Tag Archives: weiqi

Weiqi :: Chinese whispers

By Subhash Kak Aug 31 2015

Experts view the recent turmoil in the Chinese stock market as a consequence of the overcapacity of the Chinese infrastructure, misallocation of resources, and the ballooning of internal debt. The steps taken by the Chinese government to deal with this crisis appear to be half-steps. On the one hand, it has promised more transparency in the financial sector so that the valuation of the offerings is reliable; on the other hand, it devalued its currency and has kept it pegged low compared with other currencies.

We see similar half-steps in its diplomatic relations and the projection of its economic power. Although China proclaims its desire to have good relations with its neighbours, it is aggressively pursuing unilateral action on the disputes regarding the control of the Paracel and the Spratly islands in the South China Sea. After constructing a string of artificial islands, it is building deep-water ports, military-grade airstrips and strategic infrastructure to the alarm of its neighbours and the United States.

China’s greatest trading partner is the US, so one would imagine it would generally be sympathetic to the US position in international conflicts. But WikiLeaks shows that while China presents a façade of being reasonable and responsible in its actions, it is actively supporting American adversaries in various theatres, and has supplied nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan and North Korea. Is there a deeper consistency to China’s actions?

I would like to argue that difference in the international dealings of US and China are a consequence of their different cultural styles. These styles get expressed not only at playfields but also in business, diplomacy and war. The Chinese style is based fundamentally on its Confucian heritage with its emphasis on study, ceremony, loyalty and harmony. This style is best represented by the Chinese boardgame weiqi, better known in the west by its Japanese name go.

Weiqi is played by two players who alternately place black and white stones on vacant intersections of a grid of 19×19 lines. Once placed on the board, stones cannot be moved unless surrounded and captured by the opponent’s stones. This is a game of controlling territory and the object is to surround a larger portion of the board than the opponent. Groups of stones must have at least two open points to avoid capture and, therefore, placing them close together helps them support each other. Stones far apart create influence across more of the board and help occupy more territory. The strategic challenge of the game is to find a balance between conflicting interests of staying close for safety and going far to capture territory. It is the perfect game to learn imperial strategy.

In contrast, the game that captures the way the west sees its sports and war is chess in which the players perform tactical manouvres to attain winning material advantage or to mount a successful attack on the king. This can involve real sacrifice for the sake of victory. Although primarily tactical, the game does have strategic elements that involve piece mobility, centre control and pawn structure. The chess player manouvres to force and consolidate a winning material advantage. The history of the west is about exploration and conquest. It has celebrated clear resolve and victory as in Caesar’s famous proclamation: “Aleaiactaest,” or “the die is cast” when he crossed the Rubicon.

The Qianlong emperor and Macartney

For many centuries, China had little intercourse with other countries but after trade began European nations found their commercial relationships with China to be unsatisfactory. For the English, viewed as a nation of shopkeepers and traders by Adam Smith, trade was the key to their power and prosperity. In the 1790s, the British government of William Pitt the Younger wished to consolidate its power in India by cutting through the restrictions of the Canton trading system imposed by the Qianlong government on European merchants in 1760. George Macartney, colonial administrator of Madras and a diplomat, was chosen as British envoy to the Qing empire.

Once in China, Macartney refused to kowtow and finally it was negotiated with the Chinese legatee that he could go down on one knee. The meeting went smoothly but Macartney was never able to negotiate business with the emperor or his representatives. In fact, he was told to leave.

As Macartney’s embassy was leaving, he was given a reply from the Chinese emperor for King George III. In this, amongst other matters, he was criticised for not following the court protocol: “I do not forget the lonely remoteness of your island, cut off from the world by intervening wastes of sea, nor do I overlook your excusable ignorance of the usages of Our Celestial Empire.”

The emperor followed this by expressly denying the requests to open various ports to British ships, permission to establish a warehouse in Beijing, small island near Chusan for a warehouse, a site in the vicinity of Canton for the navy, and permission to proselytise. With regard to permission to spread Christianity, the emperor added that the jesuits “in my capital are forbidden to hold intercourse with Chinese subjects; they are restricted within the limits of their appointed residences, and may not go about propagating their religion. The distinction between Chinese and barbarian is most strict and your ambassador’s request that barbarians shall be given full liberty to disseminate their religion is utterly unreasonable.”

The failure of the Macartney mission was determined by conflicting cosmologies of China and Europe. In his memoirs, Macartney wrote about the poor quality of life for the Chinese under Qing rule. He realised that the Qing state faced fundamental structural problems. He wrote: “The government, as it stands, is properly the tyranny of a handful of Tatars (Manchu) over more than three hundred millions of Chinese.”

He also foresaw a serious internal challenge to the power of the Qing in China: “The frequent insurrections in the distant provinces are ambiguous oracles of the real sentiments of the people. The predominance of the Tartars and the emperor’s partiality for them are the common subjects of conversation among the Chinese whenever they meet together in private. There are certain mysterious societies in every province, who, though narrowly watched by the government, find means to elude its vigilance, and often hold secret assemblies, where they revive the memory of ancient independence, brood over recent injuries, and meditate revenge.” The Taiping, Nien, and the Boxer rebellions were to follow in the next several decades and the last Qing emperor abdicated in 1912.

Weiqi and the strategy of a thousand cuts

If we see the encounter between China and Macartney through the lens of weiqi, England was a small country in a faraway place that did not deserve any investment of the court’s energy. Modern China may be viewed as a restoration of the Qing empire, with the difference that the court has been replaced by the Communist Party.

Weiqi is profoundly strategic, but with incisive and complex tactics. The game proceeds with the players trying to balance conflicting and yet complementary objectives of territorial acquisition, projecting “influence,” maintaining access to the centre, and attack and defence. The tactics used in the game involve diversions and pincer and broader attacks and sacrifices. In weiqi, the consolidation of territorial borders takes place between safe opposing armies.

If chess is about decisive victory by vanquishing the enemy by taking the fight to the place where the king is located, weiqi is about consolidation of territory. This is the reason that the Qing emperors were busy fighting to keep the empire together, rather than advancing it elsewhere.

If Europe emphasises conquest, for China, the Middle Kingdom, the focus is on consolidation of its power. This difference between the styles of chess and weiqi explains Chinese history and why the Chinese did not go out to explore and conquer other nations. Another aspect of weiqi is a relentless pursuit of strategic gain, which may be called lingchi, or the strategy of a thousand cuts. The term lingchi derives from the notion of ascending a mountain slowly, where one requires a thousand small steps to reach the top.

Beijing’s warnings on economic consequences for those who challenge its political orthodoxies are consistent with the weiqi style. The punishment to those who don’t heed the warning comes in a thousand forms. China’s relentless pressure on Taiwan for reunification in fulfillment of its imperial vision is not only in terms of missiles fired across it on multiple occasions but constant shrinkage of its diplomatic space. The Chinese dole out punishment to those who welcome the Dalai Lama. Even Barack Obama met him not in his office or in public but in the basement, and the Lama had to leave through the backdoor of the White House.

(Subhash Kak is a Regents professor of engineering at Oklahoma State

University and author of 20 books, including The Architecture of Knowledge)

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Weiqi Versus Chess

Using a universally relevant metaphor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to US president Jimmy Carter, wrote in The Grand Chessboard (1997): “Eurasia is the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played.” China’s New Silk Road strategy certainly integrates the importance of Eurasia but it also neutralizes the US pivot to Asia by enveloping it in a move which is broader both in space and in time: an approach inspired by the intelligence of Weiqi has outwitted the calculation of a chess player.

The chronicle by Japanese writer Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972) of an intense intellectual duel, translated in English as The Master of Go, contributed to the popularity of the game in the West, but Weiqi is a product of the Chinese civilization and spread over time in the educated circles of Northeast Asia. Kawabata, who viewed the Master as one of his favorite creations, knew that for China the game of “abundant spiritual powers encompassed the principles of nature and the universe of human life,” and that the Chinese had named it “the diversion of the immortals.”

In imperial China, Weiqi had the status of an art whose practice had educational, moral and intellectual purposes. In a Chinese version of the scholastic quadrivium, the mandarins had to master four arts, known as qin, qi, shu and hua. It was expected of the literati to be able to play the guqin (qin), a seven-stringed zither, but also to write calligraphy (shu) and demonstrate talent at brush-painting (hua).

The second artistic skill, qi, is a reference to Weiqi, a strategy game played by two individuals who alternately place black and white stones on the vacant intersections of a grid. The winner is the one who can control, after a series of encirclements, more territory than his opponent; one can translate Weiqi (围棋) 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. In the early 11th-century Classic of Weiqi in Thirteen Sections, arguably the most remarkable essay on the topic, the author uses notions of Chinese philosophy to introduce the game’s material objects: the stones “are divided between black and white, on the yin/yang model… the board is a square and tranquil, the pieces are round and active.” In the Classic of Weiqi, the famous Book of Changes (Yi Jing), which presents the cosmology of Chinese antiquity, is quoted several times.

The game, “a small Tao,” was so popular that it generated obsessive attitude. Addiction to Weiqi was considered by the Chinese philosopher Mencius (372-289BC) one of the five types of unfilial behavior. Through the centuries, the game remained an important element of the Chinese society. Ming dynasty painter Qian Gu (1508-1578) realized an exquisite masterpiece when, in a mood of ease and poise, he portrayed A Weiqi Game at the Bamboo Pavilion, where the breeze, water and young maidens revolve around the circulations of black and white stones. One of the famous set of 12 screen paintings from the Emperor Yongzheng period (1678-1735) portrays an elegant and refined lady sitting by a Weiqi board.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-gosset/weiqi-versus-chess_b_6974686.html

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How much does the ancient game of Go, or weiqi, reveal about Chinese military strategy?

Orginal post is here : http://thediplomat.com/2014/12/maritime-southeast-asia-a-game-of-go/

Over at The National Interest last week, Asia-Pacific Center professor Alexander Vuving ran a nifty longish essay explaining China’s grand strategy in the South China Sea in terms of the Japanese game Go, or weiqi as the Chinese call it. It’s well worth your time. Read the whole thing.

Explaining strategic behavior in terms of the games inhabitants of a civilization play is a cottage industry. Henry Kissinger, to name just one major figure, has drawn the parallel between Go and China’s deportment around its periphery.

For Alex, insisting that Beijing’s moves in the South China Sea are trivial is misguided. That’s thinking inspired by chess. Pawns as largely expendable, strategy largely linear in character. Yet by deploying seaborne counterparts to the pawn — white-hulled coast-guard ships, the fishing fleet, reclaimed islands and reefs — China encircles and exerts influence if not control over swathes of sea and sky where it bills itself as the rightful sovereign. Sovereignty means physical control of territory within certain boundaries on the map. Pawns backed by more powerful forces bring about control over time.

The geospatial thinking of a Go master, then, may be on display in maritime Southeast Asia. This supplies Beijing a psychological advantage. What looks unimportant to Westerners steeped in chess constitutes steady, incremental progress toward permanent control of territory that Beijing has pronounced an inalienable part of the motherland. It also represents steady erosion of freedom of the seas in the China seas — a process that could discredit the principle of freedom of the seas across the globe, with unknowable but certainly baneful results. Unless, that is, you think surrendering a principle on which the liberal system of trade and commerce is built is a price worth paying to appease Asia’s big brother.

But — and you knew a but was coming — I would affix an asterisk to Alex’s commentary. People are not cultural automatons. The games they play may influence how they think, but they do not determine their actions. Or, if they do, it verges on impossible to demonstrate how such factors shape conduct in the real world. If policymakers, executors of policy, or ordinary people report that Go, or chess, inspired them to do this or that, then fine. That’s about as close as it gets to proving causation. Short of that, tracing the impact of strategic culture is largely a matter of conjecture. We know culture exists, and we know it’s important. Measuring it or forecasting its effects is an elusive task, fraught with ambiguity. Hence the asterisk.

It’s also crucial not to oversimplify. Cultural influence isn’t uniform within a given mass of people. I’m virtually sure, to name one Western example I know well, that chess — linear strategy employing cost/benefit logic and pieces with varying capabilities — exerts zero influence on what I say and do. The Naval Diplomat has played little chess, has no talent for it, and — perhaps not coincidentally — has no interest in it. That would nullify Alex’s analysis if — heaven forfend — I ever attained high office. One doubts, moreover, that Go is that all-pervasive among the Chinese that it overrides ordinary cost/benefit logic, Confucianism, the tenets of Marxism-Leninism, and on and on. Go is not all-important. In short, let’s not oversell the social and cultural dimension of strategy.

And lastly, even if you assume Go or chess do provide thumb rules for appraising Eastern or Western behavior, there are countervailing strands of culture within any society. Culture is a mélange, not a simple list of traits or influences. Asians like surrounding and controlling territory? Sure they do. But they have also proved receptive to the Western strategic canon, in particular the writings of Carl von Clausewitz. Mao quotes Clausewitz repeatedly. And Clausewitz was a thinker and martial practitioner who urged statesmen and commanders to subordinate the chaotic, nonlinear world of armed conflict to rational — linear — logic.

Do Westerners prefer the linear approach? Sure, I suppose you can say that. But they also like to encircle and crush opponents. The Battle of Cannae, where Carthaginian forces surrounded and annihilated a Roman army, became a metaphor for European strategists that endured into the twentieth century. That’s rather Go-like. Westerners are direct? Sure, but the figure of Odysseus, who embodied craft, guile, and cunning, also runs through Western strategic thought. Deception has its place in Western warmaking and diplomacy.

And so forth. It’s helpful to think of civilizations as possessing dominant and recessive characteristics. Policymakers or strategists may have certain strategic preferences — Asians for the geospatial approach and gradualism, Westerners for punching opponents in the mouth — but certain situations can bring forth the recessive traits. Trying to discern what action will summon forth what response from an antagonist is more enlightening, and informative, than projecting behavior solely from the games people play.

That is all.

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THE ELECTRONIC HOLY WAR Crazy Stone defeated Yoshio Ishida, a professional Go player

In May, 1997, I.B.M.’s Deep Blue supercomputer prevailed over Garry Kasparov in a series of six chess games, becoming the first computer to defeat a world-champion chess player. Two months later, the Times offered machines another challenge on behalf of a wounded humanity: the two-thousand-year-old Chinese board game wei qi, known in the West as Go. The article said that computers had little chance of success: “It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go—maybe even longer.”

Last March, sixteen years later, a computer program named Crazy Stone defeated Yoshio Ishida, a professional Go player and a five-time Japanese champion. The match took place during the first annual Densei-sen, or “electronic holy war,” tournament, in Tokyo, where the best Go programs in the world play against one of the best humans. Ishida, who earned the nickname “the Computer” in the nineteen-seventies because of his exact and calculated playing style, described Crazy Stone as “genius.”

http://www.newyorker.com/

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Weiqi :: Hearts of black and white

In Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the super computer HAL easily checkmates astronaut Frank Poole. In real life, the victory of machine over man came true in 1997, when Deep Blue defeated chess world champion Garry Kasparov.

But unlike in chess, where computers can vanquish even the best human players, in Go, the best computer programs only reach the level of a good amateur. The reason is not simply mathematical (as the calculations involved are substantially more complicated than chess), but also very human, since certain choices are not purely logical but also intuitive.

http://www.globaltimes.cn/

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