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Chinese Chess Pieces Found in Old Tomb

Chinese Chess Pieces from Song Dynasty

Chinese Chess Pieces from Song Dynasty

According to a report in the Yangzi Evening News, archaeologists recently unearthed five ancient Chinese chess (xiangqi 象棋) pieces from a tomb located at Tiger Hill in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.

The tomb dates from the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Archaeologist Mr. Zhang Tiejun (张铁军) emphasized that, among the burial objects, only five Chinese chess pieces were discovered. Each piece is made of porcelain and is green in color.

He noted that they are actually very similar to the Chinese chess pieces used today except for being slightly heavier.

The pieces include two “soldiers” (zu 卒), one “cannon” (pao 炮), one “horse” (ma 马), and one “elephant” (xiang 象).

According to Mr. Zhang, the person buried in the tomb was most likely a “chess fanatic”.

Chinese chess has a very long history with official records dating from the Warring States Period (475 BC – 221 BC).

By the time of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the game had become a popular pastime and the major game characteristics had already evolved into essentially the same game as played today.  The game then, as now, was played with 32 chess pieces on a board having two “palaces” and divided in the middle by a “river”.

During the Song, there were already craftsmen who specialized in making the chess boards and pieces.

Books on game theory and play written by Hong Mai (洪迈), Ye Maoqing (叶茂卿) and Chen Yuanliang (陈元靓) were also popular.

Not surprisingly, a number of famous Chinese from the Song Dynasty were known to be Chinese chess aficionados including such famous poets as Li Qingzhao (李清照) and Liu Kezhuang (刘克庄).  Other notable players included Hong Zun (洪遵), author of one of China’s first books on numismatics, and Wen Tianxiang (文天祥), the scholar-general who is recognized as one of China’s great heroes and patriots.

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