Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Chinese Way of Seeing the World Part 4 (The Game of Go [ Weiqi ]

Following is an article that was formerly found in MSOWorld .com 

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A Chinese way of seeing the world
Part 4

Ethics and aesthetics

Poetry has contributed to draping weiqi in an air of intrinsic nobility, has dressed it in symbolic greatness, has made it possible to emphasize its profound affinity with the values of Taoist harmony and Confucian humanism.

The great Chinese classical novels also all bear the mark of weiqi, where its importance is finally set in the daily lives of bourgeois and merchant families:
"Rhyming prose of the Han, short poems of the Tang, sung verse of the Song, theatre tunes of the Yuan, all declaim verses about weiqi ; The Three Kingdoms, The Pilgrimage To The West, The Dream Of The Red Pavilion, Strange Tales From The Liao Cabinet all include texts which describe weiqi." [28]

The famous erotic novel Jin Ping Mei is not to be outdone, and weiqi occupies an important place in the daily lives of the protagonists, and particularly the women. [29] The bourgeoisie of the period took over the game and its rituals to make them into a pastime that those of modest means could not afford. 

Here is what Giles says about this:
"Only the educated play wei-chi. In China knowledge of this difficult game puts anyone above ordinary people. The subtleties of this game are beyond the reach of the lazy, its triumph is too exquisite for the vulgar and materialistic man... The great project of wei-chi rises above them in all its fullness and beauty". [30]

This beauty of weiqi is impalpable, it is linked to a notion of ethics where the 
beauty of the game resides in the mutual respect of certain rules, where the unspoken takes up more space than the rules themselves. [31]

Zhang Yunqi lists the qualities required to excel at weiqi: the tactic of the soldier, the exactness of the mathematician, the imagination of the artist, the inspiration of the poet, the calm of the philosopher, and the greatest intelligence. [32] But it is the requirement for wisdom or of "philosophical calm", as the player's main assets, which recurs the most frequently in the discourse about weiqi. The same author, who compares the spirit of weiqi with the Olympic spirit (is this a case of the old Chinese dream of seeing weiqi recognized as an Olympic sport?) found an equivalent of the slogan "Faster, higher, harder": "More benevolent, more intelligent, more courageous" with ren - benevolent - implying the Confucian concept of humanism. 

Here we see outlined the traditional Chinese virtues as incarnated by the multitude of exemplary heroes scattered over Chinese history. The parallel with the Olympic spirit goes further; just as the Olympic spirit features the peaceful competition of the body, so weiqi embodies the peaceful competition of the spirit. This is how Lin Sitong describes it:

"Weiqi is an antagonistic activity. This kind of antagonism rules out the drawn swords and bent crossbows which prevailed on ancient fields of battle, or the fists raised as in a boxing ring. During the whole duration of the confrontation, there is no knife or gun, no blood or sweat runs, there is no smell of powder or sound of cries..." [33]

Jacques Gernet has markedly similar things to say about the art of war, and we draw a parallel with weiqi, in order to show the non-violence of a game which nevertheless remains a enactment of confrontation:
"As in Chinese techniques of warfare, it is a case of procedures which make it possible, with the greatest economy of means, to shift the relations between the dominated and the dominant, by taking advantage of the momentary weakness of the opponent, of the unstable balance of his situation, or even by deliberately tricking him in various ways. These stratagems imply a dynamic notion of time and space and assume the idea of transitory strategic configurations, which one must know how to take advantage of at the opportune moment. Chinese thought seems to have invested itself to a large extent in this subtle apprehension of the play of forces which animate space and time and bring about future developments. [...] According to the ancient treatise on strategy by Sunzi, probably written in the 5th or 4th century BC, victory due to the force of arms alone is considered inferior, victory through diplomacy comes second, but first place goes to that made possible by the use of stratagems. The ideal is to defeat without even having to fight". [34]

Jin Tongshi, a national level referee, and Professor of weiqi at Beijing University, also emphasizes the importance of intuition in the mastery of weiqi as in that of the arts: without a basic talent, studying is useless. However, without an intuition of the good and of the beautiful, intelligence is useless also. One cannot therefore avoid thinking of a "gift" proper to the weiqi master, and, because of this grace which he is given, the master in China is wrapped in an aura of prestige and wisdom which obviously brings him certain privileges.

It is without doubt to Kawabata, in his work "The Master or The Go Tournament", that the honor must be attributed of having most agreeably expressed the requirement of an aesthetic feeling, his connivance with the ethic of the game:
"The game is over, Mr Otake has spoilt it with his embedded move, as if he had smeared ink on a picture we had painted together". The master had composed his tournament like an aesthete; it seemed to him that black had just been smeared on the work, in short a work of art, at the most exciting moment. The game of Black on White, as carefully thought out as a work of creation, takes on its forms. The movement of the spirit is found in it, a harmony like that of music. All is lost when a wrong note is sounded, when one of the two musicians launches alone and without warning into an eccentric cadence. One of the adversaries, insensitive to the humors of the other, can spoil a perfect game." [35]

Thus the connection between ethic and aesthetic: the board is a physical space which one occupies as the ink occupies the sheet of white paper, and here the beautiful is indisputably linked to the good. Exactly as in a certain kind of war in the Middle Ages, where, Cazeneuve tells us, when the adversaries considered themselves to be equal - which must be the case in any game of weiqi, since the handicap system makes possible a balancing of the conditions of the game - combat resembled a tournament and a potlach. [36] Victory is gratifying to the extent that the game has been an ambitious struggle, a fruitful exchange, a calm construction of territory, where "dignity and elegance prevail over intrigue" (Shi Dingan (1710-1770), great Qing dynasty player). [37] 

28.  Tukui Zhang,  Jin  Ping  Mei qutan  (Anecdotes  on  Jin Ping  Mei),  Beijing, Zhongguo lüyou chubanshe, 1994, p. 6. 

29. See also on this subject the preceding work by Zhang Tugui. 

30.  Herbert A.  Giles,  " Wei-chi, or  the  Chinese game  of  war  ",  in Temple Bar, England, Vol. 49, n° 194, 1877, p. 45. 

31.  There  are  also  common  precepts  in  the  world  of  chess,  the  literary origin of which, if  there is one, no one was able to  tell us: "guanqi bu yu zhen junzi " or "The gentleman says not a word while  watching a  game",  "  luozi  bu hui da  zhangfu  " ou  " The  true man does  not  retract  (does  not  take  back  the  stone  once  played)  ". 
There  is another  expression which  is  typical of  the game, qing bie zhi  zhao,  literally  "Please  do  not  indicate  or  make  a  sign".  The spectators therefore participate in the ritual, but they are expected to  be  silent  and  respectful  towards  the  players".  (Xiao  Fang, " 
Zhongguo  minjian  youxi  yule  de  tezheng  ji  gongneng  tanlun" 
("Research into the characteristics and functions of Chinese popular games and amusements"), in Beijing shifan daxue xuebao, 1992, p. 55. 

32.  Zhang  Yunqi,  Weiqi  de  faxian  (Discovering  weiqi),  Beijing, 
Internal document of the Chinese Weiqi Institute 1991, p. 2. 

33. Lin, op. cit., p. 15. 

34.  Jacques  Gernet,  "  Le  changeant  et  l'immuable-Quelques  réflexions  à  propos  de  la  Chine  "("The  changing  and  the  unchanging- some thoughts on China"), in Actes de la recherche en  sciences sociales, n° 100, December 1993, p. 29. 

35. Yasunari Kawabata,  Le maître ou  le  tournoi de go (The Master or The Go Tournament), Paris, Albin Michel, 1975, p. 142 et ss. 

36. Caillois, op. cit., p. 778. 

37. Yang , op. cit., 1990, p. 57 

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