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The History of Chess Variants. A brief history of Chess variants from Chaturanga to the 21st century.[All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
Fergus Duniho wrote on 2021-04-02 UTC

While I had Kindle Unlimited, I was reading a book about the history of Xiangqi. Since that subscription ended today, I made sure to read what this book had to say about the origins of Xiangqi and incorporated that into this page.


Jean-Louis Cazaux wrote on 2021-04-04 UTC

I have this book and as an historian myself I am in close contact with Jim Png. We had a very long conversation just today. Coincidence. Jim Png is not saying that chess has been invented in China. I know that this issue is a complex one, too complex maybe for in hurry readers. What is explained here is that xiangqi had predecessors as a game, deep in ancient history. This is known and recognised by modern historians. What it is unknown is the relationship between these ancient mentions of xiangqi and the xiangqi that is known after Cen Shun story in the 9th century. Maybe it was another game, maybe not. The great merit of Jim Png is the meticulously collection of all testimonies from ancient Chinese texts and his trial to bring that to us. He does (because he is preparing another book) a work much valuable than many other writers have tried to do before him about Chinese Chess. And much more also that so many writers who are continuing to ignore a possible Chinese contribution just because they have once been told that chess had been invented in India and it cannot be otherwise.

Yes the connexion with liubo is puzzling and stimulating. Not only because the liubo board had a central "water" and there is a river in xiangqi. The rules of Liubo are still unknown, they are just guessed, and maybe more than one game was played with this material. There are 6 pieces per side, 1 being more important. There is 1 general and 5 pawns in xq. The liubo board is heavily marked, as the one for xq. Is that a coincidence or the trace of an influence? The fact that Janggi, which is not known before the 16th century, has no river is of course not a proof at all against a relation between liubo and xiangqi! Liubo disappeared just when xiangqi started to grow and this deserves some further studies.

I consider Jim Png as the person with the highest knowledge on history of Chinese games we have today.


Fergus Duniho wrote on 2021-04-06 UTC

Jim Png is not saying that chess has been invented in China.

I have modified the text to make this clear.

What is explained here is that xiangqi had predecessors as a game, deep in ancient history. This is known and recognised by modern historians.

That's a more general and less controversial claim than saying which games these might be. Even H.J.R. Murray would agree with this.

The fact that Janggi, which is not known before the 16th century, has no river is of course not a proof at all against a relation between liubo and xiangqi!

That point is torn out of context. I didn't just say that Janggi has no river. I pointed out that no regional Chess variant in Asia has a river except for Xiangqi. That is stronger evidence against a relationship between Liu Bo and Xiangqi than just the absence of the river in Janggi. Moreover, this is in the context of pointing out the lack of evidence for any relationship between Liu Bo and Xiangqi. I cannot disprove a relationship between them, but I am satisfied that I have made a good inductive case against seriously entertaining the idea of a relationship between them.

Liubo disappeared just when xiangqi started to grow and this deserves some further studies.

Sometimes an invasive species causes the extinction of a local species. In this case, a foreign import could have proven more popular than the native game. So, timing alone is an insufficient reason for thinking there is a connection between them.


Jean-Louis Cazaux wrote on 2021-04-06 UTC

It is rich matter, not simple to discuss in short sentences on a forum especially for me who doesn't master English language like you who makes the points like a lawyer. The fact that no other Asian chess than xiangqi has a river is not a discovery. Shogi is certainly more borrowing to South Asian varieties than from the continent as it has been demonstrated by Japanese historians, Sittuyin/Makruk are obviously descending from Indian varieties as these regions were under strong Indian cultural influence at least until the 13th c., and Janggi is not known in its ancient form so nobody knows if it had a river first or not. I, and Jim Png like me, do not believe that xiangqi is a direct descendent of Liubo, but that there is a link between them. For what I'm concerned I believe I've been clear on that in my books and my website. But I stop to discuss, people want to simplify everything. There are many people now on social networks, Wikipedia, etc., who knows everything at first sight, and say it loud especially against the authors of books who are never sure of nothing. So we are happy that with your "inductive case" it is now clear that Liubo has not influenced the formation of xiangqi. We are progressing and we can go on.


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