Old Xiangqi pieces
Anciennes pièces de Xiangqi
According to Xiangqi historian Peter Banaschak, the oldest known unearthed sets are the following:
In the years 1973 to 1974 an excavation of a sea-going vessel was carried out in the Quanzhou bay in Fujian province. During this excavation 20 wooden Xiangqi pieces were found. They must have belonged to two sets, as one piece, a Horse, was marked through an engraved character that was filled up with red paint; the others were inscribed with red resp. black China ink. The ink-marked set had the differentiated Ministers as well. The wreck was dated to Southern Song times (1127-1279). It may be interesting to note that the simpler pieces were found near the crew quarters, so it may be acceptable to presume that Xiangqi began to gain popularity at about this time (though it is of course possible [maybe even probable] that it became more widespread earlier).
This object looks like a bronze coin; it has been found by Albert von Le Coq in Gaochang (=Chotscho) (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaochang) and reported in his account "Koeniglich Preussische Turfan-Expeditionen" published in 1913. (check for pages 217 & 218).
Gaochang is an ancient oasis of the Silk Road, 30km southeast of modern Turpan in Xinjiang, today in China. One side shows a catapult with a Chinese soldier; the second side wears the Chinese symbol "p´ao" which is the name of the piece in Xiangqi. Excavated from the rubble in front of the "library ", ruin K, Chotcho. This place was an active Buddhist place from 5 to 7th centuries, and it would be interesting to know if that piece comes from that remote era. However, the design of this piece looks very similar to Xiangqi pieces from the Song period.
Along with that piece a Persian-like Chariot was found. See it there. (Maybe more information can be found in Le Coq book available on line, but my German is too much limited. Any help will be appreciated).
An ancient piece has been discovered in Wuwei, a city in the Gansu province (North West of China, at the eastern end of the Silk Road), bearing writing in Chinese in one side and in Tangut script in the other side. This copper piece has a diameter of 2.5 centimeters and the character "Shi" (a Counsellor in Xiangqi) cast on one side and Tangut word cast on the other side.
The extinct Tangut language was used under Western Xia Dynasty which ruled from 1038 up to 1227 in North-West China. This language disappeared after the fall of this bright kingdom, destructed by the Mongols.
This place demonstrates that Xiangqi was played by Tanguts. Andrew West has written an excellent article resuming all known facts about Tangut Chess. This precious document has been mirrored here for security.
Coins collectors know that several ancient Chinese coins are not monetary but are "Chess" pieces instead. Indeed, antique metal pieces made for Xiangqi play are often found. Coins collectors call them "charms". According to a web source, the National Museum of Chinese History in Beijing is known to have four complete sets of Northern Song (960 - 1127 AD) xiangqi pieces. The Shanxi Museum of History has one complete set of Northern Song pieces. There are no complete sets of these early Song Dynasty xiangqi pieces known to exist in private hands.
Zu is black Soldier (Pawn) in Xiangqi. It seems to be the most common piece found in collections. Some coins bear the Zu sinogram on both side whereas others have a representation of a Soldier (with a kind of hallebard) on the reverside side.
Bing is red Soldier (Pawn) in Xiangqi. The same representation of a Soldier than for the Zu is found on the reverside side.
Jiang is the black General, the head of black army. This piece has the same sinogram on both sides.
This Shi is the red Counsellor. The back side depicts the silhouette of a Guard, although it is difficult to see because of the erosion of the coin.
This Xiang is the black Elephant. On these two pieces, both sides bear the same sinogram.
This second Xiang is on the red army. The sinogram does not mean Elephant but Minister. Ankwardly, the reverse side shows ... an elephant!
Ma is the Horse.
Ju (or Che) is the Chariot. The first piece is from the red army as the sinogram uses two signs, the first one meaning "man" and being only used for the red set. When Ju is written with a single sign, it can not be asserted (without any trace of color) to which army it belongs. For all pieces, the reverse side show an image of a Chinese chariot. It can be noted that the last one is not the same than the first two ones.
Pao is the Cannon. It is written with a double sign sinogram. On the piece below, the first part of the sinogram is the sign for "stone" meaning that the piece is actually a Catapult. Generally, this is reserved for the black army, the red army having a real Canon which is written with the sign of "fire".
A complete set of thirty-two bronze Xiangqi pieces found in Inner Mongolia (Northern Song period). The Generals are a little bit bigger than the other pieces. Both armies has the same design for the piece which is unusual nowadays.
The presentation of all these Xiangqi copper or bronze "coins" demonstrate that they were rather numerous. It is very surprising to note that the cast images seem to always keep the same design for a given piece. I don't know how this can be explained. I was expecting much more variety, giving the immensity of the Chinese lands and the span of years (at least Norther and Southern Song dynasties, three centuries from 960 to 1279). I'd be glad to receive comments or complementary information on that subject.
MORE OLD PIECES AND SETS, OTHER MATERIALS
Note: Most images here have been taken from a page in a Peter Sung's blog that I can not find again
Several photographs are taken from "chinesecharms", from www.zeno.ru, from Peter Sung
Last two phootgraphs from Asian Games "The Art of Contest, Asia Society, 2004"