1999 / 10月
選手紛紛入坐，氣氛逐漸凝重。花園一角，兩個大螢幕前已坐定許多觀戰者。比賽 開始，有人目不轉睛盯著透過攝影機傳來的棋局，有人在自己帶來的棋盤上模擬螢幕上的棋步，每一 步都引來許多討論。
雖說台灣象棋人口眾多，但給人的印象總是停留在公園、市場、廟口，彷彿只能是人們茶餘 飯後無事可作的消磨，加上下棋人的素質、水準不一，私人棋社甚至成為賭場。過去聯合報 曾舉辦象棋「名手賽」，就因為棋手「搓圓仔湯」，落得停辦的下場。中華民國象棋協會雖有意推動大型比賽與提昇棋手素質，但相較於其他體育活動，少有企業 認為象棋有推展的價 值而願意給予資助。十幾年前，文建會曾舉辦過國際性的「中山盃」比賽，也因為缺乏有力人士聲援與爭取經費，在辦了九屆後無疾而終。
台灣由北而南，地方性的象棋比賽其實終年不斷。但正如去年佛乘盃冠軍棋手林見志所說，地方、單位性質 的比賽雖多，除了讓他家裡肥皂、毛巾經年用不完，即使一年裡大小比賽全 部都拿冠軍，也還不如佛乘基金會每年給他的經濟支援。
從大環境來看，象棋的發展也遠遠落在西洋棋與圍棋之後。當各種以體力為主的運動已發展到成 熟、飽和情況，國際奧林匹克委員會極思推展「思考性運動」，西洋棋就在歐美各國爭 取下，不僅棋手的薪水朝著職業運動員的水準邁進，近來也得到奧委會認可，不久將成為奧運競賽項目。
日本因應國際趨勢，也致力發展圍棋、將棋等民族棋藝。能在圍棋、將棋界冒出頭的棋士， 就像麻雀變鳳凰，立刻身價百倍。日本一套名為《月下棋士》的漫畫，畫的是日本將棋棋手 的故事。月下棋士，意指棋士就像踽踽獨行於月光下的小徑，在將棋世界孤軍奮鬥。為戰勝對手、為思索出完美的一著棋，棋士耗盡精神、體力，病倒棋盤，甚至死於棋局也不足為 惜，那更是許多棋手追求的境界。
不過，日本棋士的月下小徑盡頭，有無盡的榮耀與掌聲，有豐富實質的收入與受人尊敬的社會地位。在台灣，圍棋由於受到上層人士提倡，並有專業棋手，父母視圍棋為「 正當」才 藝，願意讓孩子學圍棋，棋藝素質還得以提昇。至於象棋，破落戶不足以形容的環境，對真正喜愛象棋、與天才型的棋手，雖鎮日鑽研於棋盤天地，卻誰也不敢奢想以象棋為終身志 業，賴下棋維生。
台灣象棋佈局名家林政明，年輕時「一心一意只想當棋王，」他說，到處去藥店、棋社 找看看哪裡有棋王，見了面不由分說就想將對方鬥倒，可惜當時台灣缺乏全國性比賽，他在市井 小巷打遍對手後，也只好偃「棋」息鼓，乖乖回去考大學。前任佛乘盃冠軍選手林見志，曾經從建築、水電到家具業，一年換三百六十五個老闆，因為沒有頭 家願意讓他請假下棋。
自幼喜愛下棋、關心棋界發展的佛乘世界文教基金會導師會長李善單，看到了象棋這一特殊中國古老文化在現代發展的侷限，三年前遂決定舉辦一個大型的國際 性象棋比賽，希望以此 做為推動力，提升人們對象棋的認知，也提振棋手士氣，並藉此對外介紹中國文化。
今年選擇在夏威夷舉辦的佛乘盃開幕典禮上，李善單致詞時更發下宏願，三年後，一座象棋博物館將在夏威夷這一太平洋中繼站矗立起來，七年後的第十屆佛乘盃比賽， 總獎金提高到 百萬美金，並希望在十年後推動象棋繼西洋棋之後成為奧運比賽項目。
佛乘走的其實是一條艱困的道路。相較於近來在美國舊金山舉辦的一場國際圍棋大賽，放眼處處「洋人」選手，有棋界人士認為，象棋的真正國際化顯然言之還早。參加佛乘盃比賽的 選手，雖號稱來自世界各地，但三年來，除芬蘭、越南、德國等少數國家，幾乎都 是移民海外的華人。會場到處聽到的是潮州、廣東話與「國語」。國際上較重要的另外兩個象棋賽， 世界盃與亞洲盃舉行時，會場看起來往往像世界華僑大會。
特地前來夏威夷為棋手加油的奧委會台北辦公室委員吳經國卻不這麼悲觀。他認為，要喚起國內對象棋的重視，並將之抬升到國際地位，最好能引起奧委會注目，國內相對也會重 視， 象棋也就越容易發展。而有佛乘這樣的大型比賽舉行，奧委會想不注意也難。
至於純粹的東方運動發展成奧運競賽項目的可能性有多大，吳經國舉一九六四年日本將柔道成功推向奧委會、 韓國推動的跆拳道也即將成為正式比賽為例，認為「象棋當然有機會成為 奧運項目。」
但要成為奧運項目，首先要被奧委會承認，條件是成立國際性組織，男子比賽項目要有七十五個會員國，女子比賽要有五十個會員國，除這些國家都已成立協會，每年也要固定舉辦比 賽。目前世界象棋聯合會已有四十幾個會員國，自東南亞到澳、紐，甚至歐洲的德、法、義、葡 萄牙、芬蘭，都有了象棋協會，反而比有圍棋協會的國家多得多，吳經國因而認為象棋 進入奧運的可能性更高。
目前除大陸外，推動象棋步上專業化的國家就是越南了，在經濟拮据的情形下，越南政府仍每個月給「 國手」足以生活的費用。聽到這樣的情形，台灣棋手既羨慕又無奈的說，台灣棋 界只能用「自生自滅」形容。
Chang Chin-ju /photos courtesy of Diago Chiu /tr. by David Mayer
For the past three years, the Forshang Cup Chinese Chess World Championship has been a major landmark in the lives of competitive Chinese chess players throughout the world. This tournament, which is sponsored by the Forshang World Foundation, gives the players a chance to test their mettle once a year against the world's top competition.
On a sunny day in late August, a breeze carries the soothing strains of a gentle melody across the tree-shaded lawn of Forshang Garden on the outskirts of Honolulu. Just as the afternoon round of Chinese chess matches gets under way, a gusty breeze kicks up, bringing with it a driving drizzle. Trees sway and tablecloths flutter, but no matter-no one is paying attention to anything but the little chess tables placed here and there on the lawn and under the shelters.
A speaker crackles to life: "Important announcement-play shall commence in one minute!"
The contestants scurry to their places and the atmosphere immediately starts to grow intense. A lot of spectators are already sitting in front of two large-screen televisions in one corner of the garden. Once the competition begins, the spectators keep a steady vigil on the progress of the matches. Some people have brought their own chess sets, which they use to recreate the moves of the competitors. The crowd comments on each move.
This year's competition, a ten-day affair, marks the third annual Forshang Cup. Forty contestants from over 20 different countries have entered the tournament. At stake is prize money totaling US$200,000. A player racks up three points for each win, and players with the 16 top point totals advance to the championship round and a chance at a share of the prize money. The players can't afford to slough off even a single match. The champion takes home US$40,000 and plays the champion from the previous year for an additional US$15,000 prize.
Compared with tennis, basketball, and other sports that have developed into professional events on an international scale, the money at stake in the Forshang Cup is only a pittance, yet it is by far the biggest plum in world of Chinese chess. That is quite an accomplishment for an event that totally lacks commercial sponsorship. Although this big prize money comes from a Taiwan-based organization, the fact is, Chinese chess in Taiwan is deplorably disorganized.
Although Chinese chess is very popular in Taiwan, one gets the impression that it is only played in parks, markets, temples, and other public spaces by people who are just looking for a fun way to kill time. The abilities of the players can vary considerably, and private Chinese chess clubs are sometimes just fronts for gambling operations. The United Daily News once organized a tournament that ended up being canceled because the contestants had conspired to fix the matches. The ROC Chinese Chess Association would like to organize large tournaments and promote the development of better players, but in comparison with other competitive events, very few corporate sponsors regard Chinese chess as something worth sponsorship money. In the 1980s, the Council for Cultural Affairs started up an annual international Chinese chess tournament called the Chungshan Cup, but the event folded after nine years due to a lack of support from influential people and difficulty in obtaining sponsorship.
Local tournaments go on all the time in Taiwan, but as last year's Forshang Cup champion Lin Chien-chih will attest, there is very little money involved. At tournaments organized by local organizations, Liu has won enough soap and towels to last for years, but even if he were to win every tournament in Taiwan, the cash prizes would not add up to the value of the sponsorship that he receives from the Forshang World Foundation.
Chinese chess is far less organized than Western chess and Go. Now that athletic sports have developed to the point of maturity and beyond, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is very interested in promoting "mental sports." Thanks to the active support of many Western nations, the incomes of chess players have been slowly catching up with the salaries commanded by professional athletes, and chess has even been selected by the IOC for eventual inclusion as an Olympic event.
Japan has reacted to this international trend by vigorously promoting Go, shogi, and other Japanese board games. Anyone who rises to the top of the Go or shogi world becomes instantly wealthy. There is a comic book series in Japan entitled Shogi Master in the Moonlight, which is centered on the adventures of a shogi master. The title refers to the idea that a shogi player, fighting away in solitude in the fiercely competitive world of shogi, is like a lone person walking a moonlit pathway at night In order to defeat the opponent or execute the perfect stratagem, there is no length to which the shogi master will not go; he is willing to exhaust himself emotionally and physically, and will push himself to take part in every match even when ill to the point of collapse. He is even willing to die! That sort of attitude is a goal to which many players aspire.
In Japan, these "lone wolf" players can look forward at the end of their struggles to immense prestige, a fabulous income, and lofty social status. In Taiwan, Go also enjoys high status and the support of influential people. There are professional Go players, and parents are very happy to see their children opt for Go as a career. As a result, the level of expertise in Go is very high in Taiwan. The situation with Chinese chess, however, presents a stark contrast. No one would ever dream of making a living from the latter no matter how they might love the game, how talented they might be, or how hard they might work at it.
Lin Cheng-ming was totally dedicated as a child to becoming a Chinese chess champion, and he is now one of the game's better known competitors. As a young man he would roam the chess clubs of Taiwan looking for masters to play against. Whenever he found one, he would immediately ask for a match. It was unfortunate that Taiwan didn't have an island-wide Chinese chess event at that time. After he had beaten all the local masters, he had to forget about his Chinese chess and get ready for the university entrance exams.
Last year's Forshang Cup champion, Lin Chien-chih, has had to quit job after job in such fields as construction, plumbing, and a furniture store, and so on-all because his bosses have not been willing to let him take enough time off for his chess.
The only person in Taiwan currently making a full-time career of Chinese chess is the island's No.1 player, Wu Kui-lin. Wu began studying the game in his hometown in southern Taiwan, switching teachers and towns as he progressed. He eventually ended up in Taipei. Finally, the day came when he found himself without equal in Taiwan, so he went off to the mainland to continue studying under another master.
According to Ding Yat-sen, who serves as the head referee at the Forshang Cup competitions, a player cannot rely on talent alone. One must work hard to deepen one's mastery of the game. Says Ding, "Even though Wu Kui-lin is already the champion, he never goes a day without studying the game, and as soon as he finishes a game he immediately begins to examine and analyze it. Every day he studies records of games played in the past, thinking about how he would play against different opponents. He always works to keep himself in top condition, both mentally and physically." A professional player must be independently wealthy to maintain this kind of training regimen.
San-Don Lee, chairman of the Forshang World Foundation, has been an ardent fan of Chinese chess since childhood. His concern at the lack of professionalism in the Chinese chess world prompted him to organize the Forshang Cup in hopes that the tournament would familiarize more people with the sport, bolster the morale of players, and introduce a bit of Chinese culture to the rest of the world.
In his remarks during the opening ceremony at this year's tournament, which the Forshang World Foundation decided to hold in Hawaii, Lee declared his intention to open a Chinese chess museum in Hawaii within three years and to offer a total of US$1 million in prize money by the time of the tenth Forshang Cup in 2006. He also stated his hope that Chinese chess would follow in the path of Western chess and become an Olympic sport within ten years.
Lee has his work cut out for him. The contrast between Chinese chess and Go, for example, is striking. At an international Go tournament held recently in San Francisco, Western players were to be seen everywhere. It is generally agreed that Chinese chess has a long way to go before it can be considered a truly international sport. Although the three Forshang Cups held to date have featured teams from all over the world, all the players for the other countries (except for Finland, Vietnam, and Germany) have been Chinese expatriates. The most commonly spoken languages at the tournaments are Chaozhou dialect, Cantonese, and Mandarin. At the other two major international Chinese chess tournaments (the World Cup and the Asia Cup), the crowd looks like it might just as well have shown up for a general session of the World Association of Overseas Chinese.
Looking at the bright side, it is good that the Chinese diaspora has spread Chinese chess throughout the world, thus planting the seeds for expansion of the game's popularity, but Jackson Teoh, captain of the West Malaysia team, considers it unlikely that the sport will be widely played internationally within the next 30 years.
Wu Ching-kuo, an IOC member from Taipei who traveled to Hawaii to attend the Forshang Cup, is more optimistic. In his opinion, getting the IOC interested in Chinese chess is the best way to pique the interest of the Chinese people and raise the game to the level of an international sport. With a major international competition like the Forshang Cup being held once a year, the IOC can hardly overlook Chinese chess any longer.
What are the chances of getting a purely Asian game selected as an official Olympic event? It would not be unprecedented. Japan successfully promoted judo at the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and Korea's taekwondo will soon become an official Olympic event as well. Says Wu, "There is no reason why Chinese chess can't become an Olympic event."
To become an Olympic event, a sport must first be recognized by the IOC. To obtain this recognition, the sport must have an international association, and there must be at least 75 national teams in the men's division and 50 national teams in the women's division. Furthermore, there must be a national association in each of these countries, and regular competitions must be held every year.
The World Chinese Chess League now has more than 40 member nations. In addition to Southeast Asia, there are also associations in such countries as Australia, New Zealand, and even such European nations as Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, and Finland. This total easily tops the number of nations with Go associations, which is why Wu feels that Chinese chess has a better chance than Go to become an Olympic event.
According to Kim Laurent, chairman of the Chinese chess association in France, textbooks on Chinese chess have long been available in French and German, and non-Chinese faces can be seen everywhere at Chinese chess competitions in Europe. Westerners have not been playing the sport for very long, though, so they cannot beat the Chinese players.
Jouni Tolonen, vice-chairman of The Friends of Chinese Chess in Finland, reveals that his interest in the game stemmed from a fondness for Chinese characters. He says that all Chinese chess players in Finland are locally born, and that they generally take up the game because they already have an avid interest in Western chess. The Chinese characters on the pieces, however, pose a stumbling block for beginners, and it is difficult to buy a Chinese chess set in Finland, so Western chess sets are often used instead.
In Asia, thanks to the deep cultural ties between China and its neighbors, Chinese chess is already beginning to be played widely even outside the Chinese community. In Singapore and Malaysia, where ethnic Chinese enjoy high social and economic status, Chinese chess tournaments are held throughout the year. Jackson Teoh, captain of the West Malaysia team, reports, "They've been holding Chinese chess tournaments for non-Chinese now for the past five years on national day."
Even in Indonesia, where the use of Chinese characters is prohibited, they can't keep the local Chinese community from playing Chinese chess. To avoid being fined for the Chinese characters normally printed on the chess pieces, the local Chinese have taken to using upright pieces that can be distinguished by shape rather than by the written characters. The piece that normally has the character for "cannon" printed on it, for example, might be crafted in the shape of a missile, while the "horse" is made in the shape of a horse's head, the "chariot" takes the form of a chariot wheel, etc.
As for Vietnam, the captain of the Vietnamese national team swears he is not exaggerating when he states, "Every single day, 20 million people play Chinese chess in Vietnam." In fact, the Vietnamese are even more enamored of the game than the Chinese themselves are. Chinese culture has had a deep impact upon Vietnam, and Chinese chess has long been played there. It would not be an exaggeration to call it a national pastime. Because of Vietnam's long contact with China, there are many Chinese books and written records in the country, and depending on your job, you may just have to read them. This is especially the case for historians. As a result, the Vietnamese have no trouble reading the Chinese characters on the Chinese chess pieces.
In addition to mainland China, Vietnam is a key supporter of efforts to internationalize Chinese chess. In spite of the country's difficult economic situation, the government still provides the members of the national Chinese chess team with a stipend that is sufficient to live on. The situation is far different in Taiwan, where the government takes a laissez-faire approach that some might prefer to describe as a policy of "live and let die." Players here can only heave an envious sigh when told about the conditions enjoyed by their counterparts in Vietnam.
Fortunately, though, the Forshang Cup has already improved the situation. It was announced at the most recent Forshang Cup that the IOC will invite the current and previous Forshang Cup champions to participate next year in an exhibition tournament in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Forshang World Foundation has also agreed to sponsor three Taiwanese players in hopes that the financial stipend will enable them to concentrate on their game without worrying so much about job pressures. This development constitutes the first step toward the establishment of a professional Chinese chess system.
There are many who dream of participating in the Olympics, but the players who congregate at the Forshang Cup do not give the impression that they are hell-bent on winning. The players are on friendly terms, and seem more like "cultural ambassadors" than Olympic gladiators.
Although the main character of Shogi Master in the Moonlight goes to extreme lengths for the sake of a win, you don't see that kind of display at the Forshang Cup. While everyone is all business during the matches, as soon as a match finishes the players immediately retrace the moves they have just made and talk about how the match went. Some players take advantage of every opportunity to seek advice from stronger players.
Some emphasize that no one can win at this game all the time, and that the player who understands this truth will be able to lose with grace, secure in the knowledge that a larger world looms beyond the boundaries of the chess board. Mou Haiqin, who has represented America in all three Forshang Cups to date, says that he plays Chinese chess in order to make friends and travel to interesting places.
While the team members are squaring off in the official competition, an even more exciting battle takes place away from the spotlight. Laughingly referring to themselves as sworn enemies for life, the captains of the Singapore and West Malaysia teams are playing against each other practically non-stop. The two took part in last year's Forshang Cup, but as team captains they've had to stay on the sidelines this year, where they have played 100 games over a period of three days and two nights. Don't these guys ever get tired? Says Jackson Teoh, "It's so rare to run into a true rival. It would be a shame if we didn't take advantage of the chance to play."
Adds Teoh, "We players don't get lonely." Teoh relates that while he was in Taiwan to take part in the Chungshan Cup, he took a chess set with him to places like Hualien and Taitung, playing with people wherever he went. Conversation really gets rolling when talk turns to the Chungshan Cup. Another player who has also participated in the Chungshan Cup states: "I'll have you know that we bought the airplane tickets ourselves!"
Lin Yi-shih, secretary-general of the ROC Chinese Chess Association, hopes to see the Council for Cultural Affairs revive the Chungshan Cup. Says Lin, "Every time I travel abroad, people ask me when there'll be another Chungshan Cup." In Lin's opinion, it would be much easier for Chinese chess to become an Olympic event if both the government and private sector each organized a major international tournament.
The players miss the Chungshan Cup for various reasons. Apart from the fun of competition, San-Don Lee points out that Chinese chess brings together people of different linguistic backgrounds and nationalities and enables them to transcend the boundaries of space and time. This ancient Chinese game creates a living link between all sorts of people.