Xiangqi Master Zhu Jianqiu
Written in memory of deceased Xiangqi Master Mr Zhu JianqiuChapter One
I wrote down the title, and felt a little shiver.
I can remember him clearly, the author of 'Ghost Hand Hundred Games', the Xiangqi Master Zhu Jianqiu, who was no more in this world.
He was sitting in his small sandwich room measuring 10 square metres, writing his chess book --- 'Ghost Hand Hundred Games', when I gave him a visit, I sat opposite him, besides the Baxian table, as usual, on the table there was set up a chess board with its pieces, and also there were manuscript.
That was the year when he was of 74 or 75 years old, and because he was quite thin, he looked older than his real age. His face still of a light pale colour, however, with deep wrinkles and fallen corners of the mouth, with veines of the neck eminently sticking out, he gave me the impression of a concrete column of an abandoned building site.
His eyes were thinly veiled by cataracts, envelopped in his redden and moisted eye sockets.
"Ghost hand, that is a special term in Xiangqi," he explained to me, "cunning, unpredictable, attacking when most unexpected, defending with great resources, once such a move is made, the whole situation of the game suddenly changed, as if the whole atmosphere is filled with ghostly air...".
"Very often this will create unsolvable end-game." I said.
"Ah ---" He sighed for a long moment, his misty eyes looking at me with pity, shaking his head, "come on, don't talk silly, ghost hand is ghost hand, end-game is end-game, a ghost hand is a chess move you played, while an end-game position is the result produced after a moved is completed, these two are things far apart and should not be mixed up ! I already said that you can never be a true chess player. You do not use your brain...."
When he shaked his head, his cheeks seemed to move with a some distress, the bared neck appeared more fragile and weak.
I hurried to pour hot water into his tea cup, in order to stop his talking.
"I just bought this Lion Peak Before Rain tea from Dragon Well's village of Hangzhou, this tea on the second round gives the best frangrance ! " I said.
Apart from chess, his only other life-long attraction was tea, excellent tea.
He sipped tea, nodded in appreciation, then he paid no more attention to me, setting up his chess pieces on the board.
He lived in a small sandwich room on the third floor of the building, the worst one.
An area of 12 to 13 flat square (平方), the left-hand neighbour was my home, the front was a cabin room, facing Shandong Road; the right-hand neighbour was a family living in right cabin room, below the window was a corridor alley, called Yongle Li, during the 'Cultural Revolution' it was renamed as 'Yongdou Li', now it is of course back to its original name. Once there lived the mother and son of family Wu, later a young couple moved in, the husband was known by his nickname 'Yellow Ox'. Mr Zhu lived in between the two cabin rooms, it was possible that previously this in between space was just a passage, later no doubt the landlord developped it to increase the rate of accommodation of the building, surrounding the space with a thin sheet of wood, almost completely sealed up, for this reason it was called 'sandwich room or sandwiched room', with only a window, a roof louvre window more exact, the people of Shanghai used to call this type of window a 'tiger window'.
I opened the tiger window for him, the window was then tighted to a thick cord, by pulling the cord down, the window can be opened, when the rope is tightened to a hook on the wall, the window is fixed. To close the window, simply pull the rope out, the window will bounce back and is automatically closed,
Opening the window was because the air in the room was suffocating. In the middle of the room was a coal cake stove, that was Mr Zhu most important living ustensil: for hot water, cooking, and warmth. The water on the stove was boiling, I poured the hot water into the thermos. He lifted his head from the chessboard and said, put the wok on the stove for me, as Yellow Ox had bought me two pieces of spare ribs, we can stew these, for lunch we can have soup noodle, in the evening he is coming to help me prepare a dish of sweet and sour spare ribs.
I saw in the basket there was cleanly washed vegetables, together with very fresh cut noodle, wrapped in newspaper. For stewing tasty spare ribs broth, I pressed a new coal cake on the stove, and immediately a sticky air of carbon monoxide was released over the room.
I was forced to opened the roof window.
"It's cold," he said, "do not open window." He has put on cotton-padded jacket, cotton-wadded trousers, and also cotton-wadded shoes. These were a little bit dirty which made them looked a bit antiquated. The heat from the stove was not enough to resist the cold air poured down from the roof window, then again, writing his 'Ghost Hand Hundred Games', he had to place the chessboard on the Baxian table, which was just underneath the window,
I remembered when I visited him, that was in the beginning of the Spring, in the year 1985, it was still cold.
He was just started writing the opening chapter of his 'Ghost Hand Hundred Games'.
Eight years later, the writing of 'Ghost Hand Hundred Games' was completed, the book had collected and commented on the several decades of plays of Xiangqi Master Zhu Jianqiu, plus other 'Ghost Hand' the Master himself used or seen in games by other people, altogether one hundred games of such extraordinary and attractive moves and combinations etc. where one rises in battles from the brink of defeat to victory, from almost complete lost to snatching a draw, or creating an unsolvable mysterious end-game, sort of a 'ghostly atmosphere', all in all the manuscript contained 300,000 words.
Less than one year later, in a deep cold winter of the year 1994, Zhu Jianqiu left the world.
The 'Cultureal Page' of 'Xinming Evening News' had published a news item at that time:
"Our country most senior Xiangqi Master Zhu Jianqiu has died of illness a few days ago, aged 82. Zhu Jianqiu was a member of Huang Pu Area Policy Liaison Committee, deputy captain of Shanghai City Sporting Committee Xiangqi team, coach of Shanghai Youth Palace Xiangqi class, he had written '100 End-games Analysis', 'Biographies of Yangzhou's Xiangqi Three Musketeers' and other titles.
But the 'Ghost Hand Hundred Games' was not mentioned, since it was not yet published.Chapter Two
Mr. Zhu was the neighbour of my mother's family.
Mother's family was living in the place mentioned earlier as 'Yongle Li', it was situated in the heart of Huang Pu area, towards the north about 30 or 40 metres was the Nanjing Road, towards the south not too far away was the Yanan Road, and also the Yuyuan, towards the east about a bus stop away was the Waitan of Huangpu Jiang (Shanghai Bund?), in the west it was the People's Square, in the past that was called Paoma Ting (the Turf?).
It was a very convenient place to live, with facility for food, clothing, accommodation and transport, population was highly concentrated, a popular area as termed in modern saying. There were lots of people living in rows and rows and simple structured and low buildings, with narrow, shadowy entrances, basically it was the alley hall (弄堂), each of the numbered household accommoded several families, sometimes seven to eight, the least had four to five families. For example my family lived in No.214, the lower floor was a printing workshop, the above two floors had accommodations for five families, the third floor was for my family, Mr Zhu, also there was the family of Wu's, mother and son, later on it was 'Yellow Ox' husband and wife and their son. Including the stairways, a total of about 70 square meters, for 3 families, more than ten people --- at that time, it was thought to be spacious enough.
The houses of Yongle Li, the east side were Shi Ku Men structure, considered as 'Shanghai model housing', the west side facing Shandong Road, were of the type of 'double uses of houses' where the lower floor were shops, the upper floors for living.
Both sides of the alley were houses of three storey high. The 'model housing' Shi Ku Men had a small courtyard, though covered, stacked with various things, hanging with bady's napkins, linen, bed sheets, it still had some sunlight and some remaining space to move about, while on the side of the 'double use' houses, it was more of gloom and less space. Since the lower floor along the Shandong Road opened their shops for trading, the entrances to the upper floors had to be through the alley hall, like entering a cave, dark to say the least, if light was not switched on, a stranger would not be able to feel his way to the staircase, it was just the same effect as if the late comer entering the cinema hall of Da Guang Ming.
The alley hall was older than I can remembered. Since I was about ten years old, the two side of the series of houses were all the time on repair. When is was small scale repair, the door caves got hammered and hammered repeatedly one by one, there were people mixing cement all the time, cement waters flowed out all over the places, muddied our shoes and we carried the mud in our shoes to the stairways and into our homes, and got scolded by our parents. When it was a major repair, both sides of the alley hall were erected with scafolding, using big and strong bamboo, covering all remaining spaces and shutting light from top to bottom, and that was the best festival time for us the children.
We would happily played hide and seek, running in between the bamboo structure, being a 'thief', one decided not to allow to be easily caught by 'police'. Girls playing elastic rope jumping did not need to hold the elastic rope up their heads anymore, for between the bamboo everyone can jump to their heart's content. A more popular activity was picking up a rice grass rope, these ropes can be thicker than our pony tails, and when attached to a thick transversal bamboo, the curve which the rope made was well our delightful swings.
The year when I was 13 or 14 years old, one day I carried my small brother Ah Mao who was 10 years younger than me down to ground floor to play. I picked up a rope, tightened both side on a bamboo, and placed a joyful Ah Mao on the swing, told him to hold well on the string with both hands, then I started swinging the rope, he was happy, laughing, then suddenly he lost balance, I rushed up too late, he fall on the ground hitting his rear head on the floor.
The ground was stony, of granite stuff, a road made of this was called 'dange road'.
Ah Mao's head hit on the dange road, hurting himself and crying, his rear head immediately rose up a little mount, and due to the many detritus, leaves, ropes, earth etc. his was cushioned and there was no blood from his head.
I rubbed and rubbed his head, trying to flattned the mount of his head, all the same time I repeatedly told him, and promised him: at home do not tell mother what happened, I will bring you out to play again, I will bring you to the Bund to see big steam ships, I will buy sweet for you, soft sweet, milky sweet.
Can I tell my brother? Ah Mao asked, still crying.
No, not to tell him.
Can I tell uncle Zhu?
Uncle Zhu? Yes you can tell uncle Zhu.
Zhu Jianqiu did not seem to have too good a temper, however he was very patient towards children.
Little Ah Mao did not pronounce his words clear enough, he would pronounce 'baibai' (uncle) as 'baba' (father), Mr. Zhu was quite satisfied with this. When Ah Mao was able to walk properly, he liked to get into his sandwiched room, more so when it was lunch time. Whenever Zhu Jianqiu saw the little one, he would take the best piece from his bowl such as a piece of meat or an egg yellow and put it into his mouth, until one day Ah Mao got a fish bone stuck in, he was rushed to Hospital Renji which was at the south end of Shandong Road.
Zhu has two daughters, both staying with their mother in the Yangzhou village. He used to live in Yangzhou, though in the city, he was a teacher, teaching language and history, his wife and children were not with him, they were living in the village. When the Japanese came, he left Yangzhou, and went alone it to Shanghai for a living, since then he became one among the Shanghai people.
There were ten of thousand of 'single person' like him in Shanghai, these men have families of their own, only that the families were not with them. Every time when Mr Zhu went back to his village, he would see that his daughters have yet grown up more than before, and naturally they were more attached to their mother who was always with them together since they were small. Most of the his time were spent in our Yongle Li of Shandong Road, spending most of his time everyday with us, who delighted in running up and down of the narrow stairs with our wooden sandals on. He gave his love of children to us.
The Wu's family of mother and son who once lived in the rear cabin room, I realized afterward when I was grown up, that she was kept as a mistress by someone. The boss came from time to time, he liked to wear a copper bowl hat, avoiding showing his face, moving in or out furtively, our parents told us that he was trading in another area, he's called uncle Wu, therefore the father of the little son of family Wu. When the little one came to live in our place, he was just one month old, later he grew up and became more cute everyday, when he was 5 or 6 years old, he was so lovable that all the aunties, mothers and other women love to play with him, his pocket was always bulging with popcorns. Uncle Zhu was also very fond of him at one time, since he was able in such a tender age to play the game of Xiangqi with the master. Zhu recalled later that the small child used to think when playing, was a good chess seed, so even when Zhu was analysing by himself besides the Baxian table --- now I understand that was chess study --- we knew we were not allowed to disturb him during such a time, but the fair complexion and smart little brother Wu was allowed to get into his room and stand besides the table.
At that time Mr Zhu was living together with Auntie Hongdi. She was a dancer at 'The Great World', and met Mr Zhu who was working at the same place as a chess player, and surely they were in love too. Hence she came to our Shandong Road, Yongle Li, No. 214, the sandwich room of third floor. In my memory Auntie Hongdi was very beautiful, with a well shape face, of snow white complexion, high stature, slender waist, with rymthmic movement when walking, snake like. It seemed Auntie Hongdi stayed in the building for quite a long period.
When writing this article I specially phoned my mother who had move to the high rise buildings of Pudong New Area and checked the details with her, she told me firmly that it was for four years, from the year before liberation to three years after the liberation. Mother was very clear about life in the valley hall.
However Wu little brother soon lost favours in the valley hall. That was because he had done one thing which in the eyes of many of the aunties, mothers and other women seemed quite unpardonable: he had crawled down and looked underneath Mr Zhu's door, through the space of about one finger, and saw the 'snow snow white big bottom' of Auntie Hongdi.
Saw it and saw it, that was ok, but Wu little brother was so excited and did not want to let go at any cost, until Auntie Hongdi opened the door to throw out water. She was surprised to see the little boy lying on the floor as if a dog, she then asked in astonishment what was the matter, Wu little brother frankly expressed his feeling:
"Auntie Hongdi's bottom snow snow white, such big, very very beautiful to look at ! "
It was said that Mr Zhu did not take the incident too seriously.
"He is only a child, what does he understand? He only said it was beautiful to look at, let's forget it ! " he told Auntie Hongdi who was very angry at that time.
Though she got praised, Auntie Hongdi was quite agitated, she went and complained to Wu's mother, and again denounced little brother's bad hebaviour in front of the communal water tap of the ground floor's valley hall.
Perhaps she did not realized the consequence, but since then every one in Yongle Li when seeing Wu little brother would be unable to resist a smile, his pocketful of popcorns was no more.
Soon afterward, Wu's family of mother and son moved out of the place.
It was said that Auntie Hongdi later was much regretted.
"I should have listened to Mr Zhu." She often said, "He is always blaming me."Chapter Three
Some ten years and more later, in the year 1966, Wu little brother came back for a visit.
Zhu Jianqiu was at that time fallen into the bad element of 'Ox, Ghost, Snake, Spirit', during daytime, he has to accept criticism of the Shanghai City Sporting Committee Xiangqi team where he worked, and in the evening he was ordered by a so-called "Gun Command" revolutionary organization 'not to say or move without permission', 'to come immediately whenever called', from time to time he had to put on an high hat made of paper, paraded in the surrounding valley halls, It was at that time that Yongle Li changed its name into Yongdou Li. I was waiting for my graduation allocation of a job at that time, and during one weekend I returned home, I saw in front of the cave door No.214 a freshly written Dazibao, I read it attentively, realized then that the one who was once a committe member of Huangpu Area Policies Liaison, the once respectful Mr Zhu, had been a member of ***, at that time, it was considered a sufficient criteria.
Later in the evening, mother lifted from the wok four little yellow fish, and told me to bring them to neighbouring Mr Zhou.
" He has a guest." Mother said, "Do you remember the little brother of Wu's family? He has gone to study at Harbin Military Academy, after graduation worked in Nanjing military area as an officer, recently he is sent to Shanghai and works in propaganda team, he comes specially to have a look at the old neighbour places."
"He comes at this moment...." I muttered, remembering the freshly written characters on the cave door.
"He did not mind," mother said, "he came this afternoon, he still in now, he told Mr Zhu about policies. He said Mr. Zhou at that time in 'The Great World' was a collectively registered as members of ***, it was a decision of the boss, should not be a big issue...thanks heaven, fortunately he comes and says something, otherwise, I think Mr Zhu will finish by being hang."
"How is Mr. Zhu now?"
"For many days have not seen him play chess, he just sat in his room like a piece of wood...fortunately the guest comes, and explains to him the policies," mother said, "the visitor is now working in military propangada team, specializing in activities, and knows about policies." At that time everybody knew that understanding policies means living.
The visitor was playing chess with Mr Zhu on the Baxian table.
"You have played three consequetive moves with mistakes," Mr Zhu said, "let me explain to you."
As in the past, as if he was a coach of Xiangqi class in the Youth Palace, when he often brought his little students to his sandwich room for individual coaching, Mr Zhu scrambled the chess pieces as if they were majonh pieces, then placing the chess pieces in their proper positions of the previous game, and move by move giving explanation to the big stout military officer.
He had such an unusual memory, that he was able to placed the chess pieces in their exact positions, whatever the move it was.
He did not notice what I have brought to him.
Once the talk is on chess, he would forget every other thing.
The military officer raised his head, and politely gave me a smile.
He may not even remember who I was.
He was still of fair and clear complexion as when he was a child, though now he's tall and high.Chapter Four
Living in the valley hall for such a long time, it was inevitable that everyone knew everyone details, and hard to make much cover up.
For example, Ya Zhen's mother who lived in ground floor, before liberation, has worked as a 'glass', nowadays called 'accompany drink girl', we all knew about it, and later when she got womb cancer, they would say it was caused since that time; then there was someone called lotus flower, when still a child, she was sold to a brothel in Four Horse Road, and because she was such ugly that her only job were just carrying water, cleaning toilet and such thing, in the end when she was married with someone living in our valley hall, her husband was able to prove she was a virgin, as signified by her name lotus, growing out of muddy water and yet fresh and clean; there was the No.210, two families of brothers living in two floors, the wife of the eldest brother was beautiful, but her family was of humble working class, while the wife of the younger brother, though slightly handicapped, she brought with her a substantial wedding dowry, enough to reimbourse the debt acculumated for the past several years of the printing workshop, thus in a way saved the whole family life, hence she had an air of haughtiness, seldom said hello to her neighbours, seeing herself as a heroine in victory. Again there was Mr Zhu with Auntie Hongti who lived together for four years and yet Mrs Zhu who was living in the countryside never knew a word about, the couple were forced to separate after the People's Republic of China Marriage Law was promulgated. Hongdi married a cadre who lived near Kunshan, she later gave birth to three children in succeeding years. The valley hall space was too narrow, it was not possible to retain much privacy.
Nevertheless, there were some small secrets being kept, some other secrets were half hidden and half exposed, for example Mr Zhu would get his cotton padded clothes in the winter season, clean and comfortable, when winter season's over, Mr Zhu would take them out on the Labour's Day of 1st of May, and always there would be someone who will do the washing and resewing works, all these were done by Auntie Hongti, who was herself married to another person. This secret, old neighbour such as mother knew very clearly. However, when were the newly washed and re-sewed cotton padded clothes brought back, when were the old dirty clothes brought out, what was the secret way of contact, and where was the place of contact, these were things nobody knew really.
It was about the end of 1980's when I regularly gave visit to mother, that I unexpected met Auntie Hongdi.
She rose and went away when she saw me entered the room.
If mother had not told me that she was Hongdi, I would never be able to recognize her.
She was in fact not tall, mostly she was of medium height. Was it because of old age that she's shortened, or from the eyes of a child all grand persons looked tall, I could not be sure. She was not fat, it can be said she looked a bit dark and thin, the thing which stuck deeply in mind of 'the big snow snow white bottom' seemed to be faded flowers of yesterdays, or might it be an illusion? I believe it was the former. Time had passed in a glimpse 40 years already, almost a person's lifespan.
Mother pointed to a smal parcel on the table and said, Auntie Hongdi heard that Mr Zhu was writing his book, that's what they called 'ghost' book, sitting too long hours on his chair that he got haemorrhoid inflamation, she had brought some underpants which she had done herself.
There was no previous arrangement, it happened that today Mr Zhu was ill, neighbour Yellow Ox had accompanied him to hospital, so she was not able to meet him, she has to leave the parcel with us.
Mother continued and said in a smile, truely it is that one night of husband and wife relationship, it's a hundred days of tenderness and gratitude. She was accompanying her son and her daughter in law to Shanghai intending to buy some wedding furniture, sending things to Mr Zhu was done covertly. Mother then said, in their family no one knew about her previous life background. Several years ago, life was made more opened, her two daughters were learning social dance, when they were doing it the wrong way, she could not stand it anymore, she just let go and corrected them with some expert steps, the daughters were amazed, and said, you have this sort of level, unbelievable ! We had never suspected it...Auntie Hongdi, when telling me the story, could not control her laugh !
After Auntie Hongdi have married, there was no other woman ever came into Mr Zhu's sandwich room again.
Of course Mrs Zhu had visited, but she only came to Shanghai when she had something to do, such as her two daughters were getting married, she came to buy wedding things, and such as her daughter was ill and needed operation, he came to Shanghai, afterwards she would return back to her home.
Yongle Li No.214, the sandwich room on third floor was the Shanghai office of Mrs Zhu.
Mrs Zhu died of diabetes illness during the time of 'Cultural Revolution', the medical textbooks taught us that it is usually a rich people disease, those living in cities of developped countries, eating too rich a diet too much, with less exercising, it was easier to develop the illness. Whereas Mrs Zhu had spent her whole life in hardship, dutifully raised her children to adulthood, why was she contacted such ill, this was difficult to explain.
Since then, Mr Zhu had became a real bachelor.
In his life, only chess remained.
Author: Wang Xiaoyu
~ a XIANGQI EN BLOG translation ~