Export sets : Chinese Generals vs the English


These sets represent Chinese generals opposing the English. This probably followed the demand from British traders. Created someone in the late eighteenth century, these sets are carved in distinctive Chinese fashion. In 90 present of all the figural sets the king of the white side is George III of England (reigned 1760 to 1820). Having established the style for their sets, the carvers continued to use George III as their chess king throughout the following century. 

It is curious to note that the particular English King George III was chosen by Chinese carvers. Certainly, his rule lasted for a long time (1760 to 1820), though subsequent to 1810 he was represented by the Prince of Wales from 1810 onwards, because of the King’s health issues. George III was dress in an 18th century style robe which probably goes back to a portrait “in coronation robes”, done by Allan Ramsay in 1762 and well popularised through many prints and reprints. 

While the carving style of the sets is Chinese by tradition, depicting Chinese figures, the classification of the design is English, with a king, queen, bishop and knight, and a rook carved as an elephant and castle. The Chinese king is normally described as an emperor or mandarin, but, possibly because the Chinese carvers knew the legend of Emperor Wen Ti and were anxious that they should not carve an effigy of their emperor, the Chinese kings and queens are based on costumes used by actors in traditional plays on Chinese mythology. A favorite for the king in chess is Torgchou, the god of war. He is identified by a ferocious face carved not elf front of the consume worn by the king. Occasionally, George III would be replaced by another monarch.  

Chessmen on rosette stems   

Chessmen on rosette stems with King George III. King wears knee breeches and and undergarment and a coat over his shoulder, adorned by a chain and long dropping tassels. Chinese figures are in red, the general and the adjoint persons wear their usual headgear. Ivory. King’s height 10cm. Pawns 5cm. Source: CCI (2012) Chinese Chess Sets

George III as White King

Unmistakingly is the George III as the white king, designed as a Christian ruler by the cross on his crown and long sceptre with a globule on top. Queen Charlotte has a long robe with floral ornaments, she is crowned and grasps her chain with one hand. King’s height 11cm. Pawns 5.6cm. Source: CCI (2012) Chinese Chess Sets

Puzzle ball set

George III as white king, wearing a crown with a cross and a globe mounted to a high standard. On the opposite side the red general is represented as a strong fighter with a lion make on his armour. The red female figure with her traditional headgear, a shawl and fan is lady like, her opposite white one is shown with a  long robe, small crown (without a cross), a chain of pearls and a little receptacle in her hand. King’s height 17cm. Pawns 8.7cm. Source: CCI (2012) Chinese Chess Sets

George III set, with close similarities

Both sides are nearly identical. This is surprising for it indicated that the idea of the set was not the opposition of a Chinese and an English army, but two European parties in conflict. Source: CCI (2012) Chinese Chess Sets

Cantonese carvers – deviating from red  

Includes decorative stands, turned with surface floral design carving, mounted by figural carved heads threaded to the bases. While most of the Chinese side are dyed red, occasionally, a green dye was used. The English ivory side is left natural. Source: Williams (2000) Master Pieces

George III set from British House of Commons 

eA set of this pattern was presented to the British House of Commons by US Congressman Arthur Walter to commemorate a match by telegraph between British members of Parliament and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1897. The match was drawn. The set was displayed in the chess room of the House of Commons, where it was placed in two glass cases, the white chessmen in one and the red in the other. That was until 1995, when, during a parliamentary recess, a thief broke one of the cases and stole the red Chinese chessmen. Source: Williams (2000) Master Pieces