.] https://www.asianxiangqi.org/history.htm.

7. Xue, Zhong. Hamburg-Xiangqi-Days (20-Year-Celebration of DXB). Deutscher Xiangqi Bund European Xiangqi Federation. [Online] Oct 31, 2012. [Cited: Aug 27, 2020.] http://www.chinaschach.de/dxbnews12.html.

8. 刘, 殿中. 象棋新编教材 象棋残局基础. 北京 : 北京体育大学出版社, 2000. 7-81051-485-7/G.415.

9. —. 象棋新编课程 象棋布局精要. 北京 : 北京体育大学出版社, 2000. 7-81051-486-5/G.416.

10. 朱, 南铣. 中国象棋史丛考. 北京 : 中华书局, 2003. 7-101-03704-0.

11. 教孩子学象棋 编写组. 教孩子学象棋 初级班. 北京 : 北京体育大学出版社, 2007. 978-7-81100-910-1.

12. 王, 贵龙. 象棋名词术语手册. 呼和浩特 : 远方出版社, 2000. 7-80595-652-9.

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