American Go E-Journal

THE TRAVELING GO BOARD: Shanghai: Counting Liberties at the Tongzhou Go School

Tuesday May 25, 2010

If you have any doubt about whether go is alive and well in the land where it was invented, show up on a Sunday night at the Tongzhou Middle School in Shanghai. Night has fallen and the streets are quiet, but the school is a beehive of activity. More than eighty kids are gathered in four classrooms, excitedly shouting out answers as their teachers lay out go problems on demonstration boards. The youngsters, ranging in age from four to twelve or so, sit — when they’re not leaping up to try their move — at special classroom desks stencilled with go boards; the plastic go bowls swing out from beneath the desktop. The school, which currently has more than 300 students, is run by the Tongzhou Go Association and was founded in 1998 by Qin You Min, a go-loving amateur 5-dan businessman who’s also on Shanghai’s team of strong amateurs. Most of the students at Tongzhou are from local primary schools, and indeed Qin learned to play when he himself was in primary school. “Go is an important part of traditional Chinese culture and once I learned, I just could not give it up,” he said with a smile and a shrug. When the principal of the Tongzhou Middle School asked him to start up the go school there, “I could not say no.” Like many an American school, trophy cases — in this case for go championships — line the wall in Tongzhou’s front lobby. Unlike the privately-run Blue Elephant School, Tongzhou is part of the official China go sports system and its team participates in national go tournaments. “A good teacher is the secret of good training,” Qin. Liu Yi Yi 2P is the team’s main coach, and other pros often come to teach as well as the three full-time teachers and seven part-timers. In just twelve years, the school has already generated four professionals, Qin tells me proudly. The team trains daily, with cultural lessons in the morning and then go lessons in the afternoon and evening. Tonight’s classes are levels 2 through 5. The Level 2 kids — who teacher Bai Yi Ping has to lift onto a chair to reach the demo board — are 8 kyu and are learning to count liberties. In adjoining rooms a Level 3 class of 7 kyus is reviewing capturing races, a Level 4 group of 4 kyus is reviewing their games and a Level 5 class of 1 kyus is studying life and death problems. The energy in the school is vibrant, with the kids both focussed and having fun. In the Level 4 class, for example, the kids are working intently together to replay and record their games, while in the next room the tiny Level 2 students are literally jumping up and down in their seats to be chosen to solve the problem on the board. “Play more games with Chinese players,” Qin says when I ask his advice for how American players can improve.
– Chris Garlock; photos by John Pinkerton

Categories: Traveling Go Board