The Mystery Behind Chinese Chess in Taiwan

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The Game of Chess is very popular in Taiwan.  However, it’s a different game than is played in other parts of the world.  I have yet to master the skill required to play the game, which isn’t surprising because I’ve played the other chess game since high school and I’m a lousy player at that, too.  I know what my problem is, it’s the same problem I had with games like Asteroids, but I don’t know how to correct it.  I don’t seem to be able to focus on the whole board.
In Asteroids, for example, the asteroids are coming at the ship from all
directions.  In order to successfully
evade all the asteroids, you have to be able to see the location and direction
of all the other asteroids coming at your ship, so you don’t
dodge one and crash into another.  I was
never able to do that well.
How the board is set up
In Chess, I have the same problem; I can form a strategy for several
moves ahead.  “If I go here, he will go
there, then I can go up here, etc.”  The
problem is that when I make the move I didn’t see the opposing bishop, all the way across
the board, that immediately swoops down and kills my piece.
In Chinese Chess or 象棋 (xiangqi) the board is set up differently.  First, there is a river that cuts through the
center of the board dividing the armies.  The river is important because there are certain pieces, which cannot
cross the line. The soldiers actually increase in power as they cross the river.  There is also the “palace,” which is the square that’s made up of four squares,
with crossed diagonal lines located on each side of the board. The pieces line up on
the intersection of the squares not centered like in “international” chess.    A piece is
captured when an opposing piece is placed on the same intersection.
Placement of pieces:  The
soldiers line up on the front line on the designated intersections.  The cannons are on the next line on the
designated intersections.  Finally, the
power pieces are in the back, with the General in the center and his guards on
each side, within the “palace.”
Red moves first to start the game.  As in “international” chess each piece or character has it’s own directional
moves.    The pieces move like this:
The General: , or : This piece may only move one square, right or left and forward or
backward.  It may not leave the Palace.  You will notice that the opposing generals
are opposite each other on the board.
They cannot be opposite without another piece between them.  The player that causes them to “meet”
automatically loses the game.  (“Meet”
means that they do NOT have a piece between them.)
The way the horse can move
The Guards:  The guards can only move
one space horizontally, but they cannot leave the palace.
The Chariots:  The chariots can move
any number of spaces, either horizontally or vertically across the board.  He may not move diagonally.
The Horses:  The horses are equivalent
to the knight in international chess.  They may move one space horizontally or vertically then diagonally
one space. However, the horse may not jump over a piece.  If there is a piece on the next
intersection, either vertically or horizontally, then the horse may not move in
the direction of the blocking piece.
The Elephants:  Elephants can move
two spaces horizontally, in either direction.
However, the elephant cannot move across the river.  In addition, if there is a piece between the
starting point and ending point of the move, the elephant cannot jump that
piece, so it is prohibited from moving in that direction.
The Cannons:  Cannons essentially
moves in the same ways as the chariot.
However, in order to capture an opposing piece the cannon must jump over
another piece.  The piece that’s jumped
over can either be a friendly piece or an opposing piece.  The chariot does not have to jump in order
to capture.
The cannon must jump a piece to capture
The Soldiers:  Soldiers are only
allowed to move forward vertically one space until they cross the river.  After crossing the river the soldier is
allowed to move both vertically and horizontally, but can only move one space
in either direction.  The soldier cannot
move diagonally or backward vertically.


In Taiwan, it’s very common to see older men sitting at the park playing
chess throughout the day and into the night.
There are usually a number of others watching and “helping.”  The game seems to be pretty loud, with
pieces slapped down and banging against the chessboard.  You play, taking on new opponents until you
lose, then the winner takes on others.
The park across from my apartment is equipped with chessboards and
benches that can be utilized for the game.
I’ve seen men out there playing until very late at night.  Someday I want to be good enough to
challenge and hold the board for awhile.
Chris Banducci
Chris Banducci is a pastor and missionary in Taiwan. He has, at other times of his life, been a white-water rafter, rock climber and adventurer. He left the corporate world of Solid Waste Recycling in 1996 and went into full-time ministry, where he pioneered a church in Riverside, California for the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship and is now engaged in the same endeavor in Taoyuan City, Taiwan. He writes on the culture, religion, tradition, and day-to-day life in Taiwan. Twenty-six years of living with Muscular Dystrophy may have weakened his muscles but not his spirit.
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One Response to The Mystery Behind Chinese Chess in Taiwan

  1. quechi nguyen August 23, 2017 at 3:18 am #

    Old men playing Xiangqi in the park in Taiwan is very similar in Vietnam. However, in Vietnam, I just see people play Xiangqi in daylight, not at night much.
    The sound of slap down on the board when one player kill other’s chess is really special and interesting.

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