Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Chinese Way of Seeing the World Part 6 (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.
Click here for Part 5. 

The rivalry between Japan, Korea and China

There are said to be basic inter cultural differences in the very conception and finality of the game. According to Zhang Yunqi, except for the standardization of the game and of the rules for counting points for competition purposes, about which a consensus was reached [42], the very vision of the game differs among the Chinese, the Japanese and the Koreans:
"The Japanese Weiqi Institute and the Korean Weiqi Institute consider that the aim of the game consists of the encircling of territory, and that this territory represents its purpose and decides victory. The Chinese Weiqi Association, for its part, considers that the aim of the game is the occupation of territory by the pieces and the empty spaces, and that this occupation decides victory". [43]

The Chinese are said to represent through weiqi the primordial and vital act of man for his survival, which consists of settling in a place in order to secure his subsistence and his reproduction. This point of view of Zhang's seems somewhat in conflict with the well-known interpretations which associate weiqi with warfare! Let us note that Zhang is contradicted by Heaulmes who explains with greater objectivity that it was in a historical (rather than a geographic!) way that the game in fact evolved in this direction:
"The early game therefore evolved naturally towards another game in which the aim was to surround larger free areas than the other player. One can easily imagine that then the initial aim (of capturing stones) may have blurred, becoming secondary, and have been completely forgotten, to the point of allowing capture as a way of making territories". [44]

One might also think that capture has always been incidental since the first component wei of the word weiqi means to encircle, and is thus revealing of the mechanics and the intentions of the game... These theoretical subtleties, about which we would have great difficulty deciding, and in which the Chinese still claim the right to possess and to defend the truth, are not entirely foreign to the traditional rivalry between these three Asian countries (Taiwan, which established a Taiwanese weiqi Institute in February 2000, is not taken into consideration here). China is symbolically vested with the authority of the founder when it is a question of history or of the principles of weiqi. But the inadequacy of its players in competition (which is to be understood as competition between China, Japan and Korea) until recently undermined its prestige and supposed authority. Kawabata drove the point home with this judgement, which is widely shared in Japan and in the West:
"Go comes to us from China, but it took on its traditional form in Japan. Chinese go, nowadays as was the case three hundred years ago, does not bear comparison with ours. The elevation and also the depth of this game came to it from Japan... The Japanese sowed this store of wisdom, this "way of the three hundred and sixty one squares" which symbolized to the Chinese the principles of nature, the universe and human existence. They saw an entertainment rich in spiritual possibilities and called it the relaxation of the immortal. It is the Japanese who sublimated the game". [45]

In the last few years, the Chinese have had the joy of seeing Kawabata shown to be wrong . As reported by the New China news service, "a new page in the history of weiqi was written" on the 25th of March 1995, when the two national champions, Nie Weiping and Ma Xiaochun, carried off the honors for the first time in an international championship, the sixth Dongyang Zhengquan Bei tournament held in Korea.[46] This "historic breakthrough" against the Japanese finalists set off a wave of emotion in the country. Our two champions were indeed used to coming in third or fourth place in that tournament. During this final victory, the Friday evening weiqi class was in progress at the University of Beijing.[47]

Professor Jin Tongshi had arranged to be faxed the outline of the game under way between Nie Weiping and his Japanese adversary Yamashiro Hiroshi, and he was commenting it at the blackboard pointing out the various possibilities open to the two competitors. Suddenly his beeper sounded and he peered down avidly to read the figures that had appeared on the screen. Lifting his head slowly, he scanned the class with his eyes and announced superbly: Women shengli le (We have won!). He had arranged with a colleague at the Chinese Weiqi Institute (we can imagine them all, over there, religiously soaking up the news of the moves being faxed from Korea) to tell him the verdict by means of a code on his beeper. A wave of applause, and a palpable feeling of pride, swept over what had been a silent classroom. Sweet revenge in the heart of China, which dates the emergence of this symbol of identity, this "venerated totem of the nation", back to five thousand years ago.

As is fitting, Ma Xiaochun and Nie Weiping (who had been elected a member of the sixth Consultative Political Conference of the Chinese People in 1993, and a member of the Permanent Committee of that body in 1994), were met at the airport by a delegation of dignitaries and players. We asked Liang Weitang, an elite player and eighth dan, if the honor of victory was above all individual or national:
"Generally, if I play inside China, I represent Guangdong; if I play abroad, I represent China, my country. The individual performances of those who represent the country are certainly assessed, but fundamentally, in international competitions, it is a question of the country's prestige".

42. The rules are in fact numerous; the weiqi associations of the various countries have codified their own versions of the rules which were all originally based on the Chinese rules. Thus, in general, when one goes to play in Korea, one will adopt the rules of the Korean baduk Association. But among the very numerous tournaments which take place in the world and particularly in Asia, some have their own rules, such as the ING tournament, after the name of the Taiwanese billionaire Ing Chang-ki who has extensively subsidized go in his country. The variations are not sufficient to pose real problems of adaptation from one country to another and the players adapt from one tournament to another. On this subject visit the BGA website. I would like to express my thanks here to Jan van der Steen and to François Lorrain for their valuable information on this subject.

43. Zhang, 1991, op. cit., p. 1.

44. Reysset, op. cit., p. 36.

45. Kawabata, op. cit., p. 104.

46. Renmin ribao (The People's Daily), March 26, 1996.
47. For a semester we attended this class, which credited in the student's degree course just like any other subject. Made up of a historical part of about ten hours (the "historical" character prevails however, as the games analyzed later are generally the "classic" games of the masters), the class is then given over to the basics of scoring, rules, concrete strategic problems, handicaps and to the detailed analysis of the various stages of a game. Exercises are given in class and explained on the board. 

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