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When the game of Chaturanga moved into China, it was merged with another game to produce Xiangqi, pronounced roughly shiang-chee, and known in English as "Chinese Chess". The pieces are placed on the vertices rather than in the squares. The board has ten ranks and nine files. Between the fifth and sixth files is a feature called the river. A 3x3 square in the middle back of each player's side is referred to as the palace. [1]

Chinese chess uses a different notation from western chess. Each player counts columns from the right and rows from their side, thus the right column for each player is column 1 and column 9 for the opponent. The rows are not marked. Movement is noted by the piece's name's first letter (P,C,R,H,E,A, or G), a number denoting the piece's column, a symbol for the type of movement (+, -, . ) and a number. If 2 pieces of the same type are in the same column, + or - is used to denote the more forward or the less forward pieces respectively. For pieces that move along the lines (ie. the rook), the . symbol is used to show which column the rook moved to and the +/- is used to show how many rows forwards or backwards the piece moved. For example, r1+2 means the rook in column 1 moved forward 2 spaces and r+.5 means the more forwards rook in column 7 moves sideways to column 5. For pieces that do not move along the lines, the same numbering system is used to denote the pieces. + and - are used to show whether the piece moves forwards or backwards and the final number, the column the piece moves to. For example, a horse in its starting position might move h2+3, meaning it moved forwards and into column 3, or h2+4, meaning it moved forwards but into column 4, further left.


  • The Pawn moves and captures one square forward until it crosses the river, whereupon it moves either forwards or horizontally. It does not promote. Each player has five.
  • The Cannon moves like a rook. It leaps over another piece to capture. (It can capture any piece with another piece between them, on the lines of movement.) It cannot leap unless it captures. Each player has two.
  • The Rook (Chariot) moves and captures like in Chess. Each player has two. It is called Rook in English to distinguish it from the cannon in game notations.
  • The Horse moves and captures like the knight in chess, except that it cannot jump. Each player has two.
  • The Elephant moves two point diagonally and cannot jump. It cannot cross the river. Each player has two, which are confined to the same seven points. It captures as it moves.
  • The Advisor moves one square diagonally and can only travel the diagonal lines denoting the palace. Each player has two. It captures as it moves.
  • The General moves one square orthogonally and cannot leave the palace. When he is in check without a legal move, it is checkmate. The Generals cannot face each other in a column directly. This could be visualized as the General possessing the ability to shoot him/herself into the opponent's camp, instantly killing the opponent general. There is a story (of uncertain accuracy) to the effect that the piece was called an Emperor until the actual Emperor overheard two players talking about killing or capturing the Emperor piece and misunderstood them.

Perpetual check is a forfeit, and a player with no legal moves has lost.

Much as you'll see Western chess players congregated around cafes and park tables, nearly any Chinatown will have people gathered in parks and cafes to play xiangqi. [2] If you'd like to play for yourself, there's a printable PDF version here, and a number of computerized versions for all major platforms.



  1. There is also a Western-style board using Staunton-like pieces called the Cambaluc (after an old Mongol name for Beijing). It was only produced by one company and is fairly rare.
  2. In Boston's Chinatown, one such park has a paved section with a gigantic xiangqi board embedded into the pavement.
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