Chinese Chess
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Xiangqi, or Chinese Chess, is an extremely popular game in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is currently played by millions (or tens of millions) in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong and other Asian countries. Xiangqi has remained in its present form for centuries. It is believed that both Xiangqi and Orthodox Chess derive from the original Indian game of Chanturanga.

Xiang Character (xing) Qi 
Character (q ) translates to Elephant Game. In Mandarin it is written as either Xiangqi, Xiang Qi or Hsiang-Ch`i and pronounced "Shiang-Chi". In Cantonese it is written as Jeuhng Keih and pronounced "Junk Kay".

The name Xiangqi has an interesting origin. Of China's four traditional arts -- qin (music), hua (brush painting), shu (calligraphy) and q (strategy games) -- the latter term, qi, provides the final syllable of Xiangqi. There is much literature on Xiangqi, most of it in Chinese. There are, however, a few books available in English and other languages.

Xiangqi sets can be procured from a number of sources. The most obvious of these are shops in the Chinese districts of large cities. Often, such sets are quite cheap, consisting of a paper board and flat wooden counters inscribed with red and black pictograms. These traditional Chinese symbols may appear strange to the western eye, but can easily be recognized with a minimum of practice. (For more sophisticated sets, see below.)


The board

The Xiangqi board is made up of ten horizontal lines and nine vertical lines. The verticals are interrupted by a central-horizontal void called a river. Two palaces are positioned at opposite sides of the board. Each is distinguished by a cross connecting its four corner points.

Diagram of Xiangqi board

The above board shows various L-shaped markings in order to distinguish the setup points of Pawns and Cannons. These markings are not present on all commercial boards.


Each player has the following pieces:

2 Rooks (R) (or chariots)
2 Knights (N) (or horses)
2 Elephants (M) (or bishops or ministers)
2 Mandarins (G) (or advisors or assistants or guards)
1 King (K) (or generals)
2 Cannons (C)
5 Pawns (P) (or soldiers)

The Xiangqi array is shown below:

Diagram of Xiangqi board with initial array of pieces
Traditional Pieces

Diagram of Xiangqi board with initial array of westernized pieces
Westernized Pieces

From left to right on the bottom and top rows, you see: a Rook, a Knight, a Minister, a Guard, a King, a Guard, a Minister, a Knight, and a Rook. On the third rows, you see the Cannons, and on the fourth row you see the Pawns. Pieces at the bottom half are red.

Chinese Pieces Movement Westernized Pieces
Red RookBlack Rook


The Rook moves as an orthodox Rook. (See Rook for more information.)
Red RookBlack Rook
Red KnightBlack Knight

Knights (Mao)

The Knight moves one point orthogonally followed by one point outward-diagonally. It may not leap over occupied points. (See Mao for more information.)
Red KnightBlack Knight
Red ElephantBlack Elephant


The Elephant moves exactly two points diagonally. It may not leap over occupied points. Also, Elephants are confined to their home side of the river. Due to these limitations, the Elephant can see only eight points of the board. (See Elephant for more information.) [The symbols on red and black Elephants differ, but their moves are the same.]
Red ElephantBlack Elephant
Red GuardBlack Guard


The Mandarin (or Guard) moves one point diagonally. It may never leave the palace. [The symbols on red and black Mandrians differ, but their moves are the same.]
Red GuardBlack Guard
Red KingBlack King

King or General

The King moves as an orthodox King, but cannot move diagonally. It may never leave the palace. (See King for more information.) [The symbols on red and black Kings differ, but their moves are the same.]

The two Kings cannot face each other on an open file. For example, a red King on e1 and a black King on e9, with no piece on the e-file between them, is an illegal position. If either King sits exposed on an open file, the other King may not move to occupy that file.

Red KingBlack King
Red CannonBlack Cannon

Cannons (Pao)

The Cannon moves differently when it moves to capture than when it moves passively.
  1. The Cannon moves passively as an orthodox Rook
  2. The Cannon moves to capture as an orthodox Rook which is required to hop over a single screen.

In other words, Cannons capture by hoping over a second piece in order to capture a third piece. For example, a Cannon on a1 can take a piece on f1 when exactly one of the points b1, c1, d1, or e1 is occupied by a piece of either color. Cannons only capture when hoping and only hop when capturing. They may never hop over more than one piece in a given move. (See Cannon for more information.)

Red CannonBlack Cannon
Red PawnBlack Pawn


Unlike orthodox Pawns, the Xiangqi Pawn's passive move and capture move are always the same. A starting Pawn moves one point straight-forward. A Pawn crossing the river promotes, keeping its old move and gaining a new move -- a one-point step to either horizontal. Pawns do not promote on the last rank, where they can move only left or right. (See Xiangqi Pawn for more information.) [The symbols on red and black Pawns differ, but their moves are the same.]
Red PawnBlack Pawn

Other rules

  1. Red moves first.
  2. The game is won by checkmating or stalemating the opponent King.
  3. Perpetual check is forbidden. You cannot check your opponent more than three times in a row with the same piece and same board positions.
  4. You cannot force an enemy piece to move to and from the same two points, indefinitely, in order to avoid capture. If you move a Rook to e5, threatening a Cannon on e6, and your opponent's only viable move is Cannon to f6, then you cannot force that Cannon to and from e6 and f6 by moving your Rook to and from e5 and f5, indefinitely. The purpose of this rule (and the above rule) is to avoid perpetual-check draws. Some of these situations are complicated, but the person who is forcing the perpetual move must usually break it off.
  5. The game is a draw when neither side can force a checkmate or a stalemate.

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Source: http://www.chessvariants.com/xiangqi.html