Compared to Western civilizations, Chinese culture has remained relatively stable over a long period of time. This has led to traditions which endure for hundreds of years, and remain a part of modern Chinese culture.
We can see some of these traditions in many of the games that are played in China, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities. Some of these games, for example Mahjong and Liubo, originated more than two thousand years ago.
Mandarin Names Of Chinese Games
Here is a list of some of traditional Chinese games. The names are given in Traditional Chinese characters, Simplified Chinese characters (if different from the traditional), the Pinyin pronunciation, and the English name:
- 麻將 / 麻将 - má jiàng - Mahjong
- 圍棋 / 围棋 - wéiqí - Go
- 象棋 - xiàngqí - Chinese Chess
- 半棋 - bànqí - Half Chess
- 陸戰棋 / 陆战棋 - lùzhànqí - Land Battle Chess
- 牌九 - pái jiǔ - Pai gow
- 六博 - liù bó - Six Sticks
- 七巧板 - qī qiǎo bǎn - Tangram
Legend has it that Mahjong was invented by Confucius (孔子 - kǒng zi) around 500 BC. The three dragon tiles of Mahjong correspond with the three primary virtues of Confucius - 紅中 (Hóng Zhōng - red middle) represents benevolence, 發財 - (Fā Cái - prosperity) represents sincerity, and 白板 (Bái Ban) represents filial loyalty.
Mahjong is a game for four players. There are 144 tiles that are spread face down on a table top and shuffled by all players.
Players draw from the "wall" then discards one tile, always maintaining 13 tiles. The game is won with a hand of 14 tiles consisting of four groups called melds, and a pair of identical pieces called "eyes."
There are many variations of Mahjong depending on the region and the preferences of the players.
The game of 圍棋 / 围棋 (wéiqí - Go) has been played in China since at least the Zhou Dynasty (周朝 - Zhōu Cháo - 1046–256 BC). It is a game for two players, played on board marked with a 19 X 19 grid.
Each player has a set of markers called stones, which are either black or white. The stones are placed on the grid, attempting to surround a larger area of the board than the opponent's.
Go is a highly strategic game that can quickly change in favor from one player to the other. It is popular around the world, and there are Go tournaments which are used to rank Go players from the beginner to professional levels.
Another Chinese board game is 象棋 (xiàngqí - Chinese Chess). This is also for two players, each representing an army. The object of the game is to capture the opponent's general. Pieces are marked with labeled with Chinese characters to show their rank, which have similar characteristics with Western chess.
The game is played on a board marked with a grid of 9 lines wide by 10 lines long. The center of the board nearest to each player is a 3 X 3 grid marked with a cross. This area is known as 宮 (gōng - palace). The middle of the board between the two players is a 河 (hé - river).
Just like in Western Chess, each of the pieces in Chinese Chess has rules for movement and capture.
半棋 (bànqí - Half Chess) is played using the same equipment as Chinese Chess. Only one half of the Chinese Chess board is used. The pieces are placed randomly face-down on the board. Pieces can be moved face-down, or they can be turned face-up, which constitutes one turn. If a player cannot move, he or she loses the game.
Land Battle Chess
The game of 陸戰棋 / 陆战棋 (lùzhànqí - Land Battle Chess) is another board game played by two players. It is a simpler game than Chinese Chess, and is often played by children.
Each player has 25 pieces that are placed are arranged on each side of the board so that the opponent cannot see the faces. Each piece has a different rank, and when a piece is moved to an occupied space, the higher ranking piece knocks off the lower ranking piece. Play continues until one of the flags is captured.
The pieces for 牌九 (pái jiǔ - Pai gow) are similar to domino pieces used in the West. Pai go is a gambling game often played in casinos. The object of the game is get a hand with a value as close to nine as possible. Hand are valued by adding the number of pips on the tiles, dropping the tens place. Each player bets on his hand and wins or loses against the dealer's hand.
The ancient game of 六博 (liù bó - Six Sticks) was played during the Han Dynasty (漢朝 / 汉朝 - Hàn Cháo). Knowledge of the game comes from archaeological discoveries and references to ancient texts.
Six Sticks was a 2-player game played on a square game board. The six sticks served as dice, and determined how the pieces could be moved.
Six Sticks appears to have been favored by the royalty, as several ornate playing boards were found royal tombs of the Han Dynasty. It appears to have lost popularity by the end of the Han Dynasty.
七巧板 (qī qiǎo bǎn - Tangram) is a puzzle rather than a competitive game. It consists of 7 wooden pieces of various shapes that are put together to form shapes. Tangram originated in Ancient China, and was introduced to Europe during the 19th century. The object of Tangram is to form silhouettes of common objects by using all 7 pieces. There are more than 6,000 possible tangram silhouettes.