I heard that in Xiangqi (Chinese chess or 中国象棋), 相 is translated as "Elephant". Is it a correct translation? Should "bishop" or "minister" be better translations for 相 here?

Are there any other circumstances that 相 is translated as elephant?

  • it seems that it is not required to be translated (it is a name), you can use pinyin of it. Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 0:10
  • Maybe one irrelevant thing: for chess book written in Chinese [8 x 8 chess, as in "国际象棋" in Chinese], the piece "bishop" is translated to "象", which clearly does not mean elephant.
    – xbh
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 5:13
  • @xbh, it seems wierd to translate "bishop" as 象,though it has been widely accepted。How about 监督 as in 1 Timothy 3:2?
    – Zuriel
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 6:34
  • @Zuriel I think it is just an analogy to Xiangqi, and one single character would be easy to document each move, like 象 × h8 would be shorter than something like 监督 × h8.
    – xbh
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 6:37
  • Thanks @xbh! 车 in xiangqi is almost identical to rook in chess while 马 in xiangqi is very similar to knight in chess. But 象 in xiangqi is quite different bishop in chess.
    – Zuriel
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 6:41

1 Answer 1


The Wikipedia about Xiangqi has a part about these pieces:



Elephants (or bishops) are labeled 象 xiàng ("elephant") for Black and 相 xiàng ("minister") for Red. They are located next to the advisors. These pieces move and capture exactly two points diagonally and may not jump over intervening pieces; the move is described as being like the character 田 Tián ("field"). If an elephant cannot move due to a diagonally adjacent piece, it is known as "blocking the elephant's eye" (塞象眼).

Elephants may not cross the river, and serve as defensive pieces. Because an elephant's movement is restricted to just seven board positions, it can be easily trapped or threatened. The two elephants are often used to defend each other.

The Chinese characters for "minister" and "elephant" are homophones in Mandarin and both have alternative meanings as "appearance" or "image". However, in English, both are referred to as elephants.

So, while 相 is "minister," it is often referred to as an "elephant" along with 象. 相 is never translated as "elephant" outside of xiangqi.

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