“Human chess” (co nguoi)

 

“Human chess” (co nguoi) is a popular game at village and temple festival. The game follows the general rules of Chinese chess. The concept is recognizably similar to Western chess, but with a different-sized board and different pieces, including cannons and guards, each of them marked with a distinct Chinese character.

In human chess, however, the pieces are all people: 32 people in all. One side consists of 16 boys and the other of 16 girls. Each team wears a different colour.

The chessboard is marked by paint on flat ground. Village festivals usually use the yard in front of a communal house or pagoda or a nearby field. Organisers select players plus a referee well in advance. All should be children of families with a good reputation. The referee and the two generals should come from wealthier families so they can treat their players to food. As the selection finishes, the referee convenes the 32 people, describes the costumes, and tells each person how to move as a chess piece. Players may sit on chairs and wear hats if it is sunny. They either wear boards with the Chinese names of their pieces or carry sign poles with the characters. The generals wear traditional costumes. The two contestants who direct the pieces have their own seats outside the board.

In contrast to some other games practiced at festivals, human chess is known for its quietude and delicacy.

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