Xiangqi, also called Chinese chess, is a game of strategy, wit, and tactics.

No one is certain when the variation of Xiangqi came into being in China, but there are references to it as early as the first century B.C. It is currently a past-time held in high regard among the people of China. It is not uncommon to find groups watching two chess players on the streets and in parks.

Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

The Game

There seems to be a lot of debate over the origins of modern Chinese chess. With a history as long as China's, memories have faded with regards to the game. The earliest known book on the theory of the game in its modern form is dated to the Song Dynasty (1127-1279 AD). Other sources put the game's creation somewhere between 200 BC and 600 AD. Some ancient texts even purport that the legendary emperors who supposedly reigned at the beginning of China's history created the game. One complication in the dating process is the existence of another game with a similar name that could have evolved into the modern Chinese chess.

The oldest existing reference to a game that resembles modern Chinese chess is a collection of supernatural tales that describes a person who experiences strange dreams of battle, only to discover that he had been sleeping over a tomb that contained a chess game. This was supposed to have happened around 762 AD. Regardless of when it originated, it is clear to see that the game has evolved a fair amount over time.

Earlier descriptions of similar games assumed to be modern Chinese chess' ancestors describe many more pieces than what is currently played with. There are also differences in the representation of the pieces, with a possible ancient version of the game being used to describe the movements of the stars, rather than troops in battle. It can be assumed that at some point the game was used as a military strategy exercise. It is also reasonably evident that the game was widespread and popular during the Song Dynasty.

The expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by them.

The Board

Chinese Chess is played on a board with 2 sides, 9 columns by 10 rows. Unlike International Chess, the pieces sit on the intersections of the lines as opposed to inside the squares. This effectively makes the board more spacious than in International Chess.

To see the layout, hover over each paragraph:

The River

A river runs between the two sides, traditionally representing a river significant in the Chu-Han war in Ancient China. The river mainly serves to divide the two sides, but also affects the movement of two pieces.

The Palace

This 3 by 3 square is the only place that the General for each side can reside. Both he and his advisors must remain inside the palace at all times.

The Starting Positions

The board marks out where the pawns and the cannons start with the crosses, but these spots have no other significance in the game.

Invincibility lies in the defence;
the possibility of victory in the attack.

The Pieces

There are a total of 16 pieces per side. Each army is composed of five pawns, one general, and pairs of each other piece. Traditionally the pieces are labled with the Chinese character for the unit. There are some differences in the characters used for each side, but the pieces are identical.

To see it in action, click on each piece and hover over each paragraph:

The General

Mandarin Speech:
Cantonese Speech:


The General must remain within his palace at all times. Within it, he can move one space along either the rows or the columns, but never diagonally.


The general can attack any space it can move into, with one exception. When two generals are facing each other with an unobstructed view, they can kill one another. This move is known as the "flying general" move and is the only time the general can leave the palace.

The Minister

Mandarin Speech:

Cantonese Speech:


Ministers are confined to the palace with the general. They can only move 1 space diagonally along the lines within the palace.


Ministers can attack any space they can move into.

The Elephant

Mandarin Speech:

Cantonese Speech:


The elephant moves diagonally two spaces at a time. They cannot cross the river and thus are strictly defensive units. Their way can be obstructed if a piece is located one space diagonally from their location.


Elephants can attack any space they can move into.

The Horse

Mandarin Speech:

Cantonese Speech:


The horse moves one step along a line, then one step diagonally away from its starting position. They can be blocked if a piece occupies a space adjacent to the horse's starting position.


Horses can attack any space they can move into.

The Chariot

Mandarin Speech:

Cantonese Speech:


The chariot can move along rows or columns until it is obstructed.


Chariots can attack any space they can move into.

The Cannon

Mandarin Speech:

Cantonese Speech:


Similar to the chariot, the cannon can move until it is obstructed along rows or columns.


To attack a piece, the cannon must have a piece between it and the target. A cannon cannot attack a piece unless there is exactly one other piece between it and the cannon.

The Pawn

Mandarin Speech:

Cantonese Speech:


The pawn is special in Chinese Chess as its movement changes after it crosses the river. Before crossing, the pawn can only move forward (toward the river) one space at a time. After crossing the river, it can move forward (away from the river) or side to side one space at a time.


Pawns can attack any space they can move into.

Pretend inferiority and
encourage his arrogance.

The Rules

Traditionally the red team goes first. The objective is to corner and destroy the enemy general. The game is played in sequence until the conditions for ending the game are fulfilled. Each player moves one piece per turn.

To see it in action, hover over each paragraph:


Units move into the space they attack, occupying it.


The game ends when one general is dead, or when it becomes impossible to kill either general.


After putting your opponent's general in danger, you must announce the fact by saying "jiang" ("check" works too).

Unlike in western Chess, it is possible to put your general in danger. It is up to the enemy to exploit your mistake.


There are a variety of rules that aim to prevent prepetual chasing, though the definition of "perpetual" differs from rule book to rule book.

In general the side resorting to perpetual chasing can be ruled to have lost the game.

Club chinese chess allows six consecutive chase moves per piece used to chase before the action becomes "perpetual."

Great, you have just learned the basics of Xiangqi,
it's time to start practicing the art of war..


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First Move
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Steps (in ICCS format)