Export sets: Chinese Generals vs. Generals

These sets usually show two opposing Chinese armies.

As stated by Hyde (1694), the Chinese idea of commanders was not that of “kings”. There were, in may export sets for Europe, replaced by two generals. They had to be accompanied by two figures which apparel either on both sides or on one side as military persons. This seems, at first sight, to be an uncertainty as to their function. Possibly, the insignia of military and civil officials were also borne by their women. It seems that the artists initiated, in the ornamented clothes of the generals and their adjoint persons, real textile covered suits of armour and their textile insignia (lions heads). Frequently, the arming of the pieces corresponds to the traditional and very old inventory of Chinese weapons : helboards, swords, lances, sabres, spears, arch and arrows and eventually forked spears. This corresponds to the habit to use rural impediments as weapons perhaps as practised in the region where the chess sets were produced. This aspect can be regarded as an authentic Chinese component in these export sets.

The Europeans introduced their form of chess to China in the late 18th century, mainly for commercial reasons. The British East India Company, Dutch East India Company, and other trading groups from France, Portugal, and the newly formed United States of America, all came and established trading posts at the ports of Macau, Hong Kong, Canton, and Shanghai.

Chess set on puzzle ball

On both sides, generals and their adjoint (female) person are posing martially. Chess set on puzzle balls. Ivory, one side stained red. King’s height 21.3cm, Pawn 12.5cm. Source: CCI (2012) Chinese Chess Sets

Monoblock chessmen

Cut from one piece of ivory. The ornamental treatment of the cloths and headgear of exquisite subtly  Both central figures are marked asa generals by their emblems and their ceremonial boots  The red general is accompanied by a lady wearing flowers and a fly-swatter. The corresponding white piece wears a martial outfit. The counsellors brea pointed caps and the ceremonial bones of mandarins. Knights arpear as armed riders. One side is red stained. King’s height is 12cm. Pawn 5.5cm. Source: CCI (2012) Chinese Chess Sets.

Chessmen on puzzle balls with large feathers 

The main pieces wear large feathers. Ivory, dated 1820. King’s Height is 20.5cm. Pawns 10.5cm. Source: CCI (2012) Chinese Chess Sets

Large set on octogonal bases 

Outstanding is the headgear: shaped like crowns for the generals and adjoint persons, wing shaped or curved hats for the mandarins like in pained representations of officials and judges. Chess set on octogonal basis. Ivory, one side stained red. King’s height 18cm. Pawns 10.5cm. Source: CCI (2012) Chinese Chess Sets