China Underground > Entertainment > The Enigmatic Game of Weiqi: A Timeless Chinese Tradition

The Enigmatic Game of Weiqi: A Timeless Chinese Tradition

As one of the oldest known board games globally, Weiqi (also known as Go in Japanese) is a strategic and sophisticated game that perfectly embodies Chinese traditional philosophy. Combining history, culture, art, and science in a single game, Weiqi is more than just a pastime; it’s a testament to China’s intellectual and cultural richness.

A Journey Back in Time

Weiqi’s origins can be traced back to ancient China over 4,000 years ago during the Zhou Dynasty. It was often cited in classical Chinese literature and was considered one of the four essential arts that any true Chinese scholar was expected to master, alongside playing the guqin (a stringed instrument), calligraphy, and painting.

The name “Weiqi” translates to “encirclement board game,” a fitting description of the game’s basic objective: to occupy more territory on the board than your opponent. However, beneath this straightforward goal lies a game of profound complexity, requiring strategic thinking, sharp intuition, and a keen understanding of balance.

Delving into the Game

The game is played on a board with a 19×19 grid of lines. Players take turns placing stones on the intersections of the lines with the goal to surround and capture the opponent’s stones, while also trying to prevent their stones from being captured. The game ends when both players agree there are no more useful moves left, and the player with the most territory (the sum of controlled empty points and captured stones) wins.

Despite its seemingly simple rules, the game’s complexity is vast. According to some estimates, there are more possible games of Weiqi than there are atoms in the observable universe!

Weiqi and Chinese Philosophy

Weiqi’s beauty and elegance lie in its deep ties with traditional Chinese philosophy. The game embodies the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang, balance and duality, reflected in the interplay of the black and white stones on the board. Also, the Confucian ideals of propriety, righteousness, honesty, and sense of shame are part of the game, as players are expected to show respect and fairness towards their opponent.

An Interesting Curiosity: Weiqi and AI

In 2016, the world of Weiqi experienced a landmark event that shook not just the gaming world but also the field of artificial intelligence (AI). Google’s AI program, AlphaGo, defeated the world champion Go player Lee Sedol in a five-game match. This was a historic moment because it demonstrated the potential of AI in complex decision-making tasks. It was previously thought that Weiqi, due to its high complexity and intuitive nature, would be one of the last games an AI could master.

The Enduring Legacy

Despite its age, Weiqi remains popular today, particularly in East Asia, where national competitions are held annually. The game is also gaining popularity in the West, aided by the internet, which has made it possible for people worldwide to learn and play the game online.

As a connection to China’s ancient past, Weiqi has survived the test of time. It continues to captivate with its strategic depth, beautiful simplicity, and philosophical underpinnings. From ancient scholars to AI, the game of Weiqi remains a testament to the timeless allure of strategic play and the rich tapestry of Chinese culture.

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