Chinese Chess


David Wright introduces the ancient game of Chinese chess, a strikingly different version of familiar Western chess.


Chinese chess or xiangqi (also romanised as hsiang ch'i) is basically a board game fought between two armies each with sixteen pieces. The wooden pieces are usually circular, and often the two sides are coloured red and green. The armies face one another across a central river over which certain pieces are not allowed to cross. The pieces do not sit within the squares but are placed at the corners, and move from corner to corner. The aim of the game is to trap and kill the Marshall (Red Army) or General (Green Army).

This article will simply explain the moves of the pieces. For explanations of strategy please see Hsiang Ch'i - the Chinese Game of Chess by Terence Donneuy (Wargames Research Group).

The Red Army

Made up of the following different types of pieces:

shuaiShuai : The Marshall The equivalent of the King, can move one square at a time vertically or horizontally, and is not allowed to go beyond the square fortress.
shiShi : The Bodyguard Can move one square at a diagonally. Like the Marshall, it is restricted to the fortress.
xiangXiang : The Minister It can move two squares at a time diagonally, but cannot cross the river
maMa : The Horse Similar to the Knight in Western chess but more restricted. It moves one square vertically or horizontally and then one diagonally, but it can be blocked by a piece that stops its vertical or horizontal movement.
junJun : The Chariot Rather like a Rook in Western chess, can move horizontally or vertically any number of squares, and is one of the most feared pieces on the board. It is able to cross the river. It cannot jump over other pieces.
paoPao : The Cannon It can move any number of squares vertically or horizontally. A very powerful piece, it differs from the Chariot in the way that it takes other pieces.
bingBing : The Soldier These are the pawns of the Chinese game. They can move one square at a forward until crossed the river, whereupon they can move forward or sideways

The Green Army

The Green Army is basically the same as the Red Army, with some pieces having different names.

jiangJiang : The General The equivalent of the Marshall.
shiShi : The Scholar The equivalent of the Bodyguard.
xiangXiang : The Elephant The equivalent of the Minister. Gives the game it's name.
ziZu : The Soldier Another name for a soldier

Taking pieces

Most pieces take or 'eat' other pieces by simply moving into the place occupied by the other piece. The main exception is the Cannon, which can only take or threaten another piece if there is a third piece in between them.

See also : Game of Go

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 : China Now 141, Page 20

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