So much in the West we play chess, so much in the East we play Go: two ways of passing the time that, if we look closely at the rules, tell us something more about the philosophies that are confronted in the contemporary world. In comparing the two strategies of the game played in the different cultural spheres, a philosophy of attack is evident which is also found in foreign policy moves. The goal of chess is to bring down the king with a direct attack, eliminating the pawns. Go instead provides for an encirclement plan where the enemy is neutralized by the force that surrounds him and prevents him from moving.
In chess the aim is to dominate the center of the field to obtain the “checkmate”. The two challengers have an army of 16 pawns of varying importance, including a king each. When one of the two kings comes under the threat of the opposing pieces – and has no chance to avoid capture – he is “eaten” and the game is over. The match ends with the annihilation of the opponent. At the end of the dispute there is always one side – the whites or the blacks – that becomes master of the territory after destroying the other.
The Go (adapted in China with the name of Weiqi), on the other hand, responds to another philosophy. There is no lack of affinities with chess, but the rules in this case are much more complex. The players, always two, must place pawns of equal importance on a grid of 19X19 lines. In all, there are 361 intersections, far more than in chess. Here, too, the rules provide for two sides: whites and blacks. At the beginning of each round, each challenger places their stone in one of the free intersections. The goal is to place the pieces in such a way as to surround those of the challenger.
Going into more detail, the purpose of Go is to control an area of the table greater than that controlled by the opponent. A stone surrounded in all intersections is captured. If one of the two challengers is surrounded and no longer has free space, he is unable to make any moves and skips the turn. When both players fold, the points are counted. Each free intersection surrounded by a player’s stones is worth one, just as each captured stone is worth one. One army dominates the other, but never completely annihilates them.
The strategy of Chinese foreign policy seems to follow the path of a Go player: that is, he surrounds and leads under his own geopolitical influence. Direct attack or by progressive suffocation, both China and the Western states demonstrate, in addition to the game, a strong propensity for expansion for domination. The two strategies are truly distant and, if from the twentieth century onwards, we have seen the Western strategy prevail, today we are waiting to see the effects of the Eastern one. After all, the Dragon has reigned for millennia.
Federico Giuliani is a young journalist and writer. After studying political science with a specialization on North Korea, he went to the country to get to know it closely. From this experience he made a book North Korea, travel to the bunker country (Mauro Pagliai editor, 2017) and recently published a second historical-political study on the country The Unknown RevolutionInside North Korea: socialism, progress, modernity (La Vela editions, 2019).
Image: A Go game sold on Amazon
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