Friday, March 11, 2016

A Chinese Way of Seeing the World Part 5 (The Game of Go [ Weiqi ] )

Following is an 2001 article that was formerly found in MSOWorld .com  

Read and enjoy

Click here for Part 1. Click here for Part 2. 
Click here for Part 3. Click here for Part 4.

The ritual aspect
Chess, taiji, religious or political services, repetitive practices, collective and socializing, sacred because they are vital, creative because they are constantly adapting to new diktats, if only also because of the numbers involved, the simple practices of daily life in China all have, to the observer, the characteristics of ritual. In the case of weiqi, the ritual aspect of the game, especially during competitions, is intimately related to the ethical and aesthetic aspects we have just discussed. Is it the religious silence or the contemplation described in the legend of Shishishan, to be observed in the competitions we have witnessed, which suggest the word ritual? There are in the unfolding of a game or a tournament several of those characteristics which have been used to define ritual, among them the absorption of the players in a flow ("holistic sensation present when we act with total involvement"). [38] 

In a competition, playing and thinking time is very precisely measured for each player by twin clocks, and the gradual positioning of the pieces is meticulously noted by a referee. Each player is identified by a card placed on his side of the table and, when the game is over, the result is posted on the game organization chart. Official competition is obviously much more highly regulated than a game between friends, but in both cases the almost perfect silence, the non-intervention of observers, the absolute taboo on moving a piece already placed, are immutable rules.

In both cases, a game between friends or a competition, the game will be replayed after its end, methodically, in order for the players to benefit mutually from their mistakes and their good moves. In this ritual, one witnesses again the self-effacing of the winner in an act of creation; when the game is over it is not yet over, it gives place to the necessary synthesis. The winner takes on the role of master, and there is symbolic communication with the liminal world of weiqi in the constant and quasi sacred references which the winner and his partner make to classic "openings", to the famous games of the masters, to the ancient qipu, the chess manuals, the oldest of which is said to date back to the Han dynasty. [39] These games are so many rituals through which the player accedes to a higher level of understanding of the world of weiqi and of the world itself, stages marked in a practical way by the passing of the "dans".

Moreover the Chinese Weiqi Institute, in Beijing, displays all the characteristics of a temple. It is as difficult to enter as most "work units" [40], but the same nonchalance does not predominate there. A large board dominates the right hand side of the entrance, where are related the most recent exploits of the members of the Chinese Weiqi Association. A huge calligraphy engraved in stone and a bust of Chen Yi [41] impose their dark and massive presence in the middle of the foyer, like a statue of Buddha on an altar. An impressive peacefulness reigns in this place: one learns weiqi by watching, by absorbing and by playing, and only the click of the stones on the board punctuates this muffled celebration.

38. Victor Turner, " Variations in the Theme of Liminality ", in Secular Ritual, Amsterdam, Van Gorcum, 1977, p. 48.

39. Xu Jialiang, Zhongguo gudai qiyi (The Ancient Art of Chinese Chess), Beijing, Shangwu yinshuguan, 1991, p. 20.

40. Necessity to present identity papers and letter of introduction first to the guard and then to the authorities of the establishment.

41. A member of the CPC since 1923, Chen Yi has had a brilliant military and political career. He was mayor of Shanghai in the 1950s, and then Foreign Minister from 1958 to 1972. He was the first Director of the Chinese Association of Weiqi players and an annual competition has been named after him. He is said to have been an excellent player of the game. 

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