Weiqi in the World of Political Dynamics
Weiqi or Go has only a few rules, and they can be learned in minutes. But even for this simplicity, the best players of today feel that they have not mastered the game.
In Weiqi, two players take turns placing their stones (the black ones traditionally are made of Slate, and the white ones traditionally are made of Clam shells) on the intersections of lines on the board. There are 19 lines from one side of the board to the other, and 19 lines from the top to the bottom. The idea is to fence off more space than your opponent, outlining your “territory” with your stones. When stones are surrounded by stones of the opposite color, they are “dead” and can be “captured.” At the end of the game, the players figure out the amount of space they have claimed, and the one who has the most spaces wins.
In China’s imperial times, Weiqi had the status of an art whose its practice had educational, moral and intellectual purposes. In a Chinese version of the scholastic quadrivium, the mandarin scholars had to master the Four Arts, known as Qin, Qi, Shu and Hua ( 琴棋书画 ). It was expected of the gentlemen to be able to play the Qin, a seven-stringed zither, but also to write calligraphy (Shu) and demonstrate talent at brush-painting (Hua). The second artistic skill, Qi, is Weiqi, a strategy game played by two people who alternately place black and white stones on the vacant intersections of a grid.
The winner of the game is the one who can control, after a series of encirclements, with more territory than his opponent. One can translate Weiqi as “the board game of encirclement” or “the surrounding game”. For centuries, literati have been fascinated by the contrast between the extreme simplicity of the rules and the almost infinite combinations allowed by their execution. Traditionally, the game was conceptualized in relation to a vision of the world.
During a Chinese chess game, one subtracts pieces; but in Weiqi, one adds stones to the surface of the board. “The best victory is gained without a fight, so the excellent position is one which does not cause conflict,” says the author of the “Classic of Weiqi”. It introduces what can be called the axiom of non-confrontation. In Weiqi, the objective is not to checkmate the opponent: only positions with stones in relation to one another really matters.