Education About Asia: Online Archives

World on 361 Points: Understanding Chinese Culture via the Board Game Go

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A culture may be likened to a river. While the collective history of the culture constitutes the main course of the river and defines its general direction, the philosophical, religious, and artistic traditions are major tributaries that greatly influence the river’s contour. And, just as the river is ever-flowing, religion and philosophy evolve, art forms develop, and history gets interpreted and reinterpreted. A comprehensive understanding of culture is as fascinating and rewarding as it is challenging.

This essay is concerned with the ancient Chinese civilization. Its object of focus is a game—a board game called weiqi, or Go in English.1 The objective of the article, however, is to introduce Confucianism and Daoism, the two most prominent philosophical traditions in China, and to illustrate their influence on the interpretation of history, as well as their own relative political dominance in history. We will achieve this by examining how philosophical attitudes are reflected in Go by literary means, which will also illustrate the interconnectedness of literature, philosophy, history, and art in China. In short, Go is like a little stone found on the bank of our grand metaphoric river; a close inspection of its polish and patina may throw light on the nature and history of the river itself.