Go in China

It is generally agreed upon that Go originated in China, but we are not entirely certain of when this happened. There is a long history of Go in China, and this page will overview some key events.

Origins of Go

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The true origins of the game have been speculated and debated for years, but there is strong evidence supporting the "Yao myth." According to Chinese legends (first recorded in a book from 290 BCE), Emperor Yao "came down from the heavens" ca. 2200 BCE and taught the game to his first son, Tan Chu. Some versions of the legend say this was to teach his son mental discipline. Other versions say that Yao ordered his advisor, Shun, to invent the game. Tan Chu became very skilled at Go and was called the best player in the court.

In Chinese, Go is known as the "Encircling Game" - encirclement was a key part of early Chinese war and hunting strategies used since ca. 5000 BCE. The grid design on Go boards (and other early board games) resemble the grid-like arrangement of agricultural dykes used by early farmers.

Chinese archaeologists have discovered what could possibly be Go stones placed near the head and right shoulder of corpses in tombs near a Shang-Dynasty capital in eastern China. Russian archaeologists have found stones in Siberia which resemble modern Chinese single-convex "yunzi" stones, which date back 4,000 years. So it is very possible that the game is as old as the "King Yao Myth" suggests.

Other theories suggest that Go was originally a form of divination, used by shamans who would throw stones on the board. These theories point out the symbolism of "star points" on the board.

Early Writings of Go

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A large amount of our knowledge about Go history comes from early Chinese writings. The Analects of Confucius, written after Confucius' death in 479 BCE by his disciples, refer to the game (Book XVII, 22) as little more than a slothful activity. Confucianism was promoted in the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), and Confucians were not encouraged to play Go. The Commentary of Zuo, the earliest Chinese history work, was written no later than 389 BCE and contains the earliest written reference to Go, in the year 548 BCE.

Medieval Times

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Go survived to become very popular by the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), even among Confucians. Chinese culture flourished during the Tang Dynasty and it was considered a great age for poetry. Go was often the subject of many poems and art pieces. Strong Go players were given political positions (the first Tang emperor believed that if they could manage groups of Go stones, they could easily manage people) and gradually Go was connected with Confucian virtues (at this time it was already connected with Taoist philosphies).

The oldest surviving Go painting is was created around 700 AD, and over time many books and pictures about the game appeared. Go was perceived as something sacred, and around 1050 it was written about by Wang Ni in The Classic of Wei Ch'i. Another such example is Su Shi's poem Watching a Wei-Ch'i Game (written sometime between 1097-1101). Around 1339 The Classic or Xuanxuan Qijing was printed, containing over three hundred Go problems (The collection still exists and is available here). More books appeared, teaching the game to anyone who read them, and game records of strong players were kept for centuries. Matteo Ricci (A Jesuit missionary, who was in China from 1583-1610) wrote on how much Chinese Officials respected and enjoyed the game.

Modern Era

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Chinese Go in the 20th century was popularized as a national sport by Marshal Chen Yi (who carried a Go board with him during military campaigns) in the 1950s, and Go institutions were formed in Beijing and Shanghai. In the 1960s he invited five Japanese professionals to China, and annual competitons were held until 1972 when they were interrupted by the Cultural Revolution. In 1973 the current Chinese Go Association was formed, and strong players such as Chen Zude (who is credited with making the "Chinese fuseki" famous) and one of his students, Nie Weiping emerged. Chinese players were very successful in international competitions until the emergence of strong Korean players in the 1990s.