Culture, Civilization and Chess - by Ifay Chang for Young Chinese Americans at NWCS



The four Chinese inventions - paper, compass, gunpowder and printing - Impact on Civilization

Chinese legend tells that the new invention of paper was presented to the Emperor in the year 105 AD by Cai Lun. Archeological evidence, however, shows that paper was in use two hundred years before then. Either way, the Chinese were significantly ahead of the rest of the world. The craft of papermaking relied upon an abundance of bamboo fiber to produce a fine quality paper. In China, the traditional papermaker uses only the traditional materials and methods to produce fine art paper.

By the third century AD, Chinese scientists had studied and learned much about magnetism in nature. For example, they knew that iron ore, called magnetite, tended to align itself in a North/South position. Scientists learned to "make magnets" by heating pieces of ore to red hot temperatures and then cooling the pieces in a North/South position. The magnet was then placed on a piece of reed and floated in a bowl of water marked with directional bearings. These first navigational compasses were widely used on Chinese ships by the eleventh century AD.

The Chinese invention of moveable type, credited to Bi Sheng in the year 1045 AD, did not significantly impact Chinese society. Three hundred years later in Europe, Gutenberg's development of moveable type revolutionized the Western world. Why? The Chinese language uses 3000 to 5000 characters in an average newspaper. The English language, in comparison, uses 26 characters in an average newspaper. Clearly, manipulating 5000 characters on a printing press took much longer than moving 26. Still, the invention of moveable type furthered Chinese technology and its role in the advancement of human civilization.

Imagine their enemy's surprise when the Chinese first demonstrated their newest invention in the eighth century AD. Chinese scientists discovered that an explosive mixture could be produced by combining sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). The military applications were clear. New weapons were rapidly developed, including rockets and others that were launched from a bamboo tube. Once again, the raw materials at hand, like bamboo, contributed ideas for new technologies.

Chinese inventions Established fundamental contribution to human civilization

The Invention of Paper Greatest Impact on Civilization and human intellectual development


The four American inventions - telephone, television, automobile and airplane - Impact on Civilization

Alexander Graham Bell was born in 1847 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He moved to Ontario, and then to the United States, settling in Boston, before beginning his career as an inventor. Throughout his life, Bell had been interested in the education of deaf people. This interest lead him to invent the microphone and, in 1876, his "electrical speech machine," which we now call a telephone.

The credit as to who was the inventor of modern television really comes down to two different people in two different places both working on the same problem at about the same time: Vladimir Kosma Zworykin, a Russian-born American inventor working for Westinghouse, and Philo Taylor Farnsworth, a privately backed farm boy from the state of Utah.

Henry Ford was born on a farm near Dearborn, Michigan, on July 30, 1863, and educated in district schools. He became a machinist's apprentice in Detroit at the age of 16. From 1888 to 1899 he was a mechanical engineer, and later chief engineer, with the Edison Illuminating Company. In 1893, after experimenting for several years in his leisure hours, he completed the construction of his first automobile, and in 1903 he founded the Ford Motor Company.

The automobile as we know it was not invented in a single day by a single inventor. The history of the automobile reflects an evolution that took place worldwide. It is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile. However, we can point to the many firsts that occurred along the way. Starting with the first theoretical plans for a motor vehicle that had been drawn up by both Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton.

In 1769, the very first self-propelled road vehicle was a military tractor invented by French engineer and mechanic, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot (1725 - 1804). Cugnot used a steam engine to power his vehicle, built under his instructions at the Paris Arsenal by mechanic Brezin. It was used by the French Army to haul artillery at a whopping speed of 2 1/2 mph on only three wheels. The vehicle had to stop every ten to fifteen minutes to build up steam power. The steam engine and boiler were separate from the rest of the vehicle and placed in the front (see engraving above). The following year (1770), Cugnot built a steam-powered tricycle that carried four passengers.

Orville Wright was born August 19, 1871 in Dayton, Ohio. Along with his brother Wilbur, he invented and built the first successful controllable airplane. Orville and Wilbur Wright requested a patent application for a "flying machine" nine months before their successful flight in December 1903, which Orville Wright recorded in his diary. As part of the Wright's systematic practice of photographing every prototype and test of their various flying machines, they had persuaded an attendant from a nearby lifesaving station to snap Orville in full flight. The craft soared to an altitude of 10 feet, traveled 120 feet, and landed 12 seconds after takeoff. After making two longer flights that day, Orville and Wilbur Wright sent a telegram to their father, instructing him to "inform press."

Invention of Telephone Greatest impact on human relations, without telephone, you will have fewer friends

Invention of  Television Great impact on public communication as well as on cultural influence

Invention of Automobile Major part of the industrial revolution

Airplane Inventor Orville and Wilbur Wright Extending human's outreach to the space eventually to outerspace


The most popular literatures (novels) in China

"The dream of the red chamber" A love story, human nature, ...

"Water margin" A heroism book, justice, martial arts, ....

"The journey to the west"A story with full of imaginations, monkey king is just great ....

Romance of Three Kingdoms A great history novel, chess story worthy of note: Playing chess in an empty city made the enemy general hesitating in attacking the city.

The Legend of the White Snake An imaginative love story, magic, .... 


The most popular literatures (novel) in America (Add Your Favorites)

 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn



Moby Dick



 The Adventures of  Tom Sawyer

Many more of your favorites .....


Yi-Jing, the mystery of the past

One of the most talk-about Chinese ancient works is Yi-jing or I-Ching. For people interested in this subject, there are many international study groups very active in this area.


Tao De Jin - the oldest religion on earth

Taoism, an ancient Chinese system of thought, views the Universe as an interconnected, organic whole. Nothing exists separately from anything else. The Universe is governed by a set of natural and unalterable laws, which manifest themselves as a flow of continuous change. This natural order and flow is referred to as the Tao, or the Way. By recognizing and aligning ourselves with these laws, humans can attain a state of being which combines the experience to total freedom with on of complete connectedness to life's process - being one with the Tao.

Explanation of Toa by a Western scholar

Capitalism and The Tao

Qigong and Taoism

Taoist Restoration Society

Tao Te Ching

Taoism and Links


Bagua and Fengshui

The BaGua is an ancient Chinese energy map in the shape of an eight sided diagram - an octagon composed of eight trigrams with the Yin-Yang symbol in the middle. It is based on the oldest book in the world, a gift from early Chinese civilization called the "I Ching".

Each side of the BaGua represents different aspects of life, which are: Wealth, Career, Fame, Family, Children, Helpful People (Mentors), Knowledge, and Marriage. The Tai Chi, the center of the BaGua, joins all the areas together in harmony, and in general, represents Health.

For Feng Shui, the BaGua is overlaid on an entire house, building, property, or on an individual room, desk or bed. This identifies which areas need to be energetically "adjusted" with simple cures or solutions.


The BaGua, an ancient Chinese energy map

Application of the Ba Gua

The Art and Science of Fengshui

Feng Shui Society


The Comparison of Chinese Chess and American (Western) Chess in Light of Culture and Civilization

chessboard set up







Chess Rules of Chinese Chess Vs Western Chess - by Ifay Chang

  1. King and the two Royal Guards are confined in the Castle which is located in the lower center of the board. King can move vertically and horizontally one step at a time whereas the royal guards can only move diagonally one step at a time. In King's and royal guard's move, an enemy piece can be captured if the enemy is in its way. The corresponding piece in western chess for royal guard is the bishop, however, the bishop is not confined to the castle and it can move diagonally more than one step at a time.
  2. There are two palace guards called elephants in Chinese. They can only move diagonally two steps at a time but not allowed to cross the dividing river. Their corresponding pieces in western chess are also the bishops. The western chess pieces are placed in the squares of the 8 by 8 chess board marked with squares marked in two different colors whereas the Chinese chess pieces are placed on the intersection of lines on the 8 by 8 chess board where there is a river dividing the two 4 by 8 halves.
  3. There are two knights in Chinese chess almost equivalent to the knights in the western chess. Remember the Chinese knights are placed on line intersections and move semi-diagonally in two steps. The Chinese knights can be blocked from movement by a piece (friend or foe) located next to the knight at the starting point (not the destination point) of the knight's movement. Western knights have no such restriction. They can move to the destination square either by capturing its opponent or if the square is unoccupied.
  4. There are two chariots in Chinese chess (called vehicle in Chinese) which can move freely either vertically or horizontally and they are allowed to capture their enemy at their destination points. Correspondingly, there are two rooks in western chess which can move in the similar manner except in squares rather than on lines.
  5. There are five foot soldiers in Chinese chess placed up front one line before the river divider on alternate vertical lines. These foot soldiers are allowed to move one step forward until they cross the river then they may move horizontally still one step at a time. Whereas in western Chess, there are eight foot soldiers called pawns placed immediately above the king's royal forces. They do block the movement of the king's royal pieces except the two knights. Therefore, one must strategically move the pawns to allow the royal forces to get out. The Chinese 'pawns' do not block the movement of the other pieces as much as in the western chess, therefore the opening move in Chinese chess is not necessarily a pawn move like in the Western chess. The pawns in western chess can become a royal force when they reach the base square of the enemy side. Usually people would like to make them queens since the queen is the most powerful piece in western chess. The Chinese 'pawns' can only go forward and not allowed to move backward.
  6. There is no queen in Chinese chess but the queen in western chess can move and capture freely along vertical, horizontal and diagonal in any color square, hence it is the most powerful piece.
  7. The second important difference in Chinese chess is that there are two cannons in the royal forces initially placed on B3 and H3 on the red side (or white side) and on B* and H8 on the black side as counted from the red (white) side. These position notations are important for chess learners so they could write their moves and study them later to find mistakes or winning moves. Obviously it is less confusing if one set of coordinate notation is used. It is generally agreed that the red (or white) side will make the first move, therefore the coordinates on their side will be used for recording all the moves. The cannons can move freely like the chariots except they can only strike or capture the enemy piece in a hopping move resembling a cannon shoot on the target over a obstructive object.
  8. Rules on Players are very simple:
  1. The red (or white) makes the first move and the black (or blue) follows until one side is defeated or resigned or both sides agree to a draw.
  2. No chatting during the game
  3. No taking back (or undoing) moves once the player's hand leaves the piece that is played.
  4. The game can be played with limited time monitored by a clock or referee. Further rules may be imposed by the referee.
  1. Strategies for winning
  1. There are only two ways to win. One is to win by strategy and making smart moves and the other is to win by recognizing your opponent's mistakes.
  2. There are also only two ways to lose. One is losing by making mistakes and the other is losing to opponent's smart moves.
  3. Win or lose one can learn through the mistakes and the smart moves. So the object of playing chess is to learn and become a better player. If one can become a better player by losing to stronger opponent is no worse than keep winning by beating a weak opponent.
  4. There are numerous strategies and moves in both Chinese and western chess. The only way to master them is by playing and learning.
  1. In Chinese chess the king is confined but in western chess the king can make a move called castling, moving with his rook at the same time in a cross movement to land the king in a more secure position.
  2. In western chess, the pawn can make an en passant move (diagonally to behind the enemy) by capturing the opponent pawn when it makes a two step move trying to sneak by his side.
  3. Chess Nomenclature:
  1. Since the Chinese chess and western chess are both interesting strategic board games, we will try to use a consistent nomenclature so we can learn the two games simultaneously.
  2. We will use a similar nomenclature for recording movements. The two diagrams attached show the numbering system for the two chess games for your references. The rows of lines in Chinese chess is numbered from 1 to 10 and the vertical lines are named A to I whereas the rows of squares in western chess is number from 1 to 8 and the columns of squares are named from A to H.
  3. The Chinese chess pieces are :
  4. 1 King, 2 Royal Guards, 2 Elephants, 2 Horses (Knights), 2 Vehicles (Chariots), 2 Cannons and 5 Foot Soldiers (Pawns).

  5. The western chess pieces are :
  6. 1 King, 1 Queen, 2 Bishops, 2 Knights, 2 Rooks and 8 Pawns.

  7. Example of movement: RC: B3 to E3 (moving Red Cannon from B3 to E3) This is one of the typical opening move in Chinese Chess. BH: B1 to C3 (moving black horse from B1 to C3). This is a typical defense move to protect the center pawn when the opponent moves the cannon to the center.

Examine the Similarities and Differences in Chinese and Western Chess through a Cultural Glass


1. Both are board game with 8 x 8 squares and 32 pieces. It is not clear whether one game is influenced by the other.

2. Both are a strategy and thinking game.

3. Both games win by 'checkmate' the king.

4. Rook and Knight (Chariot and Horse) move in a similar manner.

5. Both games have diagonal moves.

6. Soldiers can only forward until reaching enemy territory.

7. Chinese and western chess are similar strategy games and both enjoy great popularity. Having learned one game can easily learn to play the other game. There are other minor similarities for example, the red side always make the first move......


1. The QUEEN is the most powerful piece in western chess but is absent in Chinese chess.

Chinese culture: Queen does not participate in decision making regarding national affairs. Her power is internal and not exhibited externally.

Western culture: Queen is very visible and commands respect and power. Often, in western society, the degree of civilization is measured by how much the society is respecting its female members. The so called gentleman mannerism is often considered as an exhibit of civilization. 

2. The Knight (Horse)

Horse in Chinese chess has a restricted or forbidden move, 'crippled foot'. Chinese war tactic, using long stick tied with hook knife to cut the horse's foot hence crippling the horse.

3. Chinese chess has two cannons which are absent in western chess.

The cannon can fire across or over another piece to kill. Chinese invented gun powder which gets incorporated in the chess via the two cannons. Because of its cannons, the Chinese chess most likely dates later than western chess.

4. The soldiers in western chess can turn into another piece often as a Queen when reaching the base line of the enemy zone, whereas soldiers in Chinese chess can only move forward, never backward and can not turn into another piece.

Western society encourages heroism much more strongly than Oriental society does. A soldier can gain power as great as the Queen is conceptually not accepted in Chinese chess.

5. The general in Chinese chess is confined within the garrison with his guards whereas the king in western chess can move to anywhere although strategically players often set up the defense for the king so the king is protected within a small region avoiding attacks by the enemy pieces.

In Chinese history, kings rarely engage in battles after they are enthroned but generals often do. This fact is not reflected in the Chinese chess, unless the piece, general, is really treated as a king. 

6. In western chess the king has very little fighting power compared to his queen. In Chinese chess, there is no queen at all.

These facts can not be traced or correlated generally with history, although in both Chinese and western history, there were examples of powerful queens ruling a country. Queen Victoria, Queen Tzi-Shi, and a few other examples. Perhaps, in 21st century, this phenomenon will occur more in more countries as the women lib movement continues to gain power for women. The popularity of western chess over the Chinese chess perhaps can be predicted. A remedy for Chinese chess to gain popularity especially among women is perhaps to replace the general with a queen and make the two near-guards as generals. The game can be played with the same rules without any change. This may be an interesting idea even deserving to be patented. What do you think?     


Chess is a game. When we examine chess under the East-West cultural looking glass, we find that there is a lot of similarities as well as differences between the western and eastern chess. The similarities can be related to common human nature or human thinking or human development and the differences can be related to the influences of the diversified cultural and historical background. No matter what subject or object is examined under the East-West cultural looking glass, one will always find some similarities and some differences. Recognizing this fact, one can easily accept and interpret any similarity or difference observed in any thing, fashion, cooking, architecture, philosophy, religion......even swearing phrases in different languages.

The source and references of this lecture can be found at www.mi-card/NWCS/NWCSculture.html created by Ifay Chang