Northwest Wanderings: Competitors and spectators gather almost daily under the shade of a tree across from Seattle's Wing Luke Museum to play Chinese chess.
There’s a lot of finger-pointing in this game of Chinese chess. Not by the two competitors, but by the half-dozen spectators offering unsolicited advice. There’s no trash-talking in Chinese chess, or chess in general. But opponents can provide distraction — glaring, eating, sighing, head nods, whispering, talking to oneself. Yunzhi Wu sits quietly opposite his challenger, motionless, but for a slight rotating of the pieces he’s captured. They click against the granite table in the shade of a sheltering tree across from the Wing Luke Museum on South King Street. His opponent takes a lot of time. Wu is always quick to respond. He plans many moves ahead in this game, also called Xiangqi.On a worn, soft, folding board, this game maneuvers two opposing armies. The goal is to capture the opponent’s general, the king-equivalent. Each red and black disc is engraved with a Chinese character. Guards or advisers, mandarins or warriors, horses, elephants, chariots, cannons and soldiers. Pieces are placed at the intersections of lines, not within squares. Players here pooled money to clean up the area and buy the table, replacing a trash-strewn and graffitied space. Most are speaking Cantonese, as many are from Guangdong province in China. This is considered a gentleman’s game with roots 3,500 years old. Yunzhi Wu, just like Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty, 141-87 B.C., shows bold vision and brilliant military strategy. And just like the emperor, he will conquer today. Onlookers say, “He’s the champ.” Modest in victory, Wu says, “I’m not really the best.” His opponent says, “for me, he’s the best.” Checkmate.