American Go E-Journal

Historians and Anthropologists at the 2012 International Go Symposium

Tuesday December 11, 2012

The 2012 International Go Symposium in Black Mountain, North Carolina attracted leading scholars and researchers from around the world for two days of presentations and discussions on the many aspects of the game of go. Hours of footage have now been edited down and posted online to accompany the conference papers. This 3-part series covers highlights of Symposium presentations by teachers, scientists, historians and anthropologists. 

Students of the long and fascinating history of go who attended the 2012 International Go Symposium were richly rewarded with presentations on anime, poetry, and history, while also learning about the development of the game itself, such as why and when the 19×19 board came into use, and the challenges involved in developing a universal set of rules.

The most well-attended event of the Symposium took place on Sunday afternoon, when Hikaru No Go fans packed the lecture hall to see Hotta Yumi, the author of the wildly popular series. Ms. Hotta, interviewed by go teacher and E-Journal Youth Editor Paul Barchilon with  translation by longtime AGA volunteer Akane Negishi, answered questions ranging from how she came up with the idea for Hikaru to who’s her favorite character.

Reflecting a growing general Western interest in China, several presentations centered on Chinese themes. Stephanie Mingming Yin, now one of America’s resident pros, described Growing up Pro in China, while Joshua Guarino reminisced about his recent visit there, offering tips to go players who might be planning a trip, and Symposium organizer Peter Shotwell recalled his visit in 1985, making the first official contact between the AGA and the newly formed Chinese Weiqi Association. Documentary filmmaker Marc Moskowitz shared highlights of his new film on Chinese go, Weiqi Wonders.

Intertwining history and art, Dr. Chen Zu-yan , a professor of Asian and Asian-American Studies at Binghamton University, spoke on The Art of Black and White: Weiqi in Chinese Poetry.  In a fascinating example of the global nature of the game, Konstantin Bayraktarov of Bulgaria’s research into Vietnamese go was presented by American go writer – and Symposium organizer — Peter Shotwell. Shotwell also updated his longtime inquiry into the origins of go with “The Origins of Go Strategies in Classical Chinese Grammar: Why the Chinese Play Go and the West Plays Chess” Noting that fundamental differences in the structure and purpose of language can impact a society’s development, Shotwell showed how in the case of the West they pose a barrier to grasping go. In a second talk, Shotwell muses about so-called “custodial capture” games in ancient Greece and Rome, and in a Tibetan game known as Mig-Mang.

Other speakers looked at the special nature of the game itself, which is ephemeral yet universal. The rules were never even written down until the 20th century, and to this day there are several seemingly irreconcilable rule sets — yet everyone knows how to play. Chen Zu-Yuan, a leading rules expert, reviews the history and merits of Japanese (territory) and Chinese (area) counting. Potentially infinite, go is occasionally played on boards of various sizes, especially 9×9 and 13×13, but could be played on a grid of any size, and has even been played on a special board with no edges at all. At the 2012 US Go Congress it was played on a US-shaped board. So why 19×19? Ichiro Tanioka has studied this question concluding that the change probably happened during the 4th century AD along with other fundamental changes, for instance in the Chinese calendar. Mr. Tanioka goes on to speculate on other questions, such as why Chinese boards are perfectly square while Japanese boards are slightly rectangular. Continuing the inquiry into why the board is the way it is, Dalsoo Kim gave a history of the board’s “star points”, which at various times has ranged as high as 17.

The AGA and the 2012 US Go Congress are extremely grateful to the for financial support that made this event possible, and to the American Go Foundation for supporting the video recording.  Links to all the videos and to associated papers, links and contact information be found at the Symposium website. NEXT: Scientists at the Symposium.

Categories: U.S. Go Congress