There seems to be a lot of debate over the origins of modern Chinese chess. With a history as long as China’s, memories have faded with regards to the game. The earliest known book on the theory of the game in its modern form is dated to the Song Dynasty (1127-1279 AD). Other sources put the game’s creation somewhere between 200 BC and 600 AD. Some ancient texts even purport that the legendary emperors who supposedly reigned at the beginning of China’s history created the game. One complication in the dating process is the existence of another game with a similar name that could have evolved into the modern Chinese chess.
The oldest existing reference to a game that resembles modern Chinese chess is a collection of supernatural tales that describes a person who experiences strange dreams of battle, only to discover that he had been sleeping over a tomb that contained a chess game. This was supposed to have happened around 762 AD. Regardless of when it originated, it is clear to see that the game has evolved a fair amount over time.
Earlier descriptions of similar games assumed to be modern Chinese chess’ ancestors describe many more pieces than what is currently played with. There are also differences in the representation of the pieces, with a possible ancient version of the game being used to describe the movements of the stars, rather than troops in battle. It can be assumed that at some point the game was used as a military strategy exercise. It is also reasonably evident that the game was widespread and popular during the Song Dynasty.