The World of Chinese - - COVER STORY -

Who is the great­est Go player ever? To­day, one would have to add “hu­man” to the ques­tion, but in 1987, Go Club, a Ja­panese mag­a­zine was able to set­tle the de­bate by ask­ing the top six liv­ing Go mas­ters. The name these sea­soned cham­pi­ons all agreed upon was Go Seigen, bet­ter known in China as Wu Qingyuan, a Chi­nese-born Go master who dom­i­nated his con­tem­po­raries while rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the game—much like Al­phago, in fact. Although he died in 2014 at the age of 100, Wu’s leg­endary life may even shed some light on the fu­ture of Go.

If to­day’s au­di­ences were con­founded by Al­phago’s coun­ter­in­tu­itive win­ning moves, 18-year-old Wu had the same earth­quake ef­fect on the Go com­mu­nity in Ja­pan, which rep­re­sented the then-high­est level in the world. In a game against the lead­ing pro­fes­sional player Hon’inbo Shu­sai in 1933, Wu shocked Shu­sai with three in­no­va­tive open­ing moves, the first be­ing the “3-3 point,” re­sult­ing in his op­po­nent call­ing for an im­me­di­ate ad­journ­ment, a nowob­so­lete priv­i­lege for who­ever plays White. Shu­sai even­tu­ally won by two points, but only af­ter he pro­longed the game to three months by call­ing for a to­tal of 13 ad­journ­ments dur­ing his turn; ru­mor has it that it was one of Shu­sai’s students who sug­gested the win­ning move dur­ing an ad­journ­ment.

Along with his close friend Ki­tani Mi­noru, Wu brought a new ap­proach and strat­egy to the game and ig­nited pas­sion among younger play­ers to break free from old styles and pur­sue new pos­si­bil­i­ties. It was a pros­per­ous time for Go, but tragic, tur­bu­lent years for both coun­tries. Wu suf­fered dis­crim­i­na­tion in Ja­pan be­cause of his Chi­nese her­itage (he ob­tained Ja­panese cit­i­zen­ship to pur­sue a pro­fes­sional ca­reer). Dur­ing the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of China in the 1930s and 40s, Wu re­ceived death threats from right-wing hard­lin­ers in Ja­pan. He re­ceived lit­tle sym­pa­thy in China, where crit­ics called him a traitor, and the Repub­lic of China even­tu­ally drove him to re­nounce his cit­i­zen­ship in 1946.

Torn be­tween the two coun­tries, a dis­tressed Wu and his wife joined a reli­gious cult, and even gave up Go. For­tu­nately, this proved only a re­cess; both be­fore and af­ter his tem­po­rary re­tire­ment, Wu en­gaged in a se­ries of spec­tac­u­lar “Jubango” games (a tour­na­ment of 10 games be­tween two play­ers) against Ja­pan’s top play­ers. Jubango, of­ten re­ferred to as “handto-hand com­bat on a cliff,” com­bined the high­est honor of vic­tory with the ul­ti­mate loss of face for losers— de­feated par­ties would drop in rank, an af­front deemed a great hu­mil­i­a­tion.

Even against such odds, by 1956 Wu had de­feated ev­ery sin­gle one of his op­po­nents by such a large mar­gin that many were forced to agree: Wu’s abil­ity was two whole ranks above even the high­est pro­fes­sional level, 9 dan. In 1961, he stood to win yet an­other pres­ti­gious ti­tle, Meiji, when he was struck by a mo­tor­cy­cle and sus­tained a head in­jury (some the­o­rize that this was a right-wing plot to pre­vent Wu win­ning any more Ja­panese tour­na­ments).

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Wu suf­fered men­tal break­downs and mi­graines that would end his Go-play­ing ca­reer, even as it set him down a new path. Wu’s later years were de­voted to a strat­egy he called “Go for the 21st cen­tury,” which pro­moted a holis­tic view of the game.

In­flu­enced by Dao­ism, Wu saw as Go as a me­di­a­tion of yin and yang, in eter­nal pur­suit of har­mony—by view­ing the board as the “uni­verse,” play­ers could achieve the high­est mas­tery of the game. Two of Wu’s students car­ried on his man­tle: Lin Haifeng, a con­tem­po­rary master who has won the Meiji ti­tle eight con­sec­u­tive times, and Rui Nai­wei, the world’s first fe­male 9- dan player, and eight-time fe­male world cham­pion. An ex­ten­sively re­searched biopic of Wu, di­rected by Tian Zhuangzhuang, The Go Master, was re­leased in 2006. It was based on the bi­og­ra­phy The Spirit of Har­mony, and in­ter­views with Wu.

Widely revered as the great­est player of the 20th cen­tury, Wu was re­ferred to as the “Sage of Go” for rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the game. As yet an­other rev­o­lu­tion ar­rives with AI, a pos­si­bly glo­ri­ous new chap­ter awaits the an­cient game, if treated wisely. - LIU JUE (刘珏)

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