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The Piececlopedia is intended as a scholarly reference concerning the history and naming conventions of pieces used in Chess variants. But it is not a set of standards concerning what you must call pieces in newly invented games.

Piececlopedia: Elephant (in Xiangqi)

Historical notes

The Elephant is a piece used in Xiangqi (Chinese chess). It is also called Prime Minister, as the words for Elephant and Prime Minister in Chinese (Xiang) sound the same. This piece quite likely evolved from the Alfil of Chaturanga.


The Elephant steps two spaces diagonally. It may not move only one space, and if the first step of its move is occupied, it may not complete its move. It may capture or move to an empty space with its move.

There is one other restriction for the Elephant in Xiangqi: it may not cross the river.

Movement diagram




The Elephant in the above diagram, can move to the locations indicated by the red circles. The Elephant cannot move to the lower right because it is blocked by the white pawn.


Elephants can only reach a very small part of the board.

Vocabulary: Stepper

Unlike its leaping cousin, the Alfil, the Elephant of Chinese Chess is a stepper. A stepper reaches its destination by stepping along a specified path. If any space in its path is occupied, a stepper cannot complete its move. For the Elephant, its path is two spaces diagonally. It is a simple stepper, not a compound piece of any kind, and as such it may not stop part-way. It must make its complete move or not move at all. The Elephant is not the only stepper in Chinese Chess. Its fellow stepper is the Chinese Chess Knight, which steps along a Knight path.


Traditional Chinese Set National Standard Chinese Set
Iconographic Chinese Set
Alfaerie Set Cazaux Set
Prime Minister
Traditional Chinese Set National Standard Chinese Set

This is an item in the Piececlopedia: an overview of different (fairy) chess pieces.
Written by David Howe and Fergus Duniho.
WWW page created: November 6, 2000. Last modified: December 15, 2001.