Introduction to the Secret in the Tangerine 《橘中秘》

The Secret in the Tangerine has been one of the most famous ancient manuals of all time. It can also be considered to have been one of the earliest Xiangqi primers that are still extant. There is advice on how to play the game, in-depth discussions on various opening variations and sub-variations, endgame discussions, demonstrations on different tactical combinations et cetera. Indeed, the material shown in the ancient manual serves as the fundamentals of Xiangqi that still influence modern-day play.

Together with the Elegant Pastime Manual and the Plum Flower Manual, the Secret in the Tangerine has been a fundamental classic to read for all keen Xiangqi enthusiasts.

The Secret in the Tangerine has also been published by the Webmaster to preserve in English for posterity. Many variations and sub-variations have been added to explain the games in detail. Be sure also to study the handicap games shown.




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According to historical data, it was written in  1632AD during the Ming dynasty. Its author was 朱晋桢 (zhū jìn zhēn) who gave it to his nephews 朱尔邺 (zhū ěr yè) and 朱景箫 (zhū jǐng xiāo) for it to be proofread.

It was said that this great masterpiece was also based on the earlier works of The Eighteen Variations of the Golden Roc <<金鹏十八变>> and the Elegant Pastime Manual.

Summary of the ancient manual

This magnificent masterpiece is divided into four volumes.

In a nutshell,

  1) Volume One contained twenty boards with a whopping 204 variations. Red would have the advantage in nearly all the variations listed in Volume One, and Red would use the Central Cannon against various counters. Only on board 20 did Red use the Screen Horse as an opening against Black's central cannon.
Note: As there were 20 boards in Volume 1, the Webmaster has divided them into two pages for a faster loading time. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2 respectively.

  2) Volume Two is divided into three sections.

        Section one: The first section consists of 13 boards with 108 variations, whereby Black would gain the advantage or win.

        Section two: There are ten games whereby Red plays with a one-horse handicap. Red would gain the advantage even with the handicap. There are another eight games whereby red plays with a two-horse handicap. There were 88 variations that were discussed.

For practical purposes, the Webmaster has divided the handicap matches into two pages to decrease download times for the webpages. Click on the links for One-Horse Handicap Matches and Two-Horse Handicap Matches.

      There are altogether 31 boards with 196 variations in the ancient manual for this section.

      In total, for Volumes 1 and 2, there are 51 games with 400 variations. 

3) Volumes three and four in the original book were discussions of various practical endgames. The vast majority of the endgames shown there were basically a copy of the Elegant Pastime Manual. There were a few original endgame compositions but it was limited and similar boards could also be found in the Elegant Pastime Manual.
Hence, this portion of the Secret in the Tangerine WILL NOT BE UPLOADED. For interested readers, the endgames have been published as Volume 4 on Amazon. The book cover can be seen below.

How this manual will be presented on this site

This ancient manual has been studied extensively throughout the centuries. It has been dissected, scrutinized, and commented by many many different people.

For practical purposes of discussion, I have based the presentation of the games in this ancient manual according to contemporary study. Commentaries can be found to try to explain why the moves were played. Controversial moves will be explained, and better suggestions will be included by various contemporary masters.

The presentation of the boards will also be slightly different from the original version.

For practical purposes, I have divided them into four volumes.

Volume One corresponds to Book 1, where Red wins.

Volume Two is equivalent to Section 1 of Book 2, where Black wins.

Volume Three is divided into two pages, which would show how Red would win with a one-horse handicap in the first page. The second page would demonstrate how Red would win with a two-horse handicap.
These two sections would be equivalent to Section Two of Volume 2 in the ancient manual.

As for the endgames section in the book, as mentioned above, they have been preserved as a print book (Volume 4 on Amazon.) and an ebook.

Fairy tale origin of title

Some believe that these games were derived or copies of the Elegant Pastime Xiangqi Manual. Indeed, in the original version of the book, on its first page at the top right-hand corner, could the inscription of " The eighteen variations of the Golden Roc" be found. The Elegant Pastime Xiangqi Manual could be considered to have included the variation.

There is a fairy tale to the origins of this masterpiece. It was said that in the Tang Dynasty (the dynasty before the Ming Dynasty), there was a family who lived in the area of Ba Qiong (巴邛 bā qióng), who had a garden full of tangerines. There was a tree in that garden that did not produce any fruit for the first two years. In the third year, however,  a gigantic tangerine blossomed from that tree. The head of the orchard decided to cut open that gigantic tangerine and lo and behold, two old men were playing Xiangqi in it. These old men also had a bet whereby the wager was nine pots of the best wine for eight pieces of silk cloths (?).  When the two old men saw the orchard owner, they transformed into white dragons and flew away. The games that they played were thus collected and named "The Secret inside the Tangerine." See footnote 1.

The Secret Inside the Tangerine is a masterpiece in its own right. Other than the introduction of the various openings, there were also poems on how to play Xiangqi. These poems could be said to be the foundations of the principles of Xiangqi that we know today. Indeed, I believe that every serious Xiangqi player in the world has at least read some of the passages in this magnificent masterpiece. I will translate and upload the poems at a later time.

Openings were also presented in a very systematic and thorough way. The aggressive nature of the openings introduced also made itself dear to those who have read it. Sacrifices early in the game, coupled with brilliant kills, sometimes Kamikaze like, are found in nearly all of its games. The author does not know any serious Xiangqi player who has never read at least its first game.

The last time I laid my hands on this great masterpiece was back in the 1980's and 90's.  Even then, I had to have at least 2-3 chess boards on the same table to be able to go through the games and their variations one by one. I must admit that in my recollection, I have never gone beyond the 3rd game of volume 1.

Anyway, technology has improved, and with the newer Xiangqi viewers, I hope to able to present to you at least the rudiments of this great work. Mistakes will be made, so please help me proofread and tell me what is wrong so that I can correct them ASAP.

Finally, after nearly four months of work when uploading the material to the old website, I have uploaded all the opening games in this grand manual. I will proceed to upload the endgames section much later as they are quite similar to those found in other manuals. I had wanted to do a more detailed study of the games, but I have forsaken to do more stuff. I hope you will enjoy the manual as much as I did!


Date created: 31st Mar 2011


1. Robert from the for pointing out a few ambiguous areas in my former text. Thanks.


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