Forget Your Troubles and Enjoy Go

Forget Your Troubles and Enjoy Go

Hand-talk, Sit-Still, and Trouble-Forgetter, are just a few nicknames for Go.

In Shi Shou Xin YuWang Zhong Lang (424 AD) referred to Go as Sit-Still, and Zhi Gong referred to Go as Hand-talk, (the term Hand-talk is still widely used nowadays as in the computer Go program).

Zu Na of Dong Jin (317-420 AD)refers to Go as Trouble-Forgetter. Zu Na’s younger brother Zu Di was defeated in his effort to invade the northern kingdom, and Zu Na was saddened greatly. He spent his time playing Go all day, trying to forget this mishap. His friend, Wang Yin urged him not to waste his time. Zu Na replied, “I just want to forget my trouble!” To Zu Na, this was a sad experience.

However, most people who are not familiar with history, have the impression that he had a wonderful life playing Go, not being bogged down by daily affairs. Go, being considered as one of the four accomplishments by scholars and officials alike, is a great treasure of the Chinese culture. There have also been numerous inspiring Go related stories passed on from generation to generation. Especially during the Jin and Nan Bei Dynasties, there were numerous renowned Go players, and Go was very popular. People sitting still in front of the Go boards could be seen everywhere, with stones in their hands, talking leisurely to their opponents.

Jin Shu, in Fei Xiu Zhuan, mentioned Fei Xia’s conduct in a Go related story. One day, Fei Xia was playing Go at a dinner party in the house of general Zhou Fu. Zhou got drunk and knocked Fei over onto the ground. To many people’s surprise, Fei got up and returned to the game as if nothing had happened. Of course this might not be due entirely to Fei’s good conduct. Go is known to have a mesmerizing effect on people to the point that they are not aware of what’s happening around them.

Known as a member of the Seven Bamboo Sages, Yuan Ji was also a Go player. According to the legend, this person was totally mesmerized when playing Go. Jin Shou, in Yuan Ji Zhuan describes the scene when Yuan’s mother passed away while Yuan was playing Go with his friend. When his opponent heard that Yuan’s mother had died, he urged Yuan to stop the game, but Yuan insisted that they should finish. After the game was over, Yuan drank close to 20 liters of wine, let out a loud cry and vomited several liters of blood. This was a sad and touching story.

Another story involves the two sons of Kong Rong during the Three Kingdoms (220-265 AD). As recorded in Wei Shi Chun Qiu, Kong Rong was beheaded by Cao Cao for saying the wrong thing. Kong’s sons were eight or nine years old then and were playing Go when the news of their father reached them. Still continuing with the game, their servants urged them to run for their lives. They replied calmly, “Have you heard of the eggs being spared when the nest breaks?” As a result, both of Kong’s sons were beheaded too.

Yuan Ji tried to find a moment of peace of mind in Go and the two sons of Kung tried to grasp a short period of last minute joy in the game. But as far as humor is concerned, none compared to the story told in chapter 22 of Sui Jing Zhu. Yuan Lan (also known as Yuan Jian) was a judge in Kai Feng province at the time, who constantly invited friends over to play Go. One night, as Yuan Lan was playing Go, some pirates decided to rob the city. When the guards came to notify Yuan, he was so involved in the game that he ignored the guards. Being concerned, the guard raised his voice saying, “The situation is very tense outside with the robbery!” Yuan replied, “I have a robbery (the Chinese word for ko is the same as robbery) here too, and it’s also very tense!” This was indeed a funny story. Very few Go stories from the Wei (220-253 AD) Jin (265-420 AD) and Nan Bei Dynasties (420-589 AD) are humorous or funny. Most of the stories are sad like the following one.

Following the two Jin Dynasties (265-420 AD) came the Liu Song period. Wang Huo was a scholar of noble character at that time, who was also a good Go player. Emperor Song Ming (Liu Huo) envied Wang’s fame and decided to kill him by sending him a bottle of poisonous wine. When the imperial edict and the poisonous wine arrived, Wang was engaged in a ko fight in a game of Go. After the game was over, Wang put away all the stones one by one before bowing solemnly to his game opponent and told him that the Emperor had ordered him to commit suicide. Picking up a cup of the poisonous wine, Wang said to his friend, “I would not recommend that you drink this wine.” He then drank the poison. What was Wang thinking about during the endgame?

Maybe he wasn’t mad. Maybe he wasn’t even afraid. And, maybe he was simply thinking how he can gain an extra point in the endgame. Later on, Emperor Song Wei Zhong wrote in his poem, “Forget your troubles and enjoy Go” Maybe he never did understand what scholars of the Wei Jin Dynasties were thinking in their last games, but it’s quite appropriate in general.

Copyright Yutopian Enterprises 1999.

Abstract from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s