Happy birthday Xie Jun!

by André Schulz
10/30/2020 – For many years Chinese women have dominated the chess scene, and since 1991 no less than six Chinese have been Women's World Champion. The the first one was Xie Jun who celebrates her 50th birthday today. In a short interview Xie Jun answers questions about her career.

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Xie Jun, China's first Women's World Champion

In China, Xiangqi, or Chinese Chess is a very popular game. Western Chess has only become popular in the last decades, but there are now a number of very strong Chinese players, who can keep up with the best players in the world.

In women's chess the Chinese have been dominating for years and it was Xie Jun, who in 1991, almost 30 years ago, became the first Women's World Champion from China.

In 1990, Xie Jun, who was almost completely unknown at that time, qualified for the Women's Candidate Tournament. She defeated Alisa Maric in the final, and then won the Women's World Championship match against Maia Chiburdanidze to become World Champion.

Xie Jun vs Maia Chiburdanidze

In 1993 she defended her title against Nana Ioseliani, but then lost it in 1996 to Zsusza Polgar. After Polgar failed to defend her title in 1999 - she had become a mother shortly before - Xie Jun and Alisa Maric played a World Championshop Match, which Xie Jun won and became world champion again. In 2000, Xie Jun also won the first Women's World Championship, that was held in knockout format. However, in the 2001 K.o.-World Championship she no longer took part. Zhu Chen became Xie Jun's successor as World Champion.

In 1998, 2000 and 2004 Xie Jun won gold with the Chinese team at the Women's Chess Olympiads. In 2002 she became mother and between 2001 and 2004 she hardly played seroius chess tournaments. 

Her last official tournament game dates from 2007. After her career as a player she now works as an official and helps to promote chess in China.

In 1998 Xie Jun published an interesting and entertaining book about her career, her first encounters with players from the international chess scene, and her way to the World Championship. (Xie Jun: Chess Champion from China. Gambit Publications, London 1998.

On the occasion of her 50th birthday Xie Jun was kind enough to answer some questions about her chess career.


André Schulz: When did you learn to play chess and who were your teachers and trainers?


Xie Jun:I was ten years old when I learnt the rules of Western Chess. In my career I had several teachers and trainers, the very last one was GM Ye Jiangchuan.

How popular was chess when you started to play and how did you get better? Did you train in special sports camps?

We have places like the Junior’s Palace in the city. After school kids can visit these places to get sports training. For about five years I regularly visited such a palace to play chess.

This was in the 1980s. Did you have clubs in which people played western chess?


How did you become such a strong player – talent or work?

Of course, it would be absurd to say that I have no talent and did little work on chess, however, the most important thing is that I love chess so much.

How did the others players react when you appeared on the international scene and became the first Chinese Women’s Champion?

The players – male and female – in China were happy that the title went to China.

Did you play professionally?

No, I didn’t play full time, I balanced my chess with my studies at the University.

Why did you stop to play in tournaments?

When you reach a certain stage in your life, other things tend to become more important. Moreover, I have to say, after being challenger, winning the title, losing the title and winning it again in a different format I felt that things would just repeat themselves, and that it would be hard to keep my focus.

Do you work as a chess trainer?

I give some instruction to chess players, but I do not work as a serious chess trainer.

You opened the door for all the other strong Chinese women players who came after you. Today, China is one of the leading chess nations, and number one in women’s chess. Do you feel as the “Mother of Women’s Chess in China”?

Well, I was the first Chinese World Champion and will always be one of them.

Is Western Chess popular in China?

It is quite a game here.

You are still connected to chess and the chess world. What do you do and what plans do you have?

Chess was\is\will always be one of my favourite things in life, and I always feel happy to connect with chess when I have the time. Since 2010, I have been working as a Vice President at a university in Beijing and had a busy life as professor and team manager. Currently, I focus on the Winter Olympiad 2022 in Beijing 2022 Winter Olympiad. But of course, I like to come back to the chess world from time to time.

Thank you very much!


Lubomir Kavalek in Huffington Post: Women in chess (2) - a few tales

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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