Dynamic Divisions

The Tactics of Weiqi 圍棋 and Strategic Space in Imperial China

In: Journal of Chinese Military History
Garret P. Olberding University of Oklahoma

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A major and as yet insurmountable obstacle in our comprehension of pre-modern Chinese military culture is the unfortunate dearth of detailed battle scenes or attack plans. The historiographical record simply does not include more than the barest outlines of how battles transpired. This essay offers a possible back-door method for accessing military movements and formations on an abstract level. It contends that the ancient game of weiqi, commonly known in the West by its Japanese name, Go, may afford insight into some of the military maneuvers likely employed in the Tang and Song dynasties, and perhaps even earlier. Using the earliest game maps available, found in the Song-era Wangyou qingle ji, with additional input from Ming and Qing texts, the essay spatially analyzes the tactical terms from a manuscript attributed to an author from the Five Dynasties and early Song periods, the Weiqi yili, and illustrates their potential employment using two historical passages, one from the Jiu Tangshu and another from the Hanshu.

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