Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Tale of Truong Ba, Who Lived Twice

I was going through some old files on my ancient Systemax desktop last night and I found this article I had archived from 2002.  The website I orginally found the story at no longer exists, but the story is out on the internet

This may be the current home of the legend that I copied:

It is a fascinating tale.  I cannot help but wonder what the basis of this kind of tale is - you know - people being brought back to life by shamans (for instance, Jesus, a Jewish shaman, was said to have performed at least two resurrections of the dead), "gods" or god-like figures.  That this particular tale is tied to chess [Chinese chess, xiang qi - which has sometimes been translated as star chess/game or celestial ches/game] is doubly fascinating to me, since the true lesson of chess is that of pawn promotion - achieving the transformation from mere mortal to an Imperishable Star by reaching the eighth rank!  Perhaps the moral of the story is only to be very careful what you wish for...

Chinese Chess
Myths and Legends

Soul Move
Very long ago, there lived a young man named Truong Ba who was very good at Chinese chess. Truong Ba's fame as a chess player spread far and wide, throughout Vietnam and even China.

At that time, the Chinese chess champion was a man named Ky Nhu. When he heard of Truong Ba, Ky Nhu set off to Vietnam to challenge his rival to a game. They played two games, each of which ended in a draw. During the third game, Ky Nhu got into trouble. Seeing that his opponent was trapped, Truong Ba said haughtily: "Even the Chess Deity De Thich could not find a way out of my moves."

Upon hearing Truong Ea's words, the Chess Deity decided to teach the young man a lesson. As Truong Ba and Ky Nhu sat hunched over the chessboard, an old man came to sit nearby. This old fellow made a suggestion to Ky Nhu, who followed his advice and won a dazzling victory.

Truong Ba was furious but, seeing the old man's glowing white beard, it occurred to him that he might be a god. To play it safe, Truong Ba sank down on one knee before the old man and said: "You must be De Thich. I am terribly sorry."

"I heard you claim to be the best chess player," said De Thich. "So I came to see you."

Truong Ba invited De Thich to stay at his house and organized a large party in his honor. De Thich took a liking to Truong Ba and agreed to help him to improve his game. "Whenever you need my help, burn some incense and I'll come to you," promised the deity.

Some years later, Truong Ba caught the flu and died suddenly. His wife found some of De Thich's incense and lit it, causing the Chess Deity to appear. When he discovered that Truong Ba had been dead for over a month, De Thich was distraught. "Why didn't you call me as soon as he died?" he asked Truong Ba's wife. "Now that he's been dead for a month it's difficult to help."

Faced with the woman's sobs, De Thich came up with a plan. "Has anyone in the village passed away recently?" he asked. Truong Ba's wife replied that the butcher had died the night before.

"Then take me to the butcher's house," cried De Thich. "I will bring your husband back to life!"

Moments later, the mourners crowded around the butcher's open coffin were terrified to see the corpse sit up. Without uttering a word, the butcher jumped up, threw off his shroud and ran towards Truong Ba's house. When the butcher's wife and children found him, he was sitting with Truong Ba's wife. The butcher's family demanded that he come home, but the butcher refused, leading to an ugly scene. Finally, a village official was called in to arbitrate the dispute.

The village official found two women claiming the same man as their husband. Turning to the butcher's wife, the official asked about her husband's job. "He's a butcher," said the woman. "He's a famous chess champion," said Truong Ba's wife.

The official ordered his servant to fetch a pig, then told the butcher to kill it. The butcher had no idea how to slaughter or carve up a pig. The official then invited a good chess player to play against the butcher, who quickly won the game. Seeing this, the official issued a verdict in favour of Truong Ba's wife.

To this day, people have a saying inspired by this tale: "Truong Ba's soul in a butcher's body".

Copyright © 2002 Vietnam Datacommunication Company. All rights reserved.

GM Alexandra Kosteniuk's chess blog also has an interesting article with some historical background on the annual Vietnamese Chess Festival.

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