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The genealogy of chess Paperback – 1998
David Li's book should be of interest to all people who like anything to do with chess history.
The author's brief is to put China fair and square as the birthplace of chess. To this end he has gone through, almost without exception, all authorities that have ever published material about the origin of chess. He is scathing in his criticism of those who have advocated India as origin, exposing the seemingly threadbare and misleading evidence on which this view has been based (Murray in particular is much criticised).
The layout of the book is first class. It is well written and is compelling reading. One can hardly put it down. The book is written with much passion, and will without doubt invoke much discussion. It is an important book, and I recommend it to readers. -- Variant Chess (UK) Spring 1998
From their appearance, Chinese and Western chesses seem similar yet different. Have you ever wondered if these two chess games are related? Which was invented first -- the Chinese or the Western chess? The Chinese Chess was first developed, the Western Chess followed. From there, the whole series of questions as to who? where? when? why? and how? arise. You can get all your answers from the newest book called "The Genealogy of Chess" by David H. Li, published in 1998. ...
The author did a superb job in explaining the historical accounts and the connection between the Chinese and Western chess games, and thereby proved beyond any doubt that chess was invented in China. He did a comprehensive study supported by 130 references in Western languages and 54 references in the Chinese language. -- Chinese American Forum (Missouri) April 1998
About the Author
The author, after a diversified professional career (in academia as a university professor, in government service as an Associate Director for a Federal government agency, in service to the profession as a partner of a firm and later as a director of research of a professional organization, and in service to developing countries as a member of the World Bank staff), chose to write in-depth book on intellectual games for inquisitive minds after retirement. His other books since retirement includes two on Kriegspiel (generally regarded as the western chess for Nobel laureates and for think-tank information professionals), two on Xiangqi (Chinese chess), and one on Mah-Jong. This book, the author's 15th single-author book in English, is also the most challenging. Not only did he spend 18 months at the Library of Congress doing research, it also drew from him all the foreign language knowledge he possesses -- all non-English passages in the book are translated by the author himself. In addition to Chinese and English (the author considers himself bilingual and bicultural), the book contains passages in French and German (two foreign languages required for his PhD at the University of Illinois, at age 24), in Spanish (learned while at the World Bank), in Japanese, and in Latin. Although unable to read either Persian or Sanskrit, the book does contain a 5-page appendix to track down a single word in Sanskrit to refute a contention by an author to whom Sanskrit is native.
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Top Customer Reviews
Mr. Li points out that a handful of historians did find documentation showing earlier forms of chess but that these findings were ignored by the larger group due to a bias against the idea that chess could have developed outside of India and surrounding areas. After going over the documentation that the accepted view is based on and the minority view as well, the author then gives an exposition on documentation that for different historical and cultural reasons has never been made use of.
Virtually all of this information comes from chinese texts which have never been consulted by those persons in the western world interested in chess history. The author goes on to show that these materials predate the Indian information by some six hundred years.
If a game is an invention of mans mind, it follows that there is an idea, or initial group of ideas, a developmental period and finally a modification period.
If, during the second and third stages of invention, the game is introduced to cultures other than that where the game originally was concieved; it follows that those cultures will change the game to suit their own tastes.
The point of Mr. Li is to show how the game, today known as Xiangqi, is mentioned in chinese texts from circa 200 BCE and how it evolved, travelled westward and was further modified,(as well as eastward, Japan) eventually becoming Chess as it is generally known today.
For the established view to prevail it is neccessary to present documentation (does not have to be written, artifacts can also be used) that predate the chinese texts and artifacts.
In "The Genealogy of Chess," Mr. Li exposes serious flaws in much of the prevailing research on the origins of chess, a game played worldwide for centuries but still largely a mystery in many ways. And he builds an intriguing case that traces the game's ancestry to a Chinese army commander named Han Xin, born about three centuries before Christ.
Talmudic in tone and filled with footnotes, Mr. Li's work invites--indeed, cries out for--close scrutiny by open-minded scholars. I'm not sure I agree with Mr. Li that past researchers have sometimes had "an agenda"--that is, a hidden agenda beyond their ostensible mission of getting the story straight. But he also argues, somewhat more persuasively, that past researchers have often lacked the foreign-language skills and other assets needed to do their job right.
I'm not in any position to confirm or refute Mr. Li's work, but I enjoyed learning about the complications of chess historiography.