If anyone deserves to be recognized as the Father of Philippine Xiangqi or Xiangqi Master of the Philippines, it would be the late Tan Lo Ping (陳羅平), a self-taught xiangqi player who was pivotal in firmly establishing xiangqi as an official sport in the Philippines and introducing world-class xiangqi players formally into the World Xiangqi Federation (世界象棋協會). Visits by two chess masters – Zhou Deyu and Xie Xiaxun – from China fired up the enthusiasm of Chinese xiangqi players, including Tan, in the Philippines (see sidebar story).
After Zhou and Xie’s visits and their superb demonstration of xiangqi skills, Tan began conceptualizing the organization of a chess association in the Philippines. With the help of chess lovers – Pablo Bairan (李秋庵), Go Wee Huat (吳維發), Ty Kong Tin (鄭孔珍), Ho Ching Guan (何清源), Lee Huan Chai (李煥彩) and others – the Philippine Chinese Chess Association was established in 1948.
Through the years, the name was changed many times. It eventually became formally known as the Philippine Xiangqi Federation (菲律濱象棋協會). Tan served as the secretary-general of this association for many years.
The association started in a rented apartment unit which served as its office. It was not until 2011 that the younger generation of xiangqi lovers were able to fulfill the founders’ dream to acquire an office of their own.
Philippine Xiangqi Federation now has its office at Unit 806 Dasma Building, 321 Dasmariñas Street, Manila. The founders, especially the late Tan, must be very happy knowing that their long-held ambition was finally fulfilled.
It is a common practice among Chinese-Filipino associations to display photos of past presidents and personalities with great contribution to their association. But here in Philippine Xiangqi Federation, only photos of those who contributed money to acquire the unit were hung on the wall of its main hall. Trophies and plagues of appreciation acquired in the past decades are displayed as well.
Xiangqi tournaments are effective in improving the skills of the players and popularizing the sport.
A few years after the Philippine Xiangqi Association was set up, Tan started to organize xiangqi associations in other major cities in the Philippines in the 1950s. He helped put up associations in Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro. Each year thereafter, the cities alternately organized tournaments.
Tan also started Sunday classes for xiangqi lovers who wanted to improve their skills. He taught the students techniques that he acquired from experience and books.
In 1977, Tan organized a team of xiangqi players to China for a friendship tournament. They visited Beijing and Taiyuan (太原) where friendship matches were set up. The trip helped hone not just their skills but also deepened their love of xiangqi.
One year after the Philippine xiangqi team went to China, Tan invited a team from China to the Philippines for a friendly return match.
This was the first time a PROC xiangqi team would compete outside of their country and of course it was also the first team from China to visit the Philippines.
This momentous event helped cement friendly ties between the Philippines and China, which established diplomatic relations only in 1975. It also inspired and encouraged more people to get interested in xiangqi in the Philippines.
Tan’s love for xiangqi was all encompassing. His vision was to promote the widespread interest in playing this game not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well.
In 1976, the Sixth Asian Xiangqi Tournament (第六屆亞洲象棋錦標賽) was held in Manila. During their meeting, Tan floated the idea of organizing an Asian xiangqi association, which majority of the attendees agreed on.
Thus, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines were assigned to coordinate and prepare for this task, with Tan as the Philippine representative.
After years of preparation and meetings, the Asian Chinese Chess Federation (亞洲象棋聯合會) was officially launched on Nov. 23, 1978 in Kuchin, Malaysia (古晉，馬來西亞).
Tournaments were held simultaneously with the induction of officers. The initial 10-member countries/regions gradually increased to 16 as the years went by.
Tan was elected as the secretary-general of this association, a position he held for 12 years until he was elected as vice president and eventually the lifetime honorary president. Every year, member countries take turns in holding tournaments.
The member countries also hold meetings simultaneously during tournaments. The association’s name was later changed to Asian Xiangqi Federation (亞洲象棋聯合會) with an office in Singapore and Lin Kuan How (林關浩) as the secretary-general.
Tan was so happy at the fulfillment of his vision. In order to promote xiangqi to other non-Asian countries, the officers were able to organize the World Xiangqi Federation (世界象棋協會) on April 6, 1993 which included members from Europe and America. Tan was elected as vice chairman.
This association also holds tournaments regularly and non-Chinese xiangqi players come from all parts of the world to join. This association has office in Beijing, China.
One time, a Westerner knocked on Tan’s door at his home in Binondo, Manila. He introduced himself as Ismail Sloan. With him were his wife and a few months-old baby.
He said he had already traveled to many places around the world to search and promote xiangqi. During his stay in Manila, he played a few matches with Tan.
Two years after he left, Tan received a book written by Sloan entitled “Chinese Chess for Beginners,” edited 1989. Tan was very much inspired that a Westerner would write a book to promote xiangqi, a Chinese sport.
Sloan, an American chess player, is also known as Sam Sloan, winner of the World Championship of xiangqi in Beijing, China in 1988 and rated FM (Federation Master) by the World Xiangqi Association.
In 2011, he won the silver medal in Senior Division at the World Memory Championship in Guangzhou, China. He also competed in the World Championship of Xiangqi in 2013 and 2015 in Huizhou, China and in Munich, Germany, respectively.
From Sept. 24 to Nov. 2, 1991, the Philippines hosted the Women’s World Chess Championship Match where world renowned female Chinese player Xie Jun (謝軍) was pitted against the reigning champion of 13 years Maya Chiburdanidze of USSR.
Tan took extra care of the young Xia Jun and saw to it that she did not get sick, especially in the hot Philippine climate.
On Oct. 29, 1991, Xie won the tournament and wrested the title from Chiburdanidze. Tan organized a surprise victory party at Emerald Garden Restaurant the next day, which also happened to be Xie’s 21st birthday. It was a memorable double celebration.
The Philippine Xiangqi Federation was to host the 13th Asian Xiangqi Tournament in October 2005. Months before this date, Tan suffered a backbone fracture. He could not get up from his bed. In spite of his incapacity to stand or sit, he continued working – in bed.
With a telephone, a cellular phone and a fax machine by his bedside, he did all the major preparatory work for this tournament. The tournament, held at Century Park Hotel, was a great success.
Tan was thankful that some of the association members helped him in achieving this.
During the period of the tournament, the delegates and players from other countries came to greet Tan who forced himself to sit in a wheelchair. Tan was very pleased with the outcome of this event. He seemed to know that this would be his last major task and his last chance to meet his friends from other countries.
The co-founder of the Filipino Chinese Amateur Athletic Federation (菲華體育總會), Chan Wan (陳著遠), is a man of dignity.
He is a philanthropist who is involved in many charitable works. In 2009, two years after Tan passed away, Chan encouraged and supported the Philippine Xiangqi Federation to organize a chess tournament in Tan’s honor.
On Oct. 19-25, 2009, the Lo Ping Tournament (羅平杯) was set. Ten delegates from Asian countries participated. Winners were awarded trophies and prizes.
On Oct. 22-29, 2012, the Philippine Xiangqi Federation hosted the 17th Asian Xiangqi Championship. Chan Wan, being an enthusiastic xiangqi lover and one of the major supporters of this event, revised the title of the tournament to Tan Lo Ping Tournament-17th Asian Xiangqi Championship (陳羅平杯 – 第十七屆亞洲象棋錦標賽).
Tan Lo Ping in print
Tan’s first book, Philippine Xiangqi Stages (菲島棋壇), was edited in 1954. In 2001, he co-edited Shijie Xiangqi Paiju Daquan (世界象棋排局大全) with Yang Dian (杨典) of Liaoning (遼寧) and Wang Qian Ming (王前明) of Hebei (河北), China and Li Shu Ming (李樹明) of San Francisco, USA.
This book is a collection of xiangqi puzzles created by famous xiangqi masters from all over the world. The purpose of these puzzles was to sharpen the skills of xiangqi players.
In 2008, a year after Tan passed away, a xiangqi friend Cheng Fapei (程法培) started editing a book of Tan’s xiangqi life.
Half-way through his work, he became very ill and was not able to finish the work. He turned it over to Tan’s friend, Wang Shoucheng (王首成), who was able to publish Tan’s Xiangqi Life (陳羅平象棋人生錄) in 2013. It was very sad that Cheng did not live to see the book published.
Tan’s biography was also published in the two-volume Southeast Asian Personality of Chinese Descent, a biographical dictionary edited by Leo Suryadinata (廖建裕博士) of Singapore with Teresita Ang See as Philippines country editor.
This 14,00-page book, published by Singapore’s Institute of South East Asian Studies in 2012, contains biographies of prominent and significant ethnic Chinese personalities in Southeast Asia who have made major impact not just in the Chinese community but in their respective countries.
The World’s Famous Chinese Elites (世界華人精英大典), published in Beijing, also has Tan’s biography.
Tan was always very active in and dedicated to every association he joined. Another association wherein he devoted so much of his time and effort was the Wee Kang Hometown Fraternity (旅菲圍江同鄉會).
Tan’s xiangqi book collection numbered to almost a thousand. Before he departed, he instructed his family to donate all the books to the Chinben See Memorial Library. His most-prized lifetime collection of xiangqi books and magazines are now under the safekeeping of CSML.
Tan published a xiangqi column in the five Chinese newspapers since 1947. He did this task gratis continuously for 60 years.
In his last column dated June 3, 2007, he wrote: “Dear readers, the author has been publishing chess columns continuously for 60 years since 1947. Due to unavoidable circumstances, I will be saying farewell. Thank you for your support for all these years. (敬告讀者，作者，我從一九四七年編期至今六十年從未間斷。現因事與諸位告別。多謝年年愛護支持。謝謝。敬謝各位，再會).”
This undoubtedly was a premonition of his demise.
He was so happy and satisfied when he saw this column published. He said “Now, I can rest. It is not easy to say goodbye.” Two days after, on June 5, 2007, Tan left his loved ones.
The road towards xiangqi
Tan Lo Ping was born in Manila on Dec. 6, 1920. At 13, his father sent him to study in Jimei School (集美陳嘉庚學校) in Xiamen. One day, one of his classmates found a name of an ancient pirate, Ya Sen Luo Ping (亞森羅平). The two got interested in this name and decided to divide the name into two. His classmate got the first two characters while Tan got the last two.
Tan’s father named him Tan Ing Lue (陳永銳) when he was born. When Tan came back from his studies in Xiamen, Downtown YMCA was holding a xiangqi tournament.
Without his father’s permission, Tan entered the competition using the name Tan Lo Ping. When his father saw in the newspaper that a certain Tan Lo Ping won the championship, Tan revealed that that person was his own son.
His father was surprised as he had no inkling his son learned to play xiangqi so well. Tan told him that he got interested in xiangqi while in Xiamen. He learned the techniques through books he borrowed from the library. His father was so proud of him and encouraged him to learn more.
Whenever there was a competition, Tan always used this name. His expertise was in the ending stage (殘局). His name became so popular among xiangqi lovers because he often won in xiangqi competition. He was eventually referred to as Xiangqi Master of the Philippines (菲律濱棋王).
Tan gained world recognition when he was chosen as one of the expert judges in world xiangqi. In November 1997, Tan at the age of 78, won the championship of Chengdu World Famous Personality Championship Invitational Tournament (成都國際名人邀請賽).
When he became very ill in 2007, he still longed to attend the 30th anniversary celebration of the Asian Xiangqi Federation which was to be held in Singapore the following year.
The association which he co-founded meant so much to him. However, he did not live to see his wish granted.
On June 5, 2009, in commemoration of Tan’s second death anniversary (大祥紀念), his friend, Hua Ching (華清), wrote a short article in World News on Tan’s xiangqi life.
On this day, a poem written by Li Shu Ming of San Francisco, USA was published.
The poem reads:
Remembering Tan Lo Ping,
Xiangqi Master of the Philippines:
With a chest broad enough to contain pawns and knights in calmness,
Wiping out the ferocious enemies from all directions.
With surviving manuscripts of chess tactics,
Like a green pine eternally erected in a chess game.”
Sadly, Li did not live to see his poem published.