Diu fang

Olli Salmi
25th April, 2006

Diu fang is a traditional board game from the North-West of China, also played by the Central Asian Dungans.

Here is a picture of a game and a short description: 背景资料:方棋

The game is played on a 7 by 8 line board. Each player has 28 pieces (to fill the board). If you manage to occupy the corners of a square, you can take a piece from the opponent. When all the pieces have been placed on the board, you start moving the pieces, again making squares. You cannot break a square. The one who takes all of the opponent’s pieces wins. So the principle is similar to nine men’s morris.

The name of the game is fangqi 方棋 ‘square chess, game of squares’, or popularly xia fang 下方 ‘playing squares’. It is played in Ningxia 宁夏, the autonomous region of the Hui, Chinese speaking Muslims.

Another description of a slightly different version of the game is in “Dungane” by Sushanlo (Сушанло). The Dungans are Chinese speaking Muslims in the former Soviet Union, who fled to Russia in 1877–82 taking the game with them.

Sushanlo reports a game similar to fangqi from the Dungans in Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan. It is called дю фон (diu fang 丢方) ‘losing squares’. The board is either 7*7 lines,  чи дар фон (qi daor fang 七道儿方) or 9*9 lines жю дар фон (jiu daor fang 九道儿方) — one would expect the spelling дор for дар. There are two variations,  чон фон (chang fang 长方) ‘long squares’ or сынсы да дуан (sensi da duan 生死打断) ‘cut short by life or death’. The players place their pieces on the board in turns, trying to occupy the centre. The player who has the first turn has one piece more but the second player has a right to remove two of his opponent’s pieces after the board has been filled. Then they start to remove each other’s pieces, but the details are not described.

The board is usually drawn on the ground with spread fingers. The pieces can be pieces of reed, stones or sheep droppings.

Sushanlo  mentions two special configurations the significance of which is not clear. One is ё-лёнфон yao-liangfang 腰两方 (two squares with waist?) ‘five pieces in two squares’ and вуҗүәзы wujuezi 五角子 (standard Chinese wujiaozi, pentagon) ‘five pieces in four squares’.

In the following diagram white has a yao-liangfang and black has a wujuezi. White can win if he has the first move and kills the wujuezi. It is not explained why, but at least black cannot repeatedly open and close a square if the configuration is destroyed.

The diagram has been generated by the page Sample Go-ban GIFs with the following matrix which can be used if the diagram is not visible.

 # O # O\O\O O
O # O O\# # #
# # # O\O\#\O
O O O # #\O #\
# # # O #\#\O
O O # O O O #
# # O # # O #

It should be noticed that you can play the game on the intersections of a chessboard.

The verb-object compound дю фон has been attested in Dungan texts.

Та йитян йишор пыйшон дундо хонкузышон бу танщян Җонҗя, Вонҗя щүанхуонни, хан нэ фә «Сангуй» фуни, будуйли хан дюфонни.
All day he would sit in company at the steet corner gossiping. He liked to tell stories from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or he would play squares.

Җер Ёндагә дюли йитян фон. Линйирди җи пан фуди щинни ду ножынкэли
Today Yang played squares all day long. He lost the last few games, which made him bad-tempered.

— Фон дюди, е мә җүәҗуә дўзы вә.
He played squares so that he didn’t even notice he was hungry.

Щёнҗуонниди жынму зуә йи чүанзы кын ламә, дю фон. Та дан вонгуә зу яндин ханди җё щүанхуон, дю фон.
The villagers would like to sit in a circle, chatting and playing squares. If he passed them, they would certainly ask him to come and talk and play.

Diu fang is found in China as well. Here is a longish parenthetical description in 大国寡民 by 卢跃刚:
http://www.bookhome.net/jishi/other1/dggm/045.html (comparison of the two styles of play with politics)
The game is played by country people in the Shaanxi plain. There is no indication that it is limited to the Hui. The board is square, 5*5, 7*7 or 13*13 lines. After the board has been filled, each player takes one piece from the opponent and then they start to move. There are two variants, peaceful squares (tianfang 恬方 ) and surrounding squares (weifang 围方 ). The peaceful variant has no surrounding(!) and suits the character of the Shaanxi people better. It may correspond to the Dungan chang fang.

It seems that the 7*8 version is called xia fang and played in Ningxia, while the 7*7 version is called diu fang and played in Shaanxi.

http://www.people.com.cn/mediafile/200308/19/F2003081914393800000.jpg 7*8 board, end game

An account of the game in Xinjiang (image)
http://trip.wswire.com/htmlnews/2006/01/02/638036.htm / (alternative site)
Outside Xinjiang the board is 7*8 but in Xinjiang it is 7*7. The one who moves first has an advantage.

Southern Xinjiang dialects of Chinese, as well as Central Asian Dungan in the former Soviet Union, are related to the Southern Shaanxi dialect, so it is not a surprise that the board size accords with Shaanxi.

The following terms are mentioned on the above site.
“黄瓜” a long stretch of pieces in one colour
“铁子 a piece that cannot be captured?
“一梭” a match of three games (A Xinjiang requirement)
“翻盘” reverse the result

There is a computer version of the game for Win2003, WinXP, Win2000, NT, WinME, Win9X. The files are packed in the .rar format. Being a Macintosh owner, I have not been able to try it myself.

Here’s an introduction to the software.
It is a 7*7 version. It is good for players who find go too profound and gomoku too boring.
Some terms:

Other download sites:
Version 1.1
Version 1.0

Many download sites

Other links
According to this site, you can capture pieces that can damage the formation of a square, whatever that means.

Сушанло, М. 1971. Дунгане. Фрунзе.
Yasuji Shimizu and Shin’ichi Miyahara, with Kôichi Masukawa. 2002. Game boards in the Longmen Caves and the game Fang
Board Game Studies. 5

A site about the Finnish game of tables, with links to Chinese boards and pieces for shuanglu 双陆, a game related to backgammon.