象棋(Xiànɡ Qí) - Most Popular Board Game in China

from China Close-up

象棋(Xiànɡ Qí) - Chinese Chess - is one of the most popular board games in China, and is in the same family as Western (or international) chess, chaturanga, shogi, Indian chess and janggi.

Xiangqi is a strategy game for two players. It has a very long history in China. With its easy accessibility and entertainment appeal, Xiangqi has been popular in China since ancient times.

The term Xiangqi first appeared in materials from Warring States Period (475 - 221 BC). The word "象xiànɡ" means "symbol", "棋qí" refers to the game of chess. 象棋Xiànɡ Qí together symbolizes battles of the field.  In ancient China, forming tactics and strategies in wars was regarded as an art. Competition among generals for strategic advantages was much valued. Xiangqi is a game that showcases such value.

Playing Xiangqi is like engaging in a war. Two players are just like the two generals. Each has 16 pieces which fall into seven roles including General, Chariot, Horse, Cannon, etc. Each side has a full battle array and faces off along the river. Different roles have different movement rules. 

Here are some examples: General and Guard only move within the headquarters, Soldier can not move backwards, Horse moves two spaces diagonally and Cannon can only attack by jumping over a single piece. The games ends when one player captures the other's general, which is in line with one Chinese military strategy - 擒贼先擒王(qín zéi xiān qín wánɡ) - capturing the general to defeat your enemy. 

If the blood-stained battlefield was the romance of generals in a real war, then Xiangqi - the war on the chessboard was the romance of the literati. In ancient China, Xiangqi was part of the self-cultivation of scholarly officials. It was so popular in China that it left its imprints on Chinese culture. Many idioms and set phrases in today's China originated from Xiangqi.

The phrase "弃车保帅(qì jū bǎo shuài)" can serve as an example. It means that a player should give up the Chariot to ensure the safety of his General if both are in danger. The phrase later came to mean "when making hard choices, sacrifice that of lesser importance to save the more important".

Xiangqi is outstanding for its cultural and artistic features on the one hand and its competitive features on the other. It can increase the intelligence, and bolster the inner wellbeing of players. Therefore, it has been always very popular among the Chinese people for thousands of years.


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