Chinese Chess

Xiangqi is the game of Chinese chess. It brings together different ethnic Chinese groups and serves as the perfect past time. But how does one play it?

General Overview

The game depicts two opposing armies, each of whose purpose is to defeat the enemy’s king. Each army is on half of the playing board, divided by a river.

Game Pieces

Solider: The soldier may only move forward until it crosses the river. Then it may move side to side. It may never move backwards. You can think of it as the pawn in Western Chess.

Cannon: The cannon can only eat an enemy by jumping over a piece (yours or the opponent’s). In other words, it must have one chess piece between itself and its target.

Chariot: Chariots may move forward, backward, and side to side with no restrictions. They can be thought of as the rook in Western Chess.

Horse: Horses have a tricky form of movement, broken into two parts. They first move one space in one direction, then to either one of the two spaces diagonally away from the direction they came from. The end result is the same as if they were to move in an “L” shape. However, this is not a good way to memorize the move because if there is a piece in front of the horse on the first part of its movement, then the horse may not go in that direction.  If there is a piece on the second part of its movement, the horse can eat it (assuming it is an enemy piece. Otherwise, it may not move in that direction).

Elephant: Elephants move diagonally two spaces. They may not move in a certain direction if there is a piece in between the two diagonal spaces. They also cannot cross the river.

Adviser: The adviser can only move one space in any direction within the palace, or the defined square where the adviser and the king start the game.

King: The king moves like the adviser except it cannot travel diagonally. Note: The king may never face the opposing king. That is, the kings cannot be in the same column with no pieces in between them. The player who forces the opponent into this “king facing king” situation wins.


Soldiers are placed on the indicated spaces right below the river.

Cannons are placed in the two indicated spaces below the line of soldiers.

The remaining pieces are placed on the last row of the board in this order: Chariot, Horse, Elephant, Adviser, King, Adviser, Elephant, Horse, Chariot.


There is no such thing as a stalemate in Xiangqi. However, if players get into a situation where neither player can checkmate each other unless the other person makes a mistake, then the players can agree to end the game. (Note that this is not a stalemate. A stalemate occurs when there are not enough pieces to secure a checkmate). This agreement acknowledges that it is impossible to checkmate the other player, assuming that he or she plays perfectly, and is made with as little as two pieces left per player or even with as many as five to six pieces left per player.



1. Traditionally, Red moves first.

2. Each color may have pieces with different characters (e.g. the soliders for each color is written differently). These characters are just synonyms to provide variation; nothing is changed.

Comments are closed.